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Theocritus and the reversal of literary tradition Cater, Amanda Jane


My purpose is to demonstrate Theocritus' treatment of traditional literary genres. I show the specialized character of the bucolic genre by concentrating on the combination of epic, tragic and bucolic elements in selected poems of Theocritus. My concern is the portrayal of characters and character-types from myth and literary tradition and how the traditional literary portrayal has been changed. My discussion of Theocritus' poetic technique is divided into two parts. The first section deals with Theocritus' method of "reducing" or down-grading figures who have previously been presented and accepted as heroes. This section is introduced by a brief survey of the changing attitudes towards heroes in Greek literature from Homer to Theocritus. This is followed by a discussion of four poems which illustrate Theocritus' inversion of the standard portrait. This treatment ranges from a humorous recasting of the status of Polyphemos (Idyll 11) and Herakles (Idylls 13 and 24) to a critical portrayal of the Dioscuri (Idyll 22). The second part deals with the technique operating in reverse. In this section, I show how Theocritus juxtaposes epic themes with 'low-life' scenes and how the characters involved are consequently upgraded or 'elevated1. The four poems I select endow their insignificant protagonists with heroic amplitude. In Idyl 1 1, epic and tragic elements are infused into the portrayal of Daphnis the cowherd. Simaetha in Idyll 2 envisages herself as a Medea in a context of bourgeois reality. The mythological material in Idyll 3 achieves humour from the disparity of the goatherd's rustic simplicicy and his awareness of mythological precedents. Idyll 7 expands the anti-heroic material of the Odyssey and describes a goatherd with a difference. In my conclusion I demonstrate the coherence of Theocritus' treatment of epic and dramatic narrative with his programmatic statements. The passages referred to are the epilogue of Idyll 22 (212-23), the characters cited in Idyll 16 (36-57), Simichidas' speech in Idyll 7 (45-48) and the description of the herdman's cup in Idyll 1. (29-61). In the light of this, I link Theocritus' poetic method to his attitude to the function of literature and its relation to society.

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