The Eunuch, by Terence


To please the candid, give offense to none,
This, says the Poet, ever was his care:
Yet if there’s one who thinks he’s hardly censur’d,
Let him remember he was the aggressor:
He, who translating many, but not well,
On good Greek fables fram’d poor Latin plays;
He, who but lately to the public gave
The Phantom of Menander; He, who made,
In the Thesaurus, the Defendant plead
And vouch the question’d treasure to be his,
Before the Plaintiff his own title shows,
Or whence it came into his father’s tomb.

Henceforward, let him not deceive himself,
Or cry, “I’m safe, he can say naught of me.”
I charge him that he err not, and forbear
To urge me farther; for I’ve more, much more,
Which now shall be o’erlook’d, but shall be known,
If he pursue his slanders, as before.

Soon as this play, the Eunuch of Menander,
Which we are now preparing to perform,
Was purchas’d by the Ædiles, he obtain’d
Leave to examine it: and afterward
When ’twas rehears’d before the Magistrates,
“A Thief,” he cried, “no Poet gives this piece.
Yet has he not deceived us: for we know,
The Colax is an ancient comedy
Of Nævius, and of Plautus; and from thence
The Parasite and Soldier both are stolen.”

If that’s the Poet’s crime, it is a crime
Of ignorance, and not a studied theft.
Judge for yourselves! the fact is even thus.
The Colax is a fable of Menander’s;
Wherein is drawn the character of Colax
The parasite, and the vain-glorious soldier;
Which characters, he scruples not to own,
He to his Eunuch from the Greek transferr’d:
But that he knew those pieces were before
Made Latin, that he steadfastly denies.

Yet if to other Poets ’tis not lawful
To draw the characters our fathers drew,
How can it then be lawful to exhibit
Slaves running to and fro; to represent
Good matrons, wanton harlots; or to show
An eating parasite, vain-glorious soldier,
Supposititious children, bubbled dotards,
Or love, or hate, or jealousy? — In short,
Nothing’s said now but has been said before.
Weigh then these things with candor, and forgive
The Moderns, if what Ancients did, they do.

Attend, and list in silence to our play,
That ye may know what ’tis the Eunuch means.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01