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Possible bust of Archilochus, 2nd century Roman copy of a 4th century BC Greek original (Pushkin Museum, Moscow).

Archilochus [Ἀρχίλοχος] (c. 680 BC – c. 645 BC), also rendered as Archilochos or Arkhilokhus, was a Greek lyric poet and mercenary from the island of Paros in the Archaic period.



Fragments of Archilochus known primarily from papyrus sources. Some further fragments are from quotes or paraphrases by other ancient writers, and from a number of inscriptions. The standard numbering of papyrus fragments is from François Lasserre and André Bonnard, Archiloque, Fragments, l'Association Guillaume Budé, Paris (1958; revised ed. 1968).

Fragment 5

ἀσπίδι μὲν Σαίων τις ἀγάλλεται, ἣν παρὰ θάμνωι,
ἔντος ἀμώμητον, κάλλιπον οὐκ ἐθέλων·
αὐτὸν δ' ἐξεσάωσα. τί μοι μέλει ἀσπὶς ἐκείνη;
ἐρρέτω· ἐξαῦτις κτήσομαι οὐ κακίω.
  • Some Saian mountaineer
    Struts today with my shield.
    I threw it down by a bush and ran
    When the fighting got hot.
    Life seemed somehow more precious.
    It was a beautiful shield.
    I know where I can buy another
    Exactly like it, just as round.
  • A Saian boasts about the shield which beside a bush
    though good armour I unwillingly left behind.
    I saved myself, so what do I care about the shield?
    To hell with it! I'll get one soon just as good.
  • I don't give a damn if some Thracian ape strut
    Proud of that first-rate shield the bushes got.
    Leaving it was hell, but in a tricky spot
    I kept my hide intact. Good shields can be bought. (as translated by Stuart Silverman)
  • Let who will boast their courage in the field,
    I find but little safety from my shield.
    Nature's, not honour's, law we must obey:
    This made me cast my useless shield away,
    And by a prudent flight and cunning save
    A life, which valour could not, from the grave.
    A better buckler I can soon regain;
    But who can get another life again?
  • I have saved myself - what care I for that shield? Away with it! I'll get another one no worse.

Fragment 19

οὔ μοι τὰ Γύγ<εω> τοῦ πολυχρύσου μέλει,
οὐδ' εἷλέ πώ με ζῆλος, οὐδ' ἀγαίομαι
θ<εῶ>ν ἔργα, μεγάλης δ' οὐκ ἐρ<έω> τυραννίδος·
ἀπόπροθεν γάρ ἐστιν ὀφθαλμῶν ἐμῶν.
  • These golden matters
    Of Gyges and his treasuries
    Are no concern of mine.
    Jealousy has no power over me,
    Nor do I envy a god his work,
    And I do not burn to rule.
    Such things have no
    Fascination for my eyes.
  • The affairs of gold-laden Gyges do not interest me
    zealousy of the gods has never seized me nor anger
    at their deeds. But I have no love for great tyranny
    for its deeds are very far from my eyes.

Fragment 43

  • Be bold! That's one way
    Of getting through life.

    So I turn upon her
    And point out that,
    Faced with the wickedness
    Of things, she does not shiver.
    I know how to love those
    Who love me, how to hate.
    You whom the soldiers beat,
    You who are all but dead,
    How the gods love you
    And I, alone in the dark,
    I was promised the light.
    translated by Guy Davenport, Carmina Archilochi: The Fragments of Archilochus (1964)

