(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

Theocritus c. 300 b.c.—c. 250 b.c.

(Also known as Theokritos) Greek poet.

Theocritus is credited by many with either creating the genre of pastoral poetry, or, if not creating it, being its first known master. His short poems, or Idylls, are the most famous example of the bucolic (ancient pastoral) form. In the world described by Theocritus, shepherd-poets tend their flocks, seek romance with local nymphs, and make wagers in singing contests with other shepherds. Although Theocritus influenced other writers, notably Virgil in his Eclogues, it is indirectly—through Virgil's effect on other poets—that Theocritus made the greatest impact. Critics particularly cite Theocritus's influence on, among others, Edmund Spenser, John Milton, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Matthew Arnold.

Biographical Information

Little is known about the life of Theocritus except what can be gleaned from his poetry. He was born in Syracuse, in Sicily, and his parents were named Praxagoras and Philinna. Nothing more is known of them. His writings attest to his familiarity with southern Italy, Cos, and Alexandria; his concern with following in the poetic tradition of Homer, but also in breaking away from it with his own innovations; and the fact that he had attained some degree of fame. Some of the Theocritus's idylls also contain hints that he had varying degrees of success at gaining patrons. Scholars have suggested that much of his writing was completed before 270 b.c.

Major Works

Although Theocritus also wrote epigrams, by far his most important work is the Idylls. They are often divided into two categories by critics. The first group, set in the country, includes the bucolics and mimes (dramatic sketches or character sketches). The second group, set in the city, includes epics, lyrics, and epigrams. Theocritus wrote in short hexameters, laced his poems with allusions, and seemed to enjoy practicing linguistic novelty. There is no reliable external evidence for dating any of his compositions. Some effort has been made, by Alexander Sens and others, to date Theocritus's writings in relation to other third-century b.c. poems. As Sens states: “Such relative chronologies are necessarily complicated by the nature of ‘publication’ among learned Hellenistic poets, who must often have had access to one another's works in advance of their publication in the form in which we now have them. It is thus easily possible that an early version of a given poem influenced the idyll, but that a later version of the same work drew from it instead.” Scholars are not in agreement about the order of composition of Theocritus's idylls. Although thirty poems are typically included in editions of Theocritus, only twenty-two are generally accepted as authentic works. Idylls “8,” “9,” “19-21,” “23,” “25,” and “27” are thought to be the product of imitators. A similar situation exists with the epigrams, in which not all of the twenty-five collected under his name are thought to be Theocritus's work. Critics consider the “seventh Idyll,” sometimes called “The Harvest Festival,” Theocritus's masterpiece, although his eleventh, “The Cyclops,” is also much admired. Scholars have found considerable evidence that the order of the poems used in modern editions of Theocritus's works is different than the scheme of his original presentation, but it is impossible to recreate with any certainty the poet's own arrangement.

Critical Reception

The two main criticisms of Theocritus's work are that it is too artificial and unrealistic in its portrayal of the language of peasants and that it led to mediocre, imitative pastoral poetry in later centuries. Defenders argue that Theocritus was not aiming for realism and that he cannot fairly be blamed for the later misuses of his poetic legacy. The importance of A. F. S. Gow's work on Theocritus can scarcely be overestimated. Since his Theocritus was published in 1950 (with minor corrections in 1952), the general public has had easy access to the Greek text, English translation, and commentary. Because of this, scholars have had a strong base from which to develop their research. Much of this research is devoted to studying the scanty evidence of Theocritus's precursors. David M. Halperin, Steven F. Walker, and Thomas K. Hubbard, among others, have urged that care be taken in crediting Theocritus with creating pastoral poetry. Walker points out that since much of Greek poetry is lost, it is impossible to say for certain that no one wrote works like Theocritus before him. Halperin explains that there is evidence of a prior pastoral tradition, but that matters are made difficult by the imprecise use of the terms bucolic and pastoral and by their shifting meanings over time. Hubbard posits that Theocritus did develop a bucolic style within his idylls, working from existing tradition but advancing it. J. Vara investigates the possible folk origins of bucolic poetry. T. O. Beachcroft looks much further forward, to the time of Anton Chekov, and explains how “Idyll 15” holds much in common with the modern short story.

