Daphnis in the Middle: Theocritus’ Inter-generic Poetics and the Origins of the Bucolic Genre

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Alexandros Kampakoglou


Because of its programmatic significance, Idyll 1 features prominently in modern discussions of the origins of the bucolic genre. While some scholars prioritize the connection with early hexameter poetry, others call attention to the tragic elements in it. Against this background, this paper argues that Daphnis holds an interstitial position between epic and drama. Thyrsis’ song may rely on epic poetry for its formal elements, but its theme and motifs bespeak the influence of tragic poetry. Thyrsis and Daphnis stand in a mirroring relationship that symbolizes the intergeneric combination of epic and dramatic traditions. Considering the presentation of Daphnis in Sositheus’ Daphnis or Lityerses and Theocritus 6 can help us appreciate the theatrical elements in Daphnis’ behavior in Idyll 1. Daphnis’ silence, his refusal to accept divine help, and his isolation from the bucolic community suggest dramatic, and particularly Sophoclean, influence. Daphnis’ fear of ridicule by Aphrodite motivates his anger thus bringing him close to a reaction typically associated with Sophocles’ heroes. Theocritus combination of epic and tragic elements reflects discussions about the exact lines separating dramatic genres in Hellenistic times. It also signals that Theocritus appropriates tragedy’s critical reworking of epic to establish bucolic poetry as an autonomous genre.

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