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Taro Yamashita

Kyoto Institute of Technology

Matsugasaki, 606

Kyoto, Japan


The Adelphoe is commonly regarded as the best of Terence’s six plays1. Whether this estimation is proper or not, its concluding scenes have often been criticized as discordant2; the treatment of Micio is unsatisfactory, and the change in attitude of Demea is insufficiently motivated. Some insist that Terence spoiled his original3. For instance, the inconsistency between the monologue of Demea (855-81) and what he says at the final scene (986ff.) may be evident4; at the end of his monologue Demea gives the distinct impression that he will attempt to adopt his brother Micio’s generous and indulgent attitude to their two sons, but finally he states that he has acted in the way he can show the falseness and weakness of Micio’s methods of upbringing (986ff.). Then comes the reconciliation between Aeschinus and Demea (989ff.) and Micio’s final acquiescence5 (997), which provide one of the most positive statements of the relative success of Demea’s method.

Several scholars have felt that the “victory” of Demea does not harmonize with the earlier part of the comedy, in which he has been the comic object and in which, they believe, Micio has been portrayed as the ideal father6. Before any comment is made, we should first review the major theme of the play7, since the assumption that Micio is good and Demea is bad throughout the play seems to be an oversimplification8. I rather notice that the two old men, self-assured at first, finally come to realize not only their own failings, but also the merits of the other9. To confirm my interpretation, I will analyze the deliberate construction of the play as a whole.


Micio’s opening monologue (26-81) is marked by charm and wisdom; his estimation of pudor and liberalitas (57) in rearing children seems sensible and plausible10, especially to the modern liberal mind. Micio finds fault with Demea for thinking that his authority is all the stronger for being based on compulsion (66-67). His own belief is that a son whom kindness binds close to his father is eager to return it and will behave in the same way, whether or not his parent is present (72-73). However, we should not take all his words for granted just because they seem to be admirable. There is no reason to doubt his deep love for Aeschinus (48-49), but his motives may not be purely unselfish. When he proceeds to say “I give him money, overlook his faults, don’t feel compelled to exercise full authority over him”(51-52), the inference is that his generosity and indulgence are prompted by fear that strictness may turn his son against him11. This is the very attitude that Demea criticizes at the end (986ff.)12. On the other hand, Micio’s honest admission that he works hard to ensure that Aeschinus return his love (50ff.) leads gradually to meditations on the triumph of his own handling of Aeschinus and on the failures of other fathers in general and of Demea in particular (74-77)13:

…That’s the spirit of a true father, to accustom his son to do right rather by his own inclination than by fear of another, and that’s the difference between the parent of sons and the owner of slaves. A man who can’t do this should admit that he doesn’t know how to rule a gentleman’s sons14.

Micio draws the distinction between a pater and a dominus, apparently identifying himself with the former and Demea with the latter. This foreshadows the motif of Micio’s self-righteousness15, which we shall examine later16.

However, we are not aware of his defects at first, since those of Demea are more evident. In a sense, we have been prepared for Demea’s entrance (81ff.) by Micio’s description of him17, especially on his irascible nature18 (cf.60ff.). When Demea does appear on stage, furious at reports that Aeschinus has broken into a house and abducted a music-girl (88-91), his harsh language supports the truth of Micio’s words, thus leading us to feel more sympathetic to Micio. Micio’s aside (83 didn’t I say so?) supports this interpretation. Demea, true father of Aeschinus, has every reason to worry about the gossip, and censures Micio for corrupting his son (96-97). Micio, however, would not yield to him, replying that “there is nothing more unjust than a man without knowledge of the world: he thinks nothing right except what he has done himself.” (98-99). He thus reacts rather impatiently and even arrogantly to Demea’s complaints. According to him, it is Demea that misjudges the matters (100), since it is no crime for a young man to enjoy wine and women (101-2). This statement might prove his indulgence towards Aeschinus, but as we are accustomed to accept his words for true19, we might as well side with him as doubt his goodness. It is noticeable that Micio goes on to reduce Demea’s allegation to something that can be remedied “financially” without too much trouble (117-122):

His dinner parties, drinking parties, reeking of perfumes, are at my cost. He has amour, I shall give him the money so long as it’s convenient; when it isn’t, possibly his mistress will shut her door against him. He has broken a door-lock, I’ll send a locksmith, he has torn a man’s coat, I’ll send a tailor. The means for this, thank God, the means I have, and up to now it isn’t irksome.