Principal Works

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

Idylls (poetry) c. before 270 B.C.

Theocritus Vol. 1 [translated by A. S. F. Gow] (poetry) 1950

The Idylls of Theokritus[translated by Barriss Mills] (poetry) 1963

The Idylls of Theocritus [translated by Robert Wells] (poetry) 1988

A Selection: Idylls 1, 3, 4, 6, 7, 10, 11, and 13 [edited by Richard Hunter] (poetry) 1999

A. Lang (essay date 1909)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “Theocritus and His Age,” in Theocritus, Bion, and Moschus, Macmillan and Co., Limited, 1909, pp. xi-xlii.

[In the following essay, Lang discusses the legend of Theocritus, the influence Sicily and its shepherds had upon his poetry, and the characteristics of art during the age in which he wrote.]

At the beginning of the third century before Christ, in the years just preceding those in which Theocritus wrote, the genius of Greece seemed to have lost her productive force. Nor would it have been strange if that force had really been exhausted. Greek poetry had hitherto enjoyed a peculiarly free development, each form of art succeeding each without break or pause, because each—epic, lyric, dithyramb, the drama—had responded to some new need of the state and of religion. Now in the years that followed the fall of Athens and the conquests of Macedonia, Greek religion and the Greek state had ceased to be themselves. Religion and the state had been the patrons of poetry; on their decline poetry seemed dead. There were no heroic kings, like those for whom epic minstrels had chanted. The cities could no longer welcome an Olympian winner with Pindaric hymns. There was no imperial Athens to fill the theatres with a crowd of citizens and strangers eager to listen to new tragic masterpieces. There was no humorous democracy to laugh at all the world, and at itself, with Aristophanes. The very religion of Sophocles and Aeschylus was debased. A vulgar usurper had stripped the golden ornaments from Athene of the Parthenon. The ancient faith in the protecting gods of Athens, of Sparta, and of Thebes, had become a lax readiness to bow down in the temple of any Oriental Rimmon, of Serapis or Adonis. Greece had turned her face, with Alexander of Macedon, to the East; Alexander had fallen, and Greece had become little better than the western portion of a divided Oriental empire. The centre of intellectual life had been removed from Athens to Alexandria (founded 332 b.c.) The new Greek cities of Egypt and Asia, and above all Alexandria, seemed no cities at all to Greeks who retained the pure Hellenic traditions. Alexandria was thirty times larger than the size assigned by Aristotle to a well-balanced state. Austere spectators saw in Alexandria an Eastern capital and mart, a place of harems and bazaars, a home of tyrants, slaves, dreamers, and pleasure-seekers. Thus a Greek of the old school must have despaired of Greek poetry. There was nothing (he would have said) to evoke it; no dawn of liberty could flush this silent Memnon into song. The collectors, critics, librarians of Alexandria could only produce literary imitations of the epic and the hymn, or could at best write epigrams or inscriptions for the statue of some alien and luxurious god. Their critical activity in every field of literature was immense, their original genius sterile. In them the intellect of the Hellenes still faintly glowed, like embers on an altar that shed no light on the way. Yet over these embers the god poured once again the sacred oil, and from the dull mass leaped, like a many-coloured flame, the genius of theocritus.

To take delight in that genius, so human, so kindly, so musical in expression, requires, it may be said, no long preparation. The art of Theocritus scarcely needs to be illustrated by any description of the conditions among which it came to perfection. It is always impossible to analyse into its component parts the genius of a poet. But it is not impossible to detect some of the influences that worked on Theocritus. We can study his early ‘environment’; the country scenes he knew, and the songs of the neatherds which he elevated into art. We can ascertain the nature of the demand for poetry in the chief cities and in the literary society of the time. As a result, we can understand the broad twofold division of the poems of Theocritus into rural and epic idyls, and with this we must rest contented.

