Theocritean Pastoral: A Study in the Definition of Genre

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Theocritean Pastoral: A Study in the Definition of Genre*

A thesis presented by Amy Edith Johnson to the Department of Comparative Literature in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the subject of Comparative Literature, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, May 1, 1980.

For Gregory Nagy and in memory of John H. Finley, Jr.

What we have loved,
Others will love, and we will teach them how.

Wordsworth, The Prelude


This essay was written 40 years ago, making use of contemporary scholarship as documented in the footnotes and bibliography. As a literary reading of Theocritean pastoral poems, it has not been updated. 

As a dissertation, it represented the end of a ring-composition, for I had the good fortune to close this phase of my study of Greek literature as I began it. Professors John H. Finley, Jr., and Gregory Nagy guided this effort. The latter taught me Greek; the lectures and writings of the former had inspired me to learn it. If I have not been the best of pupils, I at least have recognized my privilege in having the best of teachers. The integrity of their researches into ancient Greek literature and thought remain my model. 

Laura M. Slatkin, my friend and colleague σὺν Μοίσαισι, was the original link between me and the world of Greek poetry. The inspiration of her energy, precision, and grace of intellect contributed to every aspect of the present work. The patience, generosity, and expertise of Richard Sacks in the most difficult stage of this work made all the difference. Sara Bershtel sustained me at crucial stages of the writing. Constance Jordan offered understanding and impetus when I needed it most. To these four friends, my thanks. 

Others who helped and advised at various points in this project are Raine Daston, Sheila Reinhold, Barry Weiner, Miriam Stein, Carole Anne Slatkin, Loretta Nassar and the late Anne Whitman, Isaiah A. Rubin, Regina Shoolman Slatkin, and Charles E. Slatkin. I thank them all for their belief in me and in my work. 

My two sweet daughters, Cordelia Esther and Clare Minna, my dear son-in-law Alex Yablon, and my sweet grandson Louis Johnson Yablon postdate this work. I love you. 


Financial support from the Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation and from the Society of Fellows in the Humanities, Columbia University, assisted me in completing this dissertation, and I acknowledge their help gratefully. 


The emergence of the essay in its current form is due entirely to the loyalty and energy of Gregory Nagy, with his magical helpers Leonard Muellner, Noel Spencer, Laura Slatkin, and Holly Davidson. I accept with humility their faith in this work and in the beautiful poems of Theocritus. Although Vergil’s Georgics, which were modeled on the Idylls and recast them dramatically, provided the principal model for pastoral as a genre in Italy, England, and modern verse, Theocritus has more to offer than originality. His account of the pastoral landscape is so meticulously that of the Cos of his youth that botanical works have been based on it. When this essay was written, the stability of that landscape could be taken for granted. Now Cos is identified mainly as a landing place for the desperate—refugees from Asia Minor—and for their corpses. Indeed, no natural landscape can now be considered stable. To love the particularities of earth may not be to save them; but humans preserve their treasures in attention and in memory. 


[ back ] * Cover: Archaistic base with a depiction of Demeter (Zeus Cthonios and Persephone are depicted on the other sides), Archaeological Museum of Ancient Corinth. “Archaistic” is used as a term for works of art that imitate the archaic style at a later period in order to give venerability to the work of art. Roman period (1st century A.D). Image by Marco Prins via