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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 5. Encomia


← 138 | 139 →

· 5 ·


Idylls Sixteen and Seventeen praise the rulers of Syracuse and Alexandria, respectively. They are both written in Epic dialect with some Doric, the former was an appropriate style in which to laud the royalty.1 Idyll Sixteen is written in a solicitous manner in which the poet directs praise towards Hiero II in an effort to obtain his patronage.2 Theocritus challenges the ruler of Syracuse to engage with him using the Muses and Graces to speak for the capability of verse to grant him everlasting glory. Although the response if any from Hiero is unknown, the poet’s subsequent travel to Alexandria indicates that his effort was in vain. Nevertheless, as we shall see he argues for a poetic immortality not requiring a king’s endorsement.

Austin presents a more jaundiced view of this idyll in its genre. He feels that Theocritus did not make a good case for Hiero to consider his poetry a viable means to embellish his glory.3 In addition, the poet does not make a valid argument for a relationship between himself and Hiero, but rather bemoans his own “isolation and usefulness,” as at the end of the poem Theocritus is alone and must justify his poetry. In this sense, he feels the work has value in marking a place from which Hellenistic verse would move forward to provide a rationale for its existence.4 ← 139 | 140 →

In Idyll Seventeen, the poet describes the rewards accruing...

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