Archilochus Biography


(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

A general biographical sketch of Archilochus can be drawn from the extant fragments, as well as from ancient sources which were clearly dependent for information on Archilochus’s poetry. Particularly informative are several third and first century b.c.e. inscriptions which were recently found on Archilochus’s native Paros and which are usually called the Monumentum Archilochium. These inscriptions were mounted in a sanctuary of Archilochus, the Archilocheion, founded in the third century b.c.e., and are evidence of the poet’s posthumous appeal to the inhabitants of his birthplace. Unfortunately, nearly all the available biographical information concerning Archilochus must be qualified by its ultimate poetic source. While Archilochus does use the first-person persona and often provides apparent autobiographical information in his poetry, there is little that can be verified by independent sources. Modern scholars tend to argue that many of Archilochus’s personal statements, especially in iambus, are actually conventions of the genre and provide little information about the life of the poet himself.

Even the dating of Archilochus is much debated. The poet’s reference to a full eclipse of the sun in poem 74 D. suggests a date of either 711 or 648 b.c.e. The discovery in Thasos of the late seventh century tombstone of Archilochus’s friend Glaucus (see, for example, poem 56 D.) makes the later period more likely for the poet’s floruit. It is, therefore, probably safe to assume that Archilochus lived during the mid-seventh century b.c.e., perhaps from 680 to 640 b.c.e.

Traditionally, Archilochus is said to have been the son of Telesicles, a Parian aristocrat, and a slave woman, Enipo, but this bastard status may be a fictional poetic stance (“Enipo” may be derived from enipe, an epic word for “rebuke” or “invective”). It is fairly...

(The entire section is 779 words.)