By Niya Nyasha
The Brothers, a play written by Terence in the Roman Era, is quite a life changing experience as one watches or reads it. It incorporates teachings about life, religion, and class conflict. In The Brothers we see two brothers who have different perspectives about life and how one ought to live it. In order to truly understand this play, one must be prepared before reading it or watching it. Readers and audiences must have an understanding of the historical context and information about the playwright which will leave one feeling if the play is relevant to them and if it’s important enough to tell the next neighbor about it.
Beginning with historical context, one must understand the religion and social economic conditions that happened in the Roman era because the writer uses these elements in The Brothers. It will help you understand why the characters behave the way they do in the play. Religion was big during the Roman era; gladiators played games as a form of theatre to keep the audience happy as well as make sacrifices to the gods to show their appreciation with whoever died during the game. Even though the people did pray as well, the games were a more powerful way of thanking the gods. Terence uses a different approach in his story to where he uses a less brutal way to thank the gods for good fortune through prayer, and to pray for the bad things happening. As stated by the article called, “Performing the Sacred: Prayers and Hymns”, “all sacrifices and offerings were accompanied by prayers, most simply defined as words addressed to divine powers. Clearly prayer was the most ubiquitous form of religious ritual in Rome, since it not only accompanied all ritual acts but could stand alone as an independent speech act”. We see this in The Brothers when Ctesipho prays to the gods that his father doesn’t find out about the music girl.
In the Roman Era, there were the upper, middle, and lower classes as well as slaves. One was disciplined if they were to disobey certain members of society, for example, a father. Those in the upper class married each other to keep the status quo and when it came to slaves, those who obeyed and showed a sign of importance were freed. We see a lot of this class conflict in The Brothers; Demea doesn’t want his sons to interact with slaves or the lower class nor to talk about falling in love with them. We see Micio treating the slaves nicely because honestly, he doesn’t have a problem with them and they don’t give him much trouble. In order to understand the importance or meaning behind these artistic choices, one must learn more about the playwright because he uses some of the events that happened in his life in the play as well as the skills he acquired through learning about Greek comedies. “Terence was taken to Rome as a slave by Terentius Lucanus, an otherwise unknown Roman senator who was impressed by his ability and gave him a liberal education and, subsequently, his freedom” (Arnot, “Terence”). With this, the reader will understand the actions of Demea in The Brothers because they tie back to the Roman senator who had a kind heart. Terence produced six plays in his career and “It was the custom for these Roman dramatists to draw their material from earlier Greek comedies about rich young men and the difficulties that attended their amours” (Arnott, “Terence”). Even though he did stay faithful to these customs, “Terence changed the staging to more closely resemble Roman life (“The Brothers”), but added Menander’s style into his writing when it came to relationships, personal problems and characters such as stern fathers and intriguing slaves which we see in The Brothers.
In order to get the most out of the reading The Brothers, you must understand the comic side of it because comedy in the Roman Era is similar to today’s comedy. There are a few comedic scenes in The Brothers such as where Syrus sends Demea in the wrong direction to search for Ctesipho. Greeks New Comedy adapted by Roman Comedy, “was a sophisticated means of entertainment, required an attentive audience and had a moral agenda in the guise of troubled human relationships ending happily. The plays with their happy endings featuring the punishment of the bad and the reward of the good functioned as a salutary re-enforcement of the values, order and discipline that traditional Romans so strongly advocated for their families and themselves” (Panayatokis, 132). We still see this type of comedy today when it comes to plays or movies as to where the bad gets punished and the good get rewarded as this is something that we can relate to.
This play is worth reading because it tackles a lot of issues that we still see today such as class, slavery, family and political power when it comes to those ruling everyone under them. Most importantly, you gain knowledge about what life was like in the Roman Era through the reading of The Brothers.
Arnott, W. Geoffrey. “Terence.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 21 Nov. 2019, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Terence.
Garnsey, Peter, and Richard Saller. The Roman Empire: Economy, Society and Culture, University of California Press, 2014. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/boisestate/detail.action?docID=1757100.
Hahn, Frances Hickson. “Performing the Sacred: Prayers and Hymns.” Wiley Online Library, 24 2007,https://onlinelibrarywileycom.libproxy.boisestate.edu/doi/abs/10.1002/9780470690970.ch17.
Harrison, Stephen. “A Companion to Latin Literature.” Shibboleth Authentication Request, 2005, https://onlinelibrarywileycom.libproxy.boisestate.edu/doi/pdf/10.1002/9780470996683.
The Comedies of Terence, edited by Robert Graves, Routledge, 2009. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/boisestate/detail.action?docID=4907145.