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Theocritus Bion and Moschus Rendered into English Prose   By:

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Transcribed by David Price, email, from the 1889 Macmillan and Co. edition.



Theocritus, the Chian. But there is another Theocritus, the son of Praxagoras and Philinna (see Epigram XXIII), or as some say of Simichus. (This is plainly derived from the assumed name Simichidas in Idyl VII.) He was a Syracusan, or, as others say, a Coan settled in Syracuse. He wrote the so called Bucolics in the Dorian dialect. Some attribute to him the following works: The Proetidae, The Pleasures of Hope ([Greek]), Hymns, The Heroines, Dirges, Ditties, Elegies, Iambics, Epigrams. But it known that there are three Bucolic poets: this Theocritus, Moschus of Sicily, and Bion of Smyrna, from a village called Phlossa.

LIFE OF THEOCRITUS [Greek] (Usually prefixed to the Idyls)

Theocritus the Bucolic poet was a Syracusan by extraction, and the son of Simichidas, as he says himself, Simichidas, pray whither through the noon dost thou dray thy feet? (Idyl VII). Some say that this was an assumed name, for he seems to have been snub nosed ([Greek]), and that his father was Praxagoras, and his mother Philinna. He became the pupil of Philetas and Asclepiades, of whom he speaks (Idyl VII), and flourished about the time of Ptolemy Lagus. He gained much fame for his skill in bucolic poetry. According to some his original name was Moschus, and Theocritus was a name he later assumed.


At the beginning of the third century before Christ, in the years just preceding those in which Theocritus wrote, the genius of Greece seemed to have lost her productive force. Nor would it have been strange if that force had really been exhausted. Greek poetry had hitherto enjoyed a peculiarly free development, each form of art succeeding each without break or pause, because each epic, lyric, dithyramb, the drama had responded to some new need of the state and of religion. Now in the years that followed the fall of Athens and the conquests of Macedonia, Greek religion and the Greek state had ceased to be themselves. Religion and the state had been the patrons of poetry; on their decline poetry seemed dead. There were no heroic kings, like those for whom epic minstrels had chanted. The cities could no longer welcome an Olympian winner with Pindaric hymns. There was no imperial Athens to fill the theatres with a crowd of citizens and strangers eager to listen to new tragic masterpieces. There was no humorous democracy to laugh at all the world, and at itself, with Aristophanes. The very religion of Sophocles and Aeschylus was debased. A vulgar usurper had stripped the golden ornaments from Athene of the Parthenon. The ancient faith in the protecting gods of Athens, of Sparta, and of Thebes, had become a lax readiness to bow down in the temple of any Oriental Rimmon, of Serapis or Adonis. Greece had turned her face, with Alexander of Macedon, to the East; Alexander had fallen, and Greece had become little better than the western portion of a divided Oriental empire. The centre of intellectual life had been removed from Athens to Alexandria (founded 332 B.C.) The new Greek cities of Egypt and Asia, and above all Alexandria, seemed no cities at all to Greeks who retained the pure Hellenic traditions. Alexandria was thirty times larger than the size assigned by Aristotle to a well balanced state. Austere spectators saw in Alexandria an Eastern capital and mart, a place of harems and bazaars, a home of tyrants, slaves, dreamers, and pleasure seekers. Thus a Greek of the old school must have despaired of Greek poetry. There was nothing (he would have said) to evoke it; no dawn of liberty could flush this silent Memnon into song. The collectors, critics, librarians of Alexandria could only produce literary imitations of the epic and the hymn, or could at best write epigrams or inscriptions for the statue of some alien and luxurious god... Continue reading book >>

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