Archilochus (/ɑːrˈkɪləkəs/; Greek: Ἀρχίλοχος Arkhilokhos; c. 680 – c. 645 BC)[nb 1] was a Greek lyric poet from the island of Paros in the Archaic period. He is celebrated for his versatile and innovative use of poetic meters, and is the earliest known Greek author to compose almost entirely on the theme of his own emotions and experiences.
Alexandrian scholars included him in their canonic list of iambic poets, along with Semonides and Hipponax, yet ancient commentators also numbered him with Tyrtaeus and Callinus as the possible inventor of the elegy. Modern critics often characterize him simply as a lyric poet. Although his work now only survives in fragments, he was revered by the ancient Greeks as one of their most brilliant authors, able to be mentioned in the same breath as Homer and Hesiod, yet he was also censured by them as the archetypal poet of blame—his invectives were even said to have driven his former fiancée and her father to suicide. He presented himself as a man of few illusions either in war or in love, such as in the following elegy, where discretion is seen to be the better part of valour:
Ἀσπίδι μὲν Σαΐων τις ἀγάλλεται, ἥν παρὰ θάμνῳ
ἔντος ἀμώμητον κάλλιπον οὐκ ἐθέλων·
αὐτὸν δ’ ἔκ μ’ ἐσάωσα· τί μοι μέλει ἀσπὶς ἐκείνη;
Ἐρρέτω· ἐξαῦτις κτήσομαι οὐ κακίω.
One of the Saians (Thracian tribe) now delights in the shield I discarded
Unwillingly near a bush, for it was perfectly good,
But at least I got myself safely out. Why should I care for that shield?
Let it go. Some other time I’ll find another no worse.
Archilochus was much imitated even up to Roman times and three other distinguished poets later claimed to have thrown away their shields—Alcaeus, Anacreon and Horace.
Thasos and Sicily
This wheatless island
stands like a donkey’s back. It bristles
with a tangle of wild woodland.
there is no country so beautiful,
no sensual earth that keys my passion
as these plains around the river Siris. *001
An Island in the North Aigaian
All, O all the calamities of all the Hellenes
are set loose on this battleground in Thasos.
The Doublecross *002
Let brawling waves beat his ship
against the shore, and have the mop-haired
take him naked at Salmydessos,
and he will suffer a thousand calamities
as he chews the bread of slaves.
His body will stiffen in freezing surf
as he wrestles with slimy seaweed,
and his teeth will rattle like a helpless dog,
flopped on his belly in the surge,
puking out the brine. Let me watch him grovel
in mud- for the wrong he did me:
as a traitor he trampled on our good faith,
he who was once my comrade.
Say goodbye to the island Paros,
farewell to its figs and the seafaring life.
Let the stone of Tantalos
no longer overhang this island.
Look, Glaukos, how heavy seawaves leap skyward!
Over the Gyrai rocks
hangs a black cloud, a signal of winter storm.
From the unforeseen comes fear.
A Vessel of Wine
Go take your cup and walk along the timber deck
of our roaming ship; drain the hollow casks
of all their red wine. How can we stay sober
on the watch when all the rest are drunk?
They laid down their lives
in the arms of waves.
The vessel wavered on the cutting edge
between the stormwinds and the waves.
Prayer at Sea
Often, when their vessel was threatened by the
gray salty sea,
they prayed to Athene of the lovely braids for
On Friends Lost at Sea
If you irritate the wound, Perikles, no man
in our city will enjoy the festivities.
These men were washed under by the thudding
and the hearts in our chest are swollen with pain.
Yet against this incurable misery, the gods
give us the harsh medicine of endurance.
Sorrows come and go, friend, and now they strike
and we look with horror on the bleeding sores,
yet tomorrow others will mourn the dead. I tell you,
hold back your feminine tears and endure.
On the Lack of Proper Burning and Burial
For His Brother-in-Law Who Was Shipwrecked
If only his head and handsome limbs
had been wrapped in white burial cloth
and touched by Hephaistos’ hand of fire.
An Eclipse of the Sun
Nothing in the world can surprise me now. Nothing
is impossible or too wonderful, for Zeus, father
of the Olympians, has turned midday into black
by shielding light from the blossoming sun,
and now dark terror hangs over mankind.
may happen, so do not be amazed if beasts
on dry land seek pasture with dolphins in
the ocean, and those beasts who loved sunny hills
love crashing seawaves more than the warm
Dawn was rising full white.
A spray of myrtle and beauty of a rose
were happiness in her hands, and her hair
fell as darkness on her back and shoulders.
On Pasiphile, A Friend of All
As the figtree on its rock feeds many crows,
so this simple girl sleeps with strangers.
And to fall upon her heaving belly,
and thrust your groin into her groin,
your thighs between her thighs.
On the Male Organ
Feeble now are the muscles in my mushroom.
Like a Doney
His penis is swollen
like a donkey from Priene
taking his fill of barley.
Qualities of a Girlfriend
She is a common woman for rent,
but what sensuality and fat ankles.
O fat whore for hire!