It is useless to attempt a regular biography of Theocritus. Facts and dates are alike wanting, the ancient accounts (p. ix) are clearly based on his works, but it is by no means impossible to construct a ‘legand’ or romance of his life, by aid of his own verses, and of hints and fragments which reach us from the past and the present. The genius of Theocritus was so steeped in the colours of human life, he bore such true and full witness as to the scenes and men he knew, that life (always essentially the same) becomes in turn a witness to his veracity. He was born in the midst of nature that, through all the changes of things, has never lost its sunny charm. The existence he loved best to contemplate, that of southern shepherds, fishermen, rural people, remains what it always has been in Sicily and in the isles of Greece. The habits and the passions of his countryfolk have not altered, the echoes of their old love-songs still sound among the pines, or by the sea-banks, where Theocritus ‘watched the visionary flocks.’

Theocritus was probably born in an early decade of the third century, or, according to Couat, about 315 b.c., and was a native of Syracuse, ‘the greatest of Greek cities, the fairest of all cities.’ So Cicero calls it, describing the four quarters that were encircled by its walls,—each quarter as large as a town,—the fountain Arethusa, the stately temples with their doors of ivory and gold. On the fortunate dwellers in Syracuse, Cicero says, the sun shone every day, and there was never a morning so tempestuous but the sunlight conquered at last, and broke through the clouds. That perennial sunlight still floods the poems of Theocritus with its joyous glow. His birthplace was the proper home of an idyllic poet, of one who, with all his enjoyment of the city life of Greece, had yet been ‘breathed on by the rural Pan,’ and best loved the sights and sounds and fragrant air of the forests and the coast. Thanks to the mountainous regions of Sicily, to Etna, with her volcanic cliffs and snow-fed streams, thanks also to the hills of the interior, the populous island never lost the charm of nature. Sicily was not like the over-crowded and over-cultivated Attica; among the Sicilian heights and by the coast were few enclosed estates and narrow farms. The character of the people, too, was attuned to poetry. The Dorian settlers had kept alive the magic of rivers, of pools where the Nereids dance, and uplands haunted by Pan. This popular poetry influenced the literary verse of Sicily. The songs of Stesichorus, a minstrel of the early period, and the little rural ‘mimes’ or interludes of Sophron are lost, and we have only fragments of Epicharmus. But it seems certain that these poets, predecessors of Theocritus, liked to mingle with their own composition strains of rustic melody, volks-lieder, ballads, love-songs, ditties, and dirges, such as are still chanted by the peasants of Greece and Italy. Thus in Syracuse and the other towns of the coast, Theocritus would have always before his eyes the spectacle of refined and luxurious manners, and always in his ears the babble of the Dorian women, while he had only to pass the gates, and wander through the fens of Lysimeleia, by the brackish mere, or ride into the hills, to find himself in the golden world of pastoral. Thinking of his early years, and of the education that nature gives the poet, we can imagine him, like Callicles in Mr. Arnold's poem, singing at the banquet of a merchant or a general—

‘With his head full of wine, and his hair crown'd,
Touching his harp as the whim came on him,
And praised and spoil'd by master and by guests,
Almost as much as the new dancing girl.’

We can recover the world that met his eyes and inspired his poems, though the dates of the composition of these poems are unknown. We can follow him, in fancy, as he breaks from the revellers and wanders out into the night. Wherever he turned his feet, he could find such scenes as he has painted in the idyls. If the moon rode high in heaven, as he passed through the outlying gardens he might catch a glimpse of some deserted girl shredding the magical herbs into the burning brazier, and sending upward to the ‘lady Selene’ the song which was to charm her lover home. The magical image melted in the burning, the herbs smouldered, the tale of love was told, and slowly the singer ‘drew the quiet night into her blood.’ Her lay ended with a passage of softened melancholy—

‘Do thou farewell, and turn thy steeds to Ocean, lady, and my pain I will endure, even as I have declared. Farewell, Selene beautiful; farewell, ye other stars that follow the wheels of Night.’

