Archilochus is the other side of the Greek literary me dallion from Homer. He lived in the mid 7th century bc and was therefore writing more than one hun dred years after Homer. His subjects are not heroic but human; his metre not monumental, but flexible and profoundly mimetic of speech; his stance not el evated but involved, witty, passionate, bitter, erotic, funny and self-ironic by turns. In the metaphor that he himself coined—‘the fox knows many things; the hedgehog knows one great thing’—he was the arche typal, multi-facetted fox. He presents for the reader his own constantly changing moods and experiences of living. He writes the earliest love-lyric lines in Greek, is often seen as the father of satire, and had a profound formal influence on Horace. Reading him today still gives unexpected pleasure.
   Like some Renaissance condottiere, Archilochus was both poet and professional soldier. He was pos sibly the bastard son of an aristocratic Parian family, and accompanied his father, Telesikles, on the crucial mission from Paros to colonise the island of Thasos . He lived there unhappily for a while—perhaps to get away from his native island where he had been bitterly disappointed: a certain Lycambes who had promised his daughter, Neobule, to Archilochus in marriage, later withdrew his consent, drawing the sharpest satire of early literature upon his head and that of his offspring. Its effect was said ultimately to have destroyed them. But Archilochus is certainly not all bitterness or anger: his honesty and his self awareness are always life-enhancing. Though an effective soldier, in one battle against a Thracian tribe he threw away his shield and fled the battle-field: in no way ashamed of his action, he commemorates its realism instead and comments wryly that he could easily get himself another shield anyway. He relates the incident with ironic humour in a way that heralds the coming of age of a new Greek humanism. His verse celebrates a pugnacious freedom and in dividualism. He was killed around 652 bc, in a battle against Naxian forces, by a certain Calondas, called ‘Corax’, ‘the crow’. The oracle of Apollo at Delphi cursed Calondas for having slain a favourite both of Apollo and of the Muses.
   The sensitivity and nervous energy of his writings (which have come down to us in only fragmentary form) are inseparable from the formal metre in which they are written. The invention of short flexible units of iambic trimeters and trochaic tetrameters, and the loose arrangement of the epode as a structure, gave his verse the agility to change mood as quickly as the weather. Archilochus’s greatness was never in doubt throughout Antiquity, and it is revealing of the Greek temperament that he was revered almost as much as Homer was; hence the elaborate heroon here on Paros, where the poet’s cult could be perpetuated. The monument was said to be the haunt of hornets and wasps.

Travel Guide to Paros & Greece

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