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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 5. Arsinoe as Epic Queen: Hosts, Hospitality, and Their “Reception” in Idyll 15


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Hosts, Hospitality, and Their “Reception” in Idyll 15

The four previous chapters have each considered the complex relationship between the various narrating voices manifested in poems concerned with mythological figures who have robust literary histories. Whether we are to consider them bucolic poems, epyllia, or hybrid experiments exploring the limits of hexameter composition, epic narrative modes serve as the basis for the striking narrative innovations displayed in Idylls 6, 11, 13, and 24. The interplay of narrative form and literary affiliation relies heavily upon the reader’s willingness to collaborate with the poet to compose the larger metanarrative, to imagine a larger “tradition” if you will, of which each of the poems becomes a particular expression. Idyll 15 would seem to have little in common with them. Idyll 15 is a mime based upon Sophron’s “Women Attending the Isthmian Festival.”1 However, Theocritus employs a similar set of compositional techniques to assimilate Arsinoe (and Ptolemy) to mythic figures.

The poem reenacts the trip of two Syracusan matrons from a modest home on the outskirts of Alexandria to Queen Arsinoe’s Adonia. The Idyll begins ← 189 | 190 → with Gorgo, a Syracusan living in Alexandria, knocking at the door of her compatriot, Praxinoa. After a brief tarry at Praxinoa’s house in which the two exchange complaints about their husbands and domestic toil, they prepare to venture out to the festival (15.6–26). Praxinoa is washed and dressed by...

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