The Ancient Library
 

Scanned text contains errors.

THEOCRITUS.

highest commendation {Id. xi. 5, 6, xxviii. 7; comp. Arg. ad Id. xi., and Jacobs, Anfli. Grace. vol. xiii. p. 923).

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, especialty 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 Me-nalcas ; 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 : —

Ae|cu to.v ayaOav rvxav, 8e|ai rav vyieiav, irapot, ras

( Welcker, uber den Ur sprung des Hirtenlieds, Kleine ScTiriften , 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, e'tSrj, etSyAAia. 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 sacrificing anything of its genuine dramatic

1033

THEOCRITUS.

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 : — Tlpoiridas, 'EA-Tn'Sas, tipvovs, 'HpanVas, eVi/ojSem /ueAr;, e\€yeias, td^Sovs, eTriypd/j,/j.a.ra. 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 8477777-fj.asnK.6s) the Spa^ucm/cos, and the ijuktikos, 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, ly-rica, epica, and cpigrammata (liliein. 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 /3ou/coAt/ca, 7roi,uej/(/<:a, atVoAi/ca. 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, as being the only representation we possess of the life 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

Pages
About | First

1031

1032

1033
letter/word  
volume
page #  
Search this site
Google


ancientlibrary.com
WWW
All non-public domain material, including introductions, markup, and OCR © 2005 Tim Spalding.
Ancient Library was developed and hosted by Tim Spalding of Isidore-of-Seville.com.