A grammarian says that Theocritus borrowed this “second idyl,” the story of Simaetha, from a piece by Sophron. But he had no need to borrow from anything but the nature before his eyes. Ideas change so little among the Greek country people, and the hold of superstition is so strong, that betrayed girls even now sing to the Moon their prayer for pity and help. Theocritus himself could have added little passion to this incantation, still chanted in the moonlit nights of Greece:1

‘Bright golden Moon, that now art near to thy setting, go thou and salute my lover, he that stole my love, and that kissed me, and said, “Never will I leave thee.” And, lo, he has left me, like a field reaped and gleaned, like a church where no man comes to pray, like a city desolate. Therefore I would curse him, and yet again my heart fails me for tenderness, my heart is vexed within me, my spirit is moved with anguish. Nay, even so I will lay my curse on him, and let God do even as He will, with my pain and with my crying, with my flame, and mine imprecations.

It is thus that the women of the islands, like the girl of Syracuse two thousand years ago, hope to lure back love or avenged love betrayed, and thus they ‘win more ease from song than could be bought with gold.’

In whatever direction the path of the Syracusan wanderer lay, he would find then, as he would find now in Sicily, some scene of the idyllic life, framed between the distant Etna and the sea. If he strayed in the faint blue of the summer dawn, through the fens to the shore, he might reach the wattled cabin of the two old fishermen in the “twenty-first idyl.” There is nothing in Wordsworth more real, more full of the incommunicable sense of nature, rounding and softening the toilsome days of the aged and the poor, than the Theocritean poem of the Fisherman's Dream. It is as true to nature as the statue of the naked fisherman in the Vatican. One cannot read these verses but the vision returns to one, of sandhills by the sea, of a low cabin roofed with grass, where fishing-rods of reed are leaning against the door, while the Mediterranean floats up her waves that fill the waste with sound. This nature, grey and still, seems in harmony with the wise content of old men whose days are waning on the limit of life, as they have all been spent by the desolate margin of the sea.

The “twenty-first idyl” is one of the rare poems of Theocritus that are not filled with the sunlight of Sicily, or of Egypt. The landscapes he prefers are often seen under the noonday heat, when shade is most pleasant to men. His shepherds invite each other to the shelter of oak-trees or of pines, where the dry firneedles are strown, or where the feathered ferns make a luxurious ‘couch more soft than sleep,’ or where the flowers bloom whose musical names sing in the idyls. Again, Theocritus will sketch the bare beginnings of the hillside, as in the “third idyl,” just where the olive-gardens cease, and where the short grass of the heights alternates with rocks, and thorns, and aromatic plants. None of his pictures seem complete without the presence of water. It may be but the wells that the maidenhair fringes, or the babbling runnel of the fountain of the Nereids. The shepherds may sing of Crathon, or Sybaris, or Himeras, waters so sweet that they seem to flow with milk and honey. Again, Theocritus may encounter his rustics fluting in rivalry, like Daphnis and Menalcas in the “eighth idyl,” ‘on the long ranges of the hills.’ Their kine and sheep have fed upwards from the lower valleys to the place where

‘The track winds down to the clear stream,
To cross the sparkling shallows; there
The cattle love to gather, on their way
To the high mountain-pastures, and to stay,
Till the rough cow-herds drive them past,
Knee-deep in the cool ford; for 'tis the last
Of all the woody, high, well-water'd dells
On Etna, …
And stream, and sward, and chestnut-trees,
End here; Etna beyond, in the broad glare
Of the hot noon, without a shade,
Slope behind slope, up to the peak, lies bare;
The peak, round which the white clouds play.’(2)

