Classical Texts Library >> Theocritus, Idylls >> Idylls 12-18



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 Greeks sometimes exalted friendship to a passion, and such a friendship doubtless inspired this fine poem. Theocritus acknowledges his indebtedness to the Ionian lyrists and elegists by using their dialect. The passage rendered here in verse contains what at first sight looks like a mere display of learning, but has simply this intention: ‘Our love will be famous among so remote a posterity that the very words for it will be matter for learned comment.’

[1] Thou’rt come, dear heart; thou’rt come after two days and nights, albeit one will turn a lover gray. As spring is sweeter than winter, and pippin than damson-plum; as mother-ewe is shaggier than her lambkin, and maiden more to be desired than a thice-wed wife; as the fawn is nimbler-footed than the calf, and the nightingale clearest-tongued of all the wingèd songsters; so am I gladded above all at the sight of thee, and run to thee as a wayfarer runneth to the shady oak when the sun is burning hot. And ‘tis O that equal Loves might inspire thee and me, and we become this song and saying unto all them that follow after: –

[12] Here were two men of might the antique years among,
The one Inspirant hight i' th’ Amyclaean tongue,
The t’other Fere would be in speech of Thessalye;
Each lov’d each, even-peise: O other golden days,
Wheas love-I love-you all men did hold for true!

[17] O would to thee, Father Zeus, and to you, unaging Host of Heaven, that when a hundred hundred years shall be passed away, one bring me word upon the prisoning bank of Acheron our love is yet upon every lip, upon the young men’s most of all! Be that or no the People of Heaven shall stablish as they will; for theirs is the dominion; now, when I sing thy praises, there shall no push-o’-leasing1 rise upon the tip of this tongue; for if e’er thou giv’st me torment, thou healest the wound out of hand, and I am better off than before, seeing I come away with over-measure.

[27] Heaven rest you glad, Nisaean masters o’ the oar, for that you have done such exceeding honour unto an Attic stranger – to with Diocles2 (who so loved his boys); about whose grave, so surely as Spring cometh round, your children vie in a kissing-match, and whosoever presseth lip sweetliest upon lip, cometh away to’s mother loaden with garlands. Happy the justicer holdeth that court of kissing! God wot he prays beamy Ganymed, and prays indeed, to make his lips like the touchstones which show the money-changer whether the gold be bold or dross.

1. “Push-o’-leasing” : in the Greek the tell-tale pimples, themselves called ‘lies,’ rise, not upon the tongue, but upon the tip of the nose.
2. “Diocles” : an Athenian who, while living in exile at Megara, died in battle to save the youth he loved.


Theocritus tells his friend Nicas in epic shape the tale of the Apotheosis of Hylas, the beloved of Heracles. If, as is probable, the words ‘as we seem to think’ are a delicate way of saying ‘as you seem to think,’ the poem may well be an answer to a friendly rebuke of the author of XII, XXIX, and XXX.

[1] From what god soever sprung, Nicias, Love was not, as we seem to think, born for us alone; nor first unto us of mortal flesh that cannot see the morrow, look things of beauty beautiful. For Amphitryon’s brazen-heart son that braved the roaring lion, he too once loved a lad, to wit the beauteous Hylas of the curly locks, and even as father his son, had taught him all the lore that made himself a good man and brought him fame; and would never leave him, neither if Day had risen to the noon, nor when Dawn’s white steeds first galloped up in to the home of Zeus, nor yet when the twittering chickens went scurrying at the flapping of their mother’s wings to their bed upon the smoky hen-roost. This did he that he might have the lad fashioned to his mind, and that pulling a straight furrow from the outset the same might come to be a true man.

[16] Now when Jason son of Aeson was to go to fetch the Golden Fleece with his following of champions that were chosen of the best out of all the cities in the land, then came there with them to the rich Iolcus the great man of toil who was son of the high-born Alcmena of Midea, and went down with Hylas at his side to that good ship Argo, even to her that speeding ungrazed clean through the blue Clappers, ran into Phasis bay as an eagle into a great gulf whereafter those Clappers have stood still, reefs ever more.

[25] And at the rising of the Pleiads, what time of the waning spring the young lambs find pasture in the uplands, then it was that that divine flower of hero-folk was minded of its voyaging, and taking seat in the Argo’s hull came after two days’ blowing of the Southwind to the Hellespont, and made haven within Propontis at the spot where furrow is broadened and share brightened by the oxen of the Cianians. Being gone forth upon the strand, as for their supper they were making it ready thwart by thwart; but one couch was strown them for all, for they found to their hand a meadow that furnished good store of litter, and thence did cut them taper rushes and tall bedstraw.

[36] Meanwhile the golden-haired Hylas was gone to bring water against supper for his own Heracles and for the valiant Telamon – for they two did ever eat together at a common board – bone with a brazen ewer. Ere long he espied a spring; in a hollow it lay, whereabout there grew many herbs, as well blue swallow-wort and fresh green maidenhair as blooming parsley and tangled deergrass. Now in the midst of the water there was a dance of the Nymphs afoot, of those Nymphs who, like the water, take no rest, those Nymphs who are the dread Goddesses of the country-folk, Eunica to wit and Malis and Nycheia with the springtime eyes. And there, when the lad put forth the capacious pitcher in haste to dip it in, lo! with one accord they all clung fast to his arm, because love of the young Argive had fluttered all their render breasts. And down he sank into the black water headlong, as when a falling star will sink headlong in the main and a mariner cry to his shipmates ‘Hoist away, my lads; the breeze freshens.’ Then took the Nymphs the weeping lad upon their knees and offered him comfort of gentle speech.

