(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Moschus (MAHS-kuhs) of Syracuse was the middle of the three bucolic poets, between Theocritus of Syracuse and Bion. He probably lived in Alexandria, Egypt, where he studied under Aristarchus of Samothrace. He wrote light verse rather than serious poetry but was influenced by more serious poets, such as Apollonius Rhodius. All his surviving works are in hexameter.

Of Moschus’s three short poems anthologized by Greek anthologist Joannes Stobaios in the fifth century c.e., one extols rustic simplicity and the other two are erotic. Two additional short pastoral love poems, “Eros Drapetês” (n.d.; “The Runaway Love,” 1651) and “Eros the Plowman” (n.d.; translation, 1651), are attributed to Moschus. His mock epic poem, Europa (n.d.; English translation, 1651), is known for its crude humor, suggestive themes, and grotesque imagery. The Megara (n.d.), a mournful dialogue between Heracles’ wife Megara and mother Alcmene, is believed to have been written by either Moschus or one of his near contemporaries.

Moschus Influence

(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Bucolic, or pastoral, poetry celebrates the country life and its occupations, especially shepherding. It reached its zenith in the poet Vergil’s Eclogues (43-37 b.c.e.; English translation, 1575, also known as Bucolics). All three of the bucolic poets inspired English poets Alexander Pope and William Wordsworth.

Moschus Bibliography

(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Campbell, Malcolm. Introduction and commentary to Europa, by Moschus. New York: Olms-Weidmann, 1991. Includes a discussion of that work as an example of the Hellenistic taste for burlesque in poetry.

Fowler, Barbara Hughes. The Hellenistic Aesthetic. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989. A thematic discussion of Hellenistic poetry that compares literary style to contemporary trends in art, sculpture, and jewelry.

Hutchinson, G. O. Hellenistic Poetry. New York: Clarendon Press, 1990. Provides an excellent overview of Alexandrian pastoral poetry and helps place Moschus in the context of contemporary works by Theocritus, Apollonius of Rhodes, and Callimachus.

Webster, T. B. L. Hellenistic Poetry and Art. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1964.