Heauton Timorumenos  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Heauton Timorumenos (The Self-Tormentor) is a play written by Publius Terentius Afer, known in English as Terence, a dramatist of the Roman Republic. "L'Héautontimorouménos" is also the title of a poem by French poet Charles Baudelaire.



The play has presented academics with some problems. Firstly it is not entirely clear whether Heauton Timorumenos is Terence's second or third play. More importantly, due to the scant survival of Menander's play of the same name, there is no simple way to judge how much Terence's version is translation and how much is invention. It is set in a village in the countryside of Attica.


Menedemus- an Athenian nobleman, newly moved to the countryside, father of Clinia.

Chremes- Menedemus' neighbour, father of Clitipho.

Clinia- Menedemus' estranged son, in love with Antiphila.

Clitipho- Chremes' son and a friend of Clinia, in love with Bacchis.

Syrus- Clitipho's slave.

Dromo- Clinia's slave.

Antiphila- a girl raised by a weaveress, beloved of Clinia.

Bacchis- a wealthy courtesan, beloved of Clitipho.

Sostrata- Chremes' wife.

Phrygia- Bacchis' slave.

Dromo- Chremes' slave.



This is used as a defence of Terence's method of writing plays. He begs the audience be the judge on what is performed not on what is said of him by critics.

Act one

Menedemus is toiling in the fields of his recently acquired farm. Chremes having observed his behaviour since Menedemus arrived in the district asks why, when Mendemus is so wealthy and so well served by slaves, does he toil morning to night in their place. Menedemus tells him that he is punishing himself for causing his son to go and live in penury overseas. He had reproached him severely for his wanton ways giving the example of his own youth campaigning in the East as a role model. Unfortunately Clinia, shamed, took him rather more literally than Mendemus had wished. Chremes invites Menedemus to celebrate the Dionysia at his house, Menedemus declines.

Chremes then encounters his own son on the way back to his house in the company of a stranger. This is Clinia. Chremes is pleased as he may send for Menedemus and release him from his toil. Before he does so Clitipho tells him to refrain from action as Clinia is still afraid of his father's wrath and wishes his presence in the area to remain a secret. Chremes agrees for the moment admitting that Menedemus may have been too severe. However he also says that is the place of a father and Clitipho ought to draw a lesson from Clinia's misfortune. Once alone Clitipho swears he will never be a tyrant in the mould of his father.

Act two

Clinia is full of self pity, believing that due to his absence his beloved Antiphila will have found a new lover. Clitipho counsels him to cheer up as the women will soon arrive. They overhear the slaves Syrus and Dromo discussing the heavy train of goods and servants that the women are bringing to the feast. Clinia despairs as he believes this confirms Antiphila has found another as she was impoverished when he left. Syrus tells Clinia that he has misconstrued the conversation. He had collected Antiphila who was in mourning for the woman who had brought her up but also had collected Bacchis, who is far wealthier. While Clinia is pleased Clitipho is angered that his slave has presumed to invite his mistress to his father's house. Syrus upbraids him for wanting to love but not take love's risk, he then conceives a ruse for the meantime where Bacchis will pose as Clinia's mistress and Antiphila as her servant.

Antiphila and Bacchis are travelling to celebrate the Dionysia at Chremes. Bacchis praises Antiphila for her virtue and beauty. She warns that beauty and men's attention fade, and that she ought to find a man to love who will be constant for life. They meet Clinia and the young lovers are overcome with joy at the reunion.

Act three

The following morning Chremes goes to Menedemus to tell him of his son's return. He says that as his son aids Clinia he should stand by his peer with the self same fraternity. He encounters Menedemus who is about to start his daily toil. On hearing that his son is back Menedemus wishes to rush to Chremes' house to receive him. Chremes warns him that this will be as much folly as being too severe in the first place. Menedemus has driven his son from a modest mistress to one of extravagant taste. He himself has witnessed from last night how quickly Bacchis' debaucheries might deplete his friend's fortune. He prays that Menedemus wait while he conceives of a way to use Syrus to trick the son in some way. Chremes accosts Syrus and tells him to aid in his schemes, he also encounters Clitipho who he tells off as he caught him in an embrace with Bacchis.