[55] Meantime the son of Amphitryon was grown troubled for the child, and gone forth with that bow of his that was bent Scythian-wise and the cudgel that was ever in the grasp of his right hand. Thrice cried he on Hylas as loud as his deep throttle could belch sound; thrice likewise did the child make answer, albeit his voice came thin from the water and he that was hard by seemed very far away. When a fawn cries in the hills, some ravening lion will speed from his lair to get him a meal so ready; and even so went Heracles wildly to and fro amid the pathless brake, and covered much country because of his longing for the child. As lovers know no flinching, so endless was the toil of his wandering by wood and wold, and all Jason’s business was but a by-end. And all the while the ship stood tackle aloft,1 and so far as might be, laden, and the heroes passed thee night a-clearing of the channel,2 waiting upon Heracles. But he alas! was running whithersoever his feet might carry him, in a frenzy, the god did rend so cruelly the heart within him.

[73] Thus came fairest Hylas to be numbered of the Blest, and the heroes to gird at Heracles for a deserter because he wandered and left the good ship of the thirty thwarts. Nevertheless he made the inhospitable land of the Colchians afoot.

1. “Tackle aloft” : with the sail hoisted but not yet turned to the wind, cf. Alcaeus 156. 9.
2. “The channel” : the hollow in the sand down which the ship would be launched.


The Love of Cynisca is a dialogue of common life. The scene is neither Egypt nor Sicily, perhaps Cos. The characters, middle-aged men, one of whom has been crossed in love, meet in the road, and in the ensuing conversation the lover tells the story of his quarrel with Cynisca, and ends with expressing his intention of going for a soldier abroad. His friend suggest that he should enlist in the army of Ptolemy, and gives that monarch a flattering testimonial, which betrays the hand of the rising poet who seeks for recognition at court.

[1] A very good day to master Thyonichus.

[1] To Aeschinas the same.

[2] Well met!

[2] Well met it is; but what ails ye?

[3] Luck’s way’s not my way, Thyonichus.

[3] Ah! that’s for why thou’rt so lean and the hair o’ thy lip so lank, and thy love-locks all-to-bemoiled. Thou’rt like one of your Pythagoreaners that came t’other day, pale-faced and never a shoe to’s foot; hailed from Athens, he said.

[7] And was he, too, in love?

[7] Aye, marry, was he – with a dish o’ porridge.

[8] Thou’lt be ever at thy quips, good lad, With me ‘tis the pretty Cynisca, and she’s playing the jade. And I doubt ‘tis but a hair’s-breadth betwixt me and a madman.

[10] ‘Faith, that’s ever my Aeschinas; something hastier than might be; will have all his own way. But come, what is it?

[12] There was the Argive and I and Agis the jockey out o’ Thessaly, and Cleunicus the man-at-arms a-drinking at my farm. I’d killed a pair of pullets, look you, and a suckling pig, and broached ‘em a hogshead of Bibline fine and fragrant – four years in the cask, mark you, and yet, where new’s best, as good as new – and on the board a cuttlefish1 and cockles to boot; i' faith, a jolly bout.

[18] To’t we went, and when things waxed warmer ‘twas agreed we should toast every man his fancy; only we should give the name. But when we came to drink, the wench would not keep the bond like the rest of us, for all I was there. How, think you, I liked of that? ‘Wilt be mum?’ says one, and in jest, 'Hast met a wolf?' 2 'O well said!' cries she, and falls a-blushing like fire; Lord! you might have lit a candle at her face. One Wolf there is, look you, tall and sleek sort, in some folks’ eyes a proper man. ‘Twas he she made so brave a show of pining for out o’ love. And I’d had wind o’t too, mind you, softly, somehow, and so-to-speak; but there! I never raised inquiry for all my beard’s so long.

[29] Be that as it may, we four good men were well in, when he of Larissa, like the mischief he was, fell a-singing a Thessalian catch beginning ‘My friend the Wolf’; whereupon Cynisca bursts out a-weeping and a-wailing like a six-year-old maiden in want of a lap. Then – you know me, Thyonichus, – I up and fetched her a clout o’ the ear, and again a clout. Whereat she catched up her skirts and was gone in a twink. ‘Am I not good enough, my sweet mischief? Hast ever a better in thy lap? Go to, pack, and be warming another. Yons he thou wee’pst apples over.’ Now a swallow, mark you, that bringeth her young eaves-dwellers their pap, gives and is gone again to get her more; so quickly that piece was up from her cushions and off through door-place and through door, howsoever her feet would carry her. Aye, ‘tis an old story how the Centaur went through the wood.

[44] Let me see, ‘twas the twentieth o’ the month. Eight, nine, ten; to-day’s the eleventh. You’ve only to add ten days and ‘twill be two months3 since we parted; and I may be Thracian-cropped4 for aught she knows. Ah! ‘tis all Wolf nowadays; Wolf hath the door left open for him o’ nights; as for me, I forsooth am altogether beside the reckoning, like miserable Megara,5 last i' the list. ‘Tis true, if I would but take my love off the wench, all would go well. But alack! how can that be? When mouse tastes pitch,6 Thyonichus – ; and what may be the medicine for love there’s no getting away from, ‘faith, I know not – sae that Simus that fell in love, as the saying is, with Mistress Brassbound7 and went overseas, he came home whole; a mate of mine he was. Suppose I cross the water, like him; your soldier’s life, as ‘tis not maybe o’ the highest, so is it not o’ the lowest, but ‘tis e’en as good as another.

[56] I would indeed thy desire had run smooth, Aeschinas. But if so be thy mind is made up to go thy ways abroad, I’ll e’en tell thee the best paymaster a freeman can have; King Ptolemy.

[59] And what sort of man is he in other ways.

