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2. The celebrated poet, was, according to the epigram just quoted, a native of Syracuse, and the son of Praxagoras and Philinna. This is also the statement of Suidas (s. v.), who adds, however, that others made him the son of Simichus, or Simichidas, and also that, by some accounts, he was a native of Cos, and only a μέτοικος at Syracuse. The origin of the former variation will be understood by a reference to the brief account of him prefixed to his poems, under the title of Θεοκρίτου γένος, and to the Scholia on Idyl. 7.21, from which it appears that Simichidas, the person into whose mouth that Idyl is put, was naturally identified by the ancients with the poet himself, whom, therefore, they made a son of Simichus or Simichidas (Schol. l.c., et ad 5.41). Theocritus again speaks in the name of Simichidas in the 12th line of his Syrinx ; but, as the full name there used is Πάρις Σιμιχίδας, it would evidently be unsafe to understand the latter word literally as a patronymic. The idea is much more probable, and more in harmony with the spirit of poetry, that Simichidas is an assumed name, like Tityrus in Virgil; and this is the explanation given by some of the ancient grammarians, who couple it, however, with an etymology which is not at all probable. (Schol. l.c. ; Θεοκ. γένος.) The other statement, that Theocritus was a native of Cos, has probably arisen out of his connection with Philetas. In the Θεοκρίτου γένος we are told that " he was the disciple of Philetas (of Cos) and Asclepiades (of Samos), whom he mentions," namely, in Id. 7.40 : --
οὔτε τὸν ἐσθλὸν
Σικελίδαν νίκημι τὸν ἐκ Σάμω, οὔτε Φιλητᾶν,
the first words of which the ancient commentators are probably right in referring to Asclepiades (Schol. ad loc.) Another reference to his connection with Philetas has been discovered by Bekker in a corrupted passage of Choeroboscus. (Bekker, Annot. in Etym. p. 705; Φιλίππας [i. e. Φιλήτας] διδάσκαλος Θεοκρίτου). He appears also to have been intimate with the poet Aratus, to whom he addresses his sixth Idyl (5.2), and whom he mentions three times in the seventh (vv. 98, 102, 122); at least, it was the belief of the ancient commentators that the Aratus mentioned in these passages was the author of the Phaenomena. (Schol. ad ll. cc.) Now, it may safely be assumed that Theocritus became acquainted with these poets at Alexandria, which had already become, under the first and second Ptolemy, a place of resort for the literary men of Greece, and which it is certain that Theocritus visited at least once in his life. The 14th, 15th, and 17th Idyls bear every mark of having been written at Alexandria, and at all events they prove that the poet had lived there. and enjoyed the patronage of Ptolemy Philadelphus. The 16th, in praise of Hiero, the son of Hierocles, was evidently written at Syracuse, and its date cannot be earlier than B. C. 270, when Hiero was made king. To these indications of the date and residences of Theocritus, must be added the testimony of the author of the Θεοκρίτου γένος, that Theocritus flourished under Ptolemy the son of Lags; that of the Greek argument to the first Idyl, namely, that he was contemporary with Aratus and Callimachus and Nicander, and that he flourished in the time of Ptolemy Philadelphus ; and also the important statement, in the argument to the fourth Idyl, that he flourished about Ol. 124, B. C. 284-280. (There can be little doubt the ρκδ ' is the true reading.) The writer of the argument to the 17th Idyl mentions the statement of Munatus, that Theocritus flourished under Ptolemy Philopator, but only in order to refute it.

In interpreting these testimonies, our chief difficulty arises from a two-fold uncertainty respecting Philetas; first, as to the precise period down to which he lived; and, secondly, whether the accounts of his being the teacher of Theocritus refer to personal intercourse and instruction, or only to the influence of the works of Philetas upon the mind of Theocritus. Without attempting to decide these questions, we would hazard the conjecture, that the date above mentioned, of Ol. 124. B. C. 284-280, marks the period, either when Theocritus first went to Alexandria, or when, after spending some time there in receiving the instruction, or studying the works, of Philetas and Asclepiades, he began to distinguish himself as a poet; that his first efforts obtained for him the patronage of Ptolemy Philadelphus, who was associated in the kingdom with his father, Ptolemy the son of Lagus, in B. C. 285, and in whose praise, therefore, the poet wrote the Idyls above referred to, which bear every mark of having been composed in the early part of Ptolemy's sole reign (from B. C. 283), and of being productions of the poet's younger days. The manner in which Ptolemy, the son of Lagus, is alluded to, in Id. 17.14, confirms the supposition that Theocritus had lived under that king. From the 16th Idyl it is evident that Theocritus returned to Syracuse, and lived there under Hiero II., but the contents of the poem are not definite enough to determine the precise period of Hiero's reign at which it was composed : from the 76th and 77th lines it may perhaps be inferred that it was written during the first Punic War, after the alliance of Hiero with the Romans in B. C. 263. Be this as it may, the whole tone of the poem indicates that Theocritus was dissatisfied, both with the want of liberality on the part of Hiero in rewarding him for his poems, and with the political state of his native country. It max, therefore, be supposed that he devoted the latter part of his life almost entirely to the contemplation of those scenes of nature and of country life, on his representations of which his fame chiefly rests.

