Annotations about archaic Greek lyric, Part 1: Archilochus, poet and cult-hero

Introduction to the series “Annotations about archaic Greek lyric”

For English-speakers in the world of higher education, as of this writing, the introductory textbook most often assigned for the study of “archaic Greek lyric” (including elegiac and iambic poetry) has been Greek Lyric Poetry: A Selection of Early Greek Lyric, Elegiac and Iambic Poetry, edited, with Introduction and Notes, by David A. Campbell (revised edition, Bristol Classical Press, 1982). In a reading course administered by the Classics Department of Harvard University, PhD candidate Greta Galeotti and I have been working through this textbook, and both of us have found many points of interest that are not addressed in the introductions and notes written by Campbell about the Greek texts that he collected for study. So, to supplement Campbell’s introductions and notes—without disparaging the merits of his work— the two of us decided to edit, online, a new set of annotations on archaic “Greek Lyric” writ large. The authors of these annotations will be mostly the editors (Galeotti and Nagy), but other authors, invited by the editors, will also be featured. Some annotations will take the form of stand-alone essays while others will be comments written into the margins of Greek texts—or of translations of the Greek texts. The authors of such marginalia will be indicated by way of a preceding name-stamp, together with a date-stamp of authorship. Still other annotations will take the form of new comments written into the margins of the stand-alone essays, again with name-stamp and date-stamp of authorship. In Part 1 of this series of annotations, the starting-point will be a stand-alone essay about Archilochus, featured as the very first of the “Greek Lyric” poets in Campbell’s textbook.

§0. The original printed version of this essay went under the title “Convergences and divergences between god and hero in the Mnesiepes Inscription of Paros,” and it was published in Archilochus and his Age II (ed. D. Katsonopoulou, I. Petropoulos, S. Katsarou; Athens 2008) 259–265. It was later reproduced online with minimal changes, even in formatting (Nagy 2020.11.02). The new online version here (Nagy 2022.01.10), which is now Part 1 of the new series “Annotations about archaic Greek lyric,” bears a relevant subtitle: “Archilochus, poet and cult-hero.” This new version is ready for updating by way of annotations in the margins. (The original pagination of the printed version of this essay will be indicated in this online version by way of “curly” brackets (“{“ and “}”). For example, “{259|260}” indicates where p. 259 of the printed article ends and p. 260 begins.)

The relief stele of the Arkhilokheion in Paros, around 500 BCE. Archaeological Museum of Paros A758. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

§1. In his pathfinding book, Archilochos Heros, Diskin Clay has questioned the applicability of a well-known formula for distinguishing between the cult of heroes and the cult of gods in archaic, classical, and postclassical Greek historical contexts. [1] The formula is derived from the use of the words thuein / theos and enagizein / hērōs by the so-called “father of history,” Herodotus, who at one point in his Histories (2.44.5) distinguishes between one cult of Herakles as a god and another cult of Herakles as a hero. Both thuein and enagizein mean ‘sacrifice’, but the first word is associated with the practice of sacrificing to a theos ‘god’ and the second, to a hērōs ‘hero’. Herodotus observes (again, 2.44.5) that both of these cults are attested at Thasos, an island situated in the north-east zone of the Aegean Sea. This island, configured politically as a polis or ‘city-state’ in historical times, is relevant to the figure of Archilochus in his role as a poet who was a native son of Paros, an island situated in the central zone of the Aegean. Like Thasos, the island of Paros was configured as a polis in historical times. More than that, the polis that was Paros was also configured as the metropolis of Thasos—that is, the ‘mother-city’ of that other polis. And the relevance of Paros to the figure of Archilochus extends to Thasos, since the life and times of this figure, as reflected in the poetry attributed to him, involve not only the mother-city but also the daughter-city. But how is the involvement  of Archilochus with the Aegean islands of Thasos and Paros relevant to the worship of Herakles as both god and hero at Thasos? The next two paragraphs are designed to explain such a relevance.

