Friday, September 21, 2012


Christophe Cusset (ed.), Cyclopodie: édition critique et commentée de l'Idylle VI de Théocrite, Collection de la maison de l'Orient et de la Méditerranée, 46, Série littéraire et philosophique, 15. Lyon: Maison de l'orient méditerranéen, 2011. Pp. 222. ISBN 9782356680266. €31.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Evina Sistakou, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

This edition is aimed primarily at those specializing in Hellenistic poetry. Alongside the commentary on Theocritus' Bacchae, which appeared in 2001, this is Cusset's second major contribution to Theocritean studies, and a welcome addition to the numerous commented editions of Hellenistic poems published in French over the last decade.1

The book under review begins with a four-part introduction (pp. 9-53). The first part ("Le cadre poétique") considers general questions, such as Theocritus' relationship to Alexandria(nism), the idyll as a poetic form and the compilation of the bucolic collection. With the second part ("Le substrat mythologique: un Cyclope en évolution") the mythological background of Idyll VI comes to the fore, as the evolution of the Cyclops figure from archaic and classical poetry down to the Hellenistic age is examined. The third part ("Structures et unité de l'Idylle VI") discusses matters of structure with emphasis on the ring-composition of the poem and the metrical correspondences between its verses. The concluding part is a short appendix on the transmission of the text. Thereupon follows the Greek text with a detailed apparatus criticus and a translation in French (pp. 55-59). The word-by-word commentary covers, as expected, the largest part of the volume (pp. 61-191). Bibliography apart, the volume closes with a series of indexes (of names, places, subjects and passages cited).

The introduction begins with factual information about Theocritus' biography and the Alexandrian environment of the Museum and proceeds with the old vexed question "qu'est-ce qu'une idylle?". Cusset reviews the criteria by which the term εἰδύλλιον may be understood and, like other scholars who have concerned themselves with the same question, draws only tentative conclusions. Is brevity one of the typical traits of the idyllic form? Well yes, answers Cusset, but it is difficult to establish the exact limits of this brevity, since most (but not all) of Theocritus' idylls comprise 40 to 100 verses. Thematic criteria are also less functional, whereas theoretical approaches to the narrative form of the idylls as well as the role of the poetic voice in them may better explain the nature of the εἰδύλλιον. In the end the question remains unresolved, as the author acknowledges that, after all, the idyll is not a literary genre proper but "un genre en devenir" (p. 22).

The less general part of the introduction merits closer attention, since it is here that Cusset addresses the core of his study, namely the Cyclops myth (or song) as rewritten by Theocritus. Much of the information included about the intertextual relations of the Theocritean Cyclops with the 'other' literary Cylopes of Homer, Euripides and Philoxenos is well-known—a useful summary for the specialist and non-specialist alike. Cusset introduces fresh ideas when he accurately depicts Cyclopean geography or when he argues that the Callimachean Cyclops is a symbol for Alexandrian poetics. There follows the analysis of Idyll VI in terms of structure, a strategy systematically employed by the author in the study of Hellenistic poetry.2 Structure may only partly promote a better understanding of Theocritean poetry and poetics, but in the case of Idyll VI it becomes a vital tool of interpretation. The juxtaposition of two levels, the bucolic and the mythological, the role-play between Daphnis and Damoitas, the symmetrical arrangement of frame and song, thematic and verbal repetition call for a structural analysis, and Cusset is successful in providing it.

The text of Idyll VI is almost identical with that of Gow, with minor alterations mainly in punctuation; in one case where content is involved—in verse 7 Cusset prefers δυσέρωτα τὸν αἰπόλον after the manuscripts instead of Meineke's correction δυσέρωτα καὶ αἰπόλον—, the editorial choice is thoroughly explained in the commentary (pp. 81-86). The 130-pages commentary treats all kinds of topics (language, meter, modes of expression, style, intertextuality, ancient scholia), yet it seems to be particularly focused on matters of composition and literary interpretation. In fact, several comments are so extensive that they constitute short 'essays', e.g. the treatment of the dog symbol in poetry (τὰν κύνα, pp. 92-94), the proverbial φεύγει τὸν φιλέοντα καὶ οὐ φιλέοντα διώκει (pp. 111- 114) or the controversial ἐφίλησε in verse 42 (pp. 182-184) as well as of broader issues of setting, narrative and genre; it is regrettable that digressions on bucolic poetics or the function of voice in Idyll VI found in the commentary are not integrated into the general introduction, so as to enhance the understanding of the poem in a more effective way.

More than 10 years after Richard Hunter published his Theocritus Selection in the Cambridge 'green and yellow' series, and several decades after Gow (1952) and Dover (1971) gave their authoritative commentaries on Theocritus, Cusset attempts to revisit Idyll VI from a new perspective. The theoretical orientation of this commentary is reflected in the numerous technical terms that are listed in the thematic index, and the reader may seek answers not only to conventional questions about 'bucolic space' or 'pastoral frame' but also approach the idyll through notions such as 'anonymat', 'homotaxie', 'miroitement', 'sonorité', 'regard' and 'narcissisme'. One misses a systematic comparison between Idylls VI and XI that is almost anticipated by the programmatic title Cyclopodie, and a few sections, like the rendering of the bucolic collection as a series of mathematical formulas, seem rather pedantic. These minor shortcomings aside, this is a learned commentary which, in combining scholarly precision with intellectual rigour, provides new insights into Theocritean poetics. It is to be highly recommended not only to Theocritus specialists but also to anyone interested in Hellenistic aesthetics as a whole.


1.   French scholarship has substantially contributed to the better understanding of some of the most obscure Hellenistic poems. Apart from Vian's monumental edition of Apollonius' Argonautica, a most detailed commentary of Nicander by Jean-Marie Jacques (Paris 2002, 2007) and a fine edition of Lycophron's Alexandra by André Hurst and Antje Kolde (Paris 2008), as also the collections of Callimachus' and Euphorion's fragments (by Yannick Durbec, Paris 2006 and Benjamin Acosta-Hughes and Christophe Cusset, Paris 2012 respectively) have appeared in the "Belles Lettres" series. Not to mention the annotated edition of the Alexandra by Cédric Chauvin and Christophe Cusset (Paris: L'Harmattan 2008).
2.   See the extensive structural analysis of Theocritus' Bacchae in pp. 18-25 of his 2001 critical edition (Paris: L'Harmattan) and the structural interpretation of Moschus' Europa as a "jeu poétique" (in BAGB 2001, pp. 62-82).

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