These views are, of course, to some extent, affected by the question respecting the genuineness of some of the Idyls; but the only one of those which furnish our chief evidence, that is generally regarded as spurious, is the 17th. We possess no further information respecting the poet's life, except that another of his intimate friends was the physician Nicias, whom he addresses in terms of the highest commendation (Id. 11.5, 6, 28.7 ; comp. Arg. ad Id. xi., and Jacobs, Anth. Graec. vol. xiii. p. 923).


Bucolic Poetry

Theocritus was the creator of bucolic poetry as a branch of Greek, and, through imitators, such as Virgil, of Roman literature. The germ of this species of poetry may be discovered, at a very early period, among the Dorians, both of Laconia and of Sicily, especially at Tyndaris and Syracuse, where the festivals of Artemis were enlivened by songs, in which two shepherds or herdsmen, or two parties of them, contended with one another, and which gradually grew into an art, practised by a class of performers called Lydiastae and Bucolistae, who flourished extensively in Sicily and the neighbouring districts of Italy. The subjects of their songs were popular mythical stories, and the scenes of country life; the beauty, love, and unhappy end of Daphnis, the ideal of the shepherd, who was introduced by Stesichorus into his poetry, and of Diomus, who was named by Epicharmus; the melancholy complaints of the coy huntsman Menalcas ; and other kindred subjects. These songs were still popular in the time of Diodorus; but the only fragment of them which has come down to us consists of the two following lines in the Priapeian metre, prefixed to the works of Theocritus : --
δέξαι τὰν ἀγαθὰν τύχαν, δέξαι τὰν ὑγίειαν,
ἃν φέρομεν παρὰ τᾶς θεοῦ, ἃν ἐκαλέσσατο τήνα.
(Welcker, über den Ursprung des Hirtenlieds, Kleine Schriften , vol. i. pp. 402-411.)

Theocritus, however, was the first who reduced this species of poetry to such a form as to constitute it a branch of regular literature; and, in so doing, he followed, not merely the impulse of his own genius, but, to a great extent, the examples of Epicharmus and of Sophron, especially the latter. His bucolic idyls are of an essentially dramatic and mimetic character. They are pictures of the ordinary life of the common people of Sicily; whence their name, εἴδη, εἰδύλλια. The pastoral poems and romances of later times are a totally different sort of composition from the bucolics of Theocritus, who knows nothing of the affected sentiment, the pure innocence, the primeval simplicity, or even the worship of nature, which have been ascribed to the imaginary shepherds of a fictitious Arcadia; nothing of the distinction between the country and the town, the description of which has been made a vehicle of bitter satire upon the vices of civilized communities. He merely exhibits simple and faithful pictures of the common life of the Sicilian people, in a thoroughly objective, although truly poetical spirit. He abstains from all the mere artifices of composition, such as fine imagery, high colouring, and pathetic sentiment. He deals but sparingly in descriptions, which he introduces only as episodes, and never attempts any of those allegorical applications of the sentiments and adventures of shepherds, which have made the Bucolics of Virgil a signal failure. Dramatic simplicity and truth are impressed upon the pictures exhibited in his poems, into the colouring of which he has thrown much of the natural comedy which is always seen in the common life of a free people. His fifteenth idyl, the Adoniazusae, is a masterpiece of the mimetic exhibition of female character, rendered the more admirable by the skill with which he has introduced the praises of Arsinoe and Berenice, without sacriticing anything of its genuine dramatic spirit. The form of these poems is in perfect keeping with their object. The symmetrical arrangement and the rapid transitions of the lively dialogue, the varied language and the musical rhythms, the combination of the prevailing epic verse and diction with the forms of common speech, all contribute much to the general effect. In short, as Theocritus was the first who developed the powers of bucolic poetry, so he may also be said to have been the last who understood its true spirit, its proper objects, and its natural limits.

The poems of Theocritus, however, are by no means all bucolic. The collection, which has come down to us under his name, consists of thirty poems, called by the general title of Idyls, a fragment of a few lines from a poem entitled Berenice, and twenty-two epigrams in the Greek Anthology, besides that upon the poet himself, which, as above stated, is probably the production of Artemidorus. Several other works were ascribed to him by the ancient grammarians. Suidas (s. v.) tells us that he wrote the poems called Bucolics in the Doric dialect, and that some ascribed to him also the following : -- Προιτίδας, Ἐλπίδας, ὕμνους, Ἡρωίνας, ἐπικήδεια μέλη, ἐλεγείας, ἰάμβους, ἐπιγράμματα. The Greek author of a few sentences on the characteristics of the poetry of Theocritus, prefixed to his works, says that all poetry has three characters, the διηγηματικός, the δραματικός, and the μικτικός, and that bucolic poetry is a mixture of every form. Bergk has recently classed the poems of Theocritus under the heads of Carmina Bucolica, mimica, lyrica, epica, and cpigrammata (Rhein. Mus. 1838-1839, vol. vi. pp. 16, &c.)