[60] This pick o’ the best: a kind heart, man of parts, a true gallant, and the top o’ good-fellowship; knows well the colour of a friend, and still better the look of a foe; like a true king, gives far and wide and says no man nay – albeit one should not be for ever asking, Aeschians. (in mock-heroic strain) So an thou be’st minded to clasp the warrior’s cloak about thee, and legs astride to abide the onset of the hardy foeman, to Egypt with thee. To judge by our noddles we’re all waxing old, and old Time comes us grizzling line by line down the cheek. We must fain be up and doing while there’s sap in our legs.

1. “Cuttlefish” : or perhaps ‘onions and scallops’; for “cockles” the Greek has ‘snails.’
2. “Hast met a wolf?” : the sight of a wolf was said proverbially to make a man dumb.
3. “Add ten days and ‘twill be two months” : the meaning is ‘in another week it will be the 20th of the next month but one’; ten is a round number, for in Greece the weeks were of ten days, cf. schedon 10. 12. The carouse took place, say, on the 20th April; in another ‘week’ it will be the 20th June.
4. “Thracian-cropped” : cf. 1. 4: the Thracian barbarians wore their hair long.
5. “Megara” : the Megarians, upon asking the oracle which was the finest people in Greece, were told that Thrace had fine horses, Sparta fine women, and Syracuse fine men, but Argos surpassed them all; and as for Megara, she was out of the reckoning altogether.
6. “When mouse tastes pitch” : the mouse that fell into the caldron of pitch was proverbial of those who find themselves in difficulties through their own folly.
7. “Mistress Brassbound” : contemporary slang for the soldier’s shield.


The scene of this mime is Alexandria, and the chief characters are two fellow-countrywomen of the author. Gorgo, paying a morning call, finds Praxinoa, with her two-year-old child, superintending the spinning of her maids, and asks her tom come with her to the Festival of Adonis at the palace of Ptolemy II. Praxinoa makes some demur, but at last washes and dresses and sallies forth with her visitor and their two maids. After sundry encounters in the crowded streets, they enter the palace, and soon after, the prima donna begins the Drie – which is really a wedding-song containing a forecast of a dirge – with an address to the bride Aphrodite and a reference to the deification of the queen of Ptolemy I. The song describes the scene – the offerings displayed about the marriage-bed, the two canopies of greenery above it, the bedstead with its representation of the Rape of Ganymede, the coverlets which enwrap the effigies of Adonis and Aphrodite, the image of the holy bridegroom himself – and ends with an anticipation of the choral dirge to be sung on the morrow at the funeral of Adonis.

GORGO (with her maid Etychis at the door, as the maid Eunoa opens it)
[1] Praxinoa at home?

PRAXINOA (running forward)
[1] Dear Gorgo! at last! she is at home. I quite thought you’d forgotten me. (to the maid) Here, Eunoa, a chair of the lady, and a cushion on it.

GORGO (refusing the cushion)
[3] No, thank you, really.

[3] Do sit down.

GORGO (sitting)
[4] O what a silly I was to come! What with the crush and the horses, Praxinoa, I’ve scarcely got here alive. It’s all big boots and people in uniform. And the street was never-ending, and you can’t think how far1 your house is along it.

[8] That’s my lunatic; came and took one at the end of the world, and more an animal’s den, too, than a place of a human being to live in, just to prevent you and me being neighbours, out of sheer spite, the jealous old wretch! He’s always the same.

[11] My dear, pray don’t call your good Dinon such names before Baby. See how he’s staring at you. (to the child) It’s all right, Zopyrion, my pet. It’s not dad-dad she’s talking about.

[14] Upon my word, the child understands.

[14] Nice dad-dad.

[15] And yet that dad-dad of his the other day – the other day, now I tell him ‘Daddy, get mother some soap and rouge from the shop,’ and, would you believe it? back he came with a packet of salt, the great six feet of folly!

[17] Mine’s just the same. Diocleidas is a perfect spendthrift. Yesterday he gave seven shillings a piece for mere bits of dog’s hair, mere pluckings of old handbags, five of them, all filth, all work to be done over again. But come, my dear, get your cloak and gown. I want you to come with me (grandly) to call on our high and mighty Prince Ptolemy to see the Adonis. I hear the Queen’s getting up something quite splendid this year.

PRAXINOA (hesitating)
[24] Fine folks, fine ways.

[25] Yes; but sightseers make good gossips, you know, if you’ve been and other people haven’t. It’s time we were on the move.

PRAXINOA (still hesitating)
[26] It’s always holiday with people who’ve nothing to do. (suddenly making up her mind) Here, Eunoa, you scratch-face, take up the spinning and put it away with the rest. Cats always will lie soft. Come, bestir yourself. Quick, some water! (to Gorgo) Water’s wanted first, and she brings the soap. (to Eunoa) Never mind; give it me. (Eunoa pours out the powdered soap) Not all that, you wicked waste!2 Pour out the water. (Eunoa washes her mistress’s hands and face) Oh, you wretch! What do you mean by wetting my bodice like that? That’s enough. (to Gorgo) I’ve got myself washed somehow, thank goodness. (to Eunoa) Now where’s the key of the big cupboard? Bring it here. (Takes out a Dorian pinner – a gown fastened with pins or brooches to the shoulders and reaching to the ground, with an overfold coming to the waist – and puts it on with Eunoa’s aid over the inner garment with short sleeves which she wears indoors)

GORGO (referring to the style of the overfold)
[34] Praxinoa, that full gathering suits you really well. Do tell me what you gave for the material.

[36] Don’t speak of it, Gorgo; it was more than eight golden sovereigns, and I can tell you I put my very soul into making it up.

[38] Well, all I can say is, it’s most successful.

