pastoral. In literature, a highly conventional mode of writing that celebrates the innocent life of shepherds and shepherdesses in poems, plays, and prose romances. Pastoral literature describes the loves and sorrows of musical shepherds, usually in an idealized Golden Age of rustic innocence and idleness: paradoxically, it is an elaborately artificial cult of simplicity and virtuous frugality. The pastoral tradition in Western literature originated with the Greek idylls of Theocritus (3rd century B.C.E.), who wrote for an urban readership in Alexandria about shepherds in his native Sicily. His most influential follower, the Roman poet Virgil, wrote eclogues (42-37 B.C.E.) set in the imagined tranquillity of Arcadia.