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Terence & Aristophanes a Comparison of Comedies

Updated on February 5, 2014

Aristophanes and Terence

As one reads the comedies of Terence and Aristophanes one soon notices that the two authors have very different styles. Where as Aristophanes deals with the issues of national importance, Terence focuses on issues concerning families. Two comedies, which provide a good example of this, are “The Acharnians” by Aristophanes and “The Brothers” by Terence. In order to understand the similarities and differences between the two authors, the reader must probe the characters of each with questions. By asking questions about the characters’ concerns, methods of problem solving and if the characters were successful in reaching their goals, the reader can gain insight into the two approaches taken by the authors.

In Aristophanes “The Acharnians,” we are introduced to the character Dikaiopolis. Dikaiopolis is very upset for many reasons, but the main issue that concerns him is the war with Sparta. Dikkaiopolis’ concern is very realistic. He worries about his country and specifically his village. Before the war his village used to produce all that it needed, but now in wartime it is unable to. Dikaiopolis wants peace so badly that he comes up with a plan. Dikaiopolis decides that he will heckle anyone at the assembly who does not talk about peace. As the assembly comes to order many people such as ambassadors bring business forward. True to his word, Dikaiopolis heckles them all.

While this makes for hilarious reading, bothering others does not prove to be a very good solution to his problem; Dikaiopolis is not successful in getting peace declared from the assembly. Although his first solution fails, he refuses to give up.

The next solution that Dikaiopolis comes up with is to make peace with Sparta himself. He purchases a 30 year peace(wine skin) and through ceremony makes his own peace with Sparta. This solution works much better for he no longer has to obey the anti-Sparta laws, and can do business with their people. When others learn of his successful peace there are mixed reactions. Some people come and ask him for some peace, but others want to kill him. In the end, Dikaiopolis goes to a party of drinking and sex, and his rival Lamachus dies.

Aristophanes uses the story of “The Acharnians” to tackle the issues of war and peace. The author shows us why peace is better than war. By using the character of Dikkaiopolis to show the pleasures of peace, and using the character of Lamachus to show the horrors of war. At the end of the comedy the reader, if given a choice, would rather be Dikaiopolis than Lamachus.

Aristophanes uses the two characters Dikaiopolis and Lamachus to deal with the matter of national importance. Similarly Terence uses two characters Micio and Demea to deal with an issue of domestic importance.

In the comedy “The Brothers,” by Terence, we are presented with the issue of child rearing. Should children be raised with strictness or with a more liberal attitude? In "The Brothers,” the character of Demea gives one son to his brother Micio to raise as his own. Terence uses Demea and Micio to represent the two sides of the child rearing issue. Micio raises his son Aeschinus in a very liberal style, while Demea raises Ctesipho using the traditional strict method.

Both fathers are concerned with the way their own child will turn out, but each chooses a different method to reach that goal. As the comedy progresses, each son has his own predicament. One is in love with the slave and the other has impregnated the neighbor's daughter. As the problems escalate, Aeschinus(liberally raised) resolves his dilemma in a more or less honest fashion. Ctesipho(strictly raised) is quicker to lie his way through to escape being punished.

Through the way the two sons handle the dilemma we see that Micio is more successful raising his son than Demea. Obviously, Terence is saying through this story that a more honorable child can be raised with a more liberal attitude. As with Aristophanes, Terence definitely takes a side.

Both authors try to better the society they are in through humor. Each author takes an issue whether it is one of national importance or one in the domestic sphere, and presents an argument through humor. Terence takes the liberal side in his comedy Aristophanes the side of peace, and it is through the follies of the characters’ counterparts that the audience is won over to the author’s opinion. While this is a significant similarity, there is also a significant difference worth noting.

This difference has to do with the times in which the authors wrote. Aristophanes wrote during the time of the Peloponnesian Wars, but it was just after the reign of Pericles. Under the reign of Pericles the arts flourished. When Aristophanes wrote around 423 B.C. the ideals of Pericles’ time would still be strong. The time in which Aristophanes wrote, an author had to worry less about offending anyone. Aristophanes had the freedom to write what he thought about the wars. However, this was not the case for Terence.

Terence wrote in a time of another war, the Punic Wars. Terence was not close enough to the Greek’s Golden Age to have the freedom to tackle national interest; there were politics to consider. He may not have been hired or paid if he had a reputation for offending. Terence also would have to consider the possibility of exile if he did offend.

Both Aristophanes and Terence give us a humorous look into the culture and times of Greece. Both authors debate current issues of those times, but clearly Aristophanes has more mobility and freedom than Terence. In order to understand the similarities and differences between the two authors the reader must probe the characters of each with questions. By asking these questions the reader can gain insight and clarity into the times of these two writers, each with a style all his own.

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