[38] I’m inclined to agree with you.3 (to Eunoa) Come, put on my cloak and hat for me, and mind you do it properly. (Eunoa puts her cloak about her head and shoulders and pins the straw sun-hat to it). (taking up the child) No; I’m not going to take you, Baby. Horse-bogey bites little boys. (the child cries) You may cry as much as you like; I’m not going to have you lamed for life. (to Gorgo, giving the child to the nurse) Come along. Take Baby and amuse him, Phyrgia, and call the dog indoors and lock he front-door.

(in the street) GORGO4
[44] Heavens, what a crowd! How we’re to get through this awful crush and how long it’s going to take us, I can’t imagine. Talk of an antheap!

[46] I must say, you’ve done us many a good turn, my good Ptolemy, since your father went to heaven. We have no villains sneaking up to murder us in the streets nowadays in the good old Egyptian style. They don’t play those awful games now – the thorough-paced rogues, every one of them the same, all queer!
[51] Gorgo dearest! what shall we do? The Royal Horse! Don’t run me down, my good man. That bay’s rearing. Look, what temper! Stand back, Eunoa, you reckless girl! He’ll be the death of that man. Thank goodness I left Baby at home!

[56] It’s all right, Praxinoa, We’ve got well behind them, you see. They’re all where they ought to be, now.

PRAXINOA (recovering)
[57] And fortunately I can say the same5 of my poor wits. Ever since I was a girl, two things have frightened me more than anything else, a horrid chilly snake and a horse. Let’s go on. Here’s ever such a crowd pouring after us.

GORGO (to an Old Woman)
[60] Have you come from the palace, mother?

[60] Yes, my dears.

[60] Then we can get there all right, can we?

[61] Trying took Troy, my pretty; don’t they say where there’s a will there’s a way?

[63] That old lady gave us some oracles,6 didn’t she?

PRAXINOA (mock-sententiously)
[64] My dear,7 women knew everything. They know all about Zeus marrying Hera.

[65] Do look, Praxinoa; what a crowd there is at the door! It’s marvellous!

[66] Give me your arm, Gorgo; and you take hold of Eutychis’ arm, Eunoa; and you take care, Eutychis, not to get separated. We’ll all go in together. Mind you keep hold of me, Eunoa. Oh dear, oh dear, Gorgo! my summer cloak’s8 torn right in two (to a stranger) For Heaven’s sake, as you wish to be saved, mind my cloak, sir.

[72] I really can’t help what happens; but I’ll do my best.

[72] The crowd’s simply enormous; they’re pushing like a drove of pigs.

[73] Don’t be alarmed, madam; we’re all right.

[73] You deserve to be all right to the end of your days, my dear sir, for the care you’ve been taking of us (to Gorgo) What a kind considerate man! Poor Eunoa’s getting squeezed. (to Eunoa) Push, you coward, can’t you? (they pass in)
That’s all right. All inside, as the bridegroom said when he shut the door.

GORGO (referring, as they move forward towards the dais, to the draperies which hang between the pillars)
[78] Praxinoa, do come here. Before you do anything else I insist upon your looking at the embroideries. How delicate they are! and in such good taste! They’re really hardly human, are they?

[80] Huswife Athena! the weavers that made that material and the embroiderers who did that close detailed work are simply marvels. How realistically the things all stand and move about in it! they’re living! It is wonderful what people can do. And then the Holy Boy; how perfectly beautiful he looks lying on his silver couch, with the down of manhood just showing on his cheeks, – (religioso) the thrice-beloved Adonis, beloved even down below!

[87] Oh dear, oh dear, ladies! do stop that eternal cooing. (to the bystanders) They’ll weary me to death with their ah-ah-ah-ing.

[89] My word! where does that person come from? What business is it of yours if we do coo? Buy your slaves before you order them about, pray. You’re giving your orders to Syracusans. If you must know, we’re Corinthians by extraction, like Bellerophon himself. What we talk’s Peloponnesian. I suppose Dorians may speak Doric, mayn’t they? Persephone! let's have no more masters than the one we’ve got. I shall do just as I like. Pray don’t waste your breath.9

[96] Be quiet, Praxinoa. She’s just going to being the song, that Argive person’s daughter, you know, the “accomplished vocalist” 10 that was chosen to sing the dirge last year.11 You may be sure she’ll give us something good. Look, she’s making her bow.

[100] Lover of Golgi and Idaly and Eryx’ steepy hold,
O Lady Aphrodite with the face that beams like gold,
Twelve months are sped and soft-footéd Heav’n’s pretty laggards, see,
Bring o’er the never-tarrying stream Adonis back to thee.
The Seasons, the Seasons, full slow they go and come,
But some sweet thing for all they bring, and so they are welcome home.
O Cypris, Dion’s daughter, of thee annealed,12 ‘tis said,
Our Queen that was born of woman is e’en immortal made;
And now, sweet Lady of many names, of many shrines Ladye,
They guerdon’s giv’n; for the Queen’s daughtér, as Helen fair to see,
Thy lad doth dight with all delight upon this holyday;
For there’s not a fruit the orchard bears but is here for his hand to take,
And cresses trim all kept for him in many a silver tray,
And Syrian balm in vials of gold; and O, there’s every cake
That ever woman kneaded of bolted meal so fair
With blossoms blent of every scent or oil or honey rare –
Here’s all outlaid in semblance made of every bird and beast.

[119] Two testers green they have plight ye, with dainty dill well dressed,
Whereon, like puny nightingales that flit from bough to bough
Trying their waxing wings to spread, the Love-babes hovering go.
How fair the ebony and the gold, the ivory white how fair,
And eagles twain to Zeus on high bringing his cup-bearer!
Aye, and he coverlets spread for ye are softer spread than sleep –
Forsooth Miletus13 town may say, or the master of Samian sheep,13
“The bridal bed of Adonis spread of my own making is;
Cypris hath this for her wrapping, Adonis that for his.”