Syrus is glad to agree, but only as it dovetails with his own scheme directed against Chremes. Syrus has promised Bacchis money for her part in the deception the previous night. He tells Cheremes that Antiphila had been pawned by the weaveress to Bacchis, and now the old woman is dead Bacchis is seeking to sell her. He advises Chremes to tell Menedemus to buy Antiphila as she is in fact a captive from Caria and her friends will pay handsomely for her release. Chremes answers that Menedemus is unlikely to go for this.

Act four

Sostrata has discovered, by way of the ring that Antipilia has given to her for safekeeping while she bathes, that Antiphila is the daughter that she had left with Philtere to be exposed on Chremes' direction. She begs forgiveness for her disobedience and then reveals the evidence that their daughter still lives. Syrus realizes that from this revelation his deception may be found out and he may lose the chance to pay off Bacchis, as well as being punished. He withdraws to consider a better plan.

Clinia has learnt of the revelation and is overjoyed as he imagines that he will be able to throw off the pretense of keeping Bacchis as a mistress, return to his father's house and marry Antiphila. Syrus says that while Clinia's troubles may be at an end, he needs to think of the trouble that Clitipho will be in if Chremes discovers the truth that Bacchis is his mistress. For his friend's sake he should keep up the pretense to Chremes while he may go to Menedemus and tell him that Bacchis is Antiphila's servant and Clitipho's secret lover. When Clinia objects that Chremes will not allow him to marry his daughter while he believes Bacchis is Clinia's lover, Syrus tells him him he only needs to maintain the ruse for a day to give Syrus the time to get Bacchis' money. Syrus tells Bacchis, who is threatening to expose him, to go to Menedemus' house where she will get paid.

Chremes is lamenting the fortune of his friend who will now have to bear the cost of Bacchis' revenue, when he encounters Syrus. Syrus tells him that Clinia has told his father that Bacchis is Clitipho's mistress and that he wishes to marry Antiphila. Syrus advises Chremes that he should go along with this ruse and offer to give Clinia dowry money, as well as giving Clitipho money to give to Bacchis to pay off her pledge.

Menedemus and Clinia are reunited. Menedemus is happy but then encounters Chremes who tells him that his son is deceiving him with a false declaration that he wishes to marry Antiphilia so that he can extract more money for his mistress Bacchis. Menedemus is dismayed and agrees to pretend to believe his son's plan while Chremes engineers a plot to entrap him.

Act five

Menedemus and Chremes talk following Menedemus informing his son that his match with Antiphila will go ahead. Chremes is puzzled that Clinia's response is not to try to extract expenses for the nuptials but then realises that it is he and not Menedemus that is the subject of Syrus' plot. He is in despair as he only has sufficient money to keep up his family for ten days. He asks Menedemus' advice, who repeats that advice that Chremes gave to him at the start of the play, that he should make his son abide by his wishes. Although Chremes approves of the match now between Clinia and Antiphila because of his financial woe the dowry he can offer is too small. He asks Menedemus to help save his son by claiming that Chremes is giving away all his estate to make a sufficient dowry.

Clitipho on hearing this is distraught. He confronts his father who tells him he would rather have his estate be thus disposed of than go to Bacchis by way of his heir. Clitipho cannot think why his father would treat him so harshly until Syrus suggests that perhaps he is a foundling. Chremes denies this saying that his treatment is due to his debauched ways. Menedemus upbraids Chremes for treating his son to harshly, and Chremes relents but on the condition that Clitipho gives up Bacchis and takes a wife. Clitipho preferring a full stomach to passion agrees.

See also

Homo sum, humani nil a me alienum puto

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