1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Theocritus

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19435541911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 26 — TheocritusAlbert Curtis Clark

THEOCRITUS, the creator of pastoral poetry, flourished in the 3rd century B.C. Little is known of him beyond what can be inferred from his writings. We must, however, handle these with some caution, since some of the poems (“Idylls”) commonly attributed to him have little claim to authenticity. It is clear that at a very early date two collections were made, one of which included a number of doubtful poems and formed a corpus of bucolic poetry, while the other was confined to those works which were considered to be by Theocritus himself. The record of these recensions is preserved by two epigrams, one of which proceeds from Artemidorus, a grammarian, who lived in the time of Sulla and is said to have been the first editor of these poems. He says, “Bucolic muses, once were ye scattered, but now one byre, one herd is yours.” The second epigram is anonymous, and runs as follows:—“The Chian is another. I, Theocritus, who wrote these songs, am of Syracuse, a man of the people, the son of Praxagoras and famed Philina. I never sought after a strange muse.” The last line may mean that he wrote nothing but bucolic poems, or that he only wrote in Doric. The statement that he was a Syracusan is confirmed by allusions in the “Idylls” (xi. 7, xxviii. 16–18). The information concerning his parentage bears the stamp of genuineness, and disposes of a rival theory based upon a misinterpretation of Idyll vii.—which made him the son of one Simichus. A larger collection, possibly more extensive than that of Artemidorus, and including poems of doubtful authenticity, was known to Suidas, who says: “Theocritus wrote the so-called bucolic poems in the Dorian dialect. Some persons also attribute to him the following: Daughters of Proetus, Hopes, Hymns, Heroines, Dirges, Lyrics, Elegies, Iambics, Epigrams. The first of these may have been known to Virgil, who refers to the Proetides in the Eclogues.[1] The spurious poem xxi. may have been one of the Hopes (cf. l. 66, ἐλπις τῶν ὕπνων), and poem xxvi. may have been one of the Heroines (cf. 1. 36, ripuivai): elegiacs are found in viii. 33–60, and the spurious epitaph on Bion may have been one of the Dirges. The other classes are all represented in the larger collection which has come down to us.

The poems which are generally held to be authentic may be classified thus:—

I. Bucolics and Mimes.—The distinction between these is that the scenes of the former are laid in the country and those of the latter in a town. The most famous of the Bucolics are i;, vii., xi. and vi. In i. Thyrsis sings to a goatherd how Daphnis, the mythical herdsman, having defied the power of Aphrodite, dies rather than yield to a passion with which the goddess had inspired him. In xi. Polyphemus is depicted as in love with the sea-nymph Galatea and finding solace in song: in vi. he is cured of his passion and naively relates how he repulses the overtures now made to him by Galatea. The monster of the Odyssey has been “written up to date” after the Alexandrian manner and has become a gentle simpleton. Idyll vii., the Harvest Feast (OaXforia), is the most important of the bucolic poems. The scene is laid in the isle of Cos. The poet speaks in the first person and is styled Simichidas[2] by his friends. Other poets are introduced under feigned names. Thus ancient critics identified Sicelidas of Samos (1. 40) with Asclepiades the Samian, and Lycidas, “the goatherd of Cydonia,” may well be the poet Astacides, whom Callimachus calls “the Cretan, the goatherd.” Theocritus speaks of himself as having already gained fame, and says that his lays have been brought by report even unto the throne of Zeus.[3] He praises Philetas, the veteran poet of Cos, and criticizes “the fledgelings of the Muse, who cackle against the Chian bard and find_ their labour lost.”[4]. Other persons mentioned are Nicias, a physician of Miletus, whose name occurs in other poems, and Aratus, whom the Scholiast identifies with the author of the Phenomena.

