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Archilochus, ancient Greek lyric poetry


Classical Literature and Philology


Archilochus was known in ancient Greece, to everyone who knew anything about literature, as the first poet after Homer and Hesiod. To an educated Greek in the Fourth Century A.D. it would have seemed inexplicable to have to explain in a preface to the poems of Archilochus, who this famous poet was, when and where he lived and what kind of verse he wrote. Although no more precise about exact dates than we are, he would have placed Homer about four hundred years after the Trojan War, Hesiod somewhat later, and Archilochus in the time of Gyges, about or after 480 B.C., as we know from the Parian Marble. Archilochus' volumes were currently available to him, and he would hardly have thought that this author and Hipponax and Sappho, let alone a hundred others, would have virtually disappeared in the next seven hundred years. But the course of centuries has changed all that, we have only a residual fraction of Hellenic literature, and in the case of the early poets other than the Epic writers we have mere table scraps from later writers, shredded papyri in pieces at best, and hardly enough from which to write a decent literary preface.

Almost everything we know about Archilochus comes from his poems, but the surprising thing is how much quality information we have been able to glean from this scrappy source. Perhaps just because there is so little solid information, the scholarly world has devoted a great deal of detailed study to what remains of his work, much ensconced in recondite professional journal-writing, inaccessible to the reader in English translation and largely unattractive to the enthusiast learning Greek from the bottom up.

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This text was uploaded by Professor William Harris (Prof. Emeritus Classics Middlebury College) himself in 2002.

I corresponded with him about this to discuss Archilochus and Nietzsche and offered to republish his text should he wish it.

In the interim the original uploaded PDF has disappeared from the Middlebury College community site.

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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