Eunuchus

Eunuchus

Eunuchus (The Eunuch) is a comedy written by the Roman playwright Terence featuring a complex plot of familial misunderstanding.

Prologue

The prologue of this work is an apology for the work of Terence, who was coming under attack at the time for his writing. It is believed that Publius Terentius Afer was a member of a writer's circle, and his work was not completely his own. Also, this play, The Eunuch, is a rewrite of one written by Menander in Greek. Here follows an original, literal translation of the prologue, the original Latin of which can be found at The Perseus Project
If there is anyone who is eager to please
As many good men as possible
And to offend many men very little,
In these, this poet enrolls his own name.
Then if there is anyone who thought this word
Too harshly is upon him,
Let him think thus:
That it is an answer, not an assertion,
Because he attacked first;
Who, after translating well, and writing
Those same things poorly from good Greek
He did not make good Latin.
This same man recently published the Phasma of Menander,
And he in his work wrote of him from the gold is sought.
He described the reason why it should be his
Before he who asks it explicated how the work is his
Or how it arrived in the tomb of his fathers.
Henceforth, let he himself not be tricked, or posit thus:
“I’m already finished, there is nothing he may say to me."
I warn him not to be wrong and that he may stop attacking me.
I have many other points, which, for now, he will be forgiven,
But which will be brought up after if he proceeds to attack,
As he set out to do.
After the Aediles bought Menander’s Eunuch,
Which we are about to perform,
He accomplished it so that an opportunity of viewing was to him.
When he magistrates were present,
It began to be acted.
He shouted that a thief—not a poet—had written it,
But that the author fooled nobody.
He shouted that there is an old story
By Naerus and Plautus, the Colax,
The character(s) of the parasite and of the soldiers had been stolen from there.
If that is a sin, then the sin is the ignorance of the poet,
Not he who strived to perform theft.
You will be able to judge it thus.
The Colax was Menander’s. In it is a parasite,
And the braggart soldier. He does not deny that he carried over these characters from Greek into his Eunuch. But,
He certainly does deny that he knew that the same stories
Had previously been done in Latin.
But if it is not permitted to use the same characters as others,
Who is more allowed to write running slaves,
To make good matrons, the braggart soldier,
The substituted boy, the old man deceived by the slave,
To love, to hate, to suspect? Finally,
Nothing is now said which was not said afore.
Therefore it is just that you know this and ignore
What the men of old did, if new men now remake it.
Give the work, pay attention with silence,
So that you may know what The Eunuch means for you.

Act I

This play centers on several interconnecting plots; the first forms the framework for the play--the love between a young Athenian man Phaedria and a foreign born, probably Samian (I.ii.107), courtesan named Thais. Introduced in Act I, Scene i, Phaedria and his wise-cracking slave, Parmeno, discuss Phaedria's situation. Before the curtain rose, Phaedria had been shut out of Thais' house, and he contemplates what he should do. "What, therefore am I to do? Will I not go? Not even now, when I freely summoned? Or is it better for me to prepare myself to endure the insults of whores? She shuts me out, then she calls me back. Should I go back?" (I.i.47-49) Offering philosophic advice, Parmeno encourages the love-sick Phaedria, "If you can go, there's nothing better or braver: but if you begin, and do not stoutly hang on, and when you cannot bear it, when no one seeks you out, with peace not having been made, you go to her freely, saying that you love her, and cannot bear it, you're done: it's over. You're through. She will play with you when she senses you are defeated." (I.i.50-55) He then offers his a famous line:
All these vices are in love: injuries,
Suspicions, enmity, offenses,
War, peace restored. If you think that uncertain things
can be made certain by reason, you'll accomplish nothing more than
if you strived to go insane by sanity.
Parmeno then encourages Phaedria to "not add beyond the troubles love already has," while buying myself back from her for "as little as possible" (I.i.75-80). There is obvious slave imagery here. At the end of the scene, Thais emerges from the house.
It's quite obvious that she's perturbed over her actions that irritated Phaedria, and caused the deliberations of the previous scene. She says, "Oh, miserable me! I fear that Phaedria bore it quite poorly, and accepted the action in another manner than I did it, because yesterday he was not sent in" (I.ii.80-83). Seeing Phaedria and Parmeno in the street, she calls them over to talk; obviously Phaedria, the perfect elegiac lover, is caught up "shaking and trembling all over" at the sight of her, and Parmeno is the hard-nosed interrogator about her intentions. Thais launches into a very lengthy explanation of her history; during this tale, the second subplot is introduced: the attentions of Thraso. He is then asked by Thais to leave town for a few days so that she can pay attention to a rich soldier Thraso. Thraso has a present that she is interested in (this present happens to be a slave girl calles Panfila. She comes from Phaedria's home town and is Thais's sister - this is known to Thais but not to Thraso). In doing this, Thais plans to re-establish contact with Panfila and to improve her social standing in Athens by returning Panfila to her Athenian family, represented by her brother Chremes. With their relationship already on the rocks, Phaedria sees this as the last straw. Nonetheless, Phaedria loves her and hopes that she will be his in the end. To show his love for her, he arranges two presents for her before he leaves: an Aethiopian slave girl and a eunuch.

Phaedria has a younger brother, Chaerea, who is just returning from military service when all these events are unfolding. At the port, Chaerea sees Panfila coming off the boat on her way to be delivered to Thais and he is overcome by her beauty. He tries to follow her but he loses her. Luckily, however, Chaerea runs into his family's servant Parmeno who has just seen Panfila go by, escorted by Thraso's servant gnatho. Parmeno reveals to Chaerea that the girl he is chasing is the gift of the soldier to Thais, and that he himself is supposed to deliver a eunuch to Thais's house for Phaedria (one of Phaedria's gifts).

Based on a joking suggestion by Parmeno, Chaerea decides to substitute himself for the eunuch in order to get into Thais's house and he forces Parmeno to cooperate. Since he has been away on military service, Thais and her household staff do not know his face. Chaerea's plan works, and he is in fact accepted for a eunuch and put in charge of guarding the girl in whom he is so strongly infatuated. Of course, when he is left alone with her, he makes love to her, and then, discovered by Thais's maid Pythias, he flees the scene.

Thais's plan to get in good favour with Panfila's Athenian family seems to be ruined. At this point Phaedria returns and discovers what his brother has done. Chaerea is dragged back to Thais's house and explains his love for Panfila and agrees to marry her. Chremes is grateful for the return of his long-lost sister, Phaedria and Thais are reconciled, and the soldier and Phaedria agree to share Thais.

Notes

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