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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 6. Representations of Arsinoe and Aphrodite Intertwined


← 152 | 153 →

· 6 ·


Contemporary interest in Arsinoe derives from marriage to her sibling, an arrangement which is contrary to Greek tradition, and speculation that she may have been politically influential. There are some clues to the latter in her history, although Theocritus may have been restrained in his treatment of her due to his position at court. We would have anticipated a greater visibility for her in the poems if she had been prominent, unless the poet considered it unwise to do so. Athenaeus relates the fate of Sotades who criticized Philadelphus:

Εἰρήκει γὰρ εἰς τὸν βασιλέα Πτολεµαῖον πολλὰ µὲν καὶ ἄλλα δεινά, ἀτὰρ καὶ τόδε ὅτε τὴν ἀδελφὴν Ἀρσινόην ἐγεγαµήκει εἰς οὐχ ὁσίην τρυµαλιὴν τὸ κέντρον ὠθεῖς Πάτροκλος οὖν ὁ τοῦ Πτολεµαίου στρατηγὸς ἐν Καύνῳ τῇ νήσῳ λαβὼν αὐτὸν καὶ εἰς µολυβῆν κεραµίδα ἐµβαλὼν καὶ ἀναγαγὼν εἰς τὸ πέλαγος κατεπόντωσε (14.621.4–11, vol. six).

He had said many terrible things against the king Ptolemy and made this comment when he had married his sister Arsinoe. “You are thrusting prick into unholy hole.” Then Patroclus, Ptolemy’s general arrested him on the island of Caunus, put him into a lead jar, brought him to the sea and sank him. ← 153 | 154 →

She appears in two places the first as sponsor of an Adonia and the second where she is positioned alongside Aphrodite, in a scene that enhances the queen’s qualities of loving and gentle eroticism. It is unfortunate the poet did not include more about Arsinoe.1 We would not anticipate an overtly erotic portrayal of her even though she sponsored the Adonia, although we might expect a more prominent one than he provided.2 Aphrodite is in...

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