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For the hummingbird genus, see Archilochus.
Archilochus, or, Archilochos (Greek: ) (c. 680 BC – c. 645 BC) was an Archaic or a Classical Greek poet and supposed mercenary, or, at least, a warrior. Besides his actual poems (or surviving fragments thereof), his main claim to fame rests on being the first known one to write lyric poetry (in the "Western Tradition"), in the first person.

Life and poetry

The details of his life are inferred from his poetry, doubtless including details that were traditional in antiquity (although, in this case, biographical details may also have been inferred from his poetry, rather than a separate tradition): "it is often easiest and certainly entertaining to imagine that the words spoken in a poem are those of real persons, or at least a stylized description of an actual encounter in the poet's life," warns John Van Sickle in assessing the extent of biographical subject matter in a fragment of an epode containing an erotic dialogue, which was discovered in a papyrus now at Cologne. Archilochus was born on the island of Parosmarker. His father, Telesicles, who was from a noble family, had conducted a colony to Thasosmarker, in obedience to the command of the Delphic oraclemarker. To this island, Archilochus himself, hard pressed by poverty, afterwards removed. Another reason for leaving his native place was personal disappointment and indignation at the treatment he had received from Lycambes, a citizen of Parosmarker, who had promised him his daughter Neobule in marriage but had afterwards withdrawn his consent. Archilochus, taking advantage of the license allowed at the feasts of Demeter, poured out his wounded feelings in unmerciful satire. He accused Lycambes of perjury and recited such verses against his daughters that Lycambes and his daughters are said to have hanged themselves.

A series of archaeological discoveries on Paros have added to our knowledge of Archilochus. Two stones inscribed in the 3rd century B.C. tell the story of a legend concerning a meeting between Archilochos and the Muses. According to the stones, "the young Archilochos was sent to town by his father to sell a cow, and met on his way a group of jolly women, who asked if the cow was for sale; when told that it was, they said they would give him a good price, whereupon they and the cow disappeared and Archilochos found a lyre before his feet. Soon after, his father was told by Apollo at Delphimarker that his son would be immortal and famous." Another inscription, which is in fragmentary form, tells of Archilochos's introduction to Paros of a new form of worship of Dionysus, for which he was punished by his fellow citizens, but ultimately vindicated by Apollo. The later choral poet Pindar had a low opinion of Archilochus.

1) Colonized Thasosmarker; was part of general ‘colonization’ efforts of his era (750-550 B.C.;2) Was a mercenary soldier by profession—typical of many landless, rootless ‘younger’ or illegitimate sons (no inheritance) in Archaic Greece, when ‘overpopulation’ was a major problem;3) Was a ‘Lyric’ = ‘personal’ topics, poet; the 1st of the known Lyric poets, who broke with Homeric Epic poetry style to write of their own lives, experiences, feelings, attitudes. Other sig. Lyric poets included Sappho, Alcman, etc

Along with the epics of Homer and Hesiod, the satires of Archilochus were one of the mainstays of itinerant rhapsodes, who made a living declaiming poetry at both religious festivals and private homes.

In the historical and poetic imagination, Archilochus represents the romantic intersection of the fighting and the poetic spirits; this dual aspect of his personality is captured with brevity in the following poetic fragment, wherein he describes himself as both a warrior and a poet:

Although I am a servant of Lord Enyalios [Ares, god of war],
I also know well the lovely gift of the Muses.

Though it is thought by some that at Thasosmarker the poet passed some unhappy years or that his hopes of wealth were disappointed, one can interpret quite the opposite from the following fragment which suggests that Archilochus cares little for materialistic things, nor does he have any kind of intense lust for power. The following fragment suggests Archilochus acknowledges the rationality of stoic philosophy:

These golden matters
Of Gyges and his treasuries
Are no concern of mine.
Jealousy has no power over me,
Nor do I envy a god his work,
And I do not burn to rule.
Such things have no
Fascination for my eyes.

According to him, Thasos was the meeting-place of the calamities of all Hellasmarker. The inhabitants were frequently involved in quarrels with their neighbors, and in a war against the Saians— a Thracian tribe— he threw away his shield and fled from the field of battle. He does not seem to have felt the disgrace very keenly, for, like Alcaeus, he commemorates the event: in a surviving fragment he congratulates himself on having saved his life, and says he can easily procure another shield:

Some barbarian is waving my shield,
since I was obliged to
leave that perfectly good piece of equipment behind
under a bush.
But I got away, so what does it matter?
Life seemed somehow more precious.
Let the shield go; I can buy another one equally good.

After leaving Thasos, he is said to have visited Spartamarker, but to have been at once banished from that city on account of his cowardice and the licentious character of his works (Valerius Maximus vi. 3, externa 1). He next visited Magna Graecia, Hellenic southern Italymarker, of which he speaks very favorably. He then returned to his native home on Parosmarker, and was slain in a battle against the Naxiansmarker by one Calondas or Corax, who was cursed by the oracle for having slain a servant of the Muses.

