A faithful reproduction of the main conditions of actual life was the characteristic of Theocritus’ poetry. It was subject to this ever-present limitation that his graceful fancy exercised its power of idealization. He took the singing match, the dirge, and the love-song or complaint as he found them among the shepherd-folk of Sicily, and gave them that objective setting which is as necessary to pastoral as to every other merely accidental form of poetry; for the true subjective lyric is independent of circumstances. The first of his great successors made the bucolic eclogue what, with trifling variation, it was to remain for eighteen centuries, a form based upon artificiality and convention. I have already pointed out that the literary conditions at Alexandria did not differ materially from those of Rome; it follows that the change must have been due to the character of Vergil himself. That intense love of beauty for its own sake which characterized the Greek mind had little hold over the Roman. Nor did the latter understand the charm of untaught simplicity. It is true that to the Roman poets of the Augustan period we owe the conception of the golden age, but it remained with them rather a philosophical mythus than the dream of an idyllic poet. To writers of the stamp of Ovid, Lucretius, and Vergil the Idyls of the Syracusan poet can have possessed but little meaning, and in his own Bucolics the last named seems never to have regarded the pastoral form as anything but a cloak for matters of more pith and moment. Although he followed Theocritus in his use of the several types of song and stamped them to all future ages in pastoral convention, though he may have begun with fairly close imitation of his model and only gradually diverged into a more independant style, he at no time showed himself content with the earlier poet’s simplicity of motive. The eclogue in which he followed Theocritus most closely, the eighth, is equally, perhaps, the most pleasing of the series. It combines the motives of the love-lament and incantation, and the closeness with which it follows while playing variations on its models is striking. One instance will suffice. Take the passage in the second Idyl thus rendered by Symonds:
Hail, Hecate, dread dame!
to the end be thou my assistant,
Making my medicines work no less than the philtre of Circe,
Or Medea’s charms, or yellow-haired Perimede’s.
Wheel of the magic spells, draw thou that man to my dwelling.
Corresponding to this we find the following passage in the Latin poem:
Song hath power to draw from
heaven the wandering huntress,
Song was the witch’s spell transformed the mates of Ulysses....
Home from the city to me, my song, lead home to me Daphnis.