Figs – Brief Poems by Archilochus

archilochusArchilochus ( c. 680 – c. 645 BC) was a Greek lyric poet and a professional soldier from the Aegean island of Paros.  His father is credited with founding a town on Thasos, “an island crowned with forests and lying in the sea like the backbone of an ass,” as Archilochos describes it in a poem.  Some scholars say that he was a bastard, accepted by his father, but the son of a slave woman named Enipo.  It is said that Archilochus left Paros “because of poverty and helplessness.” However, his satiric, obscene poetry also caused the exile, according to some traditions. His poems reveal a man who took pride in his hard profession of mercenary, who cultivated a studied lyric eroticism, and had a tender eye for landscape.

Archilochus is celebrated for his versatile and innovative use of poetic meters and as the earliest known Greek author to compose almost entirely on the theme of his own emotions and experiences. He was both a poet and a mercenary. As a poet he was both satirist and lyricist. Iambic verse is his invention. 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.

At one time he contracted marriage with a daughter of Lykambes, Neobulé, probably a settlement that would have retired him from campaigning. “O to touch Neobulé’s hand!” (see versions below) is the oldest surviving fragment of a love lyric in Greek. But Lykambes took back his word and the wedding was canceled. All Greece soon knew, and later Rome, Archilochos’ bitter poem in which he wished that Lykambes might freeze, starve, and be frightened to death simultaneously. Lykambes became synonymous with a broken word of honour. The invectives against that family were even said to have driven his former fiancee and her father to suicide. However another version has it that Neobulé became a prostitute and even made advance to the poet who rejected her interest with caustic comments on his former love.

Archilochos was killed around 640 in battle against Naxians by a man named Calondas, but nicknamed Corax (the Crow). The death was either in battle or a fight; nevertheless, Apollo, according to legend,  in grief and anger excommunicated the Crow from all the temples. A cult in honour of Archilochus was established in Paros and became a centre for scholars.

 

Figs

 

POEMS IN TRANSLATION

Alexandrian scholars included Archilochus in their canonic list of iambic poets. His work exists in fragments; these are principally from quotations found in the work of later authors, or scraps of papyrus found during archaeological digs and subsequently reconstructed.  He was revered by the ancient Greeks as one of their most brilliant authors, able to be mentioned in the same breath as Homer. He was also censured by them as the archetypal poet of blame—his invectives were even said to have driven his former fiancee and her father to suicide. In that he resembles, in his powers, the ancient Irish bardic poets.

I first came across his work in Willis Barnstone’s Greek Lyric Poetry which has a brief but engrossing selection of the shorter poems of Archilochus. Guy Davenport has brought out his version of the poems in his Carmina Archilochi (1964). Richard Lattimore has also translated the ancient Greek poet in the translations included in Greek Lyrics. There is not as much of these poems as may be expected on the Internet. My own favourite translations are those of Willis Barnstone, although I have omitted the titles he appended to the poems.

 

Figs

 

Brief Poems by Archilochus

πόλλ’ οἶδ’ ἀλώπηξ, ἐχῖνος δ’ἓν μέγα

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

***

Fox knows many,
Hedgehog one
Solid trick

Alternative version:-

Fox knows
Eleventythree
Tricks and still
Gets caught;
Hedgehog knows
One but it
Always works

translated by Guy Davenport

***

The fox knows many tricks,
the hedgehog only one. A good one.

translated by Willis Barnstone

***

The fox knows many tricks, the hedgehog only one.
One good one.

translated by Richard Lattimore

 

Figs

 

εἰμὶ δ’ ἐγὼ θεράπων μὲν Ἐνυαλίοιο ἄνακτος
καὶ Μουσέων ἐρατὸν δῶρον ἐπιστάμενος.

I am comrade henchman of the Ares the Enyalian King
Also understanding the lovely gift of the Muses

Translated by William Harris

***

I am a servant of the kingly wargod Enyalios
and am also skilled in the lovely arts.

translated by Willis Barnstone

 

Figs

 

ἐν δορὶ μέν μοι μᾶζα μεμαγμένη, ἐν δορὶ δ’ οἶνος
     Ἰσμαρικός· πίνω δ’ ἐν δορὶ κεκλιμένος.

My javelin is good white bread and Ismarian wine.
When I find rest on my javelin I drink wine.

translated by Willis Barnstone

***

In my spear, my barley-bread,
in my spear, my rich wine.
I drink
leaning on my spear.