[129] Of eighteen years or nineteen is turned the rose-limbed groom;
His pretty lip is smooth to sip, for it bears but flaxen bloom.
And now she’s in her husband’s arms, and so we’ll say good-night;
But to-morrow we’ll come wi’ the dew, the dew, and take hands and bear him away
Where plashing wave the shore doth lave, and there with locks undight
And blosoms bare all shining fair will raise this shrilling lay; –
“O sweet Adonis, none but thee of the children of Gods and men
‘Twixt overworld and underworld doth pass and pass agen;
That cannot Agamemnon, nor the Lord o’ the Woeful Spleen,14
Nor the first of the twice-ten children15 that came of the Trojan queen,
Nor Patroclus brave, nor Pyrrhus bold that home from the war did win,
Nor none o’ the kith o’ the old Lapith nor of them of Deucalion’s kin –
E’en Pelops line lacks fate so fine, and Pelasgian Argos’ pride.

[143] Adonis sweet, Adonis dear, be gracious for another year;
Thou’rt welcome to thine own alwáy, and welcome we’ll both cry to-day and next Adonis-tide.”

O Praxinoa! what clever things we women are! I do envy her knowing all that, and still more having such a lovely voice. But I must be getting back. It’s Diocleidas’ dinner-time,16 and that man’s all pepper17; I wouldn’t advise anyone to come near him even, when he’s kept waiting for his food. Goodbye, Adonis darling; and I only trust you may find us all thriving when you come next year.

1. “You can’t think how far,” etc. : or perhaps ‘You always live too far away.’
2. “Wicked waste” : the Greek is “pirate-vessel.”
3. lit. ‘you may say so.’
4. so P. Ant: generally given to Praxinoa.
5. “I can say the same” : the Greek has a pun on ‘assembling’ troops and ‘collecting’ one’s wits.
6. “Gave us some oracles” : i.e. her sententious remarks were about as useful as oracles generally are.
7. “My dear,” etc. : P. Ant. Gives this line to ‘Some Man,’ but we should expect his presence to be indicated in the dialogue.
8. “Summer cloak” : the festival was probably held upon the longest day.
9. “Don’t waste your breath” : the Greek has ‘don’t scrape the top of an empty measure.’
10. “Accomplished vocalist” : the Greek phrase is Epic, perhaps a quotation from an advertisement or the like.

11. “Last year” : the day of the festival was apparently regarded as the first day of Adonis’ six months’ stay upon the earth, the other six being spent in Hades.
12. “Anealed” : ‘anointed.’
13. “Miletus, Samian sheep” : Milesian and Samian wool was famous.
14. “The Lord o’ the Woeful Spleen” : Ajax.
15. “The first of the twice-ten children” : Hector.
16. P. Ant. Gives all after “dinner-time” to Praxinoa, as though it were “My husband, too”; but this would require ‘my’ to be expressed.
17. “All pepper” : in the Greek ‘all vinegar.’


The traditional name of this poem, The Charites or Graces, may have been really the title Theocritus had given to the whole volume of a small collection of poems, for which this poem was now written as a special dedication. In it he bewails the indifference of a money-loving age, and asks for the patronage of Hiero, then general-in-chief, afterwards king, of Syracuse, even as Simonides had the patronage – not of the first Hiero, as he would have said had this Hiero then been king, but – of the great lords of Thessaly.

[1] ‘Tis ever the care of Zeus’ daughters and ever of the poets to magnify the Immortal Gods and eke to magnify the achievements of great men. But the Muses are Gods, and being Gods do sing of Gods, while as for us we are men, and being men let us sing of men.

[5] Now who of all that dwell beneath the gray dawn, say who, will open his door to receive my pretty Graces gladly, and not rather send them away empty-handed, so that they get them home frowning and barefoot, there to fleer at me for sending them a fool’s errand, there to shrink once again into the bottom of an empty press, and sinking their heads upon their chill knees to abide where they ever lodge when they return unsuccessful from abroad? Who, I say, in this present world will let them in, and who in the present days will love one that hath spoke him well? I cannot tell. The praise once sought for noble acts is sought no more; pelf reigns conqueror of every heart; and every man looks hand in pocket where he may get him silver; nay, he would not give another so much as the off-scrapings of the rust of it, but straightway cries “Charity begins at home.1 What comes thereout for me? ‘Tis the Gods that honour poets. Who would hear yet another? Homer is enough for all. Him rank I best of poets, who of me shall get nothing.”

[22] Poor simple fools! what profits it a man that he have thousands of gold laid by? To the wise the enjoyment of riches is not that, but rather to give first somewhat to his own soul, and then something, methinks, to one of the poets; to wit, it is first to do much good as well to other men as to his kinsfolk, to make offering of sacrifice unceasingly upon the altars of the Gods, and, like on hospitably minded, to send his guests, when go they will, kindly entreated away; and secondly and more than all, it is to bestow honour upon the holy interpreters of the Muses, that so you may rather be well spoken of even when you lie hid in Death, than, like some horny-handed delving son of a poor father bewailing his empty penury, make your moan beside chill Acheron’s brink without either name or fame.

[34] Many indeed were the bondmen earned their monthly meed in the houses of Antiochus and King Aleuas, many the calves that went lowing with the horned kine home to the byres of the Scopads, and ten thousand were the fine sheep that the shepherds of he plain of Crannon watched all night for the hospitable Creondae; but once all the sweet wine of their life was in the great cup, once they were embarked in the barge of the old man loathsome, the joyance and pleasure of those things was theirs no more: and though they left behind them all that great and noble wealth, they had lain among the vile dead long ages unremembered, had not the great Ceian2 cried sweet varied lays to the strings and famoused them in posterity, and had not the coursers that came home to them victorious out of the Games achieved the honour and glory which called the poet to this task.