Theocritus never drives his flock so high, and rarely muses on such thoughts as come to wanderers beyond the shade of trees and the sound of water among the scorched rocks and the barren lava. The day is always cooled and soothed, in his idyls, with the ‘music of water that falleth from the high face of the rock,’ or with the murmurs of the sea. From the cliffs and their seat among the bright red berries on the arbutus shrubs, his shepherds flute to each other, as they watch the tunny fishers cruising far below, while the echo floats upwards of the sailors' song. These shepherds have some touch in them of the satyr nature; we might fancy that their ears are pointed like those of Hawthorne's Donatello, in ‘Transformation.’

It should be noticed, as a proof of the truthfulness of Theocritus, that the songs of his shepherds and goatherds are all such as he might really have heard on the shores of Sicily. This is the real answer to the criticism which calls him affected. When mock pastorals flourished at the court of France, when the long dispute as to the merits of the ancients and moderns was raging, critics vowed that the hinds of Theocritus were too sentimental and polite in their wooings. Refinement and sentiment were to be reserved for princely shepherds dancing, crook in hand, in the court ballets. Louis XIV sang of himself—

‘A son labeur il passe tout d'un coup,
Et n'ira pas dormir sur la fougere,
Ny s'oublier aupres d'une Bergere,
Jusques au point d'en oublier le Loup.’(3)

Accustomed to royal goatherds in silk and lace, Fontenelle (a severe critic of Theocritus) could not believe in the delicacy of a Sicilian who wore a skin ‘stripped from the roughest of he-goats, with the smell of the rennet clinging to it still.’ Thus Fontenelle cries, ‘Can any one suppose that there ever was a shepherd who could say “Would I were the humming bee, Amaryllis, to flit to thy cave, and dip beneath the branches, and the ivy leaves that hide thee”?’ and then he quotes other graceful passages from the love-verses of Theocritean swains. Certainly no such fancies were to be expected from the French peasants of Fontenelle's age, ‘creatures blackened with the sun, and bowed with labour and hunger.’ The imaginative grace of Battus is quite as remote from our own hinds. But we have the best reason to suppose that the peasants of Theocritus's time expressed refined sentiment in language adorned with colour and music, because the modern love-songs of Greek shepherds sound like memories of Theocritus. The lover of Amaryllis might have sung this among his ditties—…

‘To flit towards these lips of thine, I fain would be
                                        a swallow,
To kiss thee once, to kiss thee twice, and then go
                                        flying homeward.’(4)

In his despair, when Love ‘clung to him like a leech of the fen,’ he might have murmured—…

‘Would that I were on the high hills, and lay where lie the stags, and no more was troubled with the thought of thee.’

Here, again, is a love-complaint from modern Epirus, exactly in the tone of Battus's song in the “tenth idyl”—

‘White thou art not, thou art not golden haired,
Thou art brown, and gracious, and meet for love.’

Here is a longer love-ditty—

‘I will begin by telling thee first of thy perfections: thy body is as fair as an angel's; no painter could design it. And if any man be sad, he has but to look on thee, and despite himself he takes courage, the hapless one, and his heart is joyous. Upon thy brows are shining the constellated Pleiades, thy breast is full of the flowers of May, thy breasts are lilies. Thou hast the eyes of a princess, the glance of a queen, and but one fault hast thou, that thou deignest not to speak to me.’

Battus might have cried thus, with a modern Greek singer, to the shade of the dead Amaryllis (“Idyl IV”), the ‘gracious Amaryllis, unforgotten even in death’—

‘Ah, light of mine eyes, what gift shall I send thee; what gift to the other world? The apple rots, and the quince decayeth, and one by one they perish, the petals of the rose! I send thee my tears bound in a napkin, and what though the napkin burns, if my tears reach thee at last!’

