Book Club | October 2023: Terence Phormio

Wordcloud: characters in Roman dress striking attitudes

I present you a new Play, which they call “Epidicazomenos,” in Greek: in the Latin, he calls it “Phormio;” because the person that acts the principal part is Phormio, a Parasite, through whom, principally, the plot will be carried on
from the Prologue, translated by Henry Thomas Riley

For October, we come to our second play of the year: Phormio (“The Scheming Parasite”) by Terence.

The Encyclopedia Britannica[1] says that Terence (c195–c159 BCE) was “ the author of six verse comedies that were long regarded as models of pure Latin. Terence’s plays form the basis of the modern comedy of manners.” Publius Terentius Afer was born in Carthage, and was brought to Rome as a slave; his owner, Terentius Lucanus, educated him then freed him. The article goes on to say that:

“From the beginning of his career, Terence was lucky to have the services of Lucius Ambivius Turpio, a leading actor… Terence faced the hostility of jealous rivals, particularly one older playwright, Luscius Lanuvinus … The main source of contention was Terence’s dramatic method. 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. The adaptations varied greatly in fidelity, ranging from the creative freedom of Plautus to the literal rendering of Luscius. Although Terence was apparently fairly faithful to his Greek models, Luscius alleged that Terence was guilty of “contamination”—i.e., that he had incorporated material from secondary Greek sources into his plots, to their detriment.

The article also discusses to what extent he was a translator from the original Greek versions and how much he wove in additional material.

Phormio is based on a lost play by Apollodorus of Carystus (Epidikazomenos or “The Claimant”).

Here are links to some versions available online:

Translation by Christopher Kelk, online or to download at Poetry in Translation

Translation by Henry Thomas Riley, online at Perseus

Translation by M.H. Morgan, online or to download, at,

Discussion will start and continue in the Forum, and we will meet via Zoom for a read-through on Tuesday October 24 (UPDATE: note new date) at 11 a.m. EDT, and for a discussion on Tuesday October 31 at 11 a.m. EDT. Links will be posted in the Forum on the days in question.

Happy readings!

1 Article ‘Terence’ by W. Geoffrey Arnott at Encyclopedia Britannica