The other bucolic poems need not be further discussed. Several of them consist of a singing-match, conducted according to the rules of amoebean poetry, in which the second singer takes the subject chosen by the first and contributes a variation in the same air. It may be noted that the peasants of Theocritus differ greatly in refinement. Those in v. are low fellows who indulge in coarse abuse. This Idyll and iv. are laid in the neighbourhood of Croton, and we may infer that Theocritus was personally acquainted with Magna Graecia. Suspicion has been cast upon poems viii. and ix. on various grounds. An extreme view holds that in ix. we have two genuine Theocritean fragments, 11. 7-13 and 15-20, describing the joys of summer and winter respectively, which have been provided with a clumsy preface, 11. i-h6, while an early editor of a bucolic collection has appended an epilogue in which he takes leave of the Bucolic Muses.[5] On the other hand, it is clear that both poems were in Virgil’s Theocritus, and that they passed the scrutiny of the editor who formed the short collection of Theocritean Bucolics.

The mimes are three in number, viz., ii., xiv., xv. In ii. Simaetha, deserted by Delphis, tells the story of her love to the moon; in xiv. Aesehincs narrates his quarrel with his sweetheart, and is advised to go to Egypt and enlist in the army of Ptolemy Philadelphus; in x v. Gorgo and Praxinoe go to the festival of Adonis. It may be noticed that in the best MSS. ii. comes immediately before xiv., an arrangement which is obviously right, since it places the three mimes together. The second place in the MSS. is occupied by Idyll vii., the “Harvest Feast.” These three mimes are wonderfully natural and lifelike. There is nothing in ancient literature so vivid and real as the chatter of Gorgo and PraxinoC, and the voces populi in xv.

It will be convenient to add to the Bucolics and Mimes three poems which cannot be brought into any other class, viz.: xii. (Ainu), a poem to a beautiful youth; xviii., the marriage-song of Helen ('EiriflaXd/uos); and xxvi., the murder of Penthcus (Avvai). The genuineness of the last has been attacked by U. von Wilamowitz-Mollendorff on account of the crudity of the language, which sometimes degenerates into doggerel. It is, however, likely that Theocritus intentionally used realistic language for the sake of dramatic effect, and the MSS. evidence is in favour of the poem. Eustathius quotes from it as the work of Theocritus.

II. Epics.—Three of these are Hymns, viz., xvi., xvii. and xxii. In xvi. the poet praises Hiero II. of Syracuse, in xvii. Ptolemy Philadelphus, and in xxii. the Dioscuri. The other poems are xiii., the story of Hylas and the Nymphs, and xxiv. the youthful Heracles. It cannot be said that Theocritus exhibits signal merit in his Epics. In xiii. he shows some 1 skill in word-painting, in xvi. there is some delicate fancy in the description of his poems as “Graces” (Xdpirti), and a passage at the end, where he foretells the joys of peace after the enemy have been driven out of Sicily, has the true bucolic ring. The most that can be said of xxii. and xxiv. is that they are very dramatic. Otherwise they differ little from work done by other poets, such as Callimachus and Apollonius Rhodius. The flattery heaped upon Ptolemy is somewhat nauseous. From another point of view, however, these two poems xvi. and xvii. are supremely interesting, since they are the only ones which can be dated. In xvii. Theocritus celebrates the incestuous marriage of Ptolemy Philadelphus with his sister Arsinoë. This marriage is held to have taken place in 277 B.C., and a recently discovered inscription shows that Arsinoë died in 270, in the fifteenth year of her brother’s reign.[6] This poem, therefore, together with xv., which Theocritus wrote to please Arsinoë (Schol. xoP'ffyKwi t$ Βασιλίδι) must fall within this period. The encomium upon Hiero II. would from internal reasons seem prior to that upon Ptolemy, since in it Theocritus is a hungry poet seeking for a patron, while in the other he is well satisfied with the world. Now Hiero first came to the front in 275 B.C. when he was made “General” (arparriyll): Theocritus speaks of his achievements as still to come,[7] and the silence of the poet would show that Hiero’s marriage to Philistis, his victory over the Mamertines at the Longanus and his election as “King” (fiaaiKtOs), events which are ascribed to 270 B.C., had not yet taken place. If so, xvii. and xv. can only have been written within 275 and 270.

