Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Theocritus is perhaps the originator of the literary genre of pastoral poetry. The Idylls has, therefore, exerted tremendous influence on European literature. The Idylls is a collection of thirty short poems ascribed to Theocritus in antiquity, perhaps incorrectly. Taking its basic inspiration from the yearnings and concerns of Greek shepherds and simple country folk, pastoral poetry is potentially a confining genre. Readers of Theocritus will acknowledge, however, that his poems explore an astonishingly wide variety of themes—love, death, the meaning of art, the joys of life in the country, the nuisances of the city, the mysteries of myth and magic. Part of the explanation for the great diversity of theme and subject matter in the Idylls is to be found in the special character of ancient poetry collections, which frequently included any and all works that might possibly be attributed to a famous name. In fact, some of the poems that are contained in the Idylls are almost certainly the work of imitators of Theocritus.
Little is known about Theocritus beyond occasional hints in his poetry. The dates of his birth and death are not preserved, but he was certainly active in the first quarter of the third century b.c.e. From subtle references in his poetry a tentative biography can be reconstructed. Born in Syracuse, he apparently emigrated from Sicily and spent time in southern Italy, on the...
(The entire section is 1672 words.)
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