These words may underline Demea’s exaggeration, but we should not miss here the smugness or irresponsibility of Micio, which will become more apparent in the latter part of the play. As for the motif of money found here (cf.118 dabitur a me argentum), we shall discuss later.

As observed, each of the brothers is confident that his system of education is the better one, but the playwright does not necessarily side with either of the two, and we must suspend judgment on where his true sympathies lie. The next scene (155-208), for instance, seems to certify the truth of Demea’s words. Aeschinus enters with the abducted girl, pursued by the pimp Sannio. With the help of the slave Parmeno, the girl is guided safely into Micio’s house. In the eyes of the audience, there is no doubt that Aeschinus abducted the girl for himself. This gives a shock to us, since we have been rather prejudiced against Demea. However, by the end of the next scene (254-87), we will have grasped the surprising information that Aeschinus has stolen the girl not for himself but for Ctesipho (cf. 263ff.). In other words, since Aeschinus is not after all deceiving his father, Micio’s system of education does appear to be working; and, since Ctesipho is not as virtuous as his father imagines (94-5), Demea’s system is seen to be failing. So at this stage of the play the educational debate is favoring Micio.

The next pair of scenes (288-354), however, presents another startling information. It emerges that Sostrata’s daughter Pamphila is about to give birth, and that Aeschinus is the father of her child. The audience had no way of foreseeing all this: Aeschinus is guilty of raping the girl next-door, and he is also guilty of failing to tell his father of his predicament or of his desire to marry the girl20. The result is that we are compelled once again to revise our judgment on Aeschinus’ behavior and on the success of Micio’s educational system. In short, there is plenty of room for suspense on both sides of the double plot, as we wait to see how the respective fathers come to know the truth about their sons and how they react.


It is Micio that discovers the truth first. Syrus21 suggests that he has informed Micio that the abduction was on behalf of Ctesipho (364-5), while he deceives Demea by telling him the false story that Ctesipho is now back on the farm (401). When Demea meets Hegio and is informed of Aeschinus’ seduction of Pamphila and his desertion of her for a music-girl, he goes off in a fury to find Micio. The audience are well aware that the playwright is making fun of Demea22. When he returns from the town, Syrus then sends him off on a wild-goose chase for Micio.

By so doing Terence postpones the expected second Micio-Demea confrontation and prepares a scene between Micio and Aeschinus (635-712), in which the main interest is Micio’s handling of the discovery that Aeschinus has got Pamphila pregnant. Micio decides to have some fun with Aeschinus (cf.639 ludo) and pretends to know nothing about the girl. He makes up the story that Pamphila has to marry her nearest relative, who is about to take her to Miletus. When Micio finds Aeschinus shed tears, he reveals that he knows the truth about the girl (679-80 audivi omnia et scio), rebuking Aeschinus for his behavior and then giving him permission to marry23: As for Aeschinus, his confession of guilt and shame (683-4) implies exactly the relationship at which Micio was aiming in his opening monologue (48-58). To the audience, Micio’s treatment of his son seems to be a model of how a liberal but responsible father should behave24. However, this is not the way he thought to be his own, since he said in the opening scene, “I give him (i.e. Aeschinus) money, overlook his faults, don’t feel compelled to exercise full authority over him.” (51-2). But here alone, we see Micio exercise his paternal authority, not overlooking the faults of his son25. Strictly speaking, there is the difference between what he says and what he does in reality. This should not be taken as a contradiction, but as a key to understand the final scene.

In the second confrontation between Demea and Micio (713-62), the truth about Ctesipho and the music-girl is again concealed from Demea, this time by Micio. Micio reacts with calm amusement to Demea’s news of further wicked deeds on Aeschinus’ part, explaining that he has arranged for Aeschinus to marry the girl without a dowry, and the music-girl is to be kept as well (719-62). Micio is thus able to use his superior knowledge to tease Demea into fury, just as he teased Aeschinus in the previous scene, in which his false story made his son shed tears. In a sense, Micio seems to take pleasure in the discomfiture of others and of Demea in particular26, while his theory of education appears to be working well.

