BMCR 2005.09.32

Archilochos Heros: The Cult of Poets in the Greek Polis. Center for Hellenic Studies

, Archilochos heros : the cult of poets in the Greek polis. Hellenic studies ; 6. Cambridge, MA: Center for Hellenic Studies, Trustees for Harvard University, 2004. 215 pages, 36 pages of plates : illustrations ; 21 x 25 cm.. ISBN 0674014553 $39.95.

Archilochus Heros is the first systematic treatment of the cult of poets since Cuperus’ De apotheosi Homeri (Amsterdam 1683). As the title aptly indicates, the chief focus is on the cult of Archilochus on Paros; evidence for the cult of other Greek poets fills in the background and serves as a point for comparison and contrast. The book seems to have two compatible but distinct purposes: first, to move the terminus ante quem of the phenomenon of poet cults to the late sixth century BCE based on a study of Archilochus’ cult on Paros; second, to amass a source book for the cult of poets throughout the ancient Greek world. In regard to the book’s audience, the variety of disciplines that Clay brings to bear — religion, literary criticism, epigraphy, archeology, numismatics, art history — ensures points of interest for a wide and varied audience.

The book is divided into three chapters. The first addresses the history of Archilochus’ cult on Paros, the second the iconography of the poet, and the third the cults of poets in Greek states. In a lengthy set of appendices, which account for half of the book, C. has assembled his various sources of evidence. He translates all the literary testimonia into elegant English. Future researchers will be grateful for the comprehensiveness of this section, consisting of eight Catalogues (pp. 99-124), the Appendix (pp. 127-53) and the Plates (thirty-two unnumbered pages) in addition to the Notes (pp. 155-79) and Bibliography (pp. 181-99).

Nevertheless, the reader soon learns that checking cross-references as they appear can be trying. The insertion of clearly marked dividers between the different sections helps to expedite the process, but one is nevertheless advised to acquiesce as soon as possible to regular interruptions for page flipping. I do not know whether dividing the book into two separate monographs would have been any better, but the thought kept crossing my mind as I read. Put simply, the physical layout of the CHS series is not well-suited to the nature of C.’s book. Still, one becomes closely acquainted with the evidence by dint of repeatedly thumbing back and forth through it.

C.’s principal evidence for Archilochus’ cult on Paros is the Mnesiepes inscription. C. uses this as an anchoring device for disparate shreds of evidence. Discovered a mile and half from Paroikia (modern Paros) in 1949, this inscription was first published by Nicholas Kontoleon in 1954. It consists of two orthostate blocks (E 1 and E 2) with four columns of text in various states of preservation.

Before the publication of this inscription, the best evidence for the cult of Archilochus was in a passage in Aristotle’s Rhetoric 1398b. The philosopher cites Alcidamas to defend the assertion that all people honor the wise: “At any rate, the Parians have honored Archilochus even though he was abusive.” C. contends that the Mnesiepes inscription proves that Alcidamas used the verb τετιμήκασιν of the honors paid by a hero cult. The tense of the verb is crucial for C.’s chronology since the perfect implies that in the late fifth or early fourth century BCE, the Parians continued to honor Archilochus as they had in the past. The Mnesiepes inscription, by contrast, is assigned to the third century from the similarities between its script and that of the Marmor Parium which is securely dated to 264/3 BCE.

Despite the date of the inscription, C. argues that its language clearly presupposes the existence of Archilochus’ cult prior to its engraving. This view is disputable. In the first column of continuous text, Mnesiepes reports three Delphic oracles that ordain sacrifices to various deities and Archilochus. The first two oracles are identical save the deities named to receive sacrifices: Μνεσιέπει ὁ θεὸς ἔχρησε λῶιον καὶ ἄμεινον εἶμεν / ἐν τῶι τεμένει, ὃ κατασκευάζει, ἱδρυσαμένωι / βωμὸν καὶ θύοντι ἐπὶ τούτου [names of gods in the dative] θύειν δὲ καλλιερεῖν [names of gods in the dative] Πυθῶδε τῶι Ἀπόλλωνι σωτήρια πέμπειν (E 1 II.1-13). The third oracle begins in like fashion but names only Archilochus: Μνεσιέπει ὁ θεὸς ἔχρησε λῶιον καὶ ἄμεινον εἶμεν / τι]μῶντι Ἀρχίλοχον τὸμ ποιητάν, καθ’ ἃ ἐπινοεῖ (E 1 II.14-15). Such a response — it is preferable and better for X doing Y — is paralleled in three other oracles, except that all three negate the dative participles, not with ου, but with μη, showing that they represent conditions that the recipients must not fulfill: “it is preferable and better if you do not … μὴ εργαζομένοις ].1 Conversely, the participles ἱδρυαμένωι, θύοντι and τι]μῶντι in the Mnesiepes inscription express conditions that Mnesiepes must fulfill to be λῶιον καὶ ἄμεινον, i.e.: ‘the god proclaimed to Mnesiepes that it is preferable and better if he establishes an altar in the precinct which he is constructing and sacrifices on it to …. The god proclaimed to Mnesiepes that it is preferable and better if he honors the poet Archilochus in accordance with what he [i.e. the god] intends.’ The natural inference from this rendering of the text is that Mnesiepes had begun to construct a temenos but had not commenced cultic practices before his departure to Delphi. Furthermore, when Mnesiepes resumes the narrative, the most natural inference from his initial statement is that cultic activities began after, or because of, the oracular response: “Apollo having proclaimed this, we call the place the Archilocheion, we establish the altars, | we sacrifice both to the gods and to Archilochus | and we honor him just as the god prophesied to us” ( χρήσαντος δὲ τοῦ Ἀπόλλωνος ταῦτα, τόν τε τόπον | καλοῦμεν Ἀρχιλόχειον καὶ τοὺς βωμοὺς ἱδρύμεθα | καὶ θύομεν τοῖς θεοῖς καὶ Ἀρχιλόχωι καὶ | τιμῶμεν αὐτὸν, καθ ) ἃ ὁ θεὸς ἐθέσπισεν ἡμῖν, E 1 II.16-19).