Fragment 67

θυμέ, θύμ᾽ ἀμηχάνοισι κήδεσιν κυκώμενε,
ἄνα δέ, δυσμενέων δ᾽ ἀλέξευ προσβαλὼν ἐναντίον
στέρνον, ἐν δοκοῖσιν ἐχθρῶν πλησίον κατασταθείς
ἀσφαλέως· καὶ μήτε νικῶν ἀμφαδὴν ἀγάλλεο
μηδὲ νικηθεὶς ἐν οἴκωι καταπεσὼν ὀδύρεο.
ἀλλὰ χαρτοῖσίν τε χαῖρε καὶ κακοῖσιν ἀσχάλα
μὴ λίην· γίνωσκε δ᾽ οἷος ῥυσμὸς ἀνθρώπους ἔχει.
  • Heart, my heart, so battered with misfortune far beyond your strength,
    up, and face the men who hate us.
    Bare your chest to the assault
    of the enemy, and fight them off. Stand fast among the beamlike spears.
    Give no ground; and if you beat them, do not brag in open show,
    nor, if they beat you, run home and lie down on your bed and cry.
    Keep some measure in the joy you take in luck, and the degree you
    give way to sorrow.
    All our life is up-and-down like this.
    Fragment 67, as translated by R. Lattimore
  • Soul, my soul, don't let them break you,
    all these troubles.
    Never yield:
    though their force is overwhelming,
    up! attack them shield to shield...
    "Archilochos: To His Soul" : A fragment as translated from the Greek by Jon Corelis
  • Take the joy and bear the sorrow,
    looking past your hopes and fears:
    learn to recognize the measured
    dance that orders all our years.
    "Archilochos: To His Soul" : A fragment, as translated from the Greek by Jon Corelis

Fragment 122

Nothing can be surprising any more or impossible or miraculous, now that Zeus, father of the Olympians has made night out of noonday... after this, men can believe anything, expect anything.
χρημάτων ἄελπτον οὐδέν ἐστιν οὐδ' ἀπώμοτον
οὐδὲ θαυμάσιον, ἐπειδὴ Ζεὺς πατὴρ Ὀλυμπίων
ἐκ μεσαμβρίης ἔθηκε νύκτ', ἀποκρύψας φάος
ἡλίου +λάμποντος, λυγρὸν+ δ' ἦλθ' ἐπ' ἀνθρώπους δέος.
ἐκ δὲ τοῦ καὶ πιστὰ πάντα κἀπίελπτα γίνεται
ἀνδράσιν· μηδεὶς ἔθ' ὑμ<έω>ν εἰσορ<έω>ν θαυμαζέτω
μηδ' ἐὰν δελφῖσι θῆρες ἀνταμείψωνται νομὸν
ἐνάλιον, καί σφιν θαλάσσης ἠχέεντα κύματα
φίλτερ' ἠπείρου γένηται, τοῖσι δ' ὑλέειν ὄρος.
  • Nothing can be surprising any more or impossible or miraculous, now that Zeus, father of the Olympians has made night out of noonday, hiding the bright sunlight, and . . . fear has come upon mankind. After this, men can believe anything, expect anything. Don't any of you be surprised in future if land beasts change places with dolphins and go to live in their salty pastures, and get to like the sounding waves of the sea more than the land, while the dolphins prefer the mountains.
  • Zeus, the father of the Olympic Gods, turned mid-day into night, hiding the light of the dazzling Sun; and sore fear came upon men.

Fragment 126

ἓν δ' ἐπίσταμαι μέγα,
τὸν κακῶς <μ'> ἔρδοντα δεινοῖς ἀνταμείβεσθαι κακοῖς.
  • I have a high art: I hurt with cruelty those who wound me.
    Studies in Latin American Popular Culture, Vol. 20 (2001), p. 184
  • I have a high art; I hurt with cruelty those who would damage me.
    Quotations for Martial Artists : Hundreds of Inspirational Quotes to Motivate and Enlighten the Modern Warrior (2003) edited by John D. Moore

Fragment 177

  • ὦ Ζεῦ͵ πάτερ Ζεῦ͵ σὸν μὲν οὐρανοῦ κράτος͵ σὺ δ΄ ἔργ΄ ἐπ΄ ἀνθρώπων ὁρᾶις λεωργὰ καὶ θεμιστά͵ σοὶ δὲ θηρίων ὕβρις τε καὶ δίκη μέλει.
    • Oh Zeus, father Zeus, Yours is the Kingdom of Heaven, and you watch men's deeds, the crafty and the right, and You are who cares for beasts' transgression and justice.

