This painting, by the French artist Jean Charles Cazin (c. 1841-1901), was named after and inspired by the ancient poet, Theocritus (c. 3rd century BCE). Theocritus is thought to have grown up in the Greek-populated city of Syracuse, on Sicily, and he was also known to have traveled to other locations, such as Cos and Alexandria. His poems came to be known as Idylls, featuring the lives of herdsmen and commoners in various situations, sometimes jubilant and sometimes tragic. Theocritus’ tales of shepherds and goatherds trailblazed the way for pastoral poetry, and he is often deemed the founder of the genre.
Due to the scenery and the emotions of loneliness and sadness that are on display in the artwork, the particular Idyll that inspired this painting might be identifiable. Theocritus’ more joyous poems about friendship, light-hearted music contests, and workday banter can be excluded. One possible match is Idyll III (known as “The Serenade”), which features a lovesick goatherd who is crushed by the pain of his affection being continually rejected by a woman named Amyrallis. At the end of the poem, the despondent goatherd is described as resting by a pine tree, stewing in a mixture of faint hope and overwhelming despair. In the persona of the goatherd, Theocritus wrote, “Shall I be seeing her? I’ll go lean me against yon pine-tree and sing awhile. It may be she’ll look upon me then, being she’s no woman of adamant…My head aches sore, but ‘tis nought to you. I’ll make an end, and throw me down, aye, and stir not if the wolves devour me – the which I pray be as sweet honey in the throat to you” (Theocritus, Idyll III, lines 37-52). It could be that the lonely figure in the painting is the lovesick goatherd, and that the angelic man dressed in white and crowned with gold is a representation of Theocritus, observing the goatherd’s sorrow. Such, then, is one interpretation of the painting.
Written by C. Keith Hansley