[48] Then too the lords of the old Lycians, then the long-haired children of Priam or that Cycnus that was wan as a woman, – say who had known aught of them, had not poets hymned the battle-cries of an elder day? Moreover Odysseus had wandered his hundred months and twenty through all the world, come to uttermost Hades alive, and gone safe from out the cave of the fell Cyclops, and then had never enjoyed the long and lasting glory of it all; and as well great-heart Laertes himself as Eumaeus the hog-ward and Philoetius the keeper of herded kine, all alike had been under silence had it not profited them of the lays of a man of Ionia.3

[58] Yes; good fame men may get of the Muses, but riches be wasted of their posterity after they are dead. But seeing one may as well strive to wash clean in clear water a sun-dried brick,4 as well stand on the beach and number the waves driven shore-ward of the wind from the blue sea, as seek to win by words one whose heart is wounded with the love of gain, I bid all such a very good day, and wish them silver beyond counting and long life to their craving for more. For myself, I would rather the esteem and friendship of my fellow-men than hundreds of mules and horses.

[68] And so now I am on my way to seek to whom in all the world I with the Muses may come and be welcome; – with the Muses, for ‘tis ill travelling for your poet if he have not with him the Daughters of the Great Counsellor. Not yet are the heavens wearied of bringing round the months nor the years; many the horses yet will roll the wheel of the day; and I shall yet find the man who therefore shall need me for his poet because he shall have done as doughtily as ever did great Achilles or dread Aias by the grave of Phrygian Ilus in Simoeis vale.

[76] For lo! the Phoenician dweller in the foot of Lilybè5 in the west shudders already and shakes; the Syracusan hath already his spear by the middle of the wicker targe upon his warm; and there like one of the olden heroes stands Hiero girding his loins among his men, a horse-hair plume waving on his crest. And I would to thee, renowned Father, and to thee, Lady Athena, I would to thee, Maiden6 who with thy Mother dost possess by Lysimeleia’s side the great city of the rich Ephyreans, I would that evil necessities may clear our island of hostile folk and send them down the Sardinian wave with tidings of death to wives and children, a remnant easy to number of a mighty host; and I pray that all the towns the hands of enemies have laid so utterly waste, may be inhabited again of their ancient peoples, and their fields laboured and made to bring forth abundantly, their lowlands filled with the bleating of fat flocks in their tens of thousands, and the twilight traveller warned to hasten his steps to the home-going of innumerable herds; and I pray likewise that against the time when the cricket is fain to sing high in the twigs over head because of the noontide-resting shepherds, against that time, the time of sowing, none of the fallows be left unturned of the plough, and as for the weapons of war, may spiders weave over them their slender webs, and of the war-cry the very name be forgot. And the glory of Hiero, that may poets waft high both over the Scythian main and eke where Semiramis reigned within that broad wall she made with mortar of pitch; and of these poets I am one, one of the many beloved by the daughters of Zeus, which are concerned all of them to magnify Sicilian Arethuse with her people and her mighty man of war.

[114] O holy Graces first adored of Eteocles,7 O lovers of that Minyan Orchomenus which Thebes had cause to hate of old, as, if I be called not, I will abide at home, so, if I be called, I will take heart and go with our Muses to the house of any that call. And you shall come too; for mortal man possesseth nothing desirable if he have not the Graces,8 and ‘tis my prayer the Graces be with me evermore.

1. “Charity begins at home” : in the Greek ‘the knee lies nearer the shin.’
2. “The great Ceian” : Simonides.
3. “A man of Ionia” : Homer.
4. “Sun-dried brick” : when wetted this becomes clay again.
5. “Lilybè” : the western angle of Sicily, the promontory of Lilybaeum. The reference to the coming campaign against the Carthaginians dates the poem in the year 274.
6. “The Maiden” : the maiden is Persephone, the mother Demeter, and the city Syracuse.
7. “Eteocles” : this early king of Orchomenus in Boeotia, was said to have been the first to offer sacrifice to the Graces, and Thebes had reason to hate the same Orchomenus because a certain Erginus in revenge for the murder of his father had made Thebes tributary to Orchomenus; Theocritus hints at a wish that Hiero may follow the example of Eteocles in the matter of patronage, and Syracuse prevail over Carthage as Orchomenus did over Thebes.
8. “The Graces” : he plays on two meanings of the word Charites, thanks or gratitude or favour, and the Graces who were spirits of beauty and excellence and handmaidens of the Muses.


A panegyric of Ptolemy II, Philadelphus, who reigned from 285 to 247. The references to historical personages and events, coupled with a comparison with XVI, point to 273 as the date of the poem. The Ptolemies, like Alexander, traced their descent from Heracles. Ptolemy I, son of Lagus, was deified about 283, and his queen Berenice between 279 and 275.

[1] With Zeus let us begin, Muses, and with Zeus I pray you end when the greatest of Immortals is exalted in our song: but for me first, midst and last by the name of Ptolemy; for he is of men the chiefest.

[5] The heroes that came of demigods of yore found skilly singers of the glorious deeds which they did; and in like manner a cunning teller of praises shall raise the hymn to Ptolemy, seeing hymns make the meed even of the Gods above.

[9] Now when the feller goes up to thick woody Ida he looks about him where to begin in all that plenty; and so I, where no shall I take up my tale when I might tell of ten thousand ways wherein the Gods have done honour to the greatest of kings?

