Terence's Comedies

Terence's Comedies – Plon-Nourrit et cie – Ms. 664 – Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal (Paris, France)

France — 15th century

Stylish Latin from the comedies of Terence at the time of the Roman Republic: a luxurious codex made for Duke Louis de Guyenne, the third son of King Charles VI of France

  1. Publius Terentius Afer was a playwright whose comedies were first performed ca. 170–160 BC

  2. Some of the most talented masters of the 15th century created a splendid manuscript of his works

  3. It features 133 miniatures including a full-page created under the supervision of the Bedford Master

Terence's Comedies

  1. Description
  2. Facsimile Editions (1)
Terence's Comedies

Publius Terentius Afer, known as Terence in English, was a playwright during the Roman Republic whose comedies were first performed ca. 170-160 BC. They went on to be regarded as models of pure Latin and were used for teaching from the Middle Ages until the early modern period. Of over 600 surviving manuscript witnesses for the work, about a dozen illuminated copies exist. This fine specimen from the early-15th century was created for Duke Louis de Guyenne, third son of King Charles VI of France. It has one full-page miniature created under the supervision of the Bedford Master and 132 small miniatures appearing at the beginning of each scene attributed to the Master of Luçon, the Master of the City of the Ladies, the Master of the Adelphs, and the Master of Orose.

Terence’s Comedies

It is said that the Romans conquered the Greeks in War and the Greeks conquered the Romans in peace through the superiority of their culture. Aside from art, architecture, science, and philosophy, the Romans also borrowed much of their sense of humor from the so-called Hellenes. The Roman African playwright Publius Terentius Afer (ca. 195 – ca. 159 BC) spent the end of his short life in Greece where he studied their rich literary and theatrical traditions. His works were not initially popular among contemporaries but heavily influenced the instruction of Latin from Late Antiquity to the Enlightenment with some even being imitated by William Shakespeare. This particularly fine manuscript was illuminated by some of the finest artists of the period and was commissioned as a gift for Duke Louis de Guyenne (1397–1415), the eighth of twelve children and third son born to King Charles VI of France and his wife Queen Isabeau.

A Manuscript Worthy of a Prince

This masterpiece of the French Gothic style presents all six of Terence’s plays in the following order after a short description of the playwright’s life and a preamble: Andria, Eunuchus, Heauton Tomorumenos, Adelphoe, Phormioand, and Hecyra. It is adorned by 1 full-page miniature created under the supervision of the Bedford Master as well as 132 small miniatures and countless colored initials with gold backgrounds that are attributed to four illuminators: the Master of Luçon, the Master of the City of Ladies, the Master of the Adelphes, and the Master of Orosius. After the death of Louis, the manuscript was briefly owned by the famous bibliophile Duke Jean de Berry (1340–1416) and was later owned by Marc-Pierre de Voyer de Paulmy, Comte d'Argenson (1696–1764) and his nephew Marc Antoine René de Voyer, Marquis de Paulmy and d'Argenson (1722–87) – all members of the French upper nobility.

From Lowly Slave to Popular Playwright

Although the year of his birth is contested, Terence is believed to have been born a slave in or near Carthage because of his cognomen Afer, which suggested he was from the North African territory of the Afri people. He was supposedly sold to a Roman senator named P. Terentius Lucanus, who had the boy educated and freed him after becoming impressed with his abilities. Terence then became a member of the Scipionic Circle, a group of intellectuals devoted to discussing Greek culture, literature, and philosophy who were patronized by Scipio Aemilianus (185–129 BC), the Roman general who brought about the final defeat and destruction of Carthage, thus ending the Punic Wars. At the age of 25, Terence departed for Greece, from whence he would never return and is believed to have either died of disease in Greece or in a shipwreck on his return journey. The purpose of the trip was to collect materials for his plays and Terence managed to write six of his own before his early and unexplained death.

Enduring Popularity

Terrence’s comedies enjoyed were popular centuries later for Latin instruction thanks to the relatively simple, entertaining, and conversational Latin he used in combination with dynamic plots. The earliest commentary was written by Aelius Donatus in the 4th century and 650 Terence manuscripts have survived from the Early Middle Ages. Copies continued to be produced by hand until the first printed edition was published in Strasbourg in 1470. Terence was extoled by figures ranging from Dante Alighieri and Giovanni Boccaccio to Martin Luther and John Adams, President of the United States, the latter of whom wrote to his son, future President John Quincy Adams, “Terence is remarkable, for good morals, good taste, and good Latin...His language has simplicity and an elegance that make him proper to be accurately studied as a model.”


Alternative Titles
Terenz: Komödien
Le Térence des Ducs
Publius Terencius Afer: Comoediae
Size / Format
474 pages / 33.7 × 24.0 cm
15th century
1 full-page miniature; 132 smaller miniatures
Andria (The woman of Andros)
Eunuchus (The Eunuch)
Heauton Timorumenos (The Self-Tormentor)
Adelphoe (The Brothers)
Phormio (The Phormion)
Hecyra (The Mother-in-law)
Artist / School

Available facsimile editions:
Terence's Comedies – Plon-Nourrit et cie – Ms. 664 – Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal (Paris, France)
Plon-Nourrit et cie – Paris, 1907
Limited Edition: 255 copies
Facsimile Editions

#1 Le Térence des Ducs

Plon-Nourrit et cie – Paris, 1907

Publisher: Plon-Nourrit et cie – Paris, 1907
Limited Edition: 255 copies
Commentary: 1 volume by Henry Marie Radegonde Martin
Language: French

The commentary was included in a separate part of the facsimile volume.
1 volume: This facsimile is not complete. Monochrome reproduction of the entire original document as detailed as possible (scope, format). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
Facsimile Copy Available!
Price Category: €
(under 1,000€)
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