Biography of Theocritus
Theocritus (/θiːˈɒkrɪtəs/; Greek: Θεόκριτος, Theokritos; fl. c. 270 BC), the creator of ancient Greek bucolic poetry, flourished in the 3rd century BC.
Little is known of Theocritus beyond what can be inferred from his writings. We must, however, handle these with some caution, since some of the poems (Idylls; Εἰδύλλια) commonly attributed to him have little claim to authenticity. It is clear that at a very early date two collections were made: one consisting of poems whose authorship was doubtful yet formed a corpus of bucolic poetry, the other a strict collection of those works considered to have been composed by Theocritus himself.
Theocritus was from Sicily, as he refers to Polyphemus, the cyclops in the Odyssey, as his "countryman." He also probably lived in Alexandria for a while, where he wrote about everyday life, notably Pharmakeutria. It is also speculated that Theocritus was born in Syracuse, lived on the island of Kos, and lived in Egypt during the time of Ptolemy II.
The record of these recensions is preserved by two epigrams, one of which proceeds from Artemidorus of Tarsus, a grammarian, who lived in the time of Sulla and is said to have been the first editor of these poems. He says, "Bucolic muses, once were ye scattered, but now one byre, one herd is yours." The second epigram is anonymous, and runs as follows: "The Chian is another. I, Theocritus, who wrote these songs, am of Syracuse, a man of the people, the son of Praxagoras and famed Philina. I never sought after a strange muse." The last line may mean that he wrote nothing but bucolic poems, or that he only wrote in Doric. The assertion that he was from Syracuse appears to be upheld by allusions in the Idylls (7.7, 28.16–18).
The information concerning his parentage bears the stamp of genuineness, and disposes of a rival theory based upon a misinterpretation of Idyll 7—which made him the son of one Simichus. A larger collection, possibly more extensive than that of Artemidorus, and including poems of doubtful authenticity, was known to the author of the Suda, who says: "Theocritus wrote the so-called bucolic poems in the Doric dialect. Some persons also attribute to him the following: Daughters of Proetus, Hopes, Hymns, Heroines, Dirges, Lyrics, Elegies, Iambics, Epigrams."
The first of these may have been known to Virgil, who refers to the Proetides at Eclogue 6.48. The spurious poem 21 may have been one of the Hopes, and poem 26 may have been one of the Heroines; elegiacs are found in 8.33—60, and the spurious epitaph on Bion may have been one of the Dirges. The other classes are all represented in the larger collection which has come down to us.
A Countryman's Wooing
DAPHNIS. A MAIDEN. THE MAIDEN. How fell sage Helen? through a swain like thee.
BATTUS. CORYDON. BATTUS. Who owns these cattle, Corydon? Philondas? Prythee say.
The Death of Daphnis
THYRSIS. A GOATHERD. THYRSIS. Sweet are the whispers of yon pine that makes Low music o'er the spring, and, Goatherd, sweet
The Battle of the Bards
COMETAS. LACON. MORSON. COMETAS. Goats, from a shepherd who stands here, from Lacon, keep away: Sibyrtas owns him; and he stole my goatskin yesterday.
Thyrsis: That pine tree, goatherd, sings a rustling sweet Beside the streams, and sweetly do you play
Epitaph of Eusthenes
Here the shrewd physiognomist Eusthenes lies, Who could tell all your thoughts by a glance at your eyes. A stranger, with strangers his honoured bones rest;
Epitaph of Eurymedon
Thou hast gone to the grave, and abandoned thy son Yet a babe, thy own manhood but scarcely begun. Thou art throned among gods: and thy country will take Thy child to her heart, for his brave father's sake.
Epitaph of Cleonicus
Man, husband existence: ne'er launch on the sea Out of season: our tenure of life is but frai. Think of poor Cleonicus: for Phasos sailed he From the valleys of Syria, with many a bale:
Epitaph of Cleita, Nurse of Medeius
The babe Medeius to his Thracian nurse This stone- inscribed To Cleita- reared in the midhighway. Her modest virtues oft shall men rehearse; Who doubts it? Is not 'Cleita's worth' a proverb to this day?
The Drawn Battle
DAPHNIS. DAMOETAS. Daphnis the herdsman and Damoetas once Had driven, Aratus, to the selfsame glen. One chin was yellowing, one shewed half a beard.
Distaff, blithely whirling distaff, azure-eyed Athena's gift To the sex the aim and object of whose lives is household thrift, Seek with me the gorgeous city raised by Neilus, where a plain Roof of pale-green rush o'er-arches Aphrodite's hallowed fane.
The Death of Adonis
Cythera saw Adonis And knew that he was dead; She marked the brow, all grisly now, The cheek no longer red; And 'Bring the boar before me'
Agave of the vermeil-tinted cheek And Ino and Autonoae marshalled erst Three bands of revellers under one hill-peak. They plucked the wild-oak's matted foliage first,
Where are the bay-leaves, Thestylis, and the charms? Fetch all; with fiery wool the caldron crown; Let glamour win me back my false lord's heart! Twelve days the wretch hath not come nigh to me,
That pine tree, goatherd, sings a rustling sweet
Beside the streams, and sweetly do you play
Your pipe. Behind Pan you'll take second prize.
If he take hornèd he-goat, you will take the she-,
If he take she-goat as his prize, to you falls he-,
And he-goat, 'til you milk him, has good meat.