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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Moschus? (fl. 150 B.C.)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
OF Moschus it is commonly said that he was the friend or disciple of the Alexandrian grammarian, Aristarchus. In this fact we may possibly find the keynote of his poetic manner, and a just estimate of his value. For his poems are completely wrought-out work, marked now and then by a rare felicity of expression. They are what would naturally be produced by the educated man of poetic feeling, whose eye and ear had been trained by the rules and literary conventions of the greatest critic of his time.  1
  The writer of the ‘Elegy on Bion’ asserts that he was Bion’s pupil; and that while the master left his goods to others, his song he left to him. This relationship would make Moschus—to whom the elegy is commonly assigned—a younger contemporary of both Theocritus and Bion, who flourished about B.C. 275. Although a native of Syracuse, he is said to have lived much at Alexandria.  2
  To him is also commonly ascribed the authorship of ‘Love the Runaway,’ a poem of exquisite grace after the manner of Anacreon, in which Cypris sketches her runaway boy, and offers a reward to the one who will bring him back. Three other idyls and a few slight pieces are also supposed to be his.  3
  But the fame of Moschus rests upon the lament for Bion. It is a poem of only one hundred and thirty-three lines, but withal most elaborate, delicate, clear, and luxuriant in its imagery. All nature laments Bion’s death; and this very exuberance and poetic excess have led critics to think the poem forced and affected, as Dr. Johnson pronounced ‘Lycidas’ to be. But considering that this very element of appeal to nature is in the heart of us all at times of great grief, when the imagination is awakened and the judgment often passive,—with this consideration, such elegies are more natural, direct, and simple. Sorrow, which acts physiologically as a stimulus to nerve action, brings out the inconsistency of human nature, and shows that inconsistency to be real consistency. We must abandon ourselves to the writer’s attitude of mind in order to apprehend it. It is in the ebb of grief that the poetic impulse comes, not in its full tide and freshness. “To publish a sorrow,” says Lowell,… “is in some sort to advertise its unreality; for I have observed in my intercourse with the afflicted that the deepest grief instinctively hides its face with its hands and is silent. Depend upon it,… Petrarch [loved] his sonnets better than Laura, who was indeed but his poetical stalking-horse. After you shall have once heard that muffled rattle of the clods on the coffin-lid of an irreparable loss, you will grow acquainted with a pathos that will make all elegies hateful;”—if not hateful, certainly inadequate for expression of the deeper grief of life.  4
  The undoubted model for this idyl of Moschus was Bion’s lament for Adonis, which is quoted under the article on Bion. Like that exquisite poem, Moschus’s threnody is an outburst over the eternal mystery of death. Death means to us the loss of the departed one from our affectionate association. And above all, with true Greek feeling there is felt the loss to him of all that sweet life held,—the piping by the waters, the care of his flock, the soft airs of bucolic Sicily. The song is a touching lamentation upon the giving up of joyous life, and going down to “the senseless earth” and the shades of Orcus.  5
  The remains of Moschus have been edited by H. L. Ahrens in ‘Reliquiæ Bucolicorum Græcorum’ (1861), and also by Brunck, Boissonade, and others. They have been turned into English by Fawkes (Chalmers’s English Poets) and also by Messrs. Polwhele, Chapman, and Banks.  6
 
 
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