Five Studies in Theocritus’ Narrating Techniques
Introduction: Text, Voice, and Audience
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TEXT, VOICE, AND AUDIENCE
An ancient commentator on Theocritus noted that his bucolic poetry displays a charming mix of narrative and mimesis:
Πᾶσα ποίησις τρεῖς ἔχει χαρακτῆρας, διηγηματικόν, δραματικὸν καὶ μικτόν. τὸ δὲ βουκολικὸν ποίημα μῖγμά ἐστι παντὸς εἴδους καθάπερ συγκεκραμένον· διὸ καὶ χαριέστερον τῇ ποικιλίᾳ τῆς κράσεως, ποτὲ μὲν συγκείμενον ἐκ διηγηματικοῦ, ποτὲ δὲ ἐκ δραματικοῦ, ποτὲ δὲ ἐκ μικτοῦ, ἤγουν διηγηματικοῦ καὶ δραματικοῦ, ὁτὲ δὲ ὡς ἂν τύχῃ.
All poetry has three [narrative] types: narrative, dramatic, and mixed. Bucolic poetry is a mixture of every form like an alloy; wherefore it is made rather more charming by the variety of its mixture; sometimes it is composed from narrative sometimes from dramatic and other times from a mixture of both, that is to say from narrative and dialogue—whenever and however the occasion may have it.1 ← 1 | 2 →
Theocritus’ poetry readily confirms the observation. The bucolic poems display a striking range of narrative forms. Idyll 1 has a dramatic façade, but within its mimesis the goatherd offers an extended narrative ecphrasis while Thyrsis’ embedded song is divided into irregular sets of verses interspersed with refrains that fit uneasily within the poem’s mimetic framework.2
Idyll 7 offers an elaborate first person retrospective narrative. Within this account of his trip to the Thalysia of Demeter in Cos, Simichidas recollects his encounter with the mysterious goatherd/master of bucolic song, Lykidas, with whom he exchanges a bucolic song. The inset songs spin an elaborate web of narrative relations, particularly Lykidas’ song. Within his propemptikon for his beloved Ageanax, Lykidas imagines a future celebration of Ageanax’s safe arrival in Mytilene. When he has reached harbor, Lykidas will recline, drink, and enjoy...
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