Formosa o Galatea!

The origins of the myth of Galatea and Polyphemus and its revival in the Renaissance

On-line Course in Latin, 5th March – 23rd April, 2024. 

«Oh fair Galatea, why do you reject those who love you?» («Ὦ λευκὰ Γαλάτεια, τί τὸν φιλέοντ’ ἀποβάλλῃ;»). Thus begins the famous song of the lovestruck Polyphemus in the eleventh Idyll of Theocritus. In the throes of love, the Cyclops, almost as if compensating for his hideous physical features, reviews the riches at his disposal, inviting the Nereid Galatea to leave her marine abode and move to a cave which he describes as the most beautiful place in the world. Virgil drew inspiration from Theocritus’ verses in the second Eclogue, where the unrequited love of the shepherd Corydon for the beautiful Alexis is depicted with greater pathos and without the ironic touches of the Syracusan poet: «Oh, cruel Alexis, do you care nothing for my songs?  Have you no pity on me? You’ll force me to die at last» («O crudelis Alexi, nil mea carmina curas? Nil nostri miserere? Mori me denique coges»).  A new and captivating portrait of Polyphemus’ unrequited love is offered by Ovid in the thirteenth book of the Metamorphoses, where the Cyclops, despite efforts to soften his wild appearance, realizes that Galatea’s heart beats only for the young Acis, doomed to a tragic end.

Many 15th and 16th century writers echoed Polyphemus’ song to express the feelings and sadness of lovers. In one of his most beautiful poems, Galatea, Jacopo Sannazaro, innovating the bucolic genre, gives voice to a lovesick fisherman who, sitting on a rock in the gulf of Naples, sings verses reminiscent of Theocritus’ lament. Similarly, drawing from the ancient myth, the humanist Pier Candido Decembrio, in his yet unpublished Galatea, presents himself as a modern-day Polyphemus consumed by love.  On a different level, Pietro Bembo describes in two poems the vain attempt of the god Faunus to reach the fleeing Nereid. During the Renaissance, as Theocritus’ idyll was translated into Latin for the first time, the myth attracted the attention of several painters and sculptors, including Raphael, Annibale Carracci, Charles de La Fosse, and Pompeo Batoni.

This course aims to examine some of the most significant interpretations of this fascinating myth, presenting both unpublished or lesser-known but valuable literary texts and the most famous depictions of Polyphemus, Galatea, and Acis by Renaissance artists.

The course will take place in seminar format via zoom (meeting) every Tuesday from 17:00 to 18:00 CET.

Each lesson will be conducted entirely in Latin. Each session will be recorded and made available until 15th May 2024.


Program schedule


When Topic
I. Tuesday, 5th March, h. 17:00-18:00 CET Greetings and Introduction to the Course

Distribution and orientation of course materials

Theocritus, Idyl. XI (Latin translations)

II. Tuesday, 12th March, h. 17:00-18:00 CET Theocritus, Idyl. XI (Latin translations)
III. Tuesday, 19th March, h. 17:00-18:00 CET The second Eclogue of Virgil
IV. Tuesday, 26th March, h. 17:00-18:00 CET Polyphemus in Ovid (first part)
V. Tuesday, 2nd April, h. 17:00-18:00 CET Polyphemus in Ovid (second part)
VI. Tuesday 9th April, h. 17:00-18:00 CEST Jacopo Sannazaro, Egloga piscatoria II. Galatea
VII. Tuesday 16th April, h. 17:00-18:00 CEST Pier Candido Decembrio, Galatea
VII.Tuesday 23rd April, h. 17:00-18:00 CEST
The poems for Galatea by Pietro Bembo


Last day to register: 1st March 2024



    Acis and Galatea



















    Intended course audience

    Teachers, students and all lovers of the ancient world and of the Renaissance.


    Online, using Zoom as a platform




    Intermediate or advanced

    Professional development credit

    At the end of the course, a certificate of participation will be issued on request.

    Registration fee

    98 €

    Course registration and Availability to Recorded Sessions

    Upon successfully registering for the course, you will be entered on the list of course participants and you will be emailed the sign in information needed to join the meetings. At the end of each session, a recording will be made available until 15th May 2024.