Masterpieces of Greek Literature (1902)/Archilochus

Masterpieces of Greek Literature  (1902)  edited by John Henry Wright, translated by William Hay
Archilochus by Archilochus


Archilochus, of the island Paros, was the first poet to use the iambic metre, which afterwards played an important part in Greek verse. His birth, at about 700 B. C., was, according to the story, foretold by the Delphic oracle; and this same oracle after his death cursed the soldier who had killed him in battle, for "slaying the servant of the Muses."

His poems we hear were largely personal attacks on the family of Lycambes, who had betrothed his daughter Neobulé to the poet and then withdrawn his consent to the marriage, and the "rage" of Archilochus was noted in ancient times. But he certainly did not limit himself to invectives, for he was held in the highest esteem by the ancients, ranking indeed second only to Homer. Of his work only a few considerable fragments are extant.


Tossed on a sea of troubles, Soul, my Soul,
Thyself do thou control;
And to the weapons of advancing foes
A stubborn breast oppose;
Undaunted 'mid the hostile might 5
Of squadrons burning for the fight.

Thine be no boasting when the victor's crown
Wins thee deserved renown;
Thine no dejected sorrow, when defeat
Would urge a base retreat: 10
Rejoice in joyous things—nor overmuch
Let grief thy bosom touch
Midst evil, and still bear in mind
How changeful are the ways of humankind.

Translated by William Hay.