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  Nr. 75 - October 2004
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Archilochos, Our Great Poet

by Jeffrey Carson, October 2004
Archilochos, Paros's great poet, lived toward the middle of the seventh century BCE, that is, in the very early Archaic Age, when writing went back hardly more than a generation, when inter-island travelling was dangerous, when Greece was culturally and materially no match for Asia Minor and Egypt, and when life was lived closer to the edge. He still seems contemporary, but we must be circumspect.

In ancient times Archilochos was considered to be second only to Homer, who preceded him, probably, by less than a century; Sappho comes half a century later. All that survives of his poetry is fragments - quotations by later grammarians, semi-decipherable papyrus scraps from Egyptian scrap heaps, a remembered line. But the bits are enormously impressive nonetheless. He is the first poet we have who seems to speak to us of his own emotions. His poem-fragments show a sensibility lyrical, personal, satirical, vindictive, songful, erotic, scurrilous, irreverent and pious. Anger, desire, sorrow, and the alternation of these were never before so directly turned into poetry.

According to much later biographical traditions, Archilochos' father was a Parian nobleman and his mother a slave girl. He was a soldier, perhaps a mercenary. His most famous poem (which was banned in war-mad Sparta) is about losing his shield, traditionally a disgrace, since abandoning one's shield suggests fast inglorious flight:

Some Saian flaunts my blameless shield I left
unwillingly behind a bush; the hell with it,
I got away, so what's that shield to me?
I'll get another just as good.

Archilochos' father or grandfather established the Parian colony on Thasos, in the northern Aegean, and he spent part of his life there. He described Thasos like this:

this island stands
like an ass's backbone wreathed with wildwood.

He seems to have been formally engaged to a girl named Neoboule, who broke it - a great humiliation. He violently mocked her and her father in scathing verse; later versions of this story say they hanged themselves. He was killed in a fight with a man from Naxos named, suspiciously, Korax (Crow), who angered Apollo.

To the Hellenistic Greeks, who had almost as little context as we do for interpretation, his ferocious mockery was his prime characteristic, and he is credited with developing iambic verse for precisely this purpose. A later poet wrote, "He developed the iamb/So to say I am." But he can also be tender:

Holding myrtle sprig and pretty
rosebush flower she rejoiced;
her hair
shadowed her shoulders and her lower back.

Unlike today, poets in ancient Greece were public and popular, and Archilochos wrote war songs, religious songs, mourning songs, political songs, and fables:

The fox knows many things, the hedgehog one big thing.

The fragments from the hero?n (hero's sanctuary) that the Parians built to him in the fourth century BCE are now in the Archaeological Museum, and the cave where he reputedly sought information is full of bats. But we on Paros still tread his soil, eat his figs, sail his seas, and hope his acerbic, tuneful Muse is still about.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

OCTOBER 1-2, 2004

This conference is to prepare for the conference on Archilochos and his Age to be held on Paros during The Year of Archilochos in 2005

Sponsored by The Department of Classical Studies, Duke University, NC, USA
The Office of International Affairs, Duke University, NC, USA

Preliminary Program

Friday, October 1

Morning: Breakfast at Hotel Argo 9:00am, visit to the town and the Cathedral of Hekatontapyliane.

Afternoon: The Aegean Center


Peter Burian & Diskin Clay
Douglas Gerber, University of Western Ontario
Archilochos and the Tradition.


Anne Coulié, Maître de conférences en histoire ancienne à l'Université de La Rochelle
Archiloque et la colonization de Thasos: L'apport de la céramique.

David Tandy, Department of Classics, University of Tennessee
Archilochos and the New Political Economies of the Seventh Century.

Antonio Corso, Institute for Advanced Study, Budapest
The Ancient Portraits of Archilochos.

Diskin Clay, Department of Classical Studies, Duke University
Poet and Cult: The Early Iconography.

Saturday, October 2

Morning: Breakfast & visit to the Paros Museum.

Afternoon: The Aegean Center


Ewen Bowie, Corpus Christi College, Oxford
Invective and Civic Politics in Archilochos' Epodes.

Xavier Riu, Department of Greek Philology, University of Barcelona
Psogos and the Poetry of Psogos.

Peter Burian, Department of Classical Studies, Duke University
Neither Fox nor Hedgehog: Archilochos in English.

Jeffrey Carson and Nikolaos Sarris
Reading from The Poetry of Archilochos in their New Translation.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The conference on Archilochos and his Age that had been scheduled to take place from October 1st-4th was reluctantly cancelled by the organizers. Professor Schilardi, President of the Institute of Archaeology of Paros and the Cyclades was heavily involved with responsibilities related to the Olympic Games and consequently was unable to manage both projects simultaneously. Participants were very disappointed; some had been working for up to 3 years to prepare for the conference, others had already purchased non-refundable tickets.

However, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat, a "preliminary symposium" to prepare for an even more elaborate conference next autumn was quickly put together by Peter Burian & Diskin Clay of the Department of Classical Studies, Duke University in North Carolina, USA with the help of the Aegean Center for the Fine Arts.

The Paros Municipality has designated 2005 as the "Year of Archilochos" and promises a special programme of events for visiting academics as well as for students of all grades and a conference that will be "unforgettable".

Announcing the postponement of the conference to next year, Professor Schilardi emphasized the need to widely advertise the conference in a fashion "commensurate with the name, significance and outstanding personality of Archilochos." He expects the 2005 conference to be celebrated in a "unique and memorable manner".
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