An Innovation in Mundanity: Theocritus and the Quotidian Woman




Persyn, Marcie

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This thesis proposes to analyze the representation of women in the urban mimes of the Greek Hellenistic poet Theocritus. Best known for his bucolic poetry which incorporates aspects of mime into a country setting, Theocritus nevertheless also wrote more traditional mimes, known as the urban mimes, as a subset within his main work, the Idylls. Of these poems, Idylls 2 and 15 describe, respectively, a young woman’s attempt to avenge her lost chastity with magic, and the participation of two housewives in a religious ceremony held at Alexandria. These Idylls reveal a striking development in the representation of female characters in literature, featuring women who no longer conform to the artificial paradigms inherited from myth and epic, but instead fall under a newly emergent archetype of the Hellenistic period: the quotidian woman. By implementing this new literary figure, which epitomizes the mundane and humanizes his poetry, as the chief voice of his urban mimes, Theocritus simultaneously draws upon and innovates the work of his forebears and contemporaries, enhancing the female figure into a relatable and realistic character, both comic and poignant, through whom he can more artfully relate the themes of his poetry.