III. Lyrics.—Two of these are certainly by Theocritus, viz., xxviii. and xxix. The first is a very graceful poem presented together with a distaff to Theugenis, wife of Nicias, a doctor of Miletus, on the occasion of a voyage thither undertaken by the poet. The theme of xxix. is similar to that of xii. A very corrupt poem, only found in one very late MS., was discovered by Ziegler in 1864._ Asthe subject and style very closely resemble that of xxix., it is assigned to Theocritus by recent editors.

IV. The Epigrams do not call for detailed notice. They do not possess any special merit, and their authenticity is often doubtful. It remains to notice the poems which are now generally considered to be spurious. They are as follows:—

xix. “Love stealing Honey” (Κηριοκλέπτης). The poem is anonymous in the MSS. and the conception of Love is not Theocritean.

xx. “Herdsman” (BoukoXJo-icoi), xxi. “Fishermen” ('AXwit), xxiii. “Passionate Lover” ('EpcuTrfc). These three poems are remarkable for the corrupt state of their text, which makes it likely that they have come from the same source and possibly are by the same author. The “Fishermen” has been much admired. It is addressed to Diophantus and conveys a moral, that one should work and not dream, illustrated by the story of an old fisherman who dreams that he has caught a fish of gold and narrates his vision to his mate. As Leonidas of Tarentum wrote epigrams on fishermen, and one of them is a dedication of his tackle to Poseidon by Diophantus, the fisher,[8] it is likely that the author of this poem was an imitator of Leonidas. It can hardly be by Leonidas himself, who was a contemporary of Theocritus, as it bears marks of lateness.

xxv. “Heracles the Lion-slayer” (Λεοντοφόνος). This is a long

poem consisting of two episodes, viz. the interview of Heracles with the bailiff of Augeas and his recital to Phyleus, son of Augeas, of the story of the Nemean lion. The composition is not unworthy of Theocritus. It is, however, anonymous in the MSS. and comes next to another anonymous poem called “Megara, the wife of Hercules.” It is probable from some metrical and linguistic peculiarities that xxv. and the " Megara" are both by the same author. xxvii. "The wooing of Daphnis" ('Oapitrrfc) is also anonymous. It contains imitations of Theocritus, but the tone and the language betray a later writer.

We have no sure facts as to the life of Theocritus beyond those supplied by Idylls xvi. and xvii. It is quite uncertain whether the bucolic poems were written in the pleasant isle of Cos among a circle of poets and students, or in Alexandria and meant for dwellers in streets. The usual view is that Theocritus went first from Syracuse to Cos, and then, after suing in vain for the favour of Hiero, took up his residence permanently in Egypt. Some have supposed on very flimsy evidence that he quarrelled with the Egyptian court and retired to Cos, and would assign various poems to the "later-Coan" period.[9]) Wilamowitz-Möllendorff, laying stress on the fact that in the best MS. the poem to Ptolemy (xvii.) comes before that to Hiero (xvi.), very ingeniously puts the Egyptian period first and supposes it to have been of very short duration (i.e. 277 to 275), and then makes the poet, after his unsuccessful appeal to Hiero, retire to Cos for the rest of his life. This view would enable us to see a reference to Ptolemy in vii. 93, and even to the young Apollonius Rhodius in 47-48 of the same poem.

The poems of Theocritus were termed Idylls (εἰύλλια) by the grammarians. The word is a diminutive from eKos, and is supposed to mean "little poems." The use of eKos'in the sense of "poem" is somewhat doubtful, and so some have referred e£5uXXta to «i5os in its usual sense of " form " or "type." Thus eKos Povko\i.k6v, eiruchv, \vpmov might be used to classify various kinds of poetry, and these poems might be called eiouXXia, since they include so many types.

