Thursday, December 4, 2008

Archilochos? Who He?

Dear Everyone:

If you were an ancient Greek, in need of entertainment, and a wandering rhapsode came to town, you'd of course want to hear something by one of the Big Two, the monsters of verse, the Snoop Doggy Doggs of their age – either Homer or Archilochos.


Yep. Archilochos came the Aegean island of Paros. He left there after a citizen named Lycambes went back on his promise to give his daughter Neobule in marriage to Archilochos. Who did what any poet would do, and vented his wounded feelings in satiric verse. So scathing was his poem that Lycambes and all his daughters hung themselves.

Which is why he had to leave town, go to Thasos, and become a professional soldier. Here's what he wrote about the glorious battle he fought against the Saians:

Some Saian mountaineer
Struts today with my shield.
I threw it down by a bush and ran
When the fighting got hot.
Life seemed somehow more precious.
It was a beautiful shield.
I know where I can buy another
Exactly like it, just as round.

After leaving Thasos, he is said to have visited Sparta, but to have been immediately once banished for his cowardice and the smutty character of his poetry. Eventually, he made his way back home to Paros, where he was slain by a soldier named Corax, who was for this excommunicated by the Oracle for having slain a servant of the Muses.

Of his works only 500 lines remain, as of a week ago.

Did you catch the qualifier? Yes, thanks to the scholars at Oxford, the Oxyrhynchus Papyri have been decoded (really a fascinating story there; you know how to use Google), and we now have 30 more lines of his poetry!

In celebration of which, tomorrow you'll get another poem by him.

All best,


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