1. Of Chios, an orator, sophist, and perhaps an historian, in the time of Alexander the Great.
He was the disciple of Metrodorus, who was the disciple of Isocrates. (Suid. s. v.
) He was contemporary with Ephorus and Theopompus; and the latter was his fellow-citizen and political opponent, Theopompus belonging to the aristocratic and Macedonian, and Theocritus to the democratic and patriotic party. (Strab. xiv. p.645
There is still extant a passage of a letter from Theopompus to Alexander
, in which he charges Theocritus with living in the greatest luxury, after having previously been in poverty. (Ath. vi. p. 230f.; Theop. Frag. 276,
ed. Müller, Frag. Hist.
vol. i. p. 325, in Didot's Bibliothcca
). Theocritus himself, too, is said to have given deep offence to Alexander
by the sarcastic wit, which appears to have been the chief cause of his celebrity, and which at last cost him his life. When Alexander
was making preparations for a magnificent celebration of his Asiatic victories on his return home, he wrote to the Greek cities of Asia Minor and the islands, to send him a large supply of purple cloth; and when the king's letter was read at Chios, Theocritus exclaimed that he now understood that line of Homer, --
ἔλλαβε πορφύρεος θάνατος καὶ μοῖρα κραταίη
(Plut. Op. Mor.
p. 11a.; Ath. xii. p. 540a.)
It is observed by C. Muller (loc. inf. cit.
) that Arrian mentions (Anab.
4.13.4), among the boys concerned in the conspiracy of Hermolaüs against Alexander
, one Anticles, the son of Theocritus ; and that, if this was Theocritus the Chian, the fate of his son would account for his enmity against Alexander
A very bitter epigram upon Aristotle, by Theocritus, is preserved, in separate portions, by Diogenes Laertius (5.11), Plutarch (Op. Mor.
p. 303c.), and Eusebius (Euseb. Praep. Ev. 15.1
), and is contained in the Greek Anthology. (Brunck, Anal.
vol. i. p. 184; Jacobs, Anth. Graec.
vol. i. p. 117, comp. vol. xiii. p. 958). Numerous examples of his satirical wit might be quoted from the ancient authors : as a specimen we may mention his description of the speeches of Anaximenes as " a stream of words, but sense drop by drop" (λέξεων μὲν ποταμὸς
, νοῦ δὲ σταλαγμός
, Stob. Serm.
xxxvi. p. 217, ed. Gesner, comp. Ath. i. p. 21c.; and, for other examples, see Stob, Serm.
ii., iv., xxi., xxxviii., lxxxi., cxxiii.; Ath. viii. p. 344b.; Plut. Mor.
pp. 534, c., 631, f.).
At last he was put to death by Antigonus Gonatas, in revenge for a jest upon the king's single eye, though perhaps he might have escaped, it he had not included the king's cook also in his witticism.
That functionary, the story goes, having been despatched by Antigonus, to require the orator's attendance, " I perceive," replied Theocritus, " that you mean to serve me up raw to the Cyclops." " Yes ! and without your head," retorted the cook, and repeated the conversation to Antigonus, who at once put Theocritus to death. (Plut. Mor.
p. 633c.; Macr. 7.3
This must have happened before B. C. 301, when Antigonus fell in battle.
The works of Theocritus, mentioned by Suidas, are Χρεῖαι
, ἱστορία Λιβύης
, and ἐπιστολαὶ θαυμασίαι
, to which Endocia (p. 232) adds, λογοί πανηγυρικοί
. The Χρεῖαι
, that is, clever sayings, were probably, as C. Muller suggests, not a work written by Theocritus himself, but a collection, made by some one else, of the witticisms ascribed to him. By ἐπιστολαὶ θαυμασίαι
is not meant, as Vossius calls them, epistolae admirabiles,
but de rebus mirabilibus.
About the Libyan history there is perhaps some mistake, as the name of Theocritus might easily be confounded with that of Theocrestus, whose Libyan history we know.
It is true that Fulgentius quotes a stupid story about the Gorgons and Perseus from " Theocritus antiquitatum historiographus
1.26); but the same confusion of names might easily happen here; and, even if the passage be from Theocritus, it would rather seem to belong to the ἐπιστολαὶ θαυμασίαι
than to the Libyan history. Another case, in which the name of Theocritus has probably been confounded with one like it, is pointed out by C. Müller (Ath. p. 14e., Διαβόητοι δὲ ἐπὶ σφαιρικῇ Δημοτέλης ὁ Θεόγνιδος τοῦ Χίου σοφιστοῦ ἀδελφός
. Nothing is known of a sophist named Theognis).
Theocritus of Chios is mentioned by Clemens Alexandrinus (Protrept.
p. 45), as ὁ θεῖος σοφιστής
A life of him by Ambryon, is quoted by Diogenes Laertius (5.11).
The epigram, prefixed to some editions of the poems of the more celebrated Theocritus of Syracuse, as in Brunck's Analecta (Epig. 22,
ed. Kiessling), is probably not the production of the poet himself, but of some grammarian who wished to mark clearly the distinction between the two persons.
It is inscribed to Theocritus in the Palatine MS. and the Codex Politianus, and in the editions of the Anthology by Stephanus and Wechel; but in the Aldine edition it is assigned to Artemidorus, who is also the author of a distich prefixed to the ancient collection of the bucolic poets. (Brunck, Anal.
vol. i. p. 263; Jacobs, Anth. Graec.
vol. i. p. 194, vol. vi. p. 490.)
The following is the epigram : --
ἄλλος ὁ Χῖος: ἐγὼ δὲ Θεόκριτος, ὃς τάδ᾽ ἔγραψα,
εἷς ἀπὸ τῶν πολλῶν εἰμὶ Συρηκόσιος,
υἱὸς Πραξαγόραο περικλειτῆς τε Φιλίννης:
Μοῦσαν δ᾽ ὀθνείην οὔποτ᾽ ἐφελκυσάμην.
Fabric. Bibl. Graec.
vol. iii. p. 775; Vossius, de Hist. Graec.
p. 68, ed. Westermann; Menagius, ad Diog. Laert.
5.11; Clinton, F. H.
vol. iii. p. 477 ; Müller, Frag. Hist. Graec.
vol. ii. pp. 86, 87, in Didot's Bibliotheca Scriptorum Graecorum