Language and Metre.—Theocritus wrote in various dialects according to the subject. The Lyrics xxviii., xxix. (and xxx.) are in Aeolic, that being the traditional dialect for such poems. Two poems, xii. (AJtijs) and xxii. (to Castor and Pollux), were written in Ionic, as is stated in titles prefixed to them, though a number of Doric forms have been inserted by the scribes. The epics in general show a mixture of Homeric, Ionic and Doric forms. The Bucolics, Mimes, and the "Marriage-song of Helen" (xviii.) are in Doric, with occasional forms from other dialects.

The metre used by Theocritus in the Bucolics and Mimes, as well as in the Epics, is the dactylic hexameter. His treatment of this may be compared both with Homeric usage and that of other Alexandrian poets, e.g. Callimachus. It was the tendency of these writers to use dactyls in preference to spondees with a view to lightness and rapidity. This tendency shows itself most in the third foot, the favourite caesura being the trochaic, i.e. after the second syllable (- ◡ |). On the other hand, the Alexandrians admitted a spondee in the fifth foot, especially when the verse ends with a quadrisyllable. Theocritus in the Epics conforms to the new technique in both these respects: in the Bucolics his practice agrees with that of Homer. The feature in his versification which has attracted most attention is the so-called bucolic caesura. The rule is that, if there is a pause at the end of the fourth foot, this foot must be a dactyl. This pause is no new invention, being exceedingly common in Homer. Theocritus uses it so frequently in the Bucolics that it has become a mannerism. In the Epics his practice agrees with that of Homer.

We always think of Theocritus as an original 'poet, and as the "inventor of bucolic poetry" he deserves this reputation. At the same time he had no scruple about borrowing from predecessors or contemporaries; in fact he did so in the most open manner. Thus xxix. begins with a line of Alcaeus,[10] and xvii., as the Scholiast points out, with words used by Aratus at the beginning of the Phenomena. The love of the Cyclops for Galatea had been treated by_ Philoxenus, and fragments quoted from this show that Theocritus copied some of his phrases closely. In the mimes Theocritus appears to have made great use of Sophron. Idyll ii. is modelled upon a mime of this writer which began in a very similar way.[11] The Scholiast thought that Theocritus showed want of taste in making Thestylis a persona muta, instead of giving her a share in the dialogue as Sophron had done. The famous poem about Gorgo and Praxinoe at the feast of Adonis was modelled on one by Sophron about women looking on at the Isthmian games ('Iff0M'oJ-oiw<u), and fragments quoted from this are closely imitated by Theocritus. It is extremely interesting to find a similar poem in the recently discovered mimes of Herondas, the fourth of which is termed " Women making offerings to Aesculapius" ('AtncXijTly ivartBeitrai xal ffiwtdf oixreu) . The relation of Theocritus to Herondas is a subject of great interest. Herondas must have been a contemporary, as he refers to Ptolemy Philadelphus,[12] and was a native of Cos, so that he and Theocritus must have been acquainted. There are some curious parallels in the language and idioms of the two poets, but which of them copied the other it is impossible to determine.

Manuscripts.—The oldest authority for any part of Theocritus is a papyrus discovered by B. P. Grenfell and A. S. Hunt at Oxyrhynchus, written in the 2nd century A.D. and containing xiii. 19-34.[13] There are also fragments of another papyrus belonging to the 5th century, which contain some lines of i., v., xiii., xv., xvi. and xxvi.[14] These papyri are carelessly written and do not contain any notable variants. The most valuable of the existing MSS. belongs to the Library at Milan (Ambros. 222). It was written in the 13th century, and contains Idylls i.-xvii., xxix., and the Epigrams. Other good MSS. of the same family contain xviii. also. The other poems come from two sources. One of these is represented by several MSS. and contains xix., xx., xxi., xxii., xxiii., xxv. The other contains xxii. 69-223, xxiv., xxv., xxvi., xxvii., xxviii., xxix. This collection was first published in the Junline edition (1515) from a codex Patavinus now lost. The only existing MS. of any value in which it is found is in Paris (2726), and was written in the 14th century. These two collections are termed φ and π by Hiller and other recent writers. It will be noticed that xxv. and a portion of xxii. are found both in φ and π. In these poems there are constant divergences, and π appears to give the better recension.

