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  • Print publication year: 2007
  • Online publication date: October 2009

4 - The narrators of Theocritus

Summary

SETTING THE SCENE

Theocritus presents different challenges from Callimachus for a study of Hellenistic primary narrators. We do not have the problem of important texts (such as the Aetia or Iambi) being fragmentary, but we do have a very varied corpus which clearly takes in poems by different authors (e.g. Idyll 27) and of very different types (e.g. the ‘bucolic’ poems beside the more ‘epic’ Idylls 22, 24 and 25). The nature of the collection as it stands makes analysis of the different patterns and trends in the use of narratorial voice difficult – it was never meant to stand as a poetry book on its own (contrast the Hymns of Callimachus), though some critics have thought parts of it originally formed such a group (e.g. the various groupings of more or less ‘bucolic’ poems, such as Idylls 1–7). The earliest, perhaps third-century, collection of Theocritus' poetry may even have advertised its variety and heterogeneity, which may be the force of the term εἰδύλλιον (‘idyll’), from εἶδος, ‘type’ or ‘kind’).

Accordingly, the poems display a great variety of voices and speakers, from a lovesick goatherd (Idyll 3) to a Syracusan poet strongly recalling the historical Theocritus (Idyll 28), to an ambiguous figure of uncertain relationship to the author (Idyll 7). We might group the poems into a number of different categories which often cut across each other:

Narrator is a character clearly not the author (Idylls 2, 3, 9, 12, 20).

Narrator is vaguely associated with the author (Idylls 6, 7, 18, 21, 29, 30).

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