Classical Texts Library >> Theocritus, Idylls >> Idylls 5-11



IDYLLS 1 - 4

1. Thyrsis
2. The Spell
3. The Serenade
4. The Herdsmen

IDYLLS 5 - 11

5. The Goatherd & the Shepherd
6. A Country Singing Match
7. The Harvest-Home
8. Second Country Singing-Match
9. Third Country Singing-Match
10. The Reapers
11. The Cyclops

IDYLLS 12 - 18

12. The Beloved
13. Hylas
14. The Love of Cynisca
15. Women at the Adonia
16. The Charites
17. The Panegyris of Ptolemy
18. The Epithalamy of Helen

IDYLLS 19 - 25

19. The Honey-Stealer
20. The Young Countryman
21. The Fishermen
22. The Dioscuri
23. The Lover
24. The Little Heracles
25. How Heracles Slew the Lion


26. The Bacchanals
27. The Lovers' Talk
28. The Distaff
29. The First Love-Poem
30. The Second Love-Poem
B. Inscriptions
C. Fragments



The scene of this shepherd-mime is laid in the wooded pastures near the mouth of the river Crathis in the district of Sybaris and Thurii in Southern Italy. The foreground is the shore of a lagoon near which stand effigies of the Nymphs who preside over it, and there is close by a rustic statue of Pan of the seaside. The characters are a goatherd named Comatas and a young shepherd named Lacon who are watching their flocks. Having seated themselves some little distance apart, they proceed to converse in no very friendly spirit, and the talk gradually leads to a contest of song with a woodcutter named Maroson for the judge and a lamb and a goat for the stakes. The contest is spirits, not to say a bitter, one, and consists of a series of alternate couplets, the elder man first singing his couplet and the younger then trying to better him at the same theme. The themes Comatas chooses are various, but the dominant note, as often in Theocritus, is love. In some of the lines there is more meaning than appears on the surface. After fourteen pairs of couplets, Morson breaks in before Lacon has replied and wards his lamb to Comatas.

[1] Beware, good my goats, of yonder shepherd from Sybaris, beware of Lacon; he stole my skin-coat yesterday.

[4] Hey up! my pretty lambkins; away from the spring. See you not Comatas that stole my pipe two days agone?

[6] Pipe? Sibyrtas’ bondman possessed of a pipe? he that was content to sit with Corydon and too t upon a parcel o’ straws?

[8] Yes, master freeman, the pipe Lycon gave me. And as for your skin-coat, what skin-coat and when has ever Lacon carried off o’ yours? Tell me that, Comatas; why, your lord Eumaras, let alone his bondman, never had one even to sleep in.

[11] ‘Tis that Crocylus gave me, the dapple skin, after that he sacrificed that she-goat to the Nymphs. And as your foul envious eyes watered for it then, so your foul envious hands have bid me go henceforth naked now.

[14] Nay, nay by Pan o’ the Shore; Lacon son of Calaethis never filched coat of thine, fellow, may I run raving mad else and leap into the Crathis from yonder rock.

[17] No, no, by these Nymphs o’ the lake, man; so surely as I wish ‘em kind and propitious, Comatas never laid sneaking hand on pipe o’ thine.

[20] Heaven send me the affliction of Daphnis if e’er I believe that tale. But enough of this; if thou’lt wage me a kid – ‘tis not worth the candle, but nevertheless come on; I’ll have a contention o’ song with thee till thou cry hold.

[23] ‘Tis the old story – teach thy grandam.1 There; my wage is laid. And thou, for thine, lay me thy fine fat lamb against it.

[25] Thou fox! prithee how shall such laying fadge?2 As well might one shear himself hair when a’ might have wool, as well choose to milk a foul bitch before a young milch-goat.

[28] He that’s as sure as thou that he’ll vanguish his neighbour is like the wasp buzzing against the cricket’s song. But ‘tis all one; my kid it seems is no fair stake. So look, I lay thee this full-grown he-goat; and now begin.

[31] Soft, soft; no fire’s burning thee. You’ll sing better sitting under the wild olive and this coppice. There’s cool water falling yonder, and here’s grass and a greenbed, and the locusts at their prattling.

[35] I’m in no haste, not I, but in sorrow rather that you dare look me in the face, I that had the teaching of you when you were but a child. Lord! look where kindness goes. Nurse a wolf-cub, – nay rather nurse a puppy-god – to be eaten for ‘t.

[39] And when, pray, do I mind me to have learnt of heard aught of good from thee? Fie upon thee for a mere envious and churlish piece of a man!

[41] When I was poking you and you were sore; and these she-kids were bleating and the billy-goat bored into them.

[43] I hope you won’t be buried, hunchback, deeper that polang! But a truce, man; hither, come thou hither, and thou shalt sing thy country-song for the last time.

[45] Thither will I never come. Here I have oaks and cyperus, and bees humming bravely at the hives, here’s two springs of cool water to thy one, and birds, not locusts, a-babbling upon the tree, and, for shade, thine’s not half so good; and what’s more the pine overhead is casting her nuts.

[50] An you’ll come here, I’ll lay you shall tread lambskins and sheep’s wool as soft as sleep. Those buckgoat-pelts of thine smell e’en ranker than thou. And I’ll set up a great bowl of whitest milk to the Nymphs, and eke I’ll set up another of sweetest oil.

[55] If come you do, you shall tread here taper fern and organy all a-blowing, and for your lying down there’s she-goat-skins four times as soft as those lambskins of thine. And I’ll set up to Pan eight pails of milk and eke eight pots of full honey-combs.

[60] Go to; be where you will for me for the match o’ country-song. Go your own gate; you’re welcome to your oaks. But who’s to be our judge, say who? Would God neatherd Lycopas might come this way along.

[63] I suffer no want of him. We’ll holla rather, an’t pleas ye, on yon woodcutter that is after fuel in the heather near where you be. Morson it is.