[13] ‘Twas in the blood.1 First what an achieve of mighty exploits was Ptolemy Lagid when his mind conceived a device such as no other mind could come by! Whom now the Father hath made of equal honour with the Blessed; a golden mansion is builded him in the house of Zeus, and seated friendly beside him is the Lord of the Glancing Baldric, that God of woe to the Persians, Alexander, while over against him is set the stark adamantine seat of Centaur-slayer Heracles, who taketh his meat with the other Sons of Heaven, rejoicing exceedingly that by grace of Zeus the children of his children’s children have old age now lift from their limbs and they that were born his posterity are named and known of the Immortals. For unto either king the valiant founder of his race was a son of Heracles; both in the long last reckon Heracles of their line. And therefore now when the same Heracles hath had enough of the fragrant nectar and goes from table to the chamber of the wife he loves, he gives the one his bow and hanging quiver and the other his knaggy iron-hard club, to carry beside him as he goes, this bush-bearded son of Zeus, to the ambrosial chamber of the white-ankle Hebè.

[34] Then secondly for his mother; how bright among dames discreet shone the fame of Berenicè, what a boon to her progeny was she! Of whom the lady possessor of Cyprus that is daughter of Dionè laid taper fingers upon the sweet soft bosom, and such, they say, did make her that never woman gave man so great delight as Ptolemy took in his love of that his wife. Aye, he got all as much as he gave and more; for while the wife that loves not2 sets her heart ever upon tings lien, and has offspring indeed at her desire albeit the children favour not the father, ‘tis when the love of the marriage-bed is each to each that with good courage one may leave, like Ptolemy, all his house to be ordered of his children. O Lady Aphrodite, chiefest beauty of the Goddeses, as ‘twas thou that hadst made her to be such, so ‘twas of thee that he fair Berenicè passed not sad lamentable Acheron, but or e’er she reached the murky ship and that ever-sullen shipman the ferrier of the departed, was rapt away to be a Goddess in a temple, where now participating in thy great prerogatives, with a gentle breath she both inspires all mankind unto soft desires and lightens the cares of him that hath loved and lost.

[53] Even as the dark-browed Argive maid3 did bear unto Tydeus of Calydon Diomed the slayer of peoples, but and even as deep-bosom’d Thetis bare unto Peleus Aeacid javelineer Achilles, in like manner, O my liege, did renowned Berenicè bear to warrior Ptolemy another warrior Ptolemy.

[58] And when thou first saw’st the dawn, she that took the from thy mother and dandled thee, poor babe, on her lap, was the good lady Cos; for there in Cos island had the daughter of Antigonè cried aloud to the Girdle-Looser in the oppression of pain, there had the Goddess stood by to comfort her and to shed immunity from grief upon all her limbs, and there was born in the likeness of his father the beloved son. And when she beheld him, good Cos broke into a cry of joy, and clasping the babe in her loving arms ‘Heaven bless thee, boy,’ said she, ‘and grant I may have all as much honour of thee as blue-snooded Delos had of Phoebus Apollo; and not I only, but Heaven send thou assign equal privilege to all the neighbour Dorian cities in the joint honour of the Triopian Hill; for Apollo gave Rheneia4 equal love with Delos.’ Thus far the Island; and lo! from the clouds above came thrice over the boding croak of a great eagle. And ‘faith, ‘twas of Zeus that sign; for Zeus Cronion, as he watches over all reverend kings, so especially careth he for a king that he hath loved from his earliest hour. Such an one is attendant of great good-fortune, and wins himself the mastery of much land and of many seas.

[77] Ten thousand are the lands and ten thousand the nations that make the crops to spring under aid of the rain of Zeus, but there’s no country so fruitful as the low-country of Egypt when Nile comes gushing up to soak the soil and break it, nor no country, neither, possessed of so many cities of men learned in labour. The cities builded therein are three hundred and three thousands and three tens of thousands, and threes twain and nines three, and in them the lord and master of all is proud Ptolemy. Ay, and of Phoenician and Arabia he taketh to him a hantle, and eke of Syria and Libya and of the swart Aethiop’s country; and he giveth the word to all them of Pamphylia and all the warriors of Cilicia; and to the people of Lycia and warlike Caria and to the Cyclad Isles he giveth it; and this because he hath a noble navy sailing the main, so that all the sea, every land, and each of the sounding rivers doth acknowledge his dominion, and full many are the mighty warriors a-horseback and full many the burnished brass-clad targeteers afoot that rally for the battle around his standard.

[95] For wealth, his would outweigh the wealth of all the princes of the earth together, – so much comes into his rich habitation both day by day and from every quarter. And as for his peoples, they occupy their business without let or hindrance, seeing that no foeman hath crossed afoot that river of monsters to set up a cry in alien townships, nor none leapt from swift ship upon that beach all mailed to make havoc of the Egyptian kine, – of such noble sort is the flaxen-haired prince that is throne in these level plains, a prince who not only hath cunning to wield a spear, but, as a good king should, makes it his chiefest care both to keep all that he hath of his father and to add somewhat for himself. But not to no purpose doth his gold lie, like so much riches of the still-toiling emmet, in his opulent house; much of it – for never makes he offerings of firstfruits but gold is one – is spent upon the splendid dwellings of the Gods, and much of it again is given in presents to cities, to stalwart kings, or to the good friends that bear him company. Nay, no cunning singer of tuneful song that hath sought part in Dionysus’ holy contests but hath received of him a gift to he full worth of his skill.

