), of Paros, was one of the earliest Ionian lyric poets, and the first Greek poet who composed Iambic verses according to fixed rules.
He flourished about 714-676 B. C. (Bode, Geschichte der Lyr. Dichtk.
i. pp. 38, 47.)
He was descended from a noble family, who held the priesthood in Paros. His grandfather was Tellis, who brought the worship of Demeter into Thasos, and whose portrait was introduced by Polygnotus into his painting of the infernal regions at Delphi. His father was Telesicles, and his mother a slave, named Enipo.
In the flower of his age (between 710 and 700 B. C.), and probably after he had already gained a prize for his hymn to Demeter (Schol. in Aristoph. Av.
1762), Archilochus went from Paros to Thasos with a colony, of which one account makes him the leader.
The motive for this emigration can only be conjectured.
It was most probably the result of a political change, to which cause was added, in the case of Archilochus, a sense of personal wrongs.
He had been a suitor to Neobule, one of the daughters of Lycambes, who first promised and afterwards refused to give his daughter to the poet. Enraged at this treatment, Archilochus attacked the whole family in an iambic poem, accusing Lycambes of perjury, and his daughters of the most abandoned lives.
The verses were recited at the festival of Demeter, and produced such an effect, that the daughters of Lycambes are said to have hung themselves through shame.
The bitterness which he expresses in his poems towards his native island (Athen. 3.76
b.) seems to have arisen in part also from the low estimation in which he was held, as being the son of a slave. Neither was he more happy at Thasos.
He draws the most melancholy picture of his adopted country, which he at length quitted in disgust. (Plut. de Exil.
12. p. 604; Strabo xiv. p.648
, viii. p. 370; Eustath. in Odyss.
i. p. 227 ; Aelian, Ael. VH 12.50
.) While at Thasos, he incurried the disgrace of losing his shield in an engagement with the Thracians of the opposite continent ; but, like Alcaeus under similar circumstances, instead of being ashamed of the disaster, he recorded it in his verse. Plutarch (Inst. Lacou.
p. 239. b.) states, that Archilochus was banished from Sparta the very hour that he had arrived there because he had written in his poems, that a man had better throw away his arms than lose his life. But Valerius Maximus (6.3, ext. 1) says, that the poems of Archilochus were forbidden at Sparta because of their licentiousness, and especially on account of the attack on the daughters of Lycambes.
It must remain doubtful whether a confusion has been made between the personal history of the poet and the fate of his works, both in this instance and in the story that he won the prize at Olympia with his hymn to Heracles (Tzetzes, Chil.
1.685), of which thus much is certain, that the Olympic victors used to sing a hymn by Archilochus in their triumphal procession. (Pindar, Pind. O. 9.1
These traditions, and the certain fact that the fame of Archilochus was spread, in his lifetime, over the whole of Greece, together with his unsettled character, render it probable that he made many journeys of which we have no account.
It seems, that he visited Siris in Lower Italy, the only city of which he speaks well. (Athen. 12.523
At length he returned to Paros, and, in a war between the Parians and the people of Naxos, he fell by the hand of a Naxian named Calondas or Corax. The Delphian oracle, which, before the birth of Archilochus, had promised to his father an immortal son, now pronounced a curse upon the man who had killed him, because "he had slain the servant of the Muses." (Dion Chrysost. Orat.
33, vol. ii. p. 5.)
Archilochus shared with his contemporaries, Thaletas and Terpander, in the honour of establishing lyric poetry throughout Greece.
The invention of the elegy is ascribed to him, as well as to Callinus; and though Callinus was somewhat older than Archilochus [CALLINUS], there is no doubt that the latter was one of the earliest poets who excelled in this species of composition. Meleager enumerates him among the poets in his Corona.
But it was on his satiric iambic poetry that the fame of Archilochus was founded.
The first place in this style of poetry was awarded to him by the consent of the ancient writers, who did not hesitate to compare him with Sophocles, Pindar, and even Homer,--meaning, doubtless, that as they stood at the head of tragic, lyric, and epic poetry, so was Archilochus the first of iambic satirical writers; while some place him, next to Homer, above all other poets. (Dion Chrysost. l.c. ;
Longin. 13.3; Velleius, 1.5; Cicero, Orat.
2; Heracleitus, apud Diog. Laert.
The statues of Archilochus and of Homer were dedicated on the same day (Antip. Thessal. Epigr.
45), and two faces, which are thought to be their likenesses, are found placed together in a Janus-like bust. (Visconti, Icon. Gree.
i. p. 62.)
The emperor Hadrian judged that the Muses had shown a special mark of favour to Homer in leading Archilochus into a different department of poetry. (Epig.
5.) Other testimonies are collected by Liebel (p. 43).
The Iambics of Archilochus expressed the strongest feelings in the most unmeasured language.