[66] We will.

[66] Call him, you.

[66] Ho, friend! hither and lend us your ears awhile. We two have a match toward, to see who’s the better man at a country-song. (Morson approaches) Be you fair, good Morson; neither judge me out of favour nor yet be too kind to him.

[70] ‘Fore the Nymphs, sweet Morson, pray you neither rule unto Comatas more than his due nor yet give your favour to Lacon. This flock o’ sheep, look you, is Sibyrtas’ of Thurii.

[74] Zeus! and who asked thee, foul knave,3 whether the flock was mine or Sibyrtas’? Lord, what a babbler is here!

[76] Most excellent blockhead, all I say, I, is true, though for my part, I’m no braggart; but Lord! what a railer is here!

[78] Come, come; say thy say and be done, and let’s suffer friend Morson to come off with his life. Apollo save us, Comatas! thou hast the gift o’ the gab.

(The Singing Match)

[80] The Muses bear me greater love than Daphnis4 ere did see;
And well they may, for t’other day they had two goats for me.

[82] But Apollo loves me all as well, and an offering too have I,
A fine fat ram a-batt’ning; for Apollo’s feast draws nigh.

[84] Night all my goats have twins at teat; there’s only two with one;
And the damsel sees and the damsel says ‘Poor lad, dost milk alone?’

[86] O tale of woe! here's Lacon, though, fills cheese-racks well-nigh twenty
And fouls his dear not a youth but a boy mid flowers that blow so plenty.

[88] But when her goatherd boy goes by you should see my Cleärist
Fling apples, and her pretty lips call pouting to be kissed.

[90] But madness ‘tis for the shepherd to meet the shepherd’s love,
So brown and bright the tresses light that toss that shoulder above.

[92] Ah! but there’s no comparing windflower with rose at all,
Nor wild dog-róse with her that blows beside the trim orchard’s wall.

[94] There’s no better likeness, neither, ‘twixt fruit of pear5 and holm;
The acorn savours flat and stale, the pear’s like honeycomb.

[96] In yonder juniper-thicket a cushat sits on her nest;
I’ll go this day and fetch her away for the maiden I love best.

[98] So soon as e’er my sheep I shear, a rare fine gift I’ll take;
I’ll give yon black ewe’s pretty coat my darling’s cloak to make.

[100] Hey, bleaters! away from the olive; where would be grazing then?
Your pasture’s where the tamarisk grows and the slope hill drops to the glen.

[102] Where are ye browsing, Crumple? and, Browning, where are ye?
Graze up the hill as Piebad will, and let the oak-leaves be.

[104] I’ve laid up a piggin of cypress-wood and a bowl for mixing wine,
The work of great Praxiteles,6 both for that lass of mine.

[106] And I, I have a flock-dog, a wolver of good fame,
Shall go a gift to my dearest and hunt him all manner of game.

[108] Avaunt, avaunt, ye locusts o’er master’s fence that spring;
These be none of your common vines; have done your ravaging.

[110] See, crickets, see how vexed he be! see master Goatherd boiling!
‘Tis even so you vex, I trow, the reapers at their toiling.7

[112] I hate the brush-tail foxes, that soon as day declines
Come creeping to their vintaging mid goodman Micon’s vines.

[114] So too I hate the beetles come riding on the breeze,
Guttle Philondas’ choicest figs, and off as quick as you please.

[116] Don’t you remember when I poked you, and you
Grinning jerked your tail finely at me, and clung to that oak-tree?

[118] That indeed I don’t remember; however, when Eumaras
fastened you up here and cleaned you out – that anyway I know all about.

[120] Somebody’s waxing wild, Morson; see you not what is plain?
Go pluck him squills from an oldwife’s grave to cool his heated brain.

[122] Nay, I be nettling somebody; do you not see it, then?
Be off to Haleis bank, Morson, and dig him some cyclamen.

[124] Let Himera’s stream run white with cream, and Crathis, as for thine,
Mid apple-bearing beds or reed may it run red with wine.

[126] Let Sybaris’ well spring honey for me, and ere the sun is up
May the wench that goes for water draw honeycombs for my cup.

[128] My goats eat goat-grass, mine, and browze upon the clover,
Tread mastich green and lie between the arbutes waving over.

[130] It may be so, but I’ld have ye know these pretty sheep of mine
Browze rock-roses in plenty and sweet as eglantine.

[132] When I brought the cushat ‘tother night ‘tis true Alcippa kissed me,
But alack! she forgot to kiss by the pot,8 and since, poor wench, she’s missed me.

[134] When fair Eumédes took the pipe that was his lover’s token
He kissed him sweet as sweet could be; his lover’s love unbroken.

[136] ‘Tis nature’s law that no jackdaw with nightingale shall bicker,
Nor owl9 with swan, but poor Lacòn was born a quarrel-picker.

[138] I bid the shepherd cease. You, Comatas, may take the lamb; and when you offer her to the Nymphs be sure you presently send poor Morson a well-laden platter.

[140] That will I, ‘fore Pan. Come, snort ye, my merry buck-goats all. Look you how great a laugh I have of shepherd Lacon for that I have at last achieved the lamb. Troth, I’ll caper you to the welkin. Horned she-goats mine, frisk it and be merry; tomorrow I’ll wash you one and all in Sybaris’ lake. What, Whitecoat, thou butt-head! if thou leave not poke the she’s, before ever I sacrifice the lamb to the Nymphs I’ll break every bone in thy body. Lo there! he’s at it again. If I break thee not, be my last end the end of Melanthius.10

1. “Teach thy grandam” : the Greeks is “the sow contended against Athena.”
2. “Fadge”: be suitable.
3. “Foul knave” : Comatas’ apparently innocent remark implies the taunt of slavery; cf. ll. 5 and 8.
4. “Daphnis” : the Greek has “the poet Daphnis.”
5. “Pear” : in the Greek, a sweet kind of wild apple.
6. “Praxiteles” : probably the Greek sculptor; intended as an ignorant man’s boast (Gow).
7. “At their toiling” : more likely ‘at their (noontide) rest’ (Gow).
8. “Kiss by the pot” : to kiss taking hold of both ears.
9. “owl” : the Greek has “hoopoe.”
10. “Melanthius” : the goatherd mutilated by Odysseus and Telemachus in the twenty-second book of the Odyssey.


