Archilochus

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Archilochus, or, Archilochos (Greek: Ἀρχίλοχος) (c. 680 BC – c. 645 BC)[1] was an Archaic period mercenary and poet, who is taken to be first person in the Western tradition to write lyric poetry in the first person[2]. Although his work now only survives in fragments, he was revered by the ancient Greeks as one of their great lyric poets.

Contents

Life

Archilochus was a colonist of Thasos (part of general ‘colonization’ efforts of his era (750-550 BC)). He was a mercenary soldier by profession — typical of many landless, rootless ‘younger’ or illegitimate sons (with no inheritance) in Archaic Greece, when ‘overpopulation’ seems to have become a major problem. He is remembered as a Lyric poet; the first to break with the poetic style of the Homeric Epic and write instead about their own lives, experiences, feelings, and attitudes.

The details of his life can be inferred from his poetry "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[3] as he assesses the biographical content in a fragment of an epode containing an erotic dialogue, discovered in a papyrus now at Cologne. Archilochus was born on the island of Paros. His father, Telesicles, who was from a noble family, had led a colony to Thasos, in obedience to the command of the Delphic oracle. Archilochus, hard pressed by poverty, also moved to Thasos. According to his poetry another reason for leaving Paros was disappointment and indignation at the treatment he had received from Lycambes, a citizen of Paros, who had promised him his daughter Neobule in marriage but had afterwards withdrawn his consent.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 a savage satire. He accused Lycambes of perjury and recited such verses against his daughters that according to legend Lycambes and his daughters hung themselves.[4]

Various archaeological discoveries on Paros have added to our knowledge of Archilochus.[5] Two stones inscribed in the 3rd century BCE tell the story of 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, Apollo at Delphi told his father that his son would be immortal and famous."[6] Another inscription, which only survives in fragments, says that Archilochos's introduced 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 poet Pindar described Archilochus as a scold in poverty, fattening his leaness with hate [7] but along with Homer and Hesiod, he was one of the mainstays of the itinerant rhapsodes, who made their living declaiming poetry at religious festivals and in private homes.

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