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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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Conclusion: Voices Heard and Read


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Theocritus’ compositional techniques have been a source of pleasure and critical interest from the outset of his poetry’s critical life. Beyond the earliest (peripatetic?) critic’s admiration of his formal variations of narrative and mimesis, the abiding fictional worlds presumed to exist behind the brief, particular glimpses given within his poems, Theocritus’ rhetorical practice instigates a speculative venture on the part of the reader. Like Callimachus’ densely allusive hymns and his Aetia saturated with literary references, or Apollonius’ voyage into remotest regions of heroic legend, epic tradition, and prosaic wisdom, Theocritus’ poems demand a reader willing to become complicit in his compositional endeavors. Theocritus exploits the interplay of brevity, narrative framing and inter- and intratextual affiliation to invite the reader to compose the larger interpretive framework for appreciating any particular poem.

In Idyll 6 the primary narrator, Daphnis, Damoitas, Polyphemos, and his interlocutor simultaneously articulate an erotic escapade and a proleptic account of the Kyklops’ epic blinding as Daphnis and Damoitas innocently enjoy their rustic singing match. Idyll 11’s extended frame, which explicitly contemplates the reception of its contents, creates and subverts a normative reception of the Kyklops’ song not only by undermining Polyphemos’ viability ← 233 | 234 → as an exemplar of song’s power to cure love’s ills, but also by intimating that Nicias and Theocritus are not seriously interested in imparting or receiving erotodidaxis. Theocritus more explicitly purports to teach at the outset of Idyll 13, but...

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