There are important Scholia to Theocritus, or rather to that portion of the poems (i.-xvii. and xxix.) which is found in the best MSS. The most valuable of these are those contained by Ambros. 222 (K). They are composite in character. The Argument to xii. is ascribed to Eratosthenes, a contemporary of Justinian, while reference is frequently made to the views of Munatius, who lived in the time of Herodes Atticus, and Amarantus, a contemporary of Galen. Wilamowitz-Möllendorff ascribes the nucleus of these Scholia to Theon, who wrote similar scholia on Lycophron and Apollonius Rhodius, and is stated to have written a commentary on Theocritus.[15] This Theon is stated to have been the son of Artemidorus, the first editor of Theocritus. It is, therefore, suggested that Theon formed the shorter collection of Theocritean poems, furnished them with scholia, and wrote the second epigram quoted at the beginning of this article. The other poems, which possess no scholia and have come down to us from the other collections, would, according to this ingenious theory, be those which appeared in the larger collection of Artemidorus but were excluded by Theon.

Bibliography,—(i.) Editions, (a) Critical, H. L. Ahrens (1855); Ch. Ziegler (1879); U. von Wilamowitz-Mollendorff, in Oxford Classical Texts (1907). (b) epexegetical, E. Hiller (1881 ; German notes); R. J. Cholmeley (1901; English notes), (ii.) Translations. A. Lang (1880; prose); J. H. Hallard (1901; verse), (iii.) Subject-matter. Ph. E. Legrand, Étude sur Theocrite (1898); (iv.) Textual Questions. E. Hiller, Beiträge zur Textgeschichte der Griechischen Bukoliker (1888); U. von Wilamowitz-Möllendorff, Die Textgeschichte der Griechischen Bukoliker (1906). (v.) Metre. C. Kunst, De Theocriti versu heroico (1887). (vi.) Scholia. Ch. Ziegler, Codicis Ambrosiani 222, Scholia in Theocritum (1867).  (A. C. C.) 

  1. “Proetides implerunt falsis mugitibus agros.”—Ecl. vi. 48.
  2. Two explanations are offered by the Scholiast: either that the poet was “snub-nosed” (<rift4j), or that he was the son of Simichus. The second is obviously a mere guess.
  3. rd itoi> koI ZyvM M 6p6vov i.yayt <t>&na, 1. 93. It is possible that Zeus refers to Ptolemy: cf. Horace, Ep. i. 19, 43, Iovis auribus ista Senas, where lupiter = Augustus.
  4. Some think that there is an allusion to Apollonius Rhodius
  5. Cf. Hiller, ad loc.
  6. The evidence is contained in a new fragment of the Mendes Stele. Cf. von Prott in Rheinisches Museum (1898), p. 464.
  7. Greek text here
  8. ὁ γριπεὑς Διόφαντος ... xxxxxxxxxxxx Anth. Pal. vi. 4.7).
  9. The chief argument is that in xii. 5 the poet says —
    ὅσσον παρθενικὴ προφέρει τριγάμοιο γυναικός.
    As Arsinoe had been married three times, it is thought that she might have been offended by this remark.
  10. οἶνος, ὦ φίλε παῖ, λέγεται καὶ ἀλαθέα.
  11. Sophron's mime began with xet ydp & ia^dXrot; Theocritus's begins with xo" itoi ral SA^veu;
  12. l. 30, Geiimv ¢i8e)d>¢T>v réuevos, 6;3u.¢n}e)s Xpnarés.
  13. Oxyrhynchus Papyri, iv. p. 139.
  14. C. Wessely in Berliner Philologische Wochenschrift (1906), p. 831.
  15. Θέων, Etym. on i. 392 Gécov 6 'A.p'r¢, uL-Edapov, ib. on iv. 5. Cf. Ahrens, ii. p. xxvii.