Theocritus dedicates the poem to the Aratus of whom he speaks in the Harvest-Home. The scene is a spring in the pastures, and the time of summer noon. The theme is a friendly contest between a certain Damoetas and ‘the neatherd Daphnis.’ This is probably the Daphnis of the Thyrsis. If so , the two singers are meant to be contemporary with the persons of whom they sing, as are the singers of IV, V, and X. Each sings one song. Daphnis, apostrophising Polyphemus, asks why he is blind to the love of the sea-nymph Galatea. Damoetas, personating him, declares that his apathy is all put on, to make her love secure.

[1] Damoetas and neatherd Daphnis, Aratus, half-bearded one, the other’s chin ruddy with the down, had driven each his herd together to a single spot at noon of a summer’s day, and sitting them down side by side at a water-spring began to sing. Daphnis sang first, for from hi came the challenge:

[6] See Cyclops! Galatéa’s at thy flock with apples, see!
The apples1 fly, and she doth cry ‘A fool’s-in-love are ye’;
But with never a look to the maid, poor heart, thou sit’st and pipest so fine.
Lo yonder again she flings them amain at that good flock-dog o’ thine!
See how he looks to seaward and bays her from the land!
See how he’s glassed2 where he runs so fast i' the pretty wee waves o’ the strand!
Beware of he’ll leap as she comes from the deep, leap on her legs so bonny,
And towse her sweet pretty flesh – But lo where e’en now she wantons upon ye!
O the high thistle-down and the dry thistle-down i' the heat o’the pretty summer O! –
She’ll fly ye and deny ye if ye’ll a-wooing go,
But cease to woo and she’ll pursue, aye, then the king’s3 the move;
For oft the foul, good Polypheme, is fair i' the eyes of love.

[20] Then Damoetas in answer lifted up his voice, singing:

[21] I saw, I saw her fling them, Lord Pan my witness be;
I was not blind, I vow, by this my one sweet – this
Wherewith Heav’n send I see to the end, and Télemus4 when he
Foretells me woe, then be it so, but woe for him and his! – ;
‘Tis tit for tat, to tease her on I look not on the jade
And say there’s other wives to wed, and lo! she’s jealous made,
Jealous for me, Lord save us! and ‘gins to pine for me
And glowers from the deep on the cave and the sheep like a want-wit lass o’ the sea
And the dog that bayed, I hissed him on; for when ‘twas I to woo
He’ld lay his snout to her lap, her lap, and whine her friendly to.
Maybe she’ll send me messages if long I go this gate;
But I’ll bar the door till she swear o’ this shore to be my wedded mate.
Ill-favoured? nay, for all they say; I have looked i' the glassy sea,
And, for aught I could spy, both beard and eye were pretty as well could be,
And the teeth all a-row5 like marble below, – and that none should o’erlook me6 of it,
As Goody Cotyttaris taught me, thrice in my breast I spit.

[42] So far Damoetas, and kissed Daphnis, and that to this gave a pipe and this to that a pretty flue. Then lo! the piper was neatherd Daphnis and the flute-player Damoetas, and the dancers were the heifers who forthwith began to bound mid the tender grass. And as for the victory, that fell to neither one, being they both stood unvanquished in the match.

1. “Apples” : a love-gift, cf. 2. 120, 3. 10.
2. “glassed” : there is an ancient variant “splashed.”
3. “The king” : moved as a last resource in some game like draughts or backgammon.
4. “Telemus” : prophesied the blinding of Polyphemus by Odysseus.
5. “And the teeth all a-row” : the Greek has “of my teeth below, the sheen gaped whiter than marble.”
6. “O’erlook me” : to see one’s reflexion made one liable to the effects of the evil eye; spitting averted this.


The poet tells in the first person how three friends went out from Cos to join in a harvest-home at a farm in the country. On the way they overtake a Cretan goatherd named Lycidas, and the conversation leads to a friendly singing-match between him and the narrator Simichidas. Lycidas’ song, which was apparently composed the previous November, is primarily a song of good wishes for the safe passage of his beloved Ageanax to Mitylenè, but the greater part of it is concerned with the merrymaking which will celebrate his safe arrival, and includes an address to the mythical goatherd-poet Comatas, whose story is to be sung by Tityrus on the festive occasion. Simichidas replies with a prayer to Pan and the Loves to bring the fair Philinus to his lover Aratus, a prayer which passes, however, into an appeal to Aratus to cease such youthful follies. Lycidas now bestows the crook which he had laughingly offered as a stake, and leaves the three friends at the entrance to the farm. The rest of the poem is a description of the feast. The scholia preserve a tradition that Simichidas is Theocritus himself, and indeed there is great probability that we are dealing throughout the poem with real persons.

