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  • Junge Hirten und alte Fischer: Die Gedichte 27, 20 und 21 des Corpus Theocriteum
  • Lara Aho
Robert Kirstein. Junge Hirten und alte Fischer: Die Gedichte 27, 20 und 21 des Corpus Theocriteum. Texte und Kommentare, 29. Berlin and New York: De Gruyter, 2007. Pp. x, 247. $91.80. ISBN 978-3-11-019224-7.

Theocritus of Syracuse (fl. 280–260? b.c.e.) is regarded as the inventor of bucolic poetry, although definitions of, and reactions to, the genre fluctuate with every generation. Robert Kirstein’s study of three enigmatic poems from the corpus Theocriteum takes full advantage of recent critical reflection on genre, authenticity, and the special literary proclivities of bucolic works. Kirstein shows us that idylls 27 ( , “Love-whisperings”), 20 ( , “Young Cowherd”), and 21 ( , “The Fishermen”) are worth examining afresh for what they reveal about bucolic’s possibilities.

Since they belong merely to the corpus Theocriteum, the poems receive little attention elsewhere. Probably the greatest appeal of Kirstein’s approach is that he successfully moves the conversation away from (often subjective) judgments as to whether Theocritus could have or would have written poems like these, to an objective discussion of their characteristics as poetic pieces. Kirstein’s analysis encourages readers to appreciate the idylls’ similarities to known Theocritean works. He argues persuasively that these idylls should be seen as creative experiments within a newly invented fictional world, the parameters of which are still in flux, rather than as slavish imitations of an already perfected “bucolic” literary type.

After a lucid, 30-page introduction, Kirstein tackles each poem, providing texts and apparatus (which do not deviate significantly from those of Gow; Gallavotti is rather freer with emendations) and a facing German translation. No poem exists in more than two manuscripts, and textual variants are minimal, but Kirstein is generous in reporting conjectures.

The interpretation is given in essay form, not as a line-by-line commentary. His attentiveness to structure and to internal verbal echoes allows Kirstein to make a convincing case for the artistry inherent in each poem. In each case, he reveals how a poem’s structural elements contribute to its interpretation. In the , flirtatious banter between protagonists Daphnis and Akrotime (lines 1–48) leads to a tryst (lines 49–66) much desired by both young people (lines 67–71). Kirstein suggests that the verbal repetitions discernable throughout the characters’ stichomythia reinforce the impression of equality between the two: Akrotime, although shy, is not a hapless innocent (as argued e.g. by Sánchez-Wildberger), nor is Daphnis unwittingly duped into marriage by means of female intrigue (as per Sider). Given the putatively equal willingness of both to a rendezvous that results in a lasting relationship, Kirstein’s constant use of the term “seduction” to describe the sexual “yielding” of Akrotime to Daphnis would seem to be rather at odds with his interpretation (see e.g. pp. 61–63).

Idyll 20, the , benefits from Kirstein’s sympathetic evaluation of the purpose of the poem’s echoes of genuine Theocritean works, echoes which other critics have largely considered markers of the idyll’s poor quality. [End Page 77] Kirstein also proposes the interesting view, based on considerations of structure, that Idyll 20 was written as a counter-piece to the narrative of successful lovemaking depicted in Idyll 27. According to Kirstein’s reading, the narrator of 20, a herdsman whose advances have been rejected by a hetaira living in town, reveals through his self-centered, angry soliloquy that the girl has good reason to ignore his inept attempts at persuasion. His discussions of the wooing strategies in 27 and 20 seemingly could have been enriched even further by comparisons with Theocritus’ idylls 12, 29, and 30—poems that feature men addressing or courting male beloveds—but Kirstein does not discuss these.

The impoverished fishermen in Idyll 21, at first glance, share little in common with bucolic poetry’s lovelorn herdsmen. Yet this poem is as neatly crafted as 27 and 20, and Kirstein contends that what other critics see as a badly executed imitation of Theocritus 11 and 13 in the idyll’s framing address (“It is poverty alone, Diophantes, that awakes the crafts . . .”) may in...


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