Translated by Jill A. Coyle

 

Figs

 

 

ἀσπίδι μὲν Σαΐων τις ἀγάλλεται͵ ἣν παρὰ θάμνωι͵ ἔντος ἀμώμητον͵ κάλλιπον οὐκ ἐθέλων· αὐτὸν δ΄ ἐξεσάωσα. τί μοι μέλει ἀσπὶς ἐκείνη; ἐρρέτω· ἐξαῦτις κτήσομαι οὐ κακίω.

That good shield I threw away
beside a bush is making
some Thracian proud.
………………………..To hell
with both of them.
…………………….I’m here
and I’ll get me a better one.

translated by Barrios Mills

****

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.

translated by Guy Davenport

***.

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? Oh hell, I’ll buy a better one.

translated by Willis Barnstone

 

Figs

 

ἡ δέ οἱ σάθη
ὥστ’ ὄνου Πριηνέως
κήλωνος ἐπλήμυρεν ὀτρυγηφάγου

His prick … swelled like that of a Perinea grain-fed breeding ass.

translated by Douglas E. Gerber

***

He comes, in bed
As copiously as
A Prienian ass
And is equipped
Like a stallion

translated by Guy Davenport

***

His penis is swollen
like a donkey from Priene
taking his fill of barley.

translated by Willis Barnstone

 

 

Figs

 

 

ὡς Διωνύσου ἄνακτος καλὸν ἐξάρξαι μέλος
οἶδα διθύραμβον οἴνωι συγκεραυνωθεὶς φρένας.

And I know how to lead off
The sprightly dance
Of the Lord Dionysus
– the dithyramb –
I do it thunderstruck
With wine

translated by Guy Davenport

***

I know how to be Lead Singer of the lovely song
of Lord Dionysos, my wits thundered out with wine.

translated by William Harris

 

 

Figs

 

 

POEMS ABOUT NEOBULÉ, LOVE AND SEX

O that I might but touch
Neobule’s hand

translated by Guy Davenport

***

I pray for one gift: that I may merely touch Neoboule’s hand.

translated by Willis Barnstone

***

Would that it might thus befall me to touch the hand of Neoboule.

translated by William Harris

***

Here I lie mournful with desire,
feeble in bitterness of the pain gods inflicted upon me,
stuck through the bones with love.

translated by Richmond Lattimore

***

I lie 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.

translated by Willis Barnstone

With ankles that fat
It must be a girl

translated by Guy Davenport

***

She is a common woman for rent,
but what sensuality and fat ankles,
O fat whore for hire.

translated by Willis Barnstone

***

(girls) perfumed as to hair
and bosom so that even an old man would have loved them

translated by William Harris

***

Her breasts and her dark hair
were perfume, and even an old man would love her.

translated by Willis Barnstone

***

Boil in the crotch

translated by Guy Davenport

***

A tumor between the thighs.

translated by William Harris

***

Feeble now are the muscles in my mushroom.

translated by Willis Barnstone

***

but the nerves of my “stick” are snapped

translated by William Harris

***

Enormous was the gold he amassed
from many ears of work,
but all
fell into the luscious arms
of a common whore.

translated by Willis Barnstone

***

He was accustomed to gush into the cunt of a woman, a hooker, much wealth gathered up over a long time with great labor.

translated by William Harris

 

 

 

Figs

 

POEMS ABOUT FIGS

Paros
figs
life of the sea
Fare thee well

translated by Guy Davenport

***

Say goodbye to the island Paros,
farewell to its figs and the seafaring life.

translated by Willis Barnstone

***

How can I like the way she makes love?
Give me sweet figs before sour wild pears.

translated by Willis Barnstone

***

As one fig tree in a rocky place
Feeds a lot of crows
Easy-going Pasiphile
Receives a lot of strangers

translated by Guy Davenport

***

Wild fig tree of the rocks, so often feeder of ravens,
Loves-them-all, the seducible, the stranger’s delight.

translated by Richard Lattimore

***

As the figtree on its rock feeds many crows,
so this simple girl sleeps with strangers.

translated by Willis Barnstone

 

Figs

 

LINKS

Guy Davenport – An Introduction to Archilochus.

An interesting blog post on Archilochus.

A lengthy and fascinating essay on Archilochus by William Harris.

A chapter on Archilochus fom the Center for Hellenic Studies at Harvard.

 

archilochus

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