Though coming late in the Greek age, when Athens had yielded place to Alexandria, still carried on the Greek tradition in a remarkable way. A native of Syracuse, Italy, he caught and echoed in a finer form the life and songs of the country folk of that region - themselves descendants of Dorian settlers. Songs and ballads full of similar notes linger among the Greek peasants, shepherds and fisher-folk, even down to the present day.
Theocritus' poems reflect the internationalism of the Alexandrians: They are set in Italy and Sicily, on Aegean islands, and in Alexandria itself. As the inventor of "pastoral" poetry - in which the poet pretends to be a simple shepherd, he initiated a lasting genre and made a path for later homosexual poets.
Theocritus' Idylls, or "short poems," attest to the way earlier traditions of Greek love persisted and flourished in Hellenistic times. Seven of the thirty Idylls ascribed to him touch on homosexual themes.
In Idyll V ("Goatherd and Shepherd"), Comatas boasts of the girls who favor him, Lacon of the boys he enjoys.
In Idyll VII ("The Harvest Festival"), Lycidas grieves over the departure of his lover for Mytilene; and Simichidas, who loves a girl, sings not of her but of the love of his friend Aratus for a boy.
Idyll XXIII ("Erastes") is probably not by Theocritus: It tells the story of a boy whose lover kisses his doorpost and hangs himself in despair. The boy treats the corpse with cold disdain; when he goes to the gymnasium to swim, a statue of Eros falls and kills him, staining the water with his blood.
Three of the Idylls (XII, XXIX, and XXX) are lover's complaints in which Theocritus addresses boys he has fallen in love with and chides them for their fickleness.
In XII, he invokes the traditions of ancient Sparta and Thessaly.
Perhaps the most poignant and beautiful of the Idylls is XIII, which dramatizes Heracles' grief over the loss of young Hylas, accidentally drowned when the Argonauts break their journey at the Hellespont.
In XXIX, the love of Achilles for Patroclus: "Then there were men of gold, when the eromenos reflected the love of the erastes." In the former poem, he tells the boy their love will be known "two hundred generations" hence.