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Archilochus Profile | Archilochus Basics

Archilochus of Paros is a major figure in the history of ancient Greek poetry who wrote about topics in his life like warfare, love, mythology, and enemies. Like many people from especially the Archaic age and earlier, details are limited. We have only fragments of his poetry -- at the moment, three of substantial length -- but he is mentioned in other ancient sources as a highly admired poet. Archilochus lived in the seventh century B.C., is known for his invective, musical skills, and as the one credited with creating the genre of iambic poetry, the parent of satire. He wrote elegiac poetry and may have invented it. Archilochus is also credited with writing the first Greek beast fable. He was considered by the Greeks to be the first Greek poet after the epic poets Homer and Hesiod.

Traditionally, it is said that Archilochus' invective, in the iambic genre, was aimed at a Lycambes and family, probably because of an engagement that Lycambes called off. It is said that Archilochus' harassing of the Lycambes family led them to suicide -- modern concerns about suicide from bullying have an ancient history. Lycambes may not have been a real person, but the representation of a type.

Archilochus may have been associated with cults of Demeter and Dionysus and his poetry may have been composed for their rites.

Archilochus is also associated with the Cycladean island of Paros (famed for its marble) and Thasos (a northern island near Thrace), the former, where he was born and his family lived; the latter where he went as a colonist.

Dating Archilochus is difficult, but there are two events that help. Both are mentioned in his poetry, but whether they are mentioned as experiences in Archilochus' life or that of someone he is describing, we can't tell. The first of these events is an eclipse that could have been either April 6, 648, preferred, or June 27 660, less likely. The other event is not so much an event as a description based on Gyges, ruler of Lydia c 687-652 B.C. still being alive.

Archilochus References

  • "A New Archilochus Poem," by Dirk Obbink; Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik Bd. 156, (2006), pp. 1-9
  • A Companion to the Greek Lyric Poets, by Douglas E. Gerber 1997.
  • "Archilochus and Lycambes," by C. Carey; Classical Quarterly Vol. 36, No. 1, 1986, pp. 60-67.

Archilochus was considered, by the Greeks, the first poet after the epic poets Homer and Hesiod.

A fragment of Archilochus was found among the Oxyrhynchus papryri and has been published in Oxyrhynchus Papyri volume LXIX. See P.Oxy. LXIX 4708.

Guy Davenport, 7 Greeks (New Directions, 1995)on Diotima says that Archilochus was killed by a man named Crow which so saddened and angered Apollo that he banned Crow from all his temples.

See William Harris's preface to the Poems of Archilochus or download a PDF of Archilochus' poems.

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