A Greek poet
, originator of the idyll
, or short poem describing a scene
. He was actually a very versatile poet and described many kinds of scene, but the idyll form is most associated with the pastoral
Theocritus was born in Sicily, probably in Syracuse. He also lived on Cos in the Aegean, and in Alexandria. Some of his idylls are urban. His dates are only known approximately: but he lived about 310-240 BCE.
He has always been appreciated as a very natural and realistic depicter of the rural: he did seem to know real shepherds and how they looked after their sheep and goats, which is slightly more than can be said for the many pastoral poets that came after him using his form.
Here's a nice bit of description (translator F.L. Lucas), from Idyll XIII:
Brazen pitcher in hand, quickly he came where poured
A spring from a lowly hollow--thick grew the rushes there,
Thick the dark celandine and pale-green maidenhair,
And parsley lush, and reed-grass that loves the marsh's cool.
But there the Nymphs had gathered, to dance in the midmost pool,
Those sleepless Nymphs, from whose dread power the peasant flies--
Euneica; Malis; Nycheia, with springtime in her eyes.
So, as the boy bent o'er the brink, in haste to dip
The wide mouth of his pitcher, all at once their grip
Closed on his wrist--for passion had thrilled their hearts to see
The Argive lad--and his body went shooting suddenly
Down the dark depths;
Ooh, it's quite erotic really, isn't? And here's a wistful
bit from Idyll XXIII:
Lovely the rose; and yet--its beauty Time deflowers:
Lovely in spring the violet--but brief its hours:
White is the lily--but fast it falls, and fades away:
White is the snow--but it melts from earth's face where it lay:
Lovely the loveliness of youth--yet lives but for a day.
The Greek is eidullion, diminutive of eidos 'shape, form'. The modern association of 'idyllic' comes about because his pastoral scenes from a happier age were the most imitated. He wrote in the Doric dialect, which was considered very rustic in ancient Greece.
Virgil, Milton, Wordsworth, and Tennyson all write idyllic poetry. Andrew Lang wrote a fictional letter to Theocritus. The most famous mention of him for modern readers is Elizabeth Barrett Browning's first sonnet, in which she says she had been reading him when she full a-musing:
I thought once how Theocritus had sung
Of the sweet years, the dear and wished-for years,
Who each one in a gracious hand appears
To bear a gift for mortals, old or young;
And, as I mused it in his antique tongue,
I saw, in gradual vision through my tears,
The sweet, sad years, the melancholy years