Moschus Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Little is known about the life of Moschus (MAHS-kuhs), a minor poet of the Hellenistic pastoral tradition. The sole surviving sources on his life are a brief entry in the Suda, a literary and historical summary that dates to the late tenth century c.e., and a marginal note to The Runaway Love in the Greek Anthology, a collection of poetry that may date from roughly the same time as the Suda. All the available biographical information about Moschus was thus written well over a thousand years after the poet lived.

Both surviving sources suggest that Moschus was a native of Syracuse and that he was primarily a grammarian rather than a poet. If this is true, it may suggest that the author of Europa was the same Moschus who, as claimed by the polymath Athenaeus (who flourished around the year 200), wrote a work on the Rhodian dialect of Greek. It is possible, however, that late Byzantine authors merely confused two early figures with the same name.

The poet Moschus is said to have been a pupil of the Homeric scholar Aristarchus, who taught at Alexandria in Egypt from 180-144 b.c.e. Stylistically, Moschus seems to date roughly between the pastoral poets, the third century b.c.e. Theocritus and Bion, who was probably active during the second century b.c.e. These two pieces of information suggest that the height of Moschus’s career was about the year 150 b.c.e.

Like much late Hellenistic poetry, Moschus’s works are charming but ultimately trivial sketches of country life. They are important primarily as intermediaries between the innovative pastoral poems of Theocritus and the early bucolic works of Vergil (70-19 b.c.e.), who adapted Greek pastoral poetry to the Latin language. Moschus is capable of vivid description and of arousing sympathy or tenderness in his readers. Nevertheless, his surviving poems provide no penetrating insights and rarely, if ever, contain much beyond...

(The entire section is 866 words.)