Of the thirty so-called Idyls, the last is a late Anacreontic, of scarcely any poetical merit, and has no claim to be regarded as a work of Theocritus. Of the others, only ten belong strictly to the class of poems which the ancients described by the specific names of βουκολικά, ποιμενικά, αἰπολικά, or by the first of these words used in a generic sense, Bucolics, or, as we say, pastoral poems; but, taking the term Idyl in the wider sense explained above, we must also include under it several of the poems which are not bucolic, but which are pictures of the life of the common people of Sicily. In this general sense, the Idyls, properly so called, are the first eleven, the fourteenth, fifteenth, and twenty-first, the last of which has a special interest, a being the only representation we possess of the lif of Grecian fishermen : the second and fifteenth are evidently pretty close imitations of the mimes of Sophron. Several of them are erotic in their character, arid allied, in their form, to different species of poetry : thus, the twelfth and twenty-ninth have a decidedly lyrical complexion, while that of the nineteenth is epigrammatic, of the twentieth bucolic, and of the twenty-third tragic : the thirteenth and eighteenth, which are also erotic, have the epic character, both in their subjects and their form ; and the twenty-seventh is an erotic poem under the form of a mime. The sixteenth and seventeenth are imitations of another branch of the ancient lyric poetry, the encomium. The twenty-second is an epic hymn to the Dioscuri; the twenty-fourth and twenty-fifth appear to be fragments of an epic poem on the adventures of Hercules, in the learned tone of the Alexandrian epos, but still distinguished by the free and simple style of Theocritus and the twenty-sixth is also epic, but of very inferior merit, being a fragment of the story of Pentheus, related in a dry rhetorical manner. Lastly, the twenty-eighth, entitled Ἡλακάτα, is an occasional poem, written in a very pleasing style. This great intermixture of the different species of poetry is quite in accordance with the spirit of the age and of the Alexandrian school, in which the poet was brought up. But, in those of the idyls which are certainly genuine, all these varieties are harmonized by the true poetical genius of Theocritus.

But yet, if we carefully examine the collection as a whole, it will be found to contain incongruities of style and subject, and varieties of merit, too great to allow of the belief that all these twenty-nine idyls (for the thirtieth may be certainly excluded) are the genuine productions of Theocritus. The introduction of spurious poems into the collection can easily be accounted for. As early as B. C. 200 there existed a collection of the works of the bucolic poets, Theocritus, Bion, and Moschus, as we learn from the following epigram of Artemidorus, which is prefixed to the works of Theocritus, and is also contained in the Greek Anthology (Brunck, Anal. vol. i. p. 293; Jacobs, Anth. Graec. vol. i. p. 194) : --

βουκολικαὶ Μοῖσαι σποράδες ποκά, νῦν δ᾽ ἅμα πᾶσαι
ἐντὶ μιᾶς μάνδρας, ἐντὶ μιᾶς ἀγέλας.

Into such a collection, made at a time when critical science was in its infancy, every thing would naturally be swept together that had the least traditional or other claim to be regarded as the production of one of these three poets; and, moreover, whatever was of doubtful authority would naturally be ascribed to Theocritus, as the most celebrated of the three. Of this large collection the idyls that have come down to us are merely samples, selected by the grammarians (whence the name of Eclogac, which was afterwards applied to bucolic poetry in general); and thus it has happened that, while much of the genuine poetry of Theocritus has been lost, there must be much that is not his in the collection we now possess. To distinguish the genuine from the spurious, we have scarcely any other test than internal evidence; and here the danger arises, into which some critics appear to have fallen, of making the comparative excellence of the poems the sole test of their genuineness. It is impossible here to enter upon the detailed critical arguments for and against the genuineness of the several poems. The whole subject has been discussed by Eichstädt (de Carm. Theocr. ad sua Genera revocat. &c., Lips. 1794, 4to.), by E. Reinhold (de Genuinis Theocr. Carm. et Supposititiis, Jen. 1819), by A. Wissowa (Theocritus Theocritcus, Vratislav. 1828, 8vo.), and by Warton. Meineke, and Wüstemann, in their editions of Theocritus. Those idyls, of which the genuineness is the most doubtful, are the 12th, 17th, 18th, 19th, 20th, 26th, 27th, 29th, and 30th.


