2,182 years after it was first performed, Terence’s classic Adelphoe came to Cornell’s campus through the Classics Department’s production of the play in its original Latin.
On April 22, the department put on a unique production of Terence’s The Brothers, or Adelphoe in Latin, a story of love, masculinity and childhood.
“Adelphoe showcases a continuation of a long tradition at Cornell of ancient theater, mostly thanks to Professor Frederick Ahl, who is one of my colleagues and routinely does productions, usually in translation,” said Prof. Dan Gallagher, classics, the director of Adelphoe.
Prior to Adelphoe, the last play the Classics Department produced was Seneca’s “The Trojan Women” or Troades in April 2019, before the pandemic.
The idea of a comedy was brought to Gallagher’s attention by the play’s assistant director and actor Chris Chandra ’22 as well as other members of the Cornell Classics Society.
“The Classics Department’s last production was during my freshman year,” Chandra said. “Given that this is my last semester at Cornell, I felt like another play would commemorate how far we have all come in the last few years.”
Unlike “The Trojan Women,” which is a tragedy, Adelphoe is a comedy that revolves around a love story. The play features two families with contrasting parenting styles: one that is authoritarian, and another that is permissive. The audience is presented with two contrasting lifestyles when the adolescent sons of each family fall in love and engage in a series of events that include misunderstanding, trickery, and foolishness.
Adelphoe provided the Cornell and Ithaca communities with an experience that can hardly be seen elsewhere, the director expressed.
“Only a few colleges scattered throughout the world produce plays in the original Latin language, and almost all ancient plays are performed in translation on big-name stages,” said Gallagher.
For Ruby LaRocca, a 10th grade high school student who is taking Latin at Ithaca High School, Adelphoe exceeded expectations.
“I wasn’t expecting it to be so funny,” said LaRocca. “What I read about the Terence play made me expect moralizing statements about parenthood and the right way to raise children. But the play itself was wonderfully fresh and didn’t require any modern embellishments to make it seem relevant; it’s just an insightful play written thousands of years ago.”
The play also featured elaborate costumes and makeup as well as creative staging and props.
“There were some ingenious bits of staging. Some cast members entered from the top of the auditorium and some were waggling fish right in front of audience members,” said LaRocca. “I believe there was even a live eel at some point! Overall, the entire cast really looked like they were having a blast, which is just exciting to witness.”
The production was entirely in Latin and had English super-titles — dialogues projected above the stage —- that were translated by the students. Despite the language barrier some audience members experienced, the production was still understood and appreciated.
“This is still a play about humans and human expression, so the message is universal,” said Meredith Hu ’23, the videographer of the production. “At the same time, the unfamiliar aspects of the play, such as the language, the staging, and the costumes, will make the audience question what they already know”.
Performing the play in the original Latin text was paramount to the goals of the Classics Department.
“We want to primarily keep these works alive in the original language, but we do put on a contemporary modern twist to keep it interesting,” said Gallagher.
Aiden Ackerman ’23, an actor in the play, emphasized the significance of producing a play in Latin.
“When you have a play in the original language, for both the audience and the actors, everyone receives a far more intimate experience than one would get otherwise,” said Ackerman. “Through theater, you are able to transcend boundaries in a way that might not be possible with just literature that is written on a page.”
At its core, the production of Adelphoe continues a legacy of spoken Latin and ancient Roman play production.
“Even though the world has obviously changed dramatically and continues to change, there is still something in these ancient Roman plays in the original Latin that touches the eternal, human nature aspect of our lives that never goes away,” Gallagher said. “This is why we keep these plays alive.”