Who was Archilochus? - an Archaic Greek poet
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Who was Archilochus?


Spartan soldier (about 500 BC)

Archilochus was a poet who wrote in the 600s BC. He was from Ionia, the Greek colonies along the coast of modern Turkey. Unlike the earlier poets Homer and Hesiod, who wrote long, serious poems, Archilochus is often very funny, and his poems are short.

One famous poem by Archilochus is a sort of answer to the Spartan proverb that soldiers should come back with their shields or on them. The Spartans meant that their soldiers should never surrender or run away. They should either win the battle (and come back with their shields) or die fighting, and be carried back on their shields.

Archilochus says:

"Some barbarian's using my shield, because I had to leave it behind under a bush - there was nothing wrong with it. But so what? I escaped. Never mind the shield; I can buy another one just as good."

What does Archilochus mean by that?

Another poem by Archilochus is about standing guard duty on a navy ship. It goes like this:

Come bring your cup over the benches of this fast ship
Let's wander around drinking from the barrels of wine
Gulp down the red wine to the dregs
- we're not going to stay sober on this shift!

Do you think Archilochus is just having fun, or is he making fun of soldiers who drink while they're on duty? Or is he saying something about how horrible serving in the navy is, so that you have to get drunk to bear it?

Another Greek poet: Sappho

Bibliography and further reading about Archilochus:

Another Greek poet: Sappho
Ancient Greece
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter.
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