Archilochus 114W and Archaic Poetics

William Tortorelli

Horace's message in Odes 1.38 (Persicos odi, puer, apparatus) is a clear vote for simplicity of ornament and moderation in sumptuary tastes.  At the same time, it may be, a bit more subtly, a statement of Horace's poetic sensibilities, part of a large tradition of poets referring indirectly to their craft.  This tradition is commonly assumed to begin with the Alexandrians, but I shall argue that Archilochus refers to his own poetics in fragment 114W: ou phileo megan strategon...    

On the surface, this poem describes the speaker's ideal general, quite different from the Homeric ideal; but underlying this is a subtle attack on epic poetics.  Archilochus expresses his preference of general in terms that suggest a preference for iambic over Homeric verse.  His general is not large, does not take long strides, does not luxuriate over his adornments, and is not refined in appearance.  Rather, he is small and crooked around the limbs, he walks without stumbling, and he is full of heart.

The references to gait lay out the terms of the critique, which the poem's meter reinforce.  Epic verse is a long-striding rhythm, diapepligmenon. The trochaic meter of this poem steps, bebekos, unevenly with its feet.  The first two lines, describing the "epic general," simulate epic rhythm by observing line-end pauses and breaking the sense units along metrical lines: each of the four descriptors inhabits a two-metron subunit, each joined paratactically by polysyndetic conjunctions.  The next two lines, describing the "iambic general," are hypotactic and asyndetic.  The four descriptors each fit into different regions of the metrical line.  Line-end is not associated with sense units.  The whole is joined together roughly and in a crooked fashion; but it is nevertheless solid and full of heart.

The use of pous for the metrical foot is a commonplace after Plato, Rep. 3.399e, but occurs prior to that only in contested contexts during and after the fifth century.  My reading of Archilochus 114W suggests that this usage was available much earlier.

Anacreon seems to have recognized the poetic statement in Archilochus 114W.  His elegiac fragment 2W, ou phileo hos kreteri para..., a statement about the subject matter appropriate to verse, could be a response to Archilochus.  Anacreon similarly makes his point in four lines, the first two a rejection of one poetic style, the next two his own poetic preference.  If he truly has Archilochus in mind, the playful jab at a poetic rival is evident in the rejection of one of Archilochus' favorite poetic subjects.  The first line begins with an explicit reference to Archilochus--ou phileo, an iambo-trochaic metron rendered dactylic by correption.  The elegiac meter is significant: it is that of Mimnermus, Theognis, and other poets of love.  But the verbs establish the true distinction.  Rejected is the narrator, hos...legei, of epic tales, as well as any others who include strife and battle in their poetic subject matter.  The poet preferred by Anacreon mixes the poetic arts with love and beauty, recalling (a verb connected with the Muses as the source of inspiration) lovely good cheer.  This is a programmatic statement connecting poetics to the sympotic context of poetic performance and poetic enjoyment.  The poetic subject is equated with its setting in the connection between the wine bowl of line 1 and the mixing of verse in line 4.

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