Home >> Encyclopedia Americana, Volume 26 >> Analysis to Or The Me Chanical >> Bion Theocritus_P1

Bion Theocritus

idyls, adonis, love, thyrsis, daphnis and poets

Page: 1 2

THEOCRITUS, BION, AND MOS CHUS, Idyls of. Theocritus is one of the great names contributed by Greece to the literature of the world. He is the most excellent of pastoral poets, and to those later born he has always been glass of fashion and the mold of forms— to Bion, to Moschus, to Virgil, to the English, Italian, Spanish and French poets of the Renaissance (and there were many), who were pleased to write of shepherds, their pipes, their loves and their lamentations. His are the flowers from which all the bucolic poets of Europe have sucked their honey. He lived in Sicily in the earlier part of the 3d century s.c. An epigram, written in his name, probably by some one else, says: Theocritus, who wrote these idyls. am a citizen of Syracuse, a man of the people, the son of Praxagoras and It also appears certain from ref erences in his poems that he lived for a time in Alexandria, then the intellectual capital of the Hellenic world, and also on the island of Cos. Beyond this nothing is known of him.

The poems that have come down to us under his name are 32 idyls, not all complete, usually classified as bucolics, mimes, epics and lyrics and 20 odd epigrams. The term idyl comes from a Greek word which is itself a diminutive of another Greek word meaning ((forma or or merely 'poem,'" and only a few of these idyls are what we call pastorals, the others are little pictures or sketches on various subjects. His first idyl is a dialogue between Thyrsis and a goat herd, in which Thyrsis sings the famous 'Lament for Daphnis.' The second tells how a passionate, jilted woman attempts by magic rites to regain the love of her deserting lover. The next declares a goatherd's love for Amaryllis. Three are poetic contests between herdsmen. Two, VI and XI, are about the love of the Cyclops, Polyphemus, for the sea nymph Galatea; an other is about Hercules and Hylas. Two others are eulogies on Hiero, lord of Syracuse, and on Ptolemy Philadelphus, king of Egypt. Number XIX is a very brief poem that tells how a bee stung the little god Eros; and sev eral others are probably spurious.

Perhaps the most famous are the 1st, 2d and 15th. The first because of the 'Lament for Daphnis,' which served as a model for Bion's 'Dirge of Adonis,' for Milton's 'Lycidas,' for Shellev's and Mat thew Arnold's (Thyrsis.' The second, in the opinion of Sir Gilbert Murray, is °realistic, beautiful, tragic, strangely humorous and ut terly unforgettable, and has remained a unique masterpiece in literature.'" The 15th is probably the most interesting to English read ers; it is certainly the most entertaining. Mat thew Arnold calls it °one of the best and happiest of Theocritus's idyls? It is really a little play, of which the two chief dramatis per sonm are Syracusan women, living in Alexandria. One comes to get the other to go with her to a notable religious celebration in honor of Adonis, which the queen of Egypt has ar ranged with unusual magnificence. The cele bration is to be in the palace, where a beauti ful picture of Adonis is to be exhibited and a famous prima donna is to sing a hymn to Aphrodite and Adonis. The two women and their maids make their way through the crowded streets, squeeze into the palace with difficulty and hear the hymn. The scene is most lifelike.

And it is mainly this quality of lifelikeness that, in the bucolic idyls, distinguishes Theoc ritus from Virgil and all his other imitators. We need not suppose that Sicilian shepherds really spoke as Thyrsis and Daphnis speak, or even like the less elegant Battus and Corydon. But Theocritus uses language not too far from truth and depicts the Sicilian country, with its flowers and rustic objects, in a realistic way; whereas his imitators are all artificial, and many, especially during the Renaissance, ridiculously so forsaking all semblance of reality. The scenes in which their Phyllises and Corydons make love or lamentation might well be in Marie Antoinette's drawing room; but his shepherds drive their flocks afield in the meadows near Girgenti, or over the plains of Catania.

Page: 1 2