c, 680 - c. 640 BCE

Archilochus is the earliest Greek poet we have who wrote poetry about his own personal experiences. He was born on the island of Paros in about 680 BCE, during the archaic period. He was famous in antiquity especially for his iambics, a metre associated with abuse: according to later legend a father and daughter targeted by him over a broken engagement were so distraught that they hanged themselves. But he also wrote about a variety of other aspects of life in other metres, including the very same elegiac couplets that Romans like Ovid and Propertius would use more than 600 years later. His subjects included warfare and soldiering, and this part of his work has the tang of a man who really has lived the military life. Highly developed in its technique and artistry although he wrote comparatively soon after Greece regained the literacy it had lost with the downfall of Minoan civilisation, his poetry is one of many indications that sophisticated traditions of oral poetry were probably going strong during the intervening “dark age”. He died fighting in about 640 BCE in a war between Paros and the island of Naxos.

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