§2. As Clay argues, the neat divergence between the idea of hero and the idea of god, seemingly applicable in the case of Herakles as worshipped at Thasos, does not apply in the case of another figure, Theogenes, who was likewise worshipped at Thasos. The worship of Theogenes at Thasos was not bipartite as in the case of Herakles. Rather, the worship of Theogenes was expressed in convergent wording that collapses the distinction between god and hero. [2]
§3. I argue that such a convergence of wording with reference to the cult of figures like Theogenes is appropriate to cult heroes as traditionally worshipped in hero cults throughout the Greek speaking world in the archaic, classical, and even post-classical periods. For example, in the wording of Herodotus (9.120.3) concerning the hero cult of Protesilaos and in the wording of Pausanias (9.39.12) concerning the hero cult of Trophonios, there are references to the cult hero as a theos ‘god’ in the context of imagining him in an afterlife. In other work I have argued that such convergent wording is in fact typical of hero cults: the given cult hero is envisioned as a mortal in the preliminary phase of the ritual program of worship and then as a god in the central phase, at a climactic moment marking the hero’s epiphany to his worshippers. [3]

§4. To reinforce this argument, I adduce here the wording attested in the Mnesiepes Inscription with reference to the worship of Archilochus as cult hero in the island-state of Paros, the mother-city or metropolis of Thasos. As a case in point, I highlight the following twenty-three lines of the inscription: [4] {259|260}

<-Μνησιέπει ὁ θεὸς ἔχρησε λῶιον καὶ ἄμεινον εἶμεν
<-ἐν τῶι τεμένει, ὃ κατασκευάζει, ἱδρυσαμένωι
<-βωμὸν καὶ θύοντι ἐπὶ τούτου Μούσαις καὶ Ἀπόλλ[ω]ν[ι]
<-Μουσαγέται καὶ Μνημοσύνει· θύειν δὲ καὶ καλλι-
5        <-ερεῖν Διὶ Ὑπερδεξίωι, Ἀθάναι Ὑπερδεξίαι,
<-Ποσειδῶνι Ἀσφαλείωι, Ἡρακλεῖ, Ἀρτέμιδι Εὐκλείαι.
<-Πυθῶδε τῶι Ἀπόλλωνι σωτήρια πέμπειν. [paragraphē mark here]
<-Μνησιέπει ὁ θεὸς ἔχρησε λῶιον καὶ ἄμεινον εἶμεν
<-ἐν τῶι τεμένει, ὃ κατασκευάζει, ἱδρυσαμένωι
10      <-βωμὸν καὶ θύοντι ἐπὶ τούτου Διονύσωι καὶ Νύμφαις
<-καὶ Ὥραις· θύειν δὲ καὶ καλλιερεῖν Ἀπόλλωνι
<-Προστατηρίωι, Ποσειδῶνι Ἀσφαλείωι, Ἡρακλεῖ.
<-Πυθῶδε τῶι Ἀπόλλωνι σωτήρια πέμπειν. [paragraphē mark here]
<-Μνησιέπει ὁ θεὸς ἔχρησε λῶιον καὶ ἄμεινον εἶμεν
15      <-τι]μῶντι Ἀρχίλοχον τὸμ ποιητάν, καθ’ ἃ ἐπινοεῖ.
χρήσαντος δὲ τοῦ Ἀπόλλωνος ταῦτα τόν τε τόπον
καλοῦμεν Ἀρχιλόχειον καὶ τοὺς βωμοὺς ἱδρύμεθα
καὶ θύομεν καὶ τοῖς θεοῖς καὶ Ἀρχιλόχωι καὶ
τιμῶμεν αὐτόν, καθ’ ἃ ὁ θεὸς ἐθέσπισεν ἡμῖν.
20      περὶ δὲ ὧν ἠβουλήθημεν ἀναγράψαι τάδε παρα-
δ]έδοταί τε ἡμῖν ὑπὸ τῶν ἀρχαίων καὶ αὐτοὶ πεπραγ-
μ]ατεύμεθα. λέγουσι γὰρ ᾿Αρχίλοχον ἔτι νεώτερον
ὄντα …
<-To Mnesiepes did the god [Apollo] make the oracular declaration that it is more propitious and just plain better [5] if [6]
<-in the precinct [temenos] that he [= Mnesiepes] is constructing he [= Mnesiepes] sets up [participle of hidruein] [7]
<-an altar and makes sacrifice [participle of thuein] on it to the Muses and to Apollo
<-the Mousāgētēs and to Mnemosyne. And [8] that he make sacrifice [infinitive of thuein] (and perform correctly the sacred acts [infinitive of kallhiereuein])
5 <-to Zeus Hyperdexios, to Athena Hyperdexia,
<-to Poseidon Asphaleios, to Herakles, to Artemis Eukleia.
<-(And) that he organize a delegation [infinitive of pempein] to go to Delphi and offer there to Apollo a sacrifice for well-being. [paragraphē mark here]
<-To Mnesiepes did the god [Apollo] make the oracular declaration that it is more propitious and just plain better [9] if [10]
<-in the precinct [temenos] that he [= Mnesiepes] is constructing he [= Mnesiepes] sets up [participle of hidruein] [11]
10 <-an altar and makes sacrifice [participle of thuein] on it to Dionysus and to the Nymphs
<-and to the Hōrai. And [12] that he make sacrifice [infinitive of thuein] (and perform correctly the sacred acts [infinitive of kallhiereuein]) to Apollo {260|261}
<-Prostatērios, to Poseidon Asphaleios, to Herakles.
<-(And) that he organize a delegation [infinitive of pempein] to go to Delphi and offer there to Apollo a sacrifice for well-being. [paragraphē mark here]
<-To Mnesiepes did the god [Apollo] make the oracular declaration that it is more propitious and just plain better [13] if [14]
15 <-he [= Mnesiepes] honors [participle of timân] Archilochus the poet, in accordance with the intent (of the god).
And, in the light of this oracular declaration of Apollo, we call this place [topos] [15]
the Arkhilokheion and we have set up [indicative perfect of hidruein] [16] the relevant altars
and we make sacrifice [indicative present of thuein] [17] both to the gods and to Archilochus and
we honor [indicative present of timân] him in accordance with what the god declared to us.
20 Now, concerning what we wanted to put on record in writing, the following are the things that have been
handed down to us by the ancients and that we have made our concern. For they say that Archilochus, when he was still a young man, …

