The Poetry of Moschus Critical Essays


Critical Evaluation

(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

There is virtually no real biographical evidence about the lyric poet Moschus. Suidas, the lexicographer who lived in the tenth century, and a note appended to the poem of Moschus called “Love in Flight” provide the only sources of information available. For what they are worth, these sources assert that Moschus was born at Syracuse and was a student of the grammarian Aristarchus, who taught at Alexandria from about 180 to about 144 b.c.e. The year 150 would possibly be about the middle of the life of Moschus.

Moschus is considered the chronological, if not the stylistic, successor to the Greek bucolic poet, Theocritus, and it is a commonplace to say that he is a pastoral poet like Theocritus. The texts of the poems of Moschus, however, do not actually support such an assertion. The pastoral poets assumed the mask of shepherds, or in Greek pastors, and in the guise of simple country folk they sang of love and death in a highly stylized and conventional manner. The reputation of Moschus as a Greek poet rests on three poems, “Love in Flight,” “Europa,” and “Lament for Bion.” The other poems attributed to him are fragments surviving as quotations in other works and are of little consequence. These poems, in general, follow the pastoral conventions much less than most critics assume.

The “Lament for Bion” is the closest to Theocritus in manner of all the works by Moschus, but it is agreed by the best authorities that it is not really by Moschus, although traditionally attributed to him. The work was probably written by a student of Bion in imitation of his master’s “Lament for Adonis.” “Lament for Bion” is an elegy, a song of mourning, for the poet Bion who, as the poem asserts, had drunk poison. The poem has a refrain, “Keen, Sicilian women, keen the cry of grief for him, mourn melodic maidens.” This recurring line sets off sections of the poem. The subjects treated in each section are as follows: 1. The poet announces the...

(The entire section is 820 words.)