The Metre chiefly employed in these poems is the heroic hexameter, adapted to the purposes of Theocritus by having a more broken movement substituted for the sustained and stately march of the Homeric verse. In a few cases other metres are employed. The dialect of Theocritus has given the grammarians considerable trouble. The ancient critics regarded it as a modification of the Doric dialect. which they called ϝέα Δωρίς, and some of the modern editors live carried this notion so far as to try to expunge all the epic, Aeolic, and Ionic forms, which the best MSS. present. The fact, however, is, that Theocritus purposely employed a mixed or eclectic dialect, in which the new or softened Doric predominates. (Jacobs, Praef ad Anth. Pal. p. xliii.; Wüstemann, Proleg. ad Theocr. p. xxxiv.)

Other poems

Of the other poems which have come down to us, the Berenice, of which we only possess five lines and a word, preserved by Athenaeus (vii. p. 284), was an encomium of the celebrated queen, the wife of Ptolemy the son of Lagus, and the mother of Ptolemy Philadelphus. The poem entitled Syrinx, contained in the Greek Anthology, is an exercise of ingenuity, consisting in the composition of twenty verses in such a manner that the length of each pair of verses is less than that of the pair before, and thus the whole resembles the ten pipes of the mouth-organ or Pan-pipes (σύριγξ). Of the epigrams, two (Nos. 17, 18, Brunck) are supposed by Jacobs to be the productions of Leonidas of Tarentum, while, on the other hand, the Palatine MS. assigns the 10th epigram of Erycius to Theocritus. (Brunck, Anal. vol. i. p. 376; Jacobs, Anth. Graec. vol. i. p. 194, vol. xiii. p. 958.)


It is unnecessary to say much of the reputation of Theocritus. Both in ancient and in modern times, he has been deservedly placed at the head of the species of poetry which he formed, and in a very high rank among all poets, for the force and truthfulness of his pictures, the beauty of his language, and the simple good taste of his style. The best discussion of his characteristics is that by Finkenstein, in the Introduction and Appendices to Arethusa, oder d. Bukol. Dichter des Alterthums, Berl. 1806-1810. The Eclogues of Virgil are mere imitations of the Bucolics of Theocritus, to which they are immeasurably inferior. [VIRGILIUS.] The Alexandrian grammarians gave Theocritus a place in one of their Pleiads, that, namely, of the seven miscellaneous poets; and commentaries were written upon him by Amerias, Asclepiades of Myrlea, Theon, Theaetetus, Amarantus, Munatus, and others. The existing Scholia evidently contain a very small, and probably not the most valuable, portion of those commentaries : they consist chiefly of paraphrastic explanations of the text.


The modern literature of Theocritus is much too voluminous to admit of any attempt to give here a list even of the chief editions and illustrative works. The titles of the whole occupy forty-nine columns of Hoffmann's Lexicon Bibliographicum Scriptorum Graecorum.

The Editio Princeps, in folio, containing the Works and Days of Hesiod and the Idyls of Theocritus, is without place or date, but is believed to have been printed at Milan about 1481. There is another very early edition, in 8vo., without place or date. The next earliest edition is that of Aldus, containing the Idyls, and a vast mass of other matter, Venet. 1495, fol. For a full account of this and the other ancient editions, see Hoffmann. The chief among the more recent editions are those of Reiske, Viennae, 1765, 1766, 2 vols. 4to.; of Warton, Oxon. 1770, 4to.; of Brunck, in the Analecta, 1772, 4to.; of Valckenaer, 1779-1781, 8vo.; of Schaefer, 1810, fol.; of Heindorf, 1810, 8vo.; of Gaisford, in his Poctac Minores, Oxon. 1816, 1820, 1823, 8vo.; of Kiessling, Lips. 1819, 8vo., reprinted, with Bion and Moschus, Notes, Scholia, Indices, and Portus's Lexicon Doricum. Lond. 1829, 2 vols. 8vo.; of Jacobs, Halae, 1824, 8vo., only vol. i. published; of Meineke, Lips. 1825, 12mo.; and, the mostly useful of all for ordinary purposes, that of Wüstemann, in Jacobs and Rost's Bibliotheca Graeca, Gothae, 1830, 8vo. (a new edition is expected).


For an account of the numerous Delectuses, and of the translations of the whole, or separate portions, of the Idyls, and of the works upon Theocritus, the reader is referred to Hoffmann. The chief English versions are those of Creech, Lond. 1681, 1684, 1713, 1721, 12mo.; Fawkes, Lond. 1767, 8vo.; and Polwhele, Lond. 1786, 4to., 1792, 1811, 8vo.

Further Information

Fabric. Bibl. Graec. vol. iii. pp. 764, foil.; Wüstemann's Prolegomena ; Bernhardy, Gesch. d. Griech. Lit. vol. ii. pp. 925, foil.; Ulrici; Bode.


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