Archilochus of Paros, c. 680-640 BCE
Though some of the lyric poets were known to have been politically active, and even the philosopher, Socrates, recalled serving in the Athenian infantry, Archilochus is the only warrior-poet known to us. The tasks of warrior and poet were not always considered at odds--Homer has even Achilles singing tunes to the accompaniment of his lyre in the Iliad (Book IX). However, by the time of the Odyssey, the job descriptions appear to have been divided: soldiers did the fighting and bards sang about their deeds. Archilochus, though later than either of the epics, may have written the first poem in the series because he was aware that his accomplishments are somewhat unusual. Throughout his selections, keep an eye out for indications that his creativity involves a "military" mode of thinking. Below are some study questions that might lead to some insights about his poems.
1) How would you characterize the singer's stance in Archilochus' lyrics? How does he, by representing his likes and dislikes, position himself with respect to the reader? What kind of personal style does he communicate?
2) Balance (isocolon), unexpected syntactic reversal (chiasmus ["criss-cross"]), and syntactic repetition (anaphora) are Archilochus' most commonly used devices. Based on Raynor's translations, how do these two devices work with his meaning to create your experience of the poem? What does it allign, withhold, or reiterate?
3) Fragments usually suggest what the remainder of the poem might have been. What do you imagine the missing portions to have done to continue or reverse the development in the fragment?
4) The intentional fragment became an important poetic form among English Romantic poets (e.g., Coleridge's "Kubla Khan" . Might any of A's "fragments" be complete?
5) #14 is a famous aphorism. How is it characteristic of Archilochus' style? It also is a riddle about two methods of ancient warfare, mounted cavalry (the raiding "fox") and the infantry "phalanx." Can you explain what the riddle means? You also might compare it with #4's description of the two commanders. The social organizational principle which made the phalanx possible also informs the naval design of the warships which protected Athens from the Persian Empire, the trireme. For illustrations of both the phalanx in action and the trireme, click here.
6) After the succession of more or less "military" poems, the erotic series (#15-20) may come as a surprise. Can you see stylistic evidence that the erotic poems are by the same author as the military ones? What does that tell you about the mental circumstances from which Archilochus derives his creative inspiration?
For Paul Halsall's excellent compilation of web sites and documents devoted to the study of ancient Greek culture, click here.