[115] But ‘tis not for his wealth that the interpreters of the Muses sing praise of Ptolemy; rather is it for his well-doing. And what can be finer for a wealthy and prosperous man than to earn a fair fame among his fellow-men? This it is which endureth even to the sons of Atreus, albeit all those ten thousand possessions that fell to them when they took Priam’s great house, they lie hid somewhere in that mist whence no return can be evermore. And this man hath done that which none before hath done, be he of them of old, be he of those whose footmarks are yet warm in the dust they trod; he hath builded incense-fragrant temples to his mother and father dear, and hath set therein images of them in gold and ivory, very beautiful, to be the aid of all that live upon the earth. And many are the thighs of fatted oxen that s the months go round he consumes upon the reddening altars, he and that his fine noble spouse, who maketh him a better wife than ever clasped bridegroom under any roof, seeing that she loveth with her whole heart brother and husband in one. So too in heaven was the holy wedlock accomplished of those whom august Rhea bare to be rulers of Olympus, so too the myrrh-cleansed hands of the ever-maiden Iris lay but one couch for the slumbering Zeus and Hera.

[135] And now farewell, Lord Ptolemy; and I will speak of thee as of other demi-gods, and methinks what I shall say will not be lost upon posterity; ‘tis this – excellence asks from none but Zeus.

1. “Twas in the blood” : the Greek is ‘’twas from his fathers,’ fathers meaning parents, as in Longus 4. 33; Theocritus deals first with his father Ptolemy Lagid and then with his mother Berenice.
2. “The wife that loves not” : this refers to no definite woman, which would be not only in the worst taste but certain to defeat the object of the poem, the winning of Ptolemy’s patronage. The phrase is simply a foil. Theocritus means that Ptolemy I would not have abdicated had he not had his wife’s love and all that that entails.
3. “the Argive maid” : Deïpylè
4. “Rheneia” : an island near Delos; Triopum is a promontory of Caria where the Dorian Pentapolis of Cos and the neighbouring cities celebrated a common worship of Apollo and other Gods. The Pentapolis was apparently asking Ptolemy for some privilege at this time.


This is a short Epic piece o the same type as XIII. Both begin, as do XXV and Bion II, with a phrase suggesting that they are consequent upon something previous; but his, like the ergo or igitur of Propertius and Ovid, is no more than a recognised way of beginning a short poem. The introduction, unlike that of XIII, contains no dedication. The scholia tells us Theocritus here imitates certain passages of Stesichorus’ first Epithalamy of Helen. He seems also to have had Saphho’s book of Wedding-Songs before him.

[1] It seems that once upon a time at the house of flaxen-haired Menelaus in Sparta, the first twelve maidens of the town, fine pieces all of Laconian womanhood, came crowned with fresh flowering luces, and before a new-painted chamber took up the dance, when the younger child of Atreus shut the wedding door upon the girl of his wooing, upon the daughter of Tyndareüs, to wit the beloved Helen. There with their pretty feet criss-crossing all to the time of one tune they sang till the palace rang again with the echoes of this wedding-song: –

[9] What Bridegroom! dear Bridegroom! thus early abed and asleep?
Wast born a man of sluggardy, or is thy pillow sweet to thee,
Or ere thou cam’st to bed maybe didst drink a little deep?
If thou wert so fain to sleep betimes, ‘twere better sleep alone,
And leave a maid with maids to play by a fond mother’s side till dawn of day,
Sith for the morrow and its morn, for this and all the years unborn,
This sweet bride is thine to own.

[16] When thou like others of high degree cam’st here thy suit a-pressing,
Sure some good body, well is thee, sneezed thee a proper blessing;
For of all these lordings there’s but one shall be son of the High Godheád,
Aye, ‘neath one coverlet with thee Great Zeus his daughter is come to be,
A lady whose like is not to see where Grecian women tread.
And if she bring a mother’s bairn ‘twill be of a wonderous grace;
For sure all we which her fellows be, that ran with her the race,
Anointed lasses like the lads, Eurótas’ pools beside –
O’the four-times threescore maidens that were Sparta’s flower and pride
There was none so fair as might compare with Menelaüs’ bride.

[26] O Lady Night, ‘tis passing bright the face o’ the rising day;
‘Tis like the white spring1 o’ the year when winter is no longer here;
But so shines golden Helen clear among our meinie2 so gay.
And the crops that upstand in a fat ploughlánd do make it fair to see,
And a cypress the garden where she grows, and a Thessaaly steed the chariot he knows;
But so doth Helen red as the rose make fair her dear countrye.
And never doth woman on bobbin wind such thread as her baskets teem,
Nor shuttlework so close and fine cuts from the weaver’s beam,
Nor none hath skill to ply the quill3 to the Gods of Women4 above
As the maiden wise in whose bright eyes dwells all desire and love.

[38] O maid of beauty, maid of grace, thou art a huswife now;
But we shall betimes to the running-place i' the meads where flowers do blow,
And cropping garlands sweet and sweet about our brows to do,
Like lambs athirst for the mother’s teat shall long, dear Helen, for you
For you afore all shall a coronal of the gray groundling trefoíl
Hang to a shady platan-tree, and a vial of running oil
His offering drip from a silver lip beneath the same platan-tree,
And a Doric rede be writ i' the bark for him that passeth by to mark,
‘I am Helen’s; worship me.’

[49] And ‘tis Bride farewell, and Groom farewell, that be son of a mighty sire,
And Leto, great Nurse Leto, grant children at your desire,
And Cypris, holy Cypris, an equal love alwáy, and Zeus, high Zeus, prosperitye
That drawn of parents of high degree shall pass to a noble progenye
For ever and a day.
Sleep on and rest, and on either breast may the love-breath playing go;
Sleep now, but when the day shall break forget not from your sleep to wake;
For we shall come wi’ the dawn along soon as the first-waked master o’song
Lift feathery neck to crow.

[58] Sing Hey for the Wedding, sing Ho for the Wedder, and thanks to him that made it!

1. “The white spring” : white with flowers.
2. “Meinie” : company.
3. “Quill” : the plectrum of the lyre.
4. “The Gods of Women” : the Greek has ‘Artemis and Athena.’