[1] Once upon a time went Eucritus and I, and for a third, Amyntas, from the town of Haleis. ‘Twas to a harvest-feast holden that day unto Deo1 by Phrasidamas and Antigenes the two sons of Lycopeus, sons to wit of a fine piece of the good old stuff that came of Clytia, of Clytia and of that very Chalcon2 whose sturdy knee planted once against the rock both made Burina3 fount to gush forth at his feet and caused elm and aspen to weave above it a waving canopy of green leaves and about it a precinct of shade. Ere we were halfway thither, ere we saw the tomb of Brasilas, by grace of the Muses we overtook a fine fellow of Cydonia, by name Lycidas and by profession a goatherd, which indeed any that saw him must have known him for, seeing liker could not be. For upon his shoulders there hung, rank of new rennet, a shag-haired buck-goat’s tawny fleece, across his breast a broad belt did gird an ancient shirt, and in’s hand he held a crook of wild olive. Gently, broadly, and with a twinkling eye he smiled upon me, and with laughter possessing his lip, “What Simichidas,” says he; “whither away this sultry noontide, when e’en the lizard will be sleeping i' the’ hedge and the created larks go not afield? Is ‘t even a dinner you be bidden to or a fellow-townsman’s vintage-rout that makes you scurry so? for ‘faith, every stone i' the road strikes stinging against your hastening brogues.”

[28] “’Tis said, dear Lycidas,” answered I, “you beat all comers, herdsman or harvester, at the pipe.4 So ‘tis said, and right glad am I it should be said; howbeit to my thinking I’m as good a man as you. This our journey is to a harvest-home; some friends of ours make holyday to the fair-robed Demeter with first-fruits of their increase, because the Goddess hath filled their threshing-floor in measure so full and fat. So come, I pray you, since the way and the day be yours as well as ours, and let you and me make country-music. And each from the other may well take some profit, seeing I, like you, am a clear-voiced mouthpiece of the Muses, and, like you, am accounted best of musicians everywhere, – albeit I am not so quick, Zeus knows, to believe what I’m told, being to my thinking no match in music yet awhile for the excellent Sicelidas of Samos nor again for Philitas, but I am even as a frog that is fain to outvie the pretty crickets.”

[42] So said I of set purpose, and master Goatherd with a merry laugh “I offer you this crook,” says he, “as to a sprig5 of great Zeus that is made to the pattern of truth. Even as I hate your mason who will be striving to rear his house high as the peak of Mount Oromedon,6 so hate I likewise your strutting cocks o’ the Muses’ yard whose crowing makes so pitiful contention against the Chian nightingale.7 But enough; let’s begin our country-sons, Simichidas. First will I – pray look if you approve the ditty I made in the hills ‘tother day: (sings)

[52] What though the Kids8 above the flight of wave before the wind
Hang westward, and Orion’s foot is e’en upon the sea?
Fair voyage to Mitylenè town Agéanax shall find,
Once from the furnace of his love his Lycidas be free.
The halcyons9 – and of all the birds whose living’s of the seas
The sweet green Daughters of the Deep love none so well as these –
O they shall still the Southwind and the tangle-tossing East,
And lay for him wide Ocean and his waves along to rest.
Ageanax late though he be for Mitylene bound
Heav’n bring him blest wi’ the season’s best to haven safe and sound;
And that day I’ll make merry, and bind about my brow
The anise sweet or snowflake neat or rosebuds all a-row,
And there by the hearth I’ll lay me down beside the cheerful cup,
And hot roast the beans shall make my bite and elmy wine10 my sup;
And soft I’ll lie, for elbow-high my bed strown thick and well
Shall be of crinkled parsley, mullet,11 and asphodel;
And so t’ Ageanax I’ll drink, drink wi’ my dear in ind,
Drink wine and wine-cup at a draught and leave no lees behind.

[71] My pipers shall be two shepherds, a man of Acharnae he,
And he a man of Lycópè; singer shall Tityrus be,
And sing beside me of Xénea and neatherd Daphnis’ love,
How the hills were troubled around him and the oaks sang dirges above,
Sang where they stood by Himeras flood, when he a-wasting lay
Like snow on Haemus or Athos or Caucasus far far away.

[78] And I’ll have him sing how once a king, of wilful malice bent,
In the great coffer all alive the goatherd-poet pent,
And the snub bees came from the meadow to the coffer of sweet cedar-tree,
And fed him there o’ the flowerets fair, because his lip was free
O’ the Muses’ wine12; Comàtas! ‘twas joy, all joy to thee;
Though thou wast hid ‘neath cedarn lid, the bees they meat did bring,
Till thou didst thole, right happy soul, thy twelve months’ prisoning.
And O of the quick thou wert this day! How gladly then with mine
I had kept thy pretty goats i' the hills, the while ‘neath oak or pine
Thou ‘dst lain along and sun me a song, Comatas the divine!”

[90] So much sang Lycidas and ended; and thereupon “Dear Lycidas” said I, “afield with my herds on the hills I also have learnt of the Nymphs, and there’s many a good song of mine which Rumour may well have carried up to the throne of Zeus. But this of all is far the choicest, this which I will sing now for your delight. Pray give ear, as one should whom the Muses love: (sings)

[96] The Loves have sneezed,13 for sure they have, on poor Simichidas:
For he loves maid Myrto as goats the spring: but where he loves a lass
His dear’st Aratus sighs for a lad. Aristis, dear good man –
And best in fame as best in name, the Lord o’ the Lyre14 on high
Beside his holy tripod would let him make melody 0
Aristis knows Aratus’ woes. O bring the lad, sweet Pan,
Sweet Lord of lovely Homolè, bring him unbid to ‘s fere,
Whether Philínus, sooth to say, or other be his dear.
This do, sweet Pan, and never, when slices be too few,
May the leeks15 o’ the lads of Arcady beat thee back black and blue;
But O if othergates thou go, may nettles make thy bed
And set thee scratching tooth and nail, scratching from heel to head,
And be thy winter-lodging nigh the Bear up Hebrus way
I’ the hills of Thrace; when summer’s in, mid furthest Africa
Mayst feed thy flock by the Blemyan rock beyond Nile’s earliest spring.