Enormous was the gold he amassed
from many years of work,
fell into the luscious arms
of a common whore.
Let the gods take care of everything. Many times
they resurrect a man whom disaster left lying
face down on the black earth. Many times they
a man and pin him, back to the soil, though he
was solid on his feet. A multitude of evils
batters him as he wanders hungry and mad.
On Dead Animals
Many of them, I hope, will be dried up
by the sharp rays of the sun in its zenith,
by the sun in the time of the Dog Star.
Proverb for a Great Scoundrel
The fox knows many tricks,
the hedgehog only one. A good one.
His Two Virtues
I am a servant of the kingly wargod Enyalios
and am also skilled in the lovely arts.
Wine of Naxos is Like Nectar
But His Javelin is Much More
My javelin is good white bread and Ismarian wine.
When I find rest on my javelin I drink wine.
On the Short-Haired Warriors in the
Lelantine War Between Chalkis and
Eretria Who Agreed Not to Use Missle
Perhaps fewer bows will be stretched and slings
when Ares begins battle on the noisy plain,
but then the mournful labor of the sword is worse.
This is warfare in which the spear-famed islanders
from Euboia are godlike and easily masterful.
Aphrodite is Censured
Passionate love relentlessly twists a cord
under my heart and spreads up deep mist on my eyes,
stealing the unguarded brains from my head.
On His Shield
Well, what if some barbaric Thracian glories
in the perfect shield I left under a bush?
I was sorry to leave it- but I saved my skin.
Does it matter? O hell, I’ll buy a better one.
My Kind of General
I don’t like a general
who towers over the troops,
lordly with elegant locks
and trim mustachios.
Give me a stumpy soldier
yet rockfirm on his feet,
and in his heart a giant.
Charon the Carpenter
The gold booty of Gyges means nothing to me.
I don’t envy that Lydian king, nor am I jealous
of what gods can do, nor of the tyrants’ great
powers. All these are realms beyond my vision.
Glaukos, soldiers of fortune, will be your friend
until he begins to fight.
When Alkibia became a married woman, she gave
the holy veil of her hair to Queen Hera.
On the Daughter of Lykambes
I pray for one gift: that I might merely touch
I live here miserable and broken with desire,
pierced through to the bones by the bitterness
of this god-given painful love.
O comrade, this passion makes my limbs limp
and tramples over me.
I want to fight you
just as when I am thirsty I want to drink.
On a Hanging
They hung their heads to one side, choking,
and disgorged their remaining arrogance.
Quality in Love
How can I like the way she makes love?
Give me sweet figs before sour wild pears.
A life of doing nothing is good for old men,
especially if they are simple in their ways,
or stupid, or inane in their endless blabber
as old men tend to be.
Perikles the Guest
Like the Mykonians, Perikles,
you drink our unmixed wine
and pay for nothing.
You broke into this party, uninvited, and act as if
among old friends.
Your stomach has tricked the brains in your skull
and now you are shameless.
On The People’s Censure
No man, Aisimides, who bows to the mud-slinging
mob has ever been capable of profound
One big thing I understand:
I know how to spit back with black venom
against the man who wrongs me.
Your telltale robe is bulging, you poor tramp,
and the men you love sit beside you.
The ditchdigger is in on your fancy story
and so is your husband Ariphantos.
Lucky Ariphantos didn’t catch the fumes
of that stinking billygoat thief,
for while he was staving off the potter
the digger dug out your cherry,
and now your swollen belly tells the tale.
After the Drowning
Of His Sister’s Husband
Now, I have no desire for poetry or joy,
yet I will make nothing better by crying,
nor worse by seeking good foods and pleasure.
O my soul, my soul- you are mutilated helplessly
by this blade of sorrow. Yet rise and bare your
face those who would attack you, be strong, give no
And if you defeat them, do not brag like a loud-
nor, if they beat you, run home and lie down to cry.
Keep some measure in your joy- or in your
crisis- that you may understand man’s up-and-
On the Death of Two Friends *003
Broad earth, now you entomb Megatimos and
who were the two tall columns of this island
On a Lewd Servant
And wandering about the household
was that hateful chattering eunuch.
Perikles to Elpinike
Lady, you are much too old
to rub yourself with perfume.
An Animal Appeals to Zeus *004
O father Zeus, you who control the cosmos, and
oversee the actions of man,
his criminal and lawful acts, you also judge the
arrogance and trial of wild beasts.
My lord Apollo, single out the guilty ones,
and in your customary way, destroy them all.
Her breasts and her dark hair
were perfume, and even an old man would love her.
To a Girlfriend’s Father
Father Lykambes, what is this new silliness?
Are your natural brains
gone wholly bad? The neighbors laugh openly
at your absurd life,
and you persist in chattering like a cricket.
On Drowned Bodies
Let us hide the dreadful
gifts of lord Poseidon.
When dead no man finds respect or glory from men
of his town. Rather, we hope while alive for some
favor from the living. The dead are always scorned.
*001 These two separate fragments are found together.
*002 This poem is also ascribed to Hipponax.
*003 Ascription to Archilochos is uncertain.
*004 Probably a fox.