As any student of literature knows, THEOCRITUS developed the verse form known as “the pastoral,” a stylized and artful poem in which shepherds and cowherds sing of their love and friendship. Whereas Greek shepherds really did sing to their flocks, it’s doubtful that they were ever quite so philosophical about screwing as Theocritus and his followers pretended they were. In many of his Idylls, Theocritus is praising the love of boys, and these poems are really quite beautiful, even in English translation.

Theocritus’s pastoral was widely imitated in the Renaissance, but, by the 18th century a few wiseacres were already beginning to see the form as inherently silly. Jonathan Swift, bless his cantankerous hide, once lampooned the pastoral mercilessly. In his poem, the shepherd boy takes his fair shepherdess into the field to do more than merely philosophize about love. Before he mounts her, the shepherd, a realist like Swift, spreads plenty of paper around so as not to roll, as he puts it, in the sheep shit. And he warns his true love to take care that she doesn’t get any rocks up her butt. Not too long after, the pastoral died a merciful death.