[115] O come ye away, ye little Loves like apples red-blushing,
From Byblis’ fount and Oecus’ mount that is fair-haired Dion’s16 joy,
Come shoot the fair Philinus, shoot me the silly boy
That flouts my friend! Yet after all, the pear’s o’er-ripe to taste,
And the damsels sigh and the damsels say ‘Thy bloom, child, fails thee fast’;
So let’s watch no more his gate before, Aratus o’ this gear,17
But ease our aching feet,18 my friend, and let old chanticleer
Cry ‘shiver’ to some other when he the dawn shall sing;
One scholar o’ that school’s19 enough to have met his death i' the ring.
‘Tis peace of mind, lad, we must find, and have a beldame nigh
To sit for us and spit for us and bid all ill go by.”

[128] So far my song; and Lycidas, with a merry laugh as before, bestowed the crook upon me to be the Muses’ pledge of friendship, and so bent his way to the left-hand and went down the Pyxa road; and Eucritus and I and pretty little Amyntas turned in at Phrasidamus’s and in deep greenbeds of fragrant reeds and fresh-cut vine-strippings laid us rejoicing down.

[135] Many an aspen, many an elm bowed and rustled overhead, and hard by, the hallowed water welled purling forth of a cave of the Nymphs, while the brown cricket chirped busily amid the shady leafage, and the tree-frog murmured aloof in the dense thornbrake. Lark and goldfinch sang and turtle moaned, and about he spring the bees hummed and hovered to and fro. All nature smelt of the opulent summer-time, smelt of the season of fruit. Pears lay at our feet, apples on either side, rolling abundantly, and the young branches lay splayed upon the ground because of the weight of their damsons.

[147] Meanwhile we broke the four-year-old seal from off the lips of the jars, and O ye Castalian20 Nymphs that dwell on Parnassus’ height, did ever the aged Cheiron in Pholus’ rocky cave set before Heracles such a bowlful as that? And the mighty Polypheme who kept sheep beside the Anapus and had at ships with mountains, was it for such nectar he footed it around his steading – such a draught as ye Nymphs gave us that day of your spring21 by the altar of Demeter22 o’ the Threshing-floor? of her, to wit, upon whose cornheap I pray I may yet again plant the great purging-fan while she stands smiling by with wheatsheaves and poppies in either hand.

1. “Deo” : Demeter.
2. “Clytia and Chaleon” : legendary queen and king of Cos.
3. “Burina” : the fountain still bears this name.
4. “The pipe” : here it implies music generally.
5. “Sprig of great Zeus” : Truth was daughter of Zeus.
6. Oromedon is probably the highest mountain in Cos.
7. “The Chian nightingale” : Homer.
8. “The Kids” : the time of the year indicated is at the end of November.
9. “The halcyons” : said to command a calm for their nesting about the winter-solstice.
10. “Elmy wine” : wine flavoured with elm-catkins, or else “wine of Ptelea.”

11. “Mullet” : usually called ‘fleabane.’
12. “His lip was free of the Muses’ wine” : the Greek has “nectar,” and the meaning is that he was a poet.
13. “Have sneezed” : a sneeze meant good luck, and a man deeply in love was said to have been sneezed upon by the Loves.
14. “Lord of the Lyre” : the Greek has “Apollo.”
15. “Leeks” : the sea-leek has purificatory uses; the poet refers here to what was apparently the current explanation of a flogging rite – the choristers flogged the statue of Pan at the feast because they had once received short commons.
16. “Dion” : Dione is Aphrodite or her mother; the Loves are summoned from the district of Miletus.
17. “O’ this gear” : in this way.
18. “Aching feet” : from standing about at the door, one of the conventional signs of being in love.
19. “One scholar o’ that school” : one dallier with such follies.
20. “Castalian Nymphs” : all nymphs were Castalian.
21. “Of your spring” : the wine was drunk mixed with water.
22. “Demeter” : a harvest-effigy.


The characters of this shepherd-mime are the mythical personages Daphnis the neatherd and Menalcas the shepherd, and an unnamed goatherd who play umpire in their contest of song. After four lines by way of stage-direction, the conversation opens with mutual banter between the two young countrymen, and leads to a singing-match with pipes for the stakes. Each sings four alternate elegiac quatrains and an envoy of eight hexameters. In the first three pairs of quatrains Menalcas sets the theme and Daphnis takes it up. The first pair is addressed to the landscape, and contains mutual compliments; the remainder deal with love. The last pair of quatrains and the two envoys do not correspond in theme. The resemblance of most of the competing stanzas has caused both loss and transposition in the manuscripts. From metrical and linguistic considerations the poem is clearly not the work of Theocritus.

[1] Once on a day the fair Daphnis, out upon the long hills with his cattle, met Menalcas keeping his sheep. Both had ruddy heads, both were striplings grown, both were players of music, and both knew how to sing. Looking now towards Daphnis, Menalcas first ‘What, Daphnis,’ cries he, ‘thou watchman o’ bellowing kine, art thou willing to sing me somewhat? I’ll warrant, come my turn, I shall have as much the better of thee as I choose.’ And this was Daphnis’ answer: ‘Thou shepherd o’ woolly sheep, thou mere piper Menalcas, never shall the likes of thee have the better of me in song, strive he never so hard.’

[11] Then will ‘t please you look hither? Will’t please you lay a wage?

[12] Aye, that it will; I’ll look you and lay you, too.

[13] And what shall our wage be? what shall be sufficient for us?

[14] Mine shall be a calf, only let yours be that mother-tall fellow yonder.

[15] He shall be no wage of mine. Father and mother are both sour as can be, and tell the flock to head every night.

[17] Well, but what is’t to be? and what’s the winner to get for’s pains?

[18] Here’s a gallant nine-stop pipe I have made, with good white beeswax the same top and bottom; this I’m willing to lay, but I’ll not stake what is my father’s.

[21] Marry, I have a nine-stop pipe likewise, and it like yours hath good white beeswax the same top and bottom. I made it t’other day, and my finer here sore yet where a split reed cut it for me. (each takes a pipe)

[25] But who’s to be our judge? who's to do the hearing for us?

