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A Competition in Praise: An Allusion to Simon. fr. 11 W2 in Theoc. Id. 22.214-23

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image of Mnemosyne

In the epilogue to Idyll 22, the hymn to the Dioscuri, Theocritus makes poetic claims concerning the reciprocity between poets and their laudandi. In making these claims, he compares himself with Homer, a comparison which has puzzled readers. This paper suggests that we can understand this comparison by recognizing how this epilogue engages with the elegiac poem by Simonides represented by fr. 11 W2, which belongs to the so-called new Simonides. Alexander Sens (1997) has observed that both passages contain a programmatic comparison with Homer. Pushing this observation, I argue that these parallels constitute an allusion to Simonides' composition which serves two purposes. First, it provides a parallel for Theocritus' comparison with Homer. Second, it introduces the anecdotal tradition concerning Simonides and the Dioscuri at a disastrous banquet in Thessaly, known most fully from Cicero and Quintilian, but also found in the Hellenistic era. By introducing this anecdote, Theocritus shows that his comparison with Homer is part of a literary game concerned with praising the Dioscuri. Through the allusion to Simonides, Theocritus positions himself as the winner in this game by reminding his laudandi that he has praised them better than either Homer or Simonides.

Affiliations: 1: Hunter College, Department of Classics, 695 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10021, USA;, Email:


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