Terence and the Death of Comedy


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

The creative age of Roman comedy died with a man named Turpilius in 103 B.C. That was actually half a century after the death of Terence, the last great writer of stage comedy at Rome, and nearly a whole century before Latin literature reached maturity in the time of Augustus. The golden age of Roman comedy is thus quite clearly divorced from the golden age of Roman literature itself, but something more than a minor literary genre died with Turpilius. The very interest in stage comedy that had survived the change in conditions from Aristophanes to Menander and the change in culture from Greece to Rome died with a whimper late in the second century B.C. No further comedy of literary stature was written in antiquity, and the ancient tradition lay dormant until revived by the Italian humanists of our own fourteenth century.I What happened? Why did the Romans lose interest in stage comedy? The death of a genre is as common an occurrence in the history of literature as it is complex, and there can be no simple answer to such a question. Yet some of the responsibility must lie with Terence, the author who brought to Roman comedy both a peak of sophistication and an end of creative vitality. What was it about his achievement that brought the development of ancient comedy to a halt?

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.