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diversity of character to the view; to particularize every atti tude and gefture of our perfonages; to represent a variety of natural circumftances in lively and diftin&t colors, and to bring every thing before our eyes-these are the criteria of original genius, in the, midft of polished life.
If we furvey the period in which THEOCRITUS flourished, we shall find our remarks abundantly illustrated and confirmed, in the confideration of the advantages he enjoyed, fubfidiary to his genius; and of those pieces, which, amidst his numerous productions, have escaped the ravages of time. We have little tranfmitted to us concerning the life of THEOCRITUS; and this little is involved in contradiction, and obfcured by conjecture.* Even his age and country have been the subjects of controverfy with grammarians and commentators. The relations of SUIDAS and GYRALDUS, among others, are ftrangely confused and indeterminate. But from his own works we might extract enough to convince us, that he was a Syracufian-that PRAXAGORAS and PHILINA were his parents-and that he flourished under HIERO and PTOLEMY PHILADELPHUS, both in SICILY and in EGYPT. Of the former his twenty-fecond epigram is a sufficient testimony; and of the latter his two famous panegyrical Idyllia. From the Commentator on POLYBIUS we learn that HIERO, the King of Syracufe, began his reign about 275 years before the Chriftian æra.
As our poet seems to have been diffatisfied with the cold attentions of the Syracufian Monarch, who was more distin*See BARNES's "Life," corrected by WARTON. B 3
guished in the character of a warrior, than a patron of learning; we may attribute to this circumstance, his departure from Sicily into Egypt: the Court of Alexandria was the nurse of the Mufes. It is rather remarkable that we know scarcely any thing of THEOCRITUS, but what may be gathered from himself. Independently of this internal evidence, we might determine the place of his birth, from the allufions of his imitator VIRGIL, and the cafual intimations of JULIAN, TERENTIANUS, MAURUS, and MANILIUS. But here our views are circumfcribed; and we vainly look around us for a detail of his life.
As a paftoral writer, he found every advantage in the delicious climate and luxuriant landscapes of Sicily. No country could have prefented him with a more beautiful affemblage of rural images. The pictoresque scenery of the hills and the vallies diversified beyond description; an almost infinite variety of trees and fhrubs; the grottos, precipices, and fountains, of the moft romantic appearance; and the sweetness and ferenity of the skies; all these concurred with the tranquillity of retirement, in awakening the Muse, and infpiring the paftoral numbers.
The pieces of THEOCRITUS are the refult of his own accurate obfervation. He defcribed what he faw and felt. His characters, as well as his fcenes, are the immediate tranfcript of nature. We may well imagine, that the fhepherds and the herdsmen, furrounded by their flocks and their cattle, piped before him the current ditties of the times; and that he was frequently a witnefs of their dialogues and conten
tions; heard their proverbial fpeeches, transcribed their manner, and caught from their lips the very vulgarisms which characterize his ruder Idyllia. Such was the foundation of his Paftorals, original both in matter and form; the more ruftic of which were probably composed in the earlier part of his life, before he left his native island, allured by brighter prospects.
That he had a very early propenfity to this fpecies of compofition, and that his genius was originally formed for it, (in preference to any other) may be inferred from his frequent recurrence to the woods and plains, in works of a contexture and complexion by no means resembling the Pastoral; and from the interfperfion, indeed, through all his productions, of fuch fimilies and allusions as are evidently the offspring of the country. But his genius was not confined to a particular fpecies of writing. Though not fervid or bold, it was verfatile and penetrating. The refined age of THEOCRITUS was equally favourable to compofitions where the fashions and foibles of men are humorously difplayed Wit can only exist amidst ease and security. At a period of high civilization, there arise checquered and complex characters, variously fhaded by folly, and affuming a diversity of tranfitory shapes. Hence the manners become the fubject of observation, and afford ample scope for the exercise of ridicule. These fleeting traits of a civilized people by no means escaped the penetration of THEOCRITUS.
But he had not only the opportunities of contemplating, in his own country, the beautiful forms of nature, and the
diverfified appearances of life: he enjoyed the additional advantages of travel. The profpect of Egyptian manners and cuftoms, and pursuits so different from those of Sicily, must have enlarged his knowledge of mankind; and the rich and extenfive pastures on the banks of the Nile have delighted his rural imagination. But, during his refidence in Ægypt, his genius and his taste must have been enlightened and refined by the polite conversation of a court, where literature was associated with elegance and splendor; and where emulation was excited and cherished by princely munifiAnd not only the Muses flourished under the aufpices of a PTOLEMY; but literature in general was highly cultivated and improved.
The labors of the seventy interpreters at the Alexandrian court, form a celebrated epocha in the annals of learning. That our poet availed himself of these labors, and frequently fnatched a grace from facred writ, no one will doubt, who peruses his most finished pieces with attention. It was under the patronage of PTOLEMY, that his contemporary bard CALLIMACHUS composed those hymns to his fabled Gods, which evidently borrowed some portion of their beauty from the same sources: and poffibly the more ancient writers of Greece might have drawn fentiments and imagery from fcripture. There is often difcoverable in PINDAR afpirit of oriental grandeur; and we trace, in many paffages of HOMER, resemblances apparently imitative of these divine originals. It is not to be wondered, that fuch elegant enjoyments should have kindled the gratitude of our poet; and have produced that panegyric on his royal patron, which,
in point of animation, delicacy, addrefs, and well appropriated compliment, may be confidered as the first of encomi aftic performances.
These correfponding felicities of genius and fituation was it the fortune of THEOCRITUS to poffefs. It is to these that we owe his most original and interefting works; though to his perfect acquaintance with fabulous antiquity we are indebted for no mean effufions of the heroic Muse: while his other productions, of various character, ftill further evince the verfatility of his talents, the extent of his knowledge, and the elegance of his friendships.
This great diverfity of pieces hath been transmitted to us (except the Epigrams indeed) under the title of IDYLLIA;* a term, which, according to its general import, is doubtless well applied to a collection of miscellaneous poems. HEINSIUS obferves, that the ancients gave this title to the poems before us, to exprefs their variety. Thus have we the Sylva of STATIUS, and Edyllia of AUSONIUS. But as Erdvaλov (a diminutive of Eidos) may fignify a little picture or image; it may, in this fenfe, be applied, with peculiar propriety, to the Mifcellanies of THEOCRITUS; which are, every where, replete with lively and natural reprefentation and paint all the objects they defcribe.
*Befides the Idyllia and Epigrams now extant, THEOCRITUS is faid by SUIDAS to have written Prætides, Hopes, Hymns, Heroines, Dirges, Elegies, and Iambics.