Words of Wisdom from Archilochus

Archilochus was a Greek lyric poet and a mercenary who lived around 700 B.C.E. (Before the Current Era) He was famous all over the ancient world for his satires, and he is credited with the invention of iambic verse, no small claim to fame. Most of his work is lost, unfortunately, and we have only the bits and pieces that were cited in grammar books and treatises on literature.

Supposedly it was a big disgrace for a Greek soldier to lose his shield because it meant he had run away from the enemy. We hear that Greek mothers used to tell their soldier sons, “Come back with your shield or on it,” meaning “Be victorious or get killed.”

Archilochus didn’t buy this. Here’s one of the fragments we have of his on the subject, translated by yours truly with the help of the late Norris Getty:

“My shield is lying in a bush somewhere in Thrace,
A great find for some Thracian.
I threw it away when I was fleeing for my life.
I can get another shield.”

Here’s another fragment, a philosophical one:

“Spirit, spirit, tossed about on a sea of unruly troubles,
Rise up against your enemies, throwing out your chest.
If you are victorious, do not chortle overloudly,
And if you are defeated, do not fall down in your house and lament.
Recognize the rhythym that governs men.”