[26] Peradventure that goatherd yonder, if we call him; him wi’ that spotted flock-dog a-barking near by the kids.

[28] So the lads holla’d, and the goatherd came to hear them, the lads sang and the goatherd was fain to be their judge. Lots were cast, and ‘twas Menalcas Loud-o’-voice to begin the country-song and Daphnis to take him up by course.1 Menlacas thus began:

[33] Ye woods and waters, wondrous race, lith and listen of your grace;
If e’er my son was your delight feed my lambs with all your might;
And if Daphnis wend this way, make his calves as fat as they.

[37] Ye darling wells and meadows dear, sweets o’ the earth, come lend an ear;
If like the nightingales I sing, give my cows good pasturing;
And if Menalcas e’er you see, fill his block and make him glee.

[45] Where sweet Milon trips the leas there’s fuller hives and loftier trees;
Where’er those pretty footings fall goats and sheep come twinners all;
If otherwhere those feet be gone, pasture’s lean and shepherd lone.

[41] Where sweet Naïs comes a-straying there the green meads go a-maying;
Where’er her pathway lies along, there’s springing teats and growing young;
If otherwhere her gate be gone, cows are dry and herd fordone.

[49] Buck-goat, husband of the she’s, hie to th’ wood’s infinities –
Nay, snubbies,2 hither to the spring; this errand’s not for your running; –
Go buck, and “Fairest Milon” say, “a god kept seals3 once on a day.”

[Daphnis’ reply is lost]

[53] I would not Pelops’ tilth untold nor all Croesus’ coffered gold,
Nor yet t’ outfoot the storm-wind’s breath, so I may sit this rock beneath,
Pretty pasture-mate, wi’ thee, and gaze on the Sicilian sea.

[57] Wood doth fear the tempest’s ire, water summer’s drouthy fire,
Beasts the net and birds the snare. Man the love of maiden fair;
Not I alone lie under ban; Zeus himself’s a woman’s man.4

[61] So far went the lads’ songs by course. Now ‘twas the envoy, and Menalcas thus began:

[63] Spare, good Wolf, the goats you see, spare them dam and kid for me;
If flock is great and flockman small, is’t reason you should wrong us all?
Come, White-tail, why so sound asleep? Good dogs wake when boys tend sheep.
Fear not, ewes, your fill to eat; for when the new blade sprouteth sweet,
Then ye shall no losers be; to’t, and fed you every she,
Feed till every udder teem store for lambs and store for cream.

[71] Then Daphnis, for his envoy, lifted up his tuneful voice, singing –

[72] Yestermorn a long-browed5 maid, spying from a rocky shade
Neat and neatherd passing by, cries “What a pretty boy am I!”
Did pretty boy the jape repay: Nay, bent his head and went his way.
Sweet to hear and sweet to smell, god wot I love a heifer well,
And sweet alsó ‘neath summer sky to sit where brooks go babbling by;
But ‘tis berry and bush,6 ‘tis fruit and tree, ‘tis calf and cow, wi’ my kine and me.

[81] So sang those two lads, and this is what the goatherd said of their songs: “You, good Daphnis, have a sweet and delightful voice. Your singing is to the ear as honey to the lip. Here’s the pipe; take it; your song has fairly won it you. And if you are willing to teach me how to sing while I share pasture with you, you shall have the little she-goat yonder to your school-money, and I warrant you she’ll fill your pail up the brim and further.”

[88] At that the lad was transported, and capered and clapped hands for joy of his victory; so capers a fawn at the sight of his dam. At that, too, the other’s fire was utterly extinct, and his heart turned upside-down for grief; so mourns a maiden that is forced against her will.

[92] From that day forth Daphnis had the pre-eminence of the shepherds, insomuch that he was scarce come to man’s estate ere he had to wife that Naïs7 of whom he sang.

1. “By course” : stanza by stanza.
2. “Snubbies” : kids.
3. “A god kept seals” : Proteus; the message means ‘Do not despise your lover because he keeps sheep.’
4. “Lie under ban” : the Greek has ‘have fallen in love.’
5. “Long-browed” : the Greek is ‘with meeting eye-brows.’
6. “’Tis berry and bush” : the Greek is ‘acorn adorns oak, apple apple-tree, calf cow, and cows cowherd.’
7. “Naïs” : apparently the nymph to whom Daphnis afterwards swore the oath which, when he fell in love with Xenea, he died rather than break.


This poem would seem to be merely a poor imitation of the last. The characters are two neatherds, Daphnis and Menalcas, and the writer himself. We are to imagine the cattle to have just been driven out to pasture. There is no challenge and no stake. At the request of the writer that they shall compete in song before him, each of the herdsmen sings seven lines, Daphnis setting the theme; and then the writer, leaving it to be implied that he judged them equal, tells us how he gave them each a gift and what it was. The writer now appeals to the Muses to tell him the song he himself sang on the occasion, and he sings a six-line song in their praise.

[1] Sing a country-song, Daphnis. Be you the first and Menalcas follow when you have let out the calves to run with the cows and the bulls with the barren heifers. As for the cattle, may they feed together and wander together among the leaves and never stray alone, but do you come and sing me your song on this side, and Menalcas stand for judgment against you on that.

DAPHNIS (sings)
[7] O sweet the cry o’ the calf, and sweet the cry o’ the cow,
And sweet he tune o’ the neatherd’s pipe, and I sing sweet enow;
And a greenbed’s mine by the cool brook-side piled thick and thick with many a hide
From the pretty heifers wi’ skin so white which the storm found browsing on the height
And hurled them all below:
And as much reck I o’ the scorching heat as a love-struck lad of his father’s threat.