The difficulty is to stop choosing, where all the verses of the modern Greek peasants are so rich in Theocritean memories, so ardent, so delicate, so full of flowers and birds and the music of fountains. Enough has been said, perhaps, to show what the popular poetry of Sicily could lend to the genius of Theocritus.

From her shepherds he borrowed much,—their bucolic melody; their love-complaints; their rural superstitions; their system of answering couplets, in which each singer refines on the utterance of his rival. But he did not borrow their ‘pastoral melancholy.’ There is little of melancholy in Theocritus. When Battus is chilled by the thought of the death of Amaryllis, it is but as one is chilled when a thin cloud passes over the sun, on a bright day of early spring. And in an epigram the dead girl is spoken of as the kid that the wolf has seized, while the hounds bay all too late. Grief will not bring her back. The world must go its way, and we need not darken its sunlight by long regret. Yet when, for once, Theocritus adopted the accent of pastoral lament, when he raised the rural dirge for Daphnis into the realm of art, he composed a masterpiece, and a model for all later poets, as for the authors of Lycidas, Thyrsis, and Adonais.

Theocritus did more than borrow a note from the country people. He brought the gifts of his own spirit to the contemplation of the world. He had the clearest vision, and he had the most ardent love of poetry, ‘of song may all my dwelling be...

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Robert Thomas Kerlin (essay date 1910)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: An introduction to Theocritus in English Literature, J. P. Bell Company, 1910, pp. 1-12.

[In the following excerpt, Kerlin discusses the scope and importance of Theocritus's work, its characteristics, and its influence on English literature.]


It will be appropriate first to indicate the scope and character of the influence I am to describe before we engage ourselves with the minutiæ of allusions, imitations, parallels, translations, and the like matters. These first paragraphs, then, will consist of general statements, of condensed results, which will at once give meaning to and derive support from the...

(The entire section is 4456 words.)

A. S. F. Gow (essay date 1953)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: An introduction to The Greek Bucolic Poets, Cambridge University Press, 1953, pp. xiii-xxvii.

[In the following excerpt, Gow examines the history of bucolic poetry, summarizes the life of Theocritus, and discusses his use of dialects.]


In a lost treatise on the invention of Bucolic, of which the contents are preserved in the ancient commentary on Theocritus and in various other places, three accounts are given of the origin of Bucolic. One is that it was invented in Sparta during the Persian invasion, when, since the girls were in hiding, rustics in their place entered the temple of Artemis Caryatis and sang...

(The entire section is 4068 words.)

T. O. Beachcroft (essay date 1974)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “Katherine Mansfield's Encounter with Theocritus,” in English, Vol. XXIII, No. 115, Spring, 1974, pp. 13-19.

[In the following essay, Beachcroft considers the impact that the “XV Idyll” (known as the “Adoniazusae”) had on Katherine Mansfield's short stories.]

That Katherine Mansfield had at one time read a translation of the “XVth Idyll” of Theocritus and had given it considerable thought may not at first glance seem a very important piece of information. Yet it has a remarkable interest in the development of her own art and thus of the modern short story; and when Antony Alpers, author of Katherine Mansfield (1954), wrote to tell me that...

(The entire section is 4548 words.)

Steven F. Walker (essay date 1980)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Literary Background of the Idylls” and “The Influence of Theocritus,” in Theocritus, Twayne Publishers, 1980, pp. 113-49.

[In the following excerpt, Walker examines Theocritus's use of the herdsman-poet figure, his mixing of genres, his relationship to his contemporaries, and his influence and reputation.]

Theocritus began his career as a poet in the first quarter of the third century b.c.—that is, after a glorious period of almost five hundred years during which most of the Greek literary masterpieces which we study, admire, and enjoy today had found their first audiences. Thanks to the labors of the scholar-poets of the Alexandrian...

(The entire section is 15981 words.)

David M. Halperin (essay date 1983)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “Bucolic and Pastoral in Theocritus,” in Before Pastoral: Theocritus and the Ancient Tradition of Bucolic Poetry, Yale University Press, 1983, pp. 118-37.