C.’s rendering of the first two participles seems adversely influenced by his view of the chronology: “… in the precinct in which he had established an altar on which he was sacrificing to ….” However, C. translates the third and crucial participle τι]μῶντι : “The god proclaimed to Mnesiepes that it was meet and best to honor the poet Archilochus, by following his plan.” The translation of the first two participles reflects a misunderstanding of the dative participle in oracular responses like these.

The legend of Archilochus’ encounter with the Muses, a type-scene paralleled in the biographical traditions of Hesiod and Pindar, occupies the next section of the column. For C. this passage is tied to the question of chronology. Following Kontoleon, C. argues that the legend narrated at E 1 II.22-40 is also depicted on a pyxis from Eretria dated to 460-450 BCE. Before the publication of the Mnesiepes inscription, this pyxis was assigned to the “Hesiod Painter” in the belief that it depicted Hesiod’s encounter with the Muses. Kontoleon observed that the presence of a lyre and cow, instead of the laurel staff and sheep specified at Theogony 11-34, must refer to Archilochus’ encounter with the Muses. The upshot is that a legend fundamental to Archilochus’ cult had circulated to Eretria by the middle of the 5th century. The spread of this tradition is explained most easily if cultic activities in honor of the poet had already been instituted.

The right half of column E 1 III has been effaced. C.’s hypothesizes that the text conerned a cult of Dionysos that Archilochus introduced on Paros and a scandal that ensued on the island. The argument is replicated from C.’s article, “The Scandal of Dionysos on Paros (The Mnesiepes Inscription E1 ιιἰ,Prometheus 27 (2001) 97-112. If C.’s reconstruction is correct — and it seems so — this column reflects Archilochus’ distinct persona as an iambic poet.

The final column (E 2 ἰ, which is also fragmentary, commemorates Archilochus’ identity as a patriotic hero. C. argues that the cult of Archilochus is unique among poet cults since it honors his dual identity as a poet and a hero in the modern sense of the word. This is the persona that we see proclaimed in fr. 1 West: εἰμὶ δ ) ἐγὼ θεράπων μὲν Ἐνυαλίοιο ἄνακτος / καὶ Μουσέων ἐρατὸν δῶρον ἐπιστάμενος.

The most important piece of evidence for C.’s chronology, however, is the so-called Parian Totenmahl relief in the Paros Museum. Kontoleon dated the relief to the end of the 6th century on stylistic grounds. C. agrees with Kontoleon’s view that the relief depicts Archilochus reclined on a couch but differs in his interpretation of various objects in the upper register of the relief, which commemorate the hero’s life by the conventions of the genre. One of these is a cylindrical object which Kontoleon interpreted as a sword. C. argues that despite its short length, the object is a spear. To show the close association of the spear with the persona of Archilochus, C. adduces fr. 2 West ἐν δορὶ μὲν μοι μᾶζα μεμαγμένη, ἐν δορὶ δ’ οἶνος | Ἰσμαρικός. πίνω δ’ ἐν δορὶ κεκλίμενος. More troubling is an object that Kontoleon interpreted as an inverted lyre. The pairing of an emblem of warfare and one of poetry would ideally fit the dual identity noted above. Unfortunately, there is little to recommend Kontoleon’s view of the “inverted lyre,” as C. admits. The identification with Archilochus rests on what C. interprets as a spear. Although my inexperience in art history should not be disregarded, this link seems tenuous. The chronology that depends on it is considerably vitiated.

If I have focused narrowly on C.’s dating, that is because it implications are far reaching. To set the terminus ante quem of the phenomenon of poet cults to the late sixth century BCE contradicts a prevalent view, espoused by Mary Lefkowitz and others, that sees the βίοι of the poets as products of the Hellenistic world. If C.’s dating were right, the legends that arose around Archilochus would have been firmly set by the late 6th century. The underlying controversy, it seems to me, remains unsettled.

Chronology aside, the vast amount of evidence that C. adduces, most of which I have passed over in silence, succeeds in showing how widespread the phenomenon of poet cults was in ancient Greek cities. This book gives us additional reason1 to be wary of the strict opposition between sacrifices performed for dead heroes ( ἐναγίζειν) and those performed for gods ( θύειν).2 The ease with which C. navigates through various disciplines is extraordinary. No contemporary scholar, so far as I know, can boast of C.’s versatility. That said, C. seems at his best when treating the question of poetic persona — this is no surprise in light of his research on the theory of poetic persona in antiquity. Those who are literary will profit from C.’s remarks on the relationship between Archilochus’ description of himself as an “attendant”, εἰμὶ δ’ ἐγὼ θεράπων μὲν Ἐνυαλίοιο ἄνακτος / και Μουσέων ἐρατὸν δῶρον ἐπιστάμενος (fr. 1 West) and Hesiod’s use the phrase Μουσάων θεράπων at Theogony 100. In this respect the book will find a sure place among recent treatments of iambic poets such as Iambic Ideas (edd. Carvarzere, Aloni and Barchiesi) and the work of Ralph Rosen.


1. See Philochorus, FGrH 328, F *155 lines 10-11, Didymus In Demosthenem col. 14.45-46.

2. See for example W. Burkett, Greek Religion. trans. J. Raffan (Cambridge, MA 1985): pp. 200ff. with additional references, and Gunnel Ekroth, The Sacrificial Rituals of Greek Hero-Cults (Liège, 2002: Kernos Suppl. 12).