I miss Theocritus

You remember Theocritus, the father of the idyllic, the bucolic, which Virgil took for his model in the later Roman times. I know that Theocritus is disputed, much like Shakespeare is, in terms of which works were really his, but allow me to dream.
What I miss is my Penguin edition, with a beautiful selection of his poems. I have found that most poets limit themselves to be inspired only by the recent poetry written in their own language. But I have, since the very beginning, sought out other voices. Were it not for Eliot, much Asian poetry would remain unknown to the Western audience, but I grew up with poetic adages, like, Sending you a goose feather from a thousand li, the gift is light, but the love is strong.
Also, thanks to what is affectionately known as The Stacks, part of the library at my Alma Mater, I also spent many an hour reading African and Saudi Arabian poems (those were the most memorable). It has made me feel very humble about my own poetry, which is not necessarily always a good thing. But Theocritus - who incidentally worked as a librarian - ostensibly tells me otherwise, in The Harvest Festival:
"I too have been given a clear voice by the Muses;
It has won high praise. But people are easily pleased. 
I sing as I can, but nothing of mine yet matches
Sicelidas from Samos, or our own Philetas. 
I compete with them like a frog among cicadas."
I spoke to tempt him, and with an ingenuous laugh
The goatherd answered, "Such modesty! You shall have
My crook as a gift for telling god's own truth.
I hate the craftsman who dreams of building his house
As high as the mountain ridge of Oromedon there,
And I hate the artless gaggle of bardic ranters
Who match themselves against Homer with posturing cries."
There is so much to be said of this extract, but I will focus on the goatherd: like his aversion to contemporary poets think too highly of themselves - which is true to this day, with the rabble competing against the craft of the folk. "The artless gaggle of bardic ranters" - what a phrase, even better in the original Greek I am sure.

"I hate the craftsman who dreams of building his house as high as the mountain ridge" - how I take pleasure in this line! I feel like I am the poet who lives in the shack, which is why I often think of the story of the Chinese ex-scholar, who retreated to a shack. One day an officer, who was his school friend, rode by, greeted him, and asked in derogatory surprise, "How is it that you have no window coverings?" To which the ex-scholar replied, "So that the window acts as a frame for that mountain. Thus I have a magnificent landscape to observe from my desk, far superior to any landscape painted by human hand."
Surely, there is still a place for humility in song, today? 
Looking to the poems and the stories of the past can be so affirming. We get explanations of who we are. We are not alone, and never will be. To end, here is another verse by Theocritus, from The Festival of Adonis:
"I'm quite exhausted. I hardly got across town
Alive, Praxinoa. The people! The chariots!
Everywhere, men in cloaks and hobnailed boots.
The road seems longer each time I call on you (...)
How shall we manage to find our way through this mob?
I've never known it so packed. It's a proper job 
King Ptolemy's cleaned things up since his father died. 
Wherever you turned, some Gypsy was at your side
To rob you if you gave him a chance, in the past-
Pickers and stealers, each one as bad as the last. 
If we were ants on an antheap, it couldn't be worse.
Gorgo, watch out! If it's not a man it's a horse...
Thank heaven's I left the baby safely at home!"
Couldn't that have been written yesterday? How busy Hellenistic cities were, with their complex system of roads and trade - and does that not also remind us of today? I miss Theocritus, with his gossipy, laudatory poems which show me the hope of the poem, if but to scratch a little record of our day.

Elements: mod crochet, embroidery, buttons, furoshiki: minitoko;
gingham: pugly pixel

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