The Poems of Theocritus

The Poems of Theocritus

The Poems of Theocritus

The Poems of Theocritus


The recent surge of interest in ancient pastoral poetry has prompted this first modern English translation of the Idylls of Theocritus, founder of the pastoral genre. Rist's translation captures fully the dignity of Theocritus' hexameters, and her individual prefaces to the Idylls contribute to modern interpretation and are perceptive regarding character analysis, comparisons with other poets, and the intermingling of genres.

Originally published in 1978.


The translations are the raison d'être of this work. They must be left to speak for themselves and, alas, within their limitations, for Theocritus. A translation, since it serves up an author strained, as it were, through another man's sieve, may prove as prejudicial to its origin as cabbage water to cabbage—something worse than no dish! Theocritus here appears in my rendering—it could not be otherwise—and I cannot pretend to have delivered him in anything like completeness. If I am thought to have transmitted some savour witheld by previous strainings, I must be satisfied. My hope is no more than to share what I admire in Theocritus, both as poet and as man, with some others with a taste for both poetry and humanity, but who cannot meet him in his own Greek tongue.

The General Introduction outlines my aims and methods in making the translation. It also seeks to place Theocritus in a literary and historical perspective and to record what little may be known or conjectured about the events of his life. Out of respect for my poet as well as my readers, I have not wished to deliver him to them at the outset neatly wrapped up in any pretence at a critical evaluation. This follows on my view that Theocritus is as open-ended as, for example, T. S. Eliot. I have preferred the method of indicating his character ambulando, in introductions to the individual poems, in the hope that he may emerge rather than be laid down, and that the reader may be in a better position to follow and to judge for himself as the evidence unfolds.

The introductions, besides their interpretative function, contain whatever factual material I have thought necessary to the reader's comprehension. I have normally assumed him to have access to a ready-reference work or annotated text such as that . . .

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