[In the following excerpt, Halperin explores Theocritus's use of pastoral poetry and discusses to what extent it is correct to credit him with originality in working within the bucolic tradition.]

Yet even should it be conceded, as indeed it must, that Theocritus is the first writer to employ a fully elaborated system of pastoral conventions to express the outlook or set of attitudes we regard as distinctively pastoral and that this fusion, further consolidated by Virgil, would subsequently dominate an...

(The entire section is 8412 words.)

George B. Walsh (essay date 1985)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “Seeing and Feeling: Representation in Two Poems of Theocritus,” in Classical Philology, Vol. 80, No. 1, January, 1985, pp. 1-19.

[In the following essay, Walsh studies “Idyll 1” and “Idyll 7” for what they reveal about Theocritus's attempts to portray certain aspects of character.]

As soon as poets begin to speak, at the end of the fifth century, about their skill at capturing the familiar look of things,1 others begin to ask questions about the limits of this endeavor. First, they ask technical questions, like the one posed in Aristophanes' Frogs: can the naturalistic manner adequately represent every kind of object? (According...

(The entire section is 10021 words.)

J. Vara (essay date 1992)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Sources of Theocritean Bucolic Poetry,” in Mnemosyne, Series IV, Vol. XLV, No. 3, 1992, pp. 333-44.

[In the following essay, Vara deduces that although Theocritus did not gather the pastoral details of the Idylls from real life, but from the writings of others, he can nethertheless properly be called the creator of a new type of poetry.]

1. Within Theocritus' work, the problem of the origin of his specifically bucolic poetry (Idylls “I,” “II”1), “III,” “IV,” “V,” “VI,” “VII,” “IX,” “X,” “XI,” “XIV”) has often, even from the time of antiquity, been a subject for debate. The older...

(The entire section is 4292 words.)

Joan B. Burton (essay date 1995)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “Gender and Power,” in Theocritus's Urban Mimes: Mobility, Gender, and Patronage, University of California Press, 1995, pp. 41-92.

[In the following excerpt, Burton examines how Theocritus portrayed changing gender roles, the rise of feminine power, and gender ambiguity in his poems.]

The ascendancy of autocratic hegemonies, the rise in mobility, and the reliance on mercenary forces had strong effects on gendered social identities for Greeks in the Hellenistic age. Masculine power in the old Greek world was closely linked with the ideal of a citizen-soldier.1 But in a mobile Hellenistic world, citizenship was losing its appeal as a measure of...

(The entire section is 28039 words.)

Thomas K. Hubbard (essay date 1998)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “Poetic Succession and the Genesis of Alexandrian Bucolic,” in The Pipes of Pan: Intertextuality and Literary Filiation in the Pastoral Tradition from Theocritus to Milton, The University of Michigan Press, 1998, pp. 19-44.

[In the following excerpt, Hubbard focuses on the stylistic qualities that made Theocritus so influential on his successors.]

The quest for a pre-Theocritean form of bucolic poetry has proven unproductive for scholars, whether they have sought it in country songs, religious ritual, archaic lyric, or even Near Eastern traditions.1 The most that can be found in some of these traditions are occasional strands of pastoral imagery,...

(The entire section is 10917 words.)

Further Reading

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)


Bowie, E. L. “Theocritus's Seventh Idyll, Philetas and Longus.” The Classical Quarterly XXXV, No. 1 (1985): 67-91.

Contends that the identity of the perceived narrator changes during the course of the poem and explores possible allusions Theocritus strove for in naming the goatherd Lycidas.

Burton, Joan B. “The Function of the Symposium Theme in Theocritus's Idyll 14.” Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies 33, No. 3 (Fall 1992): 227-45.

Provides an overview of Greek symposia and explains how Theocritus used the symposium theme to address contemporary social problems.


(The entire section is 576 words.)