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Theocritus of Syracuse

J. Andrew Foster

in Classics

ISBN: 9780195389661
Published online December 2009 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0065
Theocritus of Syracuse

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Theocritus, the imagined father of Western pastoral poetry, flourished in the first half of the 3rd century bce, ultimately at the court of Ptolemy Philadelphus (ruled c. 282–246 bce) in Alexandria, Egypt. Even in an era that reveled in poetic innovation, his slender body of short poems comprises particularly striking experiments in linguistic dialects, varied poetic registers, and amalgamated literary forms. Though he was a poet of enormous versatility, he is most celebrated for a handful of bucolic poems. Within the span of these eight slender poems Theocritus introduced into the Western literary canon a unique cast of rustic herdsmen, their music and longing, within the pastoral locus amoenus. The scant biographical tradition emanating from Antiquity and the biographical details that can be reasonably deduced from his own poetry suggest that Theocritus was from Sicily, in all likelihood from Syracuse. He surely spent some portion of his adult life on Cos before emigrating to Alexandria and the Ptolemaic court. Whether Theocritus had an established reputation and was lured to court at the invitation of Ptolemy Philadelphus or worked his way to prominence after a relatively anonymous arrival is not clear. But if it were the latter, it did not take long for Theocritus obtain some form of Ptolemaic patronage as he established himself as a literary force to be reckoned with at Alexandria—even if he never enjoyed the power and privilege of a position within the Library or Museum, as did his contemporaries Callimachus and Apollonius of Rhodes.

Article.  8799 words. 

Subjects: Classical Studies ; Classical Art and Architecture ; Classical History ; Classical Literature ; Classical Philosophy

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