The Poetry of Archilochos(ca. 625 B.C.)

from Carmina Archilochi, 77te Fragments Archilochos, trans.  Guy Davenport

 

THE FRAGMENTS of Archilochos's poetry give us a personal, intimate view of this 7th century B.C. poet's world.  This poet-soldier's poetry and life reflect his era-a time of Greek colonization (not always peaceful), political, social, and economic unrest.  Archilochos was the younger son of an aristocratic father and a slave mother.  He participated in attempts by his native island of Paros colonize the island of Thasos.  Archilochos's poetry reveals him as a sensitive, superb poet who used his poetry to articulate strong opinions about war, love, religion, sex, poetry, politics, and the human condition.  He was a survivor: one poem (79) brags about fleeing the battlefield and living to fight another day-a radical departure from the 'Homeric code' of values which prized a warrior's honor. 'Our earliest extant example of lyric poetry, Archilochos's poetry represents a dramatic departure from the Iliad and Odyssey's 'epic' style.

 

1          Sergeant to Enyalios,

   the great god War,

     I practise double labor.

     With poetry, the lovees gift,

     I serve the lady Muses.

 

3          Let him go ahead.

       Ares is a democrat.

            There are no privileged people

            on a battlefield.

 

11       Like Odysseus under the ram

       you have clung under your lovers

       and under your love of lust,

       seeing nothing else for this mist,

       dark of heart, dark of mind.

 

14       These golden matters

          of Gyges and his treasuries

          are no concern of mine. 

          Jealousy has no power over me,

          nor do I envy a god his work,

          and I don't burn to rule. 

          Such things have no

          fascination for my eyes.

 

17 She held a sprig of myrtle she'd picked

       and a rose

that pleased her most

of those on the bush

and her long hair shaded her shoulders and back.

 

23       Attribute all to the gods.  They pick a man up,

       stretched on the black loam,

       and set him on his two feet,

       firm, and then again

       shake solid men until

       they fall backward

       into the worst of luck,

       wandering hungry,

       wild of mind.

 

29       Miserable with desire

       I lie lifeless,

my bones shot through

with thorny anguish

sent by the gods.

 

32   Whoever is alive

       is pleased by song.

 

43   Be bold!  That's one way

of getting through life.

So I turn upon her

and point out that,

faced with the wickedness

of things, she does not shiver.

I prefer to have, after all,

only what pleases me.

Are you so deep in misery

that you think me fallen?

You say I'm lazy, I'm not,

nor any of my kin-people.

I know how to love those

who love me, how to hate.

My enemies I overwhehn

with abuse.  The ant bites!

The oracle said to me:

"Return to the city, reconquer.

It is almost in ruins.

With your spear give it glory.

Reign with absolute power,

the admiration of men.

After this long voyage,

return to us from Gortyne."

Pasture, fish, nor vulture

were you, and 1, returned,

seek an honest woman

ready to be a good wife.

I would hold your hand,

would be near you, would have run

all the way to your house.

I cannot.  The ship went down,

and all my wealth with it.

The salvagers have no hope.

You whom the soldiers beat,

you who are all but dead,

how the gods love you!

And I, alone in the dark,

I was promised the light.

 

 

45 You led us

       a thousand strong

       at Thasos.

 

53       Fields fattened

       by corpses.