The licence of Ionian democracy and the bitterness of a disappointed man were united with the highest degree of poetical power to give them force and point.
In countries and ages unfamiliar with the political and religious licence which at once incited and protected the poet, his satire was blamed for its severity (Liebel, p. 41); and the emetion accounted most conspicuous in his verses was "rage," as we see in the line of Horace (A. P.
Archilochum proproi rabies armavit iambo,
and in the expression of Hadrian (l.c.), λυσσῶντας ἰάμβους
; and his bitterness passed into a proverb. Ἀρχιλόχου πατεῖς
But there must have been something more than mere sarcastic power, there must have been truth and delicate wit, in the sarcasms of the poet whom Plato does not hesitate to call "the very wise," (τοῦ σοφωτάτου
ii. p. 365.) Quintilian (10.1.60) ascribes to him the greatest power of expression, displayed in sentences sometimes strong, sometimes brief, with rapid changes (quum validae, tum breves vibrantesque sententiae
), the greatest life and nervousness (plurimum sanguinis atque nervorum
), and considers that whatever blame his works deserve is the fault of his subjects and not of his genius.
In the latter opinion the Greek critics seem to have joined. (Plut. de Aud.
13, p. 45a.) Of modern writers, Archilochus has been perhaps best understood by Müller, who says, "The ostensible object of Archilochus' Iambics, like that of the later comedy, was to give reality to caricatures, every hideous feature of which was made more striking by being magnified.
But that tllese pictures, like caricatures from the hand of a master, had a striking truth, may be inferred from the impression which Archilochus' iambics produced, both upon contemporaries and posterity. Mere calumnies could never have driven the daughters of Lycambes to hang themselves,--if, indeed, this story is to be believed, and is not a gross exaggeration.
But we have no need of it; the universal admiration which was awarded to Archilochus' iambics proves the existence of a foundation of truth; for when had a satire, which was not based on truth, universal reputation for excellence? When Plato produced his first dialogues against the sophists, Gorgias is said to have exclaimed "Athens has given birth to a new Archilochus !"
This comparison, made by a man not unacquainted with art, shows at all events that Archilochus must have possessed somewhat of the keen and delicate satire which in Plato was most severe where a dull listener would be least sensible of it." (History of the Literature of Greece,
i. p. 135.)
The satire of preceding writers, as displayed for example in the Margites,
was less pointed, because its objects were chosen out of the remote world which furnished all the personages of epic poetry ; while the iambics of Archilochus were aimed at those along whom he lived. Hence their personal bitterness and sarcastic power.
This kind of satire had already been employed in extemporaneous effusions of wit, especially at the festivals of Demeter and Cora, and Dionysus.
This raillery, a specimen of which is preserved in some of the songs of the chorus in Aristophanes' Frogs,
was called iambus ;
and the same name was applied to the verse which Archilochus invented when he introduced a new style of poetry in the place of these irregular effusions. For the measured movement of the heroic hexameter, with its arsis and thesis of equal lengths, he substituted a movement in which the arsis was twice as long as the thesis, the light tripping character of which was admirably adapted to express the lively play of wit.
According as the arsis followed or preceded the thesis, the verse gained, in the former case, strength, in the latter, speed and lightness, which. are the characteristics respectively of the iambus and of the trochee.
These short feet he formed into continued systems, by uniting every two of them into a pair (a metre
in which one arsis was more strongly accentuated than the other, and one of the two theses was left doubtful as to quantity, so that, considered with reference to musical rhythm, each dipod formed a bar. 1
Hence arose the great kindred dramatic metres, the iambic trimeter and the trochaic tetrameter, as well as the shorter forms of iambic and trochaic verse. Archilochus was the inventor also of the epode,
which was formed by subjoining to one or more verses a shorter one. One form of the epode, in which it consists of three trochees, was called the ithyphallic verse (ἰθύφαλλος᾿
He used also a kind of verse compounded of two different metrical structures, which was called asynartete.
Some writers ascribe to him the invention of the Saturnian verse. (Bentley's Dissertation on Phalaris.
) Archilochus introduced several improvements in music, which began about his time to be applied to the public recitations of poetry.
The best opportunity we have of judging of the structure of Archilochus' poetry, though not of its satiric character, is furnished by the Epodes of Horace, as we learn from that poet himself (Epist.
1.19. 23) :
Parios ego primum iambos
Ostendi Latio, numeros animosque secutus
Archilochi, non res et agentia verba Lycamben.
Some manifest translations of Archilochus may be traced in the Epodes.
The fragments of Archilochus which remain are collected in Jacobs' Anthol. Graec., Gaisford's Poet. Graec. Min., Bergk's Poet. Lyrici Graec.,
and by Liebel, Archilochi Reliquiae, Lips. 1812, 8vo.
Fabricius (ii. pp. 107-110) discusses fully the passages in which other writers of the name are supposed to be mentioned.