It is always a pleasure and a great privilege to introduce my students to Archilochus. We have been focusing on the very famous fr. 128 West, written in catalectic trochaic tetrameters: one must face the storms of life and be able to rise again, confronting fiercely the enemies and any hardship that may come our way.
Θυμέ, θύμ’, ἀμηχάνοισι κήδεσιν κυκώμενε,
ἀναδύεο· μένων δ’ ἀλέξεο προσβαλὼν ἐναντίον
στέρνον, ἐνδόκοισιν ἐχθρῶν πλησίον κατασταθεὶς
ἀσϕαλέως· καὶ μήτε νικέων ἀμϕάδην ἀγάλλεο,
μηδὲ νικηθεὶς ἐν οἴκῳ καταπεσὼν ὀδύρεο,
ἀλλὰ χαρτοῖσίν τε χαῖρε καὶ κακοῖσιν ἀσχάλα
μὴ λίην, γίνωσκε δ’ οἷος ῥυσμὸς ἀνθρώπους ἔχει.
Let us try our hand at translating this fascinating text. All translations from Archilochus are loosely based on Douglas E. Gerber’s LOEB translation.
“My heart, my heart, shaken by unrelenting woes”
The apostrophe to the heart reminds us of Odysseus, who, having returned incognito to Ithaca, silently fumes at the sight of his young servants in cahoots with Penelope’s suitors τέτλαθι δὲ κραδίη, καὶ κύντερον ἄλλο ποτ᾽ ἔτλης, “Endure, my heart, you have suffered even more biting torments” (Odissey XX, 18). It is worth noting Archilochus’ use of the verb κυκάω (κυκώμενε “shaken”), which is etymologically linked with κῦμα, the wave of the sea to hint once again at the metaphor of life as a (potentially tempestuous) sea-voyage.
“Rise. Awaiting the enemy, defend yourself setting your breast against him, standing steadfast near the enemy who lie in ambush.”
The initial nautical atmosphere (emphasised by the use of ἀναδύεο “rise again from the waves”) is intertwined with military imagery. Since Archilochus is both a poet and a soldier (as he himself states proudly in another fragment) the poem hints at the stamina of the soldier who waits for his enemies at war (cf. the participle μένων) and who offers them his breast (στέρνον), all the while standing solidly planted on his feet (κατασταθεὶς ἀσφαλέως).
“Do not exult openly in victory”
It is bad luck to boast. The verb ἀγάλλομαι (ἀγάλλεο is the second person of the imperative) is used by Homer’s Hector, who boasts (ἀγάλλεται) about having obtained Achilles’ weapons from Patroclus’ corpse. We all know how that has gone for him…
“in defeat do not lament, letting yourself fall down at home, but rejoyce of good things and do not moan excessively in bad times. Be aware of the flow that regulates mankind.”
In order to avoid any excess, one must react to both joyful and mournful events with moderation and caution, according to the principle μὴ λίην “not too much”. This idea of moderation brings to mind the ethical warning on the temple of Apollo at Delphi – μηδὲν ἄγαν (“nothing in excess”), inscribed alongside the famous γνῶθι σαυτόν (“know thyself”) – inviting humans to exercise a wisdom based on the balance between opposing tensions.
Archilochus wants us to understand that human life is governed by a flow that, like that of the sea, lifts you up at one time and brings you down at another. The term ῥυσμός (= ῥυθμός) is in fact etymologically connected to ῥέω “to flow” (cf. DELG 979). The image of the flow has twofold significance. On the one hand, as we find here in Archilochus, it symbolises the idea of an upward and downward movement, like the metaphorical rollercoaster that is life. On the other hand the image describes the rotating nature of fate: non, si male nunc, et olim sic erit, as Horace will say (carm. II 10, 17-18). If things are bad now, they will not always be so. Archilochus says something very similar in fr. 13 West, commenting on the death of many citizens in a shipwreck (vv. 7-9):
……… ἄλλοτε ἄλλος ἔχει τόδε· νῦν μὲν ἐς ἡμέας
ἐτράπεθ’, αἱματόεν δ’ ἕλκος ἀναστένομεν,
ἐξαῦτις δ’ ἑτέρους ἐπαμείψεται
This woe comes to different people at different times.
Now it has turned upon us and we bewail a bloody wound,
but later it will pass to others. (Translation by Douglas E. Gerber)
One note on the text: I have chosen ἀναδύεο to complete verse 2 and μένων instead of the manuscript’s ἀναδευ δυσμενῶν (which is certainly incorrect and was placed in between cruces in West’s edition). I am thus agreeing with Maria Grazia Bonanno’s (Università di Roma, Tor Vergata) reading in ‘Archiloco risanato’, «MD» 68 (2012), pp. 175-79. She emends the text of the manuscript following an old conjecture by Bergk (ἀναδύευ μένων) that avoids the pleonasm with δυσμενέων … ἐχθρῶν, opting for the metaphorical use of ἀναδύεο, which employs again the nautical language of κυκώμενε (v.1).
While I believe this to be the best and most reasonable reading of the text, I have to agree with Perrotta and Gentili (Polinnia 1965, 86) that “the two participles one after the other are unpleasant”. The third edition of Polinnia (2007), edited by B. Gentili and C. Catenacci presents the interesting reading ἀλλὰ δυσμενέων, with exhortative ἀλλά. On a purely palaeographical standpoint, though, this solutions seems to be less convincing than the one proposed by Bonanno.