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Archilochus of Paros

Archilochus, Greek lyric poet and writer of lampoons, was born at Paros, one of the Cyclades islands. The date of his birth is uncertain, but he probably flourished about 650 BC[?]; according to some, about forty years earlier but certainly not before the reign of Gyges (687-652), whom he mentions in a well-known fragment.

His father, Telesicles, who was of noble family, had conducted a colony to Thasos, in obedience to the command of the Delphic oracle. 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received from Lycambes, a citizen of Paros, who had promised him his daughter Neobule in marriage, but had afterwards withdrawn his consent. Archilochus, taking advantage of the licence 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.

At Thasos the poet passed some unhappy years; his hopes of wealth were disappointed; according to him, Thasos was the meeting-place of the calamities of all Hellas. The inhabitants were frequently involved in quarrels with their neighbours, 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 fragment in which he congratulates himself on having saved his life, and says he can easily procure another shield.

After leaving Thasos, he is said to have visited Sparta, 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 lower Italy, of which he speaks very favourably. He then returned to his native place, and was slain in a battle against the Naxians 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 to which used to be sung by the victors in the Olympic games--and of poems in the iambic[?] and trochaic[?] measures. To him certainly we owe the invention of iambic poetry and its application to the purposes of satire. The only previous measures in Greek poetry had been the epic hexameter, and its offshoot the elegiac metre; but the slow measured structure of hexameter verse was utterly unsuited to express the quick, light motions of satire.

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

This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.



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