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Representations of Women in Theocritus’s Idylls

Authenticity of the Female Voice in the Erotic and Non-Erotic Portrayals

Marilyn Likosky

Hellenistic poet Theocritus showcased a wide variety of women and their relationships to men in his work. Representations of Women in Theocritus’s Idylls: Authenticity of the Female Voice in the Erotic and Non-Erotic Portrayals is the first comprehensive analysis of these women. This book uses a unique and widely inclusive set of tools derived from gender studies, literary criticism, and Hellenistic history to extract the voices of females, as most are silent themselves and spoken for by others. This analysis questions the validity of the female voice and determines authenticity through a method derived from Lacanian psychoanalysis. Author Marilyn Likosky identifies a female erotic voice that according to criteria is not attributed to a woman but rather to the imagination of the male responding to perceived risks in engaging with a female at a time in which she received greater liberties. Theocritus explores a number of candidate strategies for males to lessen disruptions from erotic encounters. Likosky identifies an ambiguity in the presentation of voice, finding it likely an intentional means for Theocritus to engage his audience in troublesome issues. This book supports academic seminars in gender studies, Hellenistic poetry, and literary criticism.

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Chapter 4. Heroic Vignettes


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The Heroic Vignettes comprise three poems that contrast the actions of mortals and immortals in scenes illustrative of gendered role-play including dominance and subordination. The idylls are of interest to us as they present a diverse set of female voices, including an intriguing depiction of Heracles who expresses a female gendered voice. There is dramatic tension when Hylas is lost to the Nymphs and Heracles engages in a futile rampage in search for the youth. As in other genres some characters are depicted via indirect references to mythological figures which provide us additional contextual material to better understand their voices.

Erotic forces impact the heroes/heroine in major ways. In Idyll Thirteen, Heracles loses his lover to the Nymphs and then flails about ineffectively. This poem is of special note as gender roles are described as physical attributes, such as the sexually ambiguous locks of Hylas’s hair. In Idyll Twenty-Two, the Dioscuri engage in mortal combat in an effort to win the would-be brides of others. In Idyll Twenty-Four, Hera wife of Zeus in a jealous rage sends two snakes to invade the home of Alcmena, a former lover of Zeus.

Alcmena is featured in Idyll Twenty-Four and is unique in these poems as she has a more forceful portrayal than her spouse and performs in a more adept manner than he does. She presents as a supportive wife and queen. Her virtues are displayed as...

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