[14] So sang me Daphnis, and then Menalcas thus: –

[15] Etna, mother o’ mine! my shelter it is a grot,
A pretty rift in a hollow clift, and for skins to my bed, god wot,
Head and foot ‘tis goats and sheep as many as be in a vision o’ sleep,
And an oaken fire i' the winter days with chestnuts roasting at the blaze
And puddings in the pot:
And as little care I for the wintry sky as the toothless for nuts when porridge is by.

[22] Then clapped I the lads both, and then and there gave them each a gift, Daphnis a club which grew upon my father’s farm and e’en the same as it grew – albeit an artificer could not make one to match it – , and Menalcas a passing fine conch, of which the fish when I took it among the Icarian rocks furnished five portions for five mouths, – and he blew a blast upon the shell.

[28] All hail, good Muses o' the countryside! and the song I did sing that day before those herdsmen, let it no longer raise pushes1 on the tip o' my tongue, but show it me you:

[31] (the song) O cricket is to cricket dear, and ant for ant doth long,
The hawk’s the darling of his fere, and o’ me the Muse and her song:
Of songs be my house the home away, for neither sleep, nor a sudden spring-day,
Nor flowers to the bees, are as sweet as they; I love the Muse and her song:
For any the Muses be glad to see, is proof agen Circè’s witcheyre.

1. “Pushes” : pimples on the tongue, the scholiast tells us, were a sign that one refuses to give up what another has entrusted to him.


The characters of this pastoral mime are two reapers, Milon, the man of experience, and Bucaeus, called also Buscus, the lovesick youth. The conversation takes place in the course of their reaping, and leads to a love-song from the lover and a reaping-song from his kindly mentor. When Milon calls his song the song of the divine Lityerses he is using a generic term. There was at least one traditional reaping-song which told how Lityerses, son of Midas, of Celaenae in Phrygia, after entertaining strangers hospitably, made them reap with him till evening, when he cut off their heads and hid their bodies in the sheaves. This apparently gave the name to all reaping-songs. Milon’s song, after a prayer to Demeter, addresses itself in succession to binders, threshers, and reapers, and lastly to the steward. Both songs are supposed to be impromptu, and sung as the men reap on.

[1] Husbandman Bucaeus, what ails ye now, good drudge? you neither can cut your swath straight as once you did, nor keep time in your reaping with your neighbour. You’re left behind by the flock like a ewe with a thorn in her foot. How will it be wi’ you when noon is past and day o’ the wane, if thus early you make not a clean bite o’ your furrow?

[7] Good master early-and-late-wi’-sickle, good Sire chip-o’-the-flint, good Milon, hath it never befallen thee to wish for one that is away?

[9] Never, i' faith; what has a clown like me to do with wishing where there’s no getting?

[10] Then hath it never befallen thee to lie awake o’ nights for love?

[11] Nay, and god forbid it should. ‘Tis ill letting the dog taste pudding.

[12] But I’ve been in love, Milon, the better part of ten days; –

[13] Then ‘tis manifest thou draw’st thy wine from the hogshead the while I am short of vinegar-water.

[14] – And so it is that the land at my very door since was seed-time1 hath not felt hoe.

[15] And which o’ the lasses is they undoing?

[16] ‘Tis Polybotas’ daughter, she that was at Hippocion’s t’other day a-piping to the reapers.

[17] Lord! thy sin hath found thee out. Thou’dst wished and wished, and now, ‘faith, thou’st won. There’ll be a locust to clasp thee all night long.

[19] Thou bid’st fair to play me fault-finder. But there’s blind men in heaven besides Him o’ the Money-bags, fool Cupid for one. So prithee talk not so big.

[21] I talk not big, not I; pray be content, go thou on wi’ thy laying o’ the field, and strike up a song o’ love to thy leman. ‘Twill sweeten thy toil. Marry, I know thou wast a singer once.

BUCAEUS (sings)
[24] Pierian Muses, join with me a slender lass to sing;
For all ye Ladies take in hand ye make a pretty thing.
Bomb‎ýca fair, to other folk you may a Gipsy2 be;
Sunburnt and lean they call you; you’re honey-brown to me.
Of flowers the violet’s dark, and dark the lettered flag-flower tall,
But when there’s nosegays making they choose them first of all.
Dame Goat pursues the clover, Gray Wolf doth goat pursue,
Sir Stork pursues the plough; and I – O! I am wild for you,
Would all old Croesus had were mine! O then we’ld figured be
In good red gold for offerings rare before the Love-Ladye,
You with your pipes, a rose in hand or apple, I bedight
Above with mantle fine, below, new buskins left and right.
Bombyca fair, your pretty feet are knucklebones,3 and O!
Your voice is poppy, but your ways – they pass my power to show.

[38] Marry, ‘twas no ‘prentice hand after all. Mark how cunningly he shaped his tune! Alackaday what a dolt4 was I to get me a beard! But come hear this of the divine Lityerses:

[42] (sings) Demeter, Queen of fruit and ear, bless O bless our field;
Grant our increase greatest be that toil therein may yield.
Grip tight your sheaves, good Binders all, or passerby will say
‘These be men of elder-wood5; more wages thrown away.’
‘Twixt Northwind and Westwind let straws endlong be laid;
The breeze runs up the hollow and the ear is plumper made.
For Threshers, lads, the noontide nap’s a nap beside the law.
For noontide’s the best tide for making chaff of straw;
But Reapers they are up wi’ the lark, and with the lark to bed;
To rest the heat o’ the day, stands Reapers in good stead.
And ‘tis O to be a frog,6 my lands, and live aloof from care!
He needs no drawer to his drink; ‘tis plenty everywhere.
Fie, fie, Sir Steward! Better beans, an’t please ye, another day;
Thou’lt cut thy finger, niggard, a-splitting caraway.

[56] That’s the sort o’ song for such as work i' the sun; but the starveling love-ditty o’ thine, Bucaeus, would make brave telling to thy mammy abed of a morning.

