Theocrĭtus in Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities (1898)

(Θεόκριτος). The most famous of the Greek bucolic poets was a native of Syracuse, the son of Praxagoras and Philinna. He visited Alexandria towards the end of the reign of Ptolemy Soter, where he received the instruction of Philetas and Asclepiades, and began to distinguish himself as a poet. Other accounts make him a native of Cos, which would bring him more directly into connection with Philetas (Suidas, s. v. Θεόκριτος). His first efforts obtained for him the patronage of Ptolemy Philadelphus, who was associated in the kingdom with his father, Ptolemy Soter, in B.C. 285, and in whose praise, therefore, the poet wrote the fourteenth, fifteenth, and seventeenth Idyls. At Alexandria he became acquainted with the poet Aratus, to whom he addressed his sixth Idyl. Theocritus afterwards returned to Syracuse, and lived there under Hiero II. It appears from the sixteenth Idyl 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 may 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. Theocritus was the creator of bucolic poetry in Greek, and, through imitators, such as Vergil, in Roman literature. (See Vergilius.) The bucolic Idyls of Theocritus are of a 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 which has been ascribed to the imaginary shepherds of a fictitious Arcadia. He merely exhibits simple and faithful pictures of the common life of the Sicilian people, in a thoroughly objective, although truly poetical, spirit. Dramatic simplicity and truth are impressed upon the scenes 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. In his dramatic dialogue he is influenced by the mimes of Sophron (q.v.), as may be seen especially in the fifteenth Idyl (Adoniazusae). The poems of Theocritus of this class may be compared with those of Herondas, who belonged, like Theocritus, to the literary school of Philetas of Cos. In genius, however, Theocritus was greatly the superior. The collection which has come down to us under the name of Theocritus consists of thirty poems, called by the general title of Idyls, a fragment of a few lines from a poem entitled Berenicé, and twentytwo epigrams in the Greek Anthology. But these Idyls are not all bucolic, and were not all written by Theocritus. Those of which the genuineness is the most doubtful are the twelfth, twenty-third, twenty-sixth, twenty-seventh, and twenty-ninth; and Idyls xiii., xvi., xvii., xxii., xxiv., and xxvi. are in Epic style, and have more of Epic dialect, especially Idyl xvi. It is likely that these poems on Epic subjects were written early in the poet's life, and, as court poems, had some of the artificial and imitative character of the Alexandrians. In general the dialect of Theocritus is Doric, but two of the Idyls (xxviii. and xxix.) are in the Aeolic. There are numerous manuscripts of Theocritus, especially in the Laurentian Library at Florence, in the Vatican, and at Paris; but none antedate the thirteenth century. Theocritus is edited by Valckenaer (1810); Wüstemann (Gotha, 1830); Meineke (1856); Fritzsche (Leipzig, 1869); Paley (London, 1863); Wordsworth (1877), and Kynaston (1873). There are translations into English verse by Chapman (1866) and Calverley (1869); and into English prose by Lang (1889), the last with an introduction. See Knapp, Theokrit und die Idyllen-Dichtung (1882); Bachelin, Interprétation Littéraire et Philologique de la Première Idylle de Théocrite (Paris, 1886); and Fritzsche, Zu Theokrit und Virgil (1860). There is a lexicon to Theocritus by Rumpel (1879).

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