Posted by: mattcolvin | February 20, 2011

2005 fragment of Archilochus


I have not kept up with Archilochus scholarship since reading him in grad school, so it was exciting to discover a new fragment just published in 2005 by Dirk Obbink (P.Oxy. LXIX 4708). I assign Archilochus in Antiquities class, and my students will recognize the usual themes from his other mercenary warfare poems. A translation from this site:

‘One doesn’t have to call it weakness and cowardice, having to retreat, if it’s under the compulsion of a god: no, we turned our backs to flee quickly: there exists a proper time for flight. Even once Telephus from Arcadia put to flight the great army of Argives, and they fled–indeed, so greatly was the fate of the gods routing them–powerful spear-men though they were. The fair-flowing river Kaikos and the plain of Mysia were stuffed with corpses as they fell. And being slain at the hands of the relentless man (Telephus), the well-greaved Achaeans turned-off with headlong speed to the shore of the much-resounding sea. Gladly did the sons of the immortals and brothers, whom Agamemnon was leading to holy Ilium to wage war, embark on their swift ships. On that occasion, because they had lost their way, they arrived at that shore. They set upon the lovely city of Teuthras, and there, snorting fury along with their horses, came in distress of spirit. For they thought they were attacking the high-gated city of Troy, but in fact they had their feet on wheat-bearing Mysia. And Heracles encountered them (the Argives), as he shouted to his brave-hearted son of Telephus, fierce and pitiless in cruel battle, who, inciting unfortunate flight in the Danaans, strove along on that occasion to gratify his father.’

A rather more mythological poem than most of Archilochus, it reads almost like an epinician ode for content, but it is in elegiacs, not dactylo-epitrite. Yet though the characters are Homeric heroes, they aren’t behaving very heroically. This is Archilochus, the poet who boasts of having thrown away his shield, and says that he knows where to get another one. So it’s no surprise to find him writing an epic in defense of running away from battle.


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