I might want to write, in English, something like, "This passage alludes to Theocritus, Idyll III specifically." I think it would be more natural to write "Idyll III" and not "Idylls III". Now how should I translate that reference to Theocritus into other languages?

If I wanted to refer to Theocritus' third Idyll in Latin, I think I would put Idyllium III and not Idyllia III. I am extrapolating here from the fact that I see references to Legio XIII Gemina but not Legiones XIII Gemina. But I am happy to be corrected on that point.

What about Greek? My best guess would be Εἰδύλλιον Γʹ, but could it be Εἰδύλλια Γʹ? And what about the Ὁμηρικοὶ ὕμνοι and other classics of Ancient Greek literature with similar naming structures?

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    Are you looking specifically for ancient conventions or modern works that create works in Latin anew?
    – cmw
    Commented Sep 10, 2023 at 21:03
  • @cmw I am working on a personal project in which I want to refer Idyll III in such a way that, if Theocritus himself were to read it, he would think, "Ah that makes sense", or, even better, "That's always how I have always referred to each of my Idylls individually."
    – Tom Hosker
    Commented Sep 11, 2023 at 15:52

1 Answer 1


Here is one reference to what we call Idyll VII from the Etymologicum Magnum:

Διεκρανώσατε: Σημαίνει τὸ ἀνεῴξατε. Παρὰ τὸ κάρα, διεκαρανώσατε. Καρανῶ, καὶ διακαρανῶ. Δοκεῖ γὰρ τῶν πίθων ἡ ἀλοιφὴ κάρα εἶναι. Οὕτως Ἀμάραντος ὑπομνηματίζων τὸ ἡδύλλιον Θεοκρίτου, οὗ ἡ ἐπιγραφὴ Λυκίδας, ἢ Θαλύσια.

My translation of the relevant part:

This is how Amarantus interprets [lit: thus interpreting Amarantus] the idyll of Theocritus, whose inscription is Lycidas, or Thalysia.

Here, however, is the much later Neophytos Doukas (AD 1760-1845) writing in Letter 1471:

Ἀλλ’ ἐπειδὴ οὗτος καὶ σφαλερός πῃ τοῖς ἤθεσίν ἐστιν ἐν πολλοῖς, ἵνα μὴ γέρων ὢν αὐτός, γέλωθ’ ὑμῖν τοῖς γε σωφρονεστέροις ὄφλω, ἔσται ἡμῖν ἡ σπουδὴ περὶ τὸ πρῶτον καὶ εἰκοστὸν δεύτερον τῶν Εἰδυλλίων, καὶ εἴτι ἕτερον ἔτι ἀθῶον πρὸς τὰ ἤθη ἡμῖν παρασταίη.

My quick translation (which might be pretty far off-base):

But since he [i.e. Theocritus] is also rather perilous in morals in many things, so that I, being an old man myself, am not an occasion of ridicule to you who are more temperate, focus our attention on the first and twenty-second of the Idylls, and we will look at anything else that is blameless with regard to morals.

Since your question seems to be about Theocritus himself, it seems to me that referring to the epigraph with the singular (as in the first example) would be the closest to ancient usage. I don't know at what point the canonical numbering of the Idylls came to be, nor whether Theocritus himself thought of them as a sequential series. Given that modern scholarship regards some of the attributed Idylls as possibly spurious, the epigraph seems to me to be the better way of referring to each.

The Doukas example shows, though, how you could refer to a given Idyll in good Greek in a modern context. I think you either use the singular in the same case as the ordinal adjective or (as Doukas does) the partitive genitive in the plural. I don't think you could, as in your example, just write the plural in the same case as the ordinal adjective.

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    I'm pretty sure Theocritus would not have called them idylls, but we also don't really know what Theocritus would have called them. Perhaps ᾠδή? And I agree, you can't do "Idylls 3" like you can (but shouldn't) in English.
    – cmw
    Commented Sep 11, 2023 at 18:51
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    I am always astonished and humbled by the scholarship and generosity displayed on Latin SE. Thank you.
    – Tom Hosker
    Commented Sep 11, 2023 at 18:58
  • 4
    @TomHosker Dissertation procrastination is a powerful motivator :)
    – brianpck
    Commented Sep 11, 2023 at 18:58

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