It is in the next pair of scenes (763-86) that Demea happens to discover the truth about both sons, which throws him into great despair. This contrasts well with the joy of Micio who heard the truth from Syrus (366 nil quicquam vidi laetius). Then follows the third Micio-Demea confrontation (787-854), in which Micio is rather less convincing, while Demea scores a point. In this respect, the agreement which the two brothers reach in the first confrontation (129ff.), that each will confine himself to the son in his care, is of importance27. Although the agreement is initiated by Micio, it is he who first breaks it when he gives the money for Ctesipho’s music-girl in full knowledge of the facts (cf.364ff.). When Demea demands to know why Micio has broken the agreement and involved himself with Ctesipho (799-802), Micio asserts drily “you don’t put it fairly.” (803), and quotes a pointless old saying that friends have all things in common28 (803-4). He even argues that no harm has been done on the “financial” side (806ff.). This argument resembles the one found in the first confrontation; Micio reduced Demea’s complaints to something that could be remedied “financially” without too much trouble (117-122). When Demea warns Micio that his arguments (836 rationes) might prove their ruin, Micio dismisses the objections, saying “No, no, impossible. Now away with your fears, for this day be ruled by me, smooth your brow.” (837-9).  It may be true to say that Micio engages our sympathy less as the play progresses, while Demea appears to be more sympathetic, as Micio’s smugness becomes more apparent29.


Demea’s soliloquy30 (855-81) expresses his earnest desire to change his way of life31. He explains that men learn from “experience” (855ff.).

However well a man may have calculated his scheme of life, still circumstances, years, experience, always introduce a new element and teach new lessons. You find that you don’t know you thought you did know, and what you thought of primary importance that in practice you reject. That’s what has happened to me.

Here the contrast between “theory and practice” is prominent. The words subducta ratione (855) and te scisse credas (857) both suggest the “theory” of education that Demea believed to be right, while res aetas usus (856), in experiundo (858), quod nunc mi evenit (859), and re ipsa (860) all signify the “practice” or “experience” that taught him new lessons. In this connection, it may be useful to compare this scene with the opening monologue of Micio, in which he is fully confident that his “theory” (68 ratio) is wholly right. In his opinion, it is a great mistake to think like Demea (65), since he believes “there is nothing more unjust than a man without knowledge of the world (98 homine imperito): he thinks nothing right except what he has done himself” (98-9). With the word imperito (98) Micio criticises Demea’s lack of experience and his narrow viewpoint. In Demea’s monologue, on the other hand, we find him give up (860 omitto) the hard life that he has lived, regarding the way of Micio as true (862 verum). Demea explains once again that “experience” (860 re ipsa) taught him so. Some might expect a happy ending ensuing from here, now that Demea reflects upon himself deeply, and Micio’s system of education seems to have won a victory. However, if our observation so far has been correct, it should be Micio’s turn to reflect upon himself, since it appears to be Micio alone that “thinks nothing right except what he has done himself”.

At this point, Demea suddenly has a wonderful idea. Why should I continue to suffer like this (cf. 876 miseriam omnem ego capio)? Why should not I become like my brother? And then comes the sudden change; Demea declares that he will try to be generous and agreeable himself, since he wants to be loved and respected (878-879). This motivation may be selfish but very natural. It is worth noting here that he uses the word experiamur (877) to express his resolution. In other words, Demea is going to put a new “theory” into “practice”. This experiment will reveal new things both to Demea and Micio.