1. “Since was seed-time” : a proverbial exaggeration; for he has been in love only ten days, and this is harvest-time.
2. “Gipsy” : the Greek is ‘Syrian.’
3. “Knucklebones” : Bombyca pipes, dances and sings by profession (cf. ll. 16 and 34); she flings her feet about as a player tosses the knucklebones, lightly and easily, and her singing soothes the listener like a narcotic.
4. “What a dolt was I” : ‘what a thing it is to be young!’
5. “Elder-wood” : the Greek has “figwood,” which was useless; cf. Shaks. Merry Wives 2.3.30 ‘My heart of elder.’
6. “’Tis O to be a frog” : the steward is stingy with the drink as with the lentils.


Theocritus offers a conolatio amoris to his friend the poet-physician Nicias of Miletus, with whom he studied under the physician Erasistratus. After a brief introduction by way of stage-direction, he tells him the song the Cyclops sang to his love the sea-nymph. Metrical and grammatical considerations make it probable that the poem was an early one; it may well be anterior to The Distaff. There is ‘tragic irony’ in the Cyclops’ reference to his eye when speaking of singeing his beard, and also in his mention of the possible advent of a stranger from overseas.

[1] It seems there’s no medicine for love, Nicias, neither salve nor plaster, but only the Pierian Maids. And a gentle medicine it is and sweet for to use upon the world, but very hard to find, as indeed one like you must know, being both physician and well-belov’d likewise of the Nine. ‘Twas this, at least, gave best comfort to my countryman the Cyclops, old Polyphemus, when he was first showing beard upon cheek and chin and Galatea was his love. His love was no matter of apples, neither, nor of rosebuds nor locks of hair, but a flat frenzy which recked nought of all else. Time and again his sheep would leave the fresh green pasturage and come back unbidden to the fold, while their master must peak and pine alone upon the wrack-strown shore a-singing all the day long of Galatea, sick at heart of the spiteful wound the shaft of the great Cyprian had dealt him. Nevertheless he found the medicine for it, and sitting him down upon an upstanding rock looked seawards and sang:

[19] O Galatea fair and white, white as curds in whey,
Dapper as lamb a-frisking, wanton as calf at play,
And plum o’ shape as ruddying grape, O why deny thy lover?
O soon enow thou’rt here, I trow, when sweet sleep comes me over,
But up and gone when sleeping’s done – O never flees so fast
Ewe that doth spy gray wolf anight, as thou when slumber’s past.
My love of thee began, sweeting, when thou – I mind it well –
Wast come a-pulling luces wi’ my mother on the fell;
I showed ye where to look for them, and from that hour to this
I’ve loved ye true; but Lord! to you my love as nothing is.

[30] O well I wot pretty maid, for why thou shun’st me so,
One long shag eyebrow ear t o ear my forehead o’er doth go,
And but one eye beneath doth lie, and the nose stands wide on the lip;
Yet be as I may, still this I say, I feed full a thousand sheep,
And the milk to my hand’s the best i' the land, and my cheese ‘tis plenty alsó;
Come summer mild, come winter wild, my cheese-racks ever o’erflow.
And, for piping, none o’ my kin hereby can pipe like my piping,
And of thee and me, dear sweet-apple, in one song oft I sing,
Often at dead of night. And O, there’s gifts in store for thee,
Eleven fawns, all white-collárs, and cosset bear’s cubs four for thee.

[42] O leave it be, the blue blue sea, to gasp an ‘t will o’ the shore,
And come ye away to me, to me; I’ll lay ye’ll find no ill store.
A sweeter night thou’lt pass i' the cave with me than away i' the brine;
There’s laurel and taper cypress, swart ivy and sweet-fruit vine,
And for thy drinking the cool watér woody Etna pours so free
For my delight from his snow so white, and a heav’nly draught it be.
Now who would choose the sea and his waves, and a home like this forgo?

[50] But if so be the master o’ t too shag to thy deeming show,
There’s wood in store, and on the floor a fire that smoulders still,
And if thou would’st be burning, mayst burn my soul an thou will,
Yea, and the dear’st of all my goods, my one dear eye. O me!
That I was not born with fins to be diving down to thee,
To kiss, if not thy lips, at least hey hand, and give thee posies
Of poppies trim with scarlet rim or snow-white winter-roses!
And if a stranger a-shipboard come, e’en now, my little sweeting,
E’en now to swim I’ll learn of him, and then shall I be weeting
Wherefore it be ye folk o’ the sea are so life to be living below.

[63] Come forth and away, my pretty fay, and when thou comest, O
Forget, as he that sitteth here, they ways again to go;
Feed flock wi’ me, draw milk wi’ me, and if ‘t my darling please,
Pour rennet tart the curds to part and set the good white cheese.
‘Tis all my mother’s doing; she sore to blame hath bin;
Never good word hath spoke you o’ me, though she sees me waxing so thin.
I’ll tell her of throbbing feet,1 I’ll tell her of aching eyne;
I am fain that misery be hers sith misery be mine.

[72] O Cyclops, Cyclops, where be your wits gone flying?
Up, fetch you loppings for your lambs, or go a withy-plying;
The wearier’s oft the wiser man, and that there’s no denying.
Milk the staying, leave the straying, chase not them that shy;
Mayhap you’ll find e’en sweeter Galateans by and by.
There’s many a jill says ‘Come an you will and play all night wi’ me,’
And he laugh I hear when I give ear is soft and sweet as can be;
E’en I, ‘tis plain, be somebody, ashore, if not ‘I the sea.

[80] Thus did Polyphemus tend his love-sickness with music, and got more comfort thereout than he could have had for any gold.

1. “Throbbing feet” : headache and footache – the latter from waiting on the beloved’s threshold – were conventional signs of being in love.