Statue of a poet (Archilochos or Alcaeus ?) Roman copy of a statue around 200 BC Copenhagen, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek.

Archilochus (or Archilochos)( ) (ca. 680 BC - ca. 645 BC) was a Greek poet.

His father, Telesicles, who was of noble family, had conducted a colony to Thasos, in obedience to the command of the Delphic oracle. To this island Archilochus himself, hard pressed by poverty, afterwards removed. Another reason for leaving his native place was personal disappointment and indignation at the treatment he had received from Lycambes, a citizen of Paros, who had promised him his daughter Neobule in marriage, but had afterwards withdrawn his consent. Archilochus, taking advantage of the licence allowed at the feasts of Demeter, poured out his wounded feelings in unmerciful satire. He accused Lycambes of perjury, and recited such verses against his daughters, that Lycambes and his daughters are said to have hanged themselves.

Along with the epics of Homer and Hesiod, the satires of Archilochus were one of the mainstays of itinerant rhapsodes, who made a living declaiming poetry at both religious festivals and private homes.

At Thasos the poet passed some unhappy years; his hopes of wealth were disappointed:

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 do not burn to rule.
Such things have no
Fascination for my eyes.

According to him, Thasos was the meeting-place of the calamities of all Hellas. The inhabitants were frequently involved in quarrels with their neighbours, and in a war against the Saians--a Thracian tribe--he threw away his shield and fled from the field of battle. He does not seem to have felt the disgrace very keenly, for, like Alcaeus, he commemorates the event in a fragment in which he congratulates himself on having saved his life, and says he can easily procure another shield:

Some Saian mountaineer
Struts today with my shield.
I threw it down by a bush and ran
When the fighting got hot.
Life seemed somehow more precious.
It was a beautiful shield.
I know where I can buy another
Exactly like it, just as round.

After leaving Thasos, he is said to have visited Sparta, but to have been at once banished from that city on account of his cowardice and the licentious character of his works (Valerius Maximus vi. 3, externa 1). He next visited Magna Graecia, Hellenic southern Italy, of which he speaks very favourably. He then returned to his native place, and was slain in a battle against the Naxians by one Calondas or Corax, who was cursed by the oracle for having slain a servant of the Muses.

The writings of Archilochus consisted of elegies, hymns-- one of which used to be sung by the victors in the Olympic games-- and of poems in the iambic and trochaic measures. Greek rhetors credited him with the invention of iambic poetry and its application to satire. The only previous measures in Greek poetry had been the epic hexameter, and its offshoot the elegiac metre; but the slow measured structure of hexameter verse was utterly unsuited to express the quick, light motions of satire.

Archilochus made use of the iambus and the trochee, and organized them into the two forms of metre known as the iambic trimeter and the trochaic tetrameter. The trochaic metre he generally used for subjects of a vicarious nature; the iambic for satires. He was also the first to make use of the arrangement of verses called the epode. Horace in his metres to a great extent follows Archilochus. All ancient authorities unite in praising the poems of Archilochus, in terms which appear exaggerated. His verses seem certainly to have possessed strength, flexibility, nervous vigour, and, beyond everything else, impetuous vehemence and energy: Horace speaks of the "rage" of Archilochus, and Hadrian calls his verses "raging iambics." By his countrymen he was reverenced as the equal of Homer, and statues of these two poets were dedicated on the same day. His poems were written in the old Ionic dialect.

ἐν δορὶ μέν μοι μᾶζα μεμαγμένη, ἐν δορὶ δ' οἶνος
Ἰσμαρικός· πίνω δ' ἐν δορὶ κεκλιμένος.

A poem describing the bread and wine carried by soldiers with their spears (image from an Mycenean vase).

Recent discoveries

30 lines of a previously unknown poem in the elegiac metre by Archilochos describing events leading up to the Trojan War have recently been identified among the unpublished manuscripts from Oxyrhynchus. [1] (


Translation by Guy Davenport Archilochos Sappho Alkman: Three Lyric Poets of the Late Greek Bronze Age


"For 'tis thy friends that make thee choke with rage". (1)
"The fox knows many tricks; the hedgehog one good one."


as quoted in Politics, Aristotle, Book VII, vi 3; 1328a 5; Loeb pg 567.
This article incorporates text from the public domain 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica.


Archilochos on the Web (
Web Resources on Archilochos (
The Poetry of Archilochos (

Fragments of the work Archilochos (in Greek)

A New Papyrus of Archilochus


Decoded at last: the 'classical holy grail' that may rewrite the history of the world

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