A discussion of William G. Thalmann's new book, Theocritus: Space, Absence, and Desire (Oxford University Press, 2023). The author will be joined in conversation by Frederick T. Griffiths (Amherst College) and Susan Stephens (Stanford University), moderated by Vincent Farenga (USC). Co-organized by the USC Department of Classics and USC Retired Faculty Association and Emeriti Center. Registration is required. REGISTER HERE


About the Book: Theocritus: Space, Absence, and Desire discusses many of Theocritus's Idylls with emphasis on how these poems construct space—its contours and borders, along with the people, animals, and objects that fill it—and the equally important role of absence. Drawing on spatial theory from anthropology and cultural geography, author William G. Thalmann studies each poem in itself and in its connections with other poems, so that a loose coherence emerges among them. Spatially, the Ptolemaic empire provides a setting and reference point for the various types of Idylls (bucolic, urban, mythological, and encomiastic poems), in ways that help legitimate it. In all the idylls, however, space is constructed selectively from particular perspectives, so that it reflects and shapes people's relations with each other and humans' relations with nature. The bucolic Idylls in particular raise questions about being in and out of place and relations between self and other that would have been important under the conditions of mobility and intercultural contact in the early Hellenistic period. Yet theirs is a fictional world, defined more by its margins than by its center, and visions of fullness and presence of nature are always distanced from the reader. Absence is constitutive of this world, just as absence of the beloved is the precondition for the desire of bucolic characters and prompts their singing. Their desire mirrors the desire of readers for the absent bucolic world that the poems arouse and that keeps them reading.


About the Author: William G. Thalmann has taught at Yale University, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and the University of Southern California, where he is now Professor Emeritus of Classics and Comparative Literature. He is the author of five previous books on Greek poetry and a number of articles on ancient literature and ancient slavery.


Open to attendants outside of USC. An excerpt of the book will be made available to registered attendants. Registration before the event is required. 


Levan Institute for the Humanities Book Chats—William G. Thalmann, Theocritus: Space, Absence, and Desire


This event is part of the Levan Institute for the Humanities' “Book Chats” series, conversations about new books published by USC scholars in the humanities and humanistic social sciences. To see more events in this series, including recordings of past events, visit https://dornsife.usc.edu/levan-institute/book-chats/.

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  • Francesca Leardini

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