In the following scenes, Demea surprises us by securing the happiness of Geta, Hegio, Sostrata, Syrus and his wife, and in so doing manages to win over their affection and respect. However, there is another development of a plot that we should not miss. In his monologue Demea resolved to get popularity at his cost. But with the appearance of Aeschinus (899ff.) circumstances bring about an important change; when Aeschinus comes out impatient at the delays to the wedding, Demea wins him over by telling him to break down the garden wall and bring the whole of Sostrata’s household across. Demea happens to find out that it would be much better to involve Micio in expense, since in this way he can cause Micio a lot of financial damage (cf.914 sumptu amittet multa). It is clear that Demea shows delight in revenging Micio. As seen above, Micio is likely to settle the matter with money whenever he meets unfavorable situations, but here for the first time, he gets deeply embarrassed, because it is his money itself, his last resort, that is in danger. He must be generous as always, but he doesn’t want to lavish his money on behalf of Demea32. Demea thus parodies the liberalitas and humanitas of Micio33 and exposes their limitations34, changing Micio’s life entirely35 by clever application of Micio’s methods to Micio (cf.958 suo sibi gladio hunc iugulo). To crown all, he is finally urged to marry Sostrata (929ff.) and emancipate Syrus and his wife (959ff.). Then Demea, as a finishing blow, proposes that Mcio should aid Syrus with money (980-981). Micio surrenders at last, asking Demea what is going on:

What’s the meaning of this? What has brought about this sudden change in your ways? What’s the whim of it? What’s this sudden generocity (985 largitas)?

Demea replies calmly:

I will tell you. I did it to show that what our boys account your good nature and pleasant ways doesn’t spring from justice and goodness, but from complaisance, from indulgence, from an open hand (988 largiendo), Micio.

His answer may not be entirely honest36, since he did not have such an intention at first37. He was just going to test the validity of Micio’s method, but the experiment finally teaches him another new lesson38: Demea’s answer displays what it is. He no longer thinks it right to attain popularity through largitas. This seems to be just like his former idea, but through the “experience” Demea has been changed; he dares not argue nor complain, since he believes that Micio too has learned a good lesson himself. This may not be where his conversion speech was actually leading, but we should remember that even Micio did the same thing when he exercised his paternal authority over Aeschinus. At the beginning, Micio decided to “tease” (639 ludo) his son, but he ended up scolding him, which is often used as evidence that Micio represents the “golden mean”, not the excess of permissiveness. Demea, on the other hand, asseeted his will to be indulgent (cf.880 dando…obsequendo), but he ends up teaching Micio a lesson.


1 cf.R.H.Martin, Terence: Adelphoe, Cambridge (1976) vii; G.Duckworth, The Nature of Roman Comdedy (Princeton 1952) 143; G.Norwood, Plautus and Terence, New York (1963) 176; W.E.Forehand, Syrus’ Role in Terence’ Adelphoe, CJ69(1973)52.

2 cf.T.A.Dorey, A Note on the Adelphi of Terence, Greece and Rome 9 (1962) 37-9.

3 cf.Dorey 39; O.Rieth, Die Kunst Menanders in den Adelphen des Teremz, Nachwort, K.Gaisser (Hildescheim 1964)11ff. Some show positive estimations. cf. W.G.Arnott, The End of Terence’s Adelphoe: a Postscript, Greece and Rome 10(1963) 140-144; W.R.Johnson, Micio and the Perils of Perfection,CSCA1(1968)172; Duckworth 144; Norwood, The Art of Terence (London 1923) 127; R.W.Carrubba, The Rationale of Demea in Terence’s Adelphoe, Dioniso42(1968)16-26.

4 cf.J.N.Grant, The Ending of Terence’s Adelphoe and the Menandrian Original, AJP96 (1975) 42.

5 Micio’s final words “istuc recte” imply that he has accepted Demea’s new philosophy. Some MSS give the line to Aeschinus, who will then be expressing approval of Demea’s permission to Ctesipho to keep the girl. If it belongs to Micio, there is a problem of interpretation. Donatus takes him to mean “I approve this though not the rest”, which leaves Micio still resisting or resentful. J.Barsby, Terence: the Eunuch, Phormio, the Brothers, Bristol (1991)198 argues it is more likely to be a final acquiescence (“All right, you win”).

6 cf.Dorey 38.

7 Most scholars take the conflict between two opposing systems of paternal education as the major theme of the play. Lord 194, however, has a different view: it should be understood as a confrontation between two human types. I rather notice the dramatic effect taht the conflict may give to the audience.

