Pearce describes Theocritus as a clear example of the characteristic Alexandrian style of the 3rd century B.C., dedicated to innovation. A matter of scholarly interest is how his Idylls cam to be written, as they seem a mature example of a new form not known to have existed before (Pearce 1993, 60). One possible explanation is that they are an adaptation of oral forms typical of folk songs. Pearce considers it a given that Theocritus wants us to accept his work as adapted from music of shepherds, since he puts the songs into their mouths. However, Pearce also finds a considerable level of literary sophistication in the works (Pearce 1993, 61).
Theocritus wrote the Idylls in a Doric dialect, which was his native dialect but which also happens to be the one commonly used in the non-literary agrarian areas of the world (Pearce 1993, 62). The literary sophistication is made more evident by the occasional use of Homeric dialectic elements, which would not be native to the shepherds.
Pearce considers the history of meter and dialect. He recognizes that the shepherds were likely to know the work of rhapsodes, who would have recited various types of poetry, including Homer. This could cause the hearers to associate oral poetry with hexameter and to adopt some of the Homeric forms (Pearce 1993, 63). Pearce continues by describing “amoebean” songs, in which a lead singer would start a piece, then others would respond with improvised reactions. This form shows up in Theocritus and continues to be used today (Pearce 1993, 64).
The contests in which such singing would take place are depicted in the Idylls as arising from occasions of music making during slow times in the bucolic life. Shepherds would naturally perform and engage in competition with one another (Pearce 1993, 65).
Pearce theorizes that the motifs used in Theocritus are borrowed from oral poetry (Pearce 1993, 66). To analyze this thesis, he studies several different Idylls, looking at repeated motifs. First, he identifies allusions to “rustic gifts,” providing the Greek text and an English translation of the passages (Pearce 1993, 66ff). He then moves on to nymphs, as “the divine essence of various things in nature” (Pearce 1993, 71). Of course, Pan, as the patron god of shepherds makes appearances (Pearce 1993, 74). Pearce notes that many of the allusions made in regard to Pan are relatively obscure (Idyll 7) (Pearce 1993, 75). Much of the time the emphasis is on his use of pipes. This leads Pearce to consider allusions to the music found in nature (Pearce 1993, 77ff). As they themselves are immersed in this world of music, the theme of shepherds playing pipes is very important (Pearce 1993, 80ff), as well as that of shepherds who sing (Pearce 1993, 82ff).
The illustrations used by Pearce show that Theocritus’ work was influenced, probably to a large extent, by motifs common to the bucolic life. Though his poetry is highly literary, it also draws on many elements of a rural orality (Pearce 1993, 85).