Poet born in Syracuse, Theocritus was the creator of pastoral poetry. His poems were termed eidyllia (“idylls”), a diminutive of eidos, which may mean “little poems.” There are no certain facts as to Theocritus’s life beyond those supplied by the idylls themselves. He lived in Sicily and spent some time in Cos and Alexandria -perhaps in Rhodes too. His surviving poems include bucolic compositions (pastoral poetry), mimes with either rural or urban settings, brief poems in epic or lyric metres, and epigrams.
The bucolic poems are the most characteristic and influential of Theocritus’s works. They introduced the pastoral setting in which shepherds wooed nymphs and shepherdesses and held singing contests with their rivals. They were the sources of Virgil’s Eclogues and much of the poetry and drama of the Renaissance and were the ancestors of the famous English pastoral elegies, John Milton’s “Lycidas,” Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Adonais,” and Matthew Arnold’s “Thyrsis.” Among the best known of his idylls are Thyrsis (Idyll 1), a lament for Daphnis, the original shepherd poet, who died of unrequited love; Cyclops, a humorous depiction of ugly Polyphemus vainly wooing the sea nymph Galatea; and Thalysia (“Harvest Home,” Idyll 7), describing a festival on the island of Cos.