8 Micio belongs to the type of the “lenient old man”(senex lenis), but as Barsby 143 points out, he is not just a type; since the fact that Micio is a bachelor with an adopted son is unlike the usual lenient father. Demea, on the other hand, belongs to the type of the “stern old man”(senex durus), but it is noteworthy that he finally admits himself so (859 ego vitam duram quam vixi).

9 In this connection, I notice Demea’s words “ego vitam duram quam vixi usque adhuc prope iam excurso spatio omitto”(859-60), which express his determination to change his way of life. Johnson 181, interprets differently. “With omitto he (Demea) does not announce the necessity for (much less the possibility of ) changing his life; rather he admits that his life seems suddenly ugly and hopeless, and he himself a failure.”

10 Martin ad 57-8 comments that this need not imply that he is wholly successful in their application.

11 cf.J.N.Grant, The Ending of Terence’s Adelphoe, AJP96(1975) 44-5.

12 cf.Johnson 174 n.7.

13 cf.Grant 44. Johnson 174 judges that there is no question of Micio’s describing Demea unfairly.

14 The translation is based on J.Sargeaunt, Terence (II), Loeb Classical Library (London and New York 1912) .

15 cf.Johnson 171ff; Grant 47-8.

16 It is observed that there are similarities in the Nicomachean Ehics, but some caution is needed; the question arises of whether Micio puts his theory into practice. cf.Grant 44; Rieth 19ff.

17 cf.Johnson 175.

18 Johnson 176. “The wrath of Demea increases in proportion as his brother’s patience, tolerance, and genial resourcefulness increase.”

19 Johnson 175 observes that for the first four acts we see Demea mainly through Micio’s eyes, for not only do we accept Micio’s initial evaluation of his brother’s character, but as we watch Micio make worse Demea’s worst traits (therby displaying his own best traits to their advantage) we come to adopt Micio’s attitude to his brother.

20 Aeschinus admits his fault (cf.628ff.). Micio says it is a great fault (687 peccatum…magunum).

21 As for the role of Syrus in the play, see Forehand 52ff.

22 Hid ignorance of the son’s affairs is to be expected from the plot, since if he knew everything, all Aeschinus’ energies and Syrus’ tricks would be unnecessary. cf.Forehand 53.

23Micio scolds Aeschinus for being “heedless”(684) and “thoughtless”(695), for seducing a girl he “never should have touched”(686), and for doing nothing “while nine months went by” (691). At the same time he softens the lecture by declaring his love and understanding (“I understand, for I love you…”680) and by allowing that it is “human” even for honest men to err.

24 cf.Forehand 54.

25 Dorey 38 takes this attitude very positive. “Micio shows the sterner side of his nature by giving Aeschinus a very unpleasant few minutes.”

26 cf.Grant 48.

27 Grant 48.

28 Grant 48 admits that this is sophistic defense and hardly convincing.

29 Forehand 52 asserts differently. “even though Demea relaxes his stringency near the end of the play, our sympathies lie more with Micio’s methods, for when compared with his brother, Micio is the more attractive figure.”

30 Lloyd-Jones 283 points out that Demea’s soliloquy has something in common with Cnemon’s moving apologia in the Dyskolos (708ff.), and something with Demea’s remonstrance with Moschion in the last act of the Samia (694ff.).

31 Johnson 181 points out that the closing scenes of the play argue against this kind of interpretation.

32 Referring to the concern for money, Demea reproduces what Micio said at 833-4 closely (953-954) to check his counterattack: “It is a flaw common to us all that in old age we think too much of money.”

33 Demea uses Micio’s favorite words: decet (928), aequomst (933). recte (951), decet (954), aequom (960), and aequomst (968).

34 Notice 934 ineptis. It is Micio that objects to Demea’s suggestion: in the past, as Micio recalls at 63 (nimium ineptus es) it was Demea that challenged Micio like this.

35 cf.944 alienum a vita mea.

36 cf.Johnson, 185.

37 cf.Barsby 195.

38 In my interpretation, Demea did actually decide to court popularity by indulgence but then modified his tactics in practice to accord better with his real feelings.

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