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Reading Voices

Five Studies in Theocritus’ Narrating Techniques


J. Andrew Foster

This book is a study of Theocritus’ narrating techniques, intertextual practices, and the relationship between them. By a close, careful description and analysis of these features as particularly deployed in Idylls 6, 11, 13, 24, and 15, J. Andrew Foster provides detailed readings of these specific poems, demonstrating how each poem’s narrative structure and its intratextual and intertextual affiliations interact to characterize the voices and audiences expressed and imagined by the discourse. Within these poems Theocritus especially orchestrates polyphonic voices speaking to diverse fictional, ideal, and actual audiences and so authorizes a range of responses to speech-in-text. His densely allusive poems exhibit an iterative aspect and resistance to closure that particularly encourage his readers to help compose larger metanarratives in which such resolution can be achieved or the particular episode can be better understood. The interplay between the referential systems inscribed within these poems and their rhetorical structure exemplifies how Theocritus encourages his poetry to be incorporated into a wider literary discourse by which that wider literary landscape is transformed. Within these experiments in narration and reception, Theocritus exhibits an intense engagement with the literary past and his critical present whose receptions and authority are continually problematized. These readings will serve as a springboard into the wider ongoing study of the problems of poetic voice, authority, and literary innovation within Theocritus’ poetry in particular and Hellenistic poetry in general.
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Chapter 3. Herakles the Sympotic Argonaut: Allusion, Emulation, and Narrative Innovation in Idyll 13


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Allusion, Emulation, and Narrative Innovation in Idyll 13

Within Idylls 6 and 11 Theocritus does not forge an entirely distinct “fictional world” for his Sicilian herdsman Polyphemos,1 but the poet’s bucolic locus and its pre-epic Polyphemos does openly contest the scope of the Homeric vista by envisioning a larger world than Odyssey 9 articulates. There is more to Polyphemos than the epic tradition had suggested. In these Idylls Theocritus embellishes the Homeric narrative by furnishing a “prequel” with a pronounced erotic plot and a powerful iterative quality. Idyll 6 promises potentially limitless recurring encounters of Daphnis and Damoitas reenacting Polyphemos and Galatea’s flirtations. Idyll 11 implies that the Kyklops will perpetually sing by the shores to cure his love. Both Idylls thereby dilate the Kyklops’ narrative life to the point where linear temporal progression nearly grinds to a halt.

However, the allusive and intertextual complex of both poems speeds Polyphemos on his way to his date with Odysseus even as Theocritus strategically appropriates Homer’s voice to reinterpret the Homeric terminus of the Idylls’ narrative trajectories. Idylls 6 and 11 contest Homer’s narrative ← 113 | 114 → hegemony, but Homer’s narrative stability proves indispensable for composing an alternative Polyphemos, the Sicilian compatriot and fellow victim of Eros. The Kyklops is a singular epic figure who is precisely located within a specific literary topos, and Theocritus relentlessly invokes that Homeric figure and setting in order for the...

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