The writings of Archilochus consisted of elegies, hymns— one of which used to be sung by the victors in the Olympic games— and of poems in the iambic and trochaic measures. Greek rhetors credited him with the invention of iambic poetry and its application to satire. The only previous measures used in Greek poetry for which we have extant, literary testimony had been the epic hexameter, and its offshoot the elegiac meter; but the slow measured structure of hexameter verse was utterly unsuited to express the quick, light motions of satire. There is good reason to believe that the lyric meters are just as old as that of epic (dactylic hexameter). Just as Homer did not create his own meter, the lyric poets did not create their meter but employed the meter of past poets. Evidence for this can be seen in Homer, particularly in the Iliad (1.472-74; 16.182-83; 18.493). Thus, Archilochus had options when choosing his meters. Tradition may have been as important a factor in Archilochus' selection of verse as it was for Homer, and his decision may have been influenced by his relationship to Demeter and Dionysus and rituals surrounding these particular deities (as is briefly alluded to above). These rituals would have strengthened cultural mores through a demonstration of the opposite. The connection is tied to the definition of ἵαμβος (iambos). Iambos was a type of poetry not simply a metric device, and an expected subject matter accompanied the performance of this type of poetry. There were of course common meters of iambos/iambic poetry.

Archilochus made use of the iambus and the trochee, and organized them into the two forms of meter known as the iambic trimeter and the trochaic tetrameter. The trochaic meter he generally used for subjects of a vicarious nature; the iambic for satires. He was also the first to make use of the arrangement of verses called the epode. Horace in his meters to a great extent follows Archilochus. All ancient authorities unite in praising the poems of Archilochus, in terms that appear exaggerated. His verses seem certainly to have possessed strength, flexibility, nervous vigor, and, beyond everything else, impetuous vehemence and energy: Horace speaks of the "rage" of Archilochus, and Hadrian calls his verses "raging iambics." His countrymen reverenced him as the equal of Homer, and statues of these two poets were dedicated on the same day. The hero cult of Archilochus on Parosmarker had a history of 800 years. His poems were written in the old Ionic dialect.

Archilochus' poetry survives only in fragments, most of which come from Egyptian papyri.

Recent discoveries

Thirty lines of a previously unknown poem in the elegiac meter by Archilochos describing events leading up to the Trojan War, in which Achaeans battled Telephus king of Mysia, have recently been identified among the unpublished manuscripts from Oxyrhynchusmarker and published in The Oxyrhynchus Papyri, Volume LXIX (Graeco-Roman Memoirs 89).


  1. While these have been the generally accepted dates since Felix Jacoby, "The Date of Archilochus," Classical Quarterly 35 (1941) 97-109, some scholars disagree; Robin Lane Fox, for instance, in Travelling Heroes: Greeks and Their Myths in the Epic Age of Homer (London: Allen Lane, 2008, ISBN 978-0713999808), p. 388, dates him c. 740-680.
  2. Rayor, Diane J, Sappho's Lyre: Archaic Lyric and Women Poets of Ancient Greece (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991, ISBN 978-0-520-07336-4)
  3. Van Sickle, "Archilochus: A New Fragment of an Epode" The Classical Journal 71.1 (October - November 1975:1-15) p. 14.
  4. Gerber, Douglas E., A Companion to the Greek Lyric Poets, BRILL, 1997. ISBN 9004099441. Cf. p.50
  5. David A. Campbell, "Greek Lyric Poetry, p. 137
  6. Campbell at p. 137.
  7. Pindar, 2nd Pythian Ode, ll. 100-01.
  8. Jeffrey M. Hurwit. The Art and Culture of Early Greece.
  9. See the Loeb edition of Greek Iambic (introduction).
  10. Encyclopedia of ancient Greece By Nigel Guy Wilson Page 353 ISBN 9780415973342
  11. Davenport, Guy., Archilochus, Alcman, Sappho: Three Lyric Poets of the Seventh Century B.C. University of California Press, 1980. ISBN 0520052234, p.2.
  12. Text and translation of the new Archilochus fragment at Oxyrhynchus Online
  • Translation by Guy Davenport Archilochos Sappho Alkman: Three Lyric Poets of the Late Greek Bronze Age
  • Politics, Aristotle, Book VII, vi 3; 1328a 5; Loeb p. 567.
  • P.E. Easterling (Series Editor), Bernard M.W. Knox (Editor), Cambridge History of Classical Literature, v.I, Greek Literature, 1985. ISBN 0-521-21042-9, cf. Chapter 5, pp. 117-128 on Archilochus.


  • "For 'tis thy friends that make thee choke with rage". (1)
  • "The fox knows many things; the hedgehog one great thing." (cf. The Hedgehog and the Fox)
  • "Wretched I lie, dead with desire, pierced through my bones, with the bitter pains the Gods have given me."

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