The last decades have shown that Nicander's Theriaca (second century b.c.e.), a didactic hexameter poem of 958 lines on snakes, scorpions, spiders, and the proper treatment of the wounds they inflict, is a markedly more playful work than most readers thought. Rather than considering the poem as a vehicle of authentic learning, literary approaches to the nature of Nicander's strange poetic world have focussed on his eye for Alexandrian aesthetics, intertextuality, linguistic innovation, and awareness of the didactic tradition that started with Hesiod's Works and Days, but also on his predilection for horror, voyeuristic sensationalism, and gory details. Although literary-minded readers have found it hard to disprove convincingly that Nicander may have had some professional knowledge of his subject matter, a glance at his arcane language is enough to convince any reader that the Theriaca cannot be concerned solely with its explicit subject. In this article I will make some additional observations on the way in which Nicander has turned the Theriaca into a work of literature, focussing on some of the choices that he has made with regard to his less than veracious depiction of snakes and animals. While Spatafora rightly points to Nicander's eye for detail when portraying floral beauty, I will argue that the poet's play with the topos of the locus amoenus has a darker side. Rather than creating an epic world of beauty, Nicander shows his talent for taking the reader along an unpleasant path of apprehension and negative feelings, portraying a choice selection of afflictions. Not only does he have many ways of giving his quasi-scientific account a markedly negative atmosphere, but his world may well be a deliberate reversal of that other well-known Hellenistic portrayal of the natural world, Theocritus' bucolics.
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