Fragment 201

  • πόλλ' οἶδ' ἀλώπηξ, ἐχῖνος δ'ἓν μέγα
    • The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.
    • Variant translations:
    • The fox knows many things; the hedgehog one great thing.
    • The fox knows many tricks; the hedgehog one good one.
    • The fox knows many tricks; and the hedgehog only one; but that is the best one of all.

Attributed quotes


Some quotes are attributed to or paraphrased from Archilochus by ancient writers.

"On Elpinice's saying this, Pericles, with a quiet smile, it is said, quoted to her the verse of Archilochus: 'Thou hadst not else, in spite of years, perfumed thyself.'"​
Pericles, The Parallel Lives by Plutarch, Loeb Classical Library edition, vol. 3 (1916)
οὐκ ἂν μύροισι γραῦς ἐοῦσ᾽ ἠλείφεο.
West, Iambi et Elegi Graeci i. 205
  • "Old women should not seek to be perfumed" (Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, first ebook edition, 2014)

Quotes about Archilochus

  • Summa in hoc vis elocutionis, cum validae tum breves vibrantesque sententiae, plurimum sanguinis atque nervorum, adeo ut videatur quibusdam quod quoquam minor est materiae esse, non ingeni vitium.
    • There is in him the utmost vigor of language, thoughts forcible, concise, and lively, and abundance of life and energy, insomuch that some think it owing to his subjects, not to his genius, that he is inferior to any writer whatever.
      • Quintilianus, De Institutione Oratoria, Book X, 60; English translation of the Rev. John Selby Watson
  • There is a line among the fragments of the Greek poet Archilochus which says: "The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing." Scholars have differed about the correct interpretation of these dark words, which may mean no more than that the fox, for all his cunning, is defeated by the hedgehog's one defence. But, taken figuratively, the words can be made to yield a sense in which they mark one of the deepest differences which divide writers and thinkers, and, it may be, human beings in general. For there exists a great chasm between those, on one side, who relate everything to a single, universal, organizing principle in terms of which alone all that they are and say has significance — and, on the other side, those who pursue many ends, often unrelated and even contradictory... Their thought is scattered or diffused, moving on many levels, seizing upon the essence of a vast variety of experiences and objects for what they are in themselves, without, consciously or unconsciously, seeking to fit them into, or exclude them from any one unchanging, all-embracing, sometimes self-contradictory and incomplete, at times fanatical, unitary inner vision. The first kind of intellectual and artistic personality belongs to the hedgehogs, the second to the foxes; and without insisting on a rigid classification, we may, without too much fear of contradiction, say that, in this sense, Dante belongs to the first category, Shakespeare to the second.
  • Archilochos was both poet and mercenary. As a poet he was both satirist and lyricist. Iambic verse is his invention. He wrote the first beast fable known to us. He wrote marching songs, love lyrics of frail tenderness, elegies. But most of all he was what Meleager calls him, "a thistle with graceful leaves." There is a tradition that wasps hover around his grave. To the ancients, both Greek and Roman, he was The Satirist.
    We have what grammarians quote to illustrate a point of dialect or interesting use of the subjunctive; we have brief quotations by admiring critics; and we have papyrus fragments, scrap paper from the households of Alexandria, with which third-class mummies were wrapped and stuffed. All else is lost. Horace and Catullus, like all cultivated readers, had Archilochos complete in their libraries.
    Even in the tattered version we have of Archilochos … the extraordinary form of his mind is discernible. Not all poets can be so broken and still compel attention.
    Archilochos kept his "two services" in an unlikely harmony. Ares did not complain that this ash-spear fighter wrote poems, and the Muses have heard everything and did not mind that their horsetail-helmeted servant sometimes spoke with the vocabulary of a paratrooper sergeant, though the high-minded Spartans banned Archilochos's poems for their mockery of uncritical bravery. And the people of his native Paros made it clear, when they honored him with a monument, that they thought him a great poet in spite of his nettle tongue.
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