Mnesiepes Inscription E1 II 1-23 ed. Clay pp. 105-106
§5. Before I analyze the relevance of this text to my argumentation, I offer two general comments about the Mnesiepes Inscription: (1) in its lettering, it strongly resembles the Parian Marble, which can be dated precisely to 264/3 BCE; [18] (2) in its formatting, it looks like “a papyrus roll spread out across a marble wall.” [19]
§6. I also offer a specific comment about the formatting of the Mnesiepes Inscription. Among the special features of this formatting is the device of ekthesis, which can be described as a reverse indentation. The ekthesis marks quotations of (1) oracles relating to the hero cult of Archilochus and (2) passages taken from poetry attributed to Archilochus himself. [20] A particularly close parallel in formatting can be found in the inscription IMagnesia 17 from Magnesia-on-the-Maeander, dated somewhere after 221/0 BCE, which contains quotations of oracles relating to the foundation of that city. [21]
§7. In the text taken from the Mnesiepes Inscription as I replicate it above, I indicate by way of the sign “<-” the lines set off by way of ekthesis. This set of lines contains three oracular responses worded in prose and attributed to the oracle of Apollo at Delphi. In other parts of the Mnesiepes Inscription, which I have not replicated above, we find five other sets of lines set off by way of ekthesis. Three of these sets contain poetry attributed to Archilochus (E1 III 6-8, 31-35; E2 I 15-44). The remaining two contain oracular responses worded in dactylic hexameter and attributed to the oracle of Apollo at Delphi. One response is directed at the father of Archilochus, Telesikles, who is told that the poet will be athanatos ‘immortal’ in song (E1 II 50-52 = Delphic Oracle no. 231 PW). [22] The other response is directed at the people of Paros, who are said to have consulted the oracle in order to find out why their men were afflicted with sterility and what remedy had to be taken (E1 III 47-50): the oracle says that this affliction of the Parians was a punishment for their having dishonored Archilochus on the grounds that he was too ‘iambic’ (E1 III 38), and that the remedy to be taken was the undoing of this dishonor by honoring Archilochus as a cult hero. [23]
§8. This theme of honoring Archilochus is basic to the three oracular responses directed at Mnesiepes in the passage from the Mnesiepes Inscription that I have replicated above. All three {261|262} responses concern the foundation of a sacred precinct or temenos (E1 II 2 and 9) known as the Arkhilokheion (E1 II 17), where Archilochus is to be worshipped as a cult hero within a larger complex of cults involving the worship of two sets of divinities associated with two altars (E1 II 1-13). The wording of the Mnesiepes Inscription makes it explicit that the cult hero Archilochus is worshipped jointly with the divinities who are worshipped in the precinct named after him: the use of the verb thuein ‘make sacrifice’ in this context (E1 II 18) is decisive.
§9. Likewise decisive is the use of the verb timân ‘honor’ with reference to the worshipping of Archilochus (E1 II 15). Typically, this verb is used to designate the worship of divinities as well as cult heroes. [24] In some contexts, moreover, the verb timân ‘honor’ refers to the worship of divinities and cult heroes together within the same cult complex: an example of such a context is a passage in Herodotus (5.67.5) where the historian refers to political fluctuations in the joint worship of the god Dionysus and of the hero Adrastos in Sikyon.
§10. In general, there is a pattern of symbiosis in the worship of divinities and cult heroes in the context of hero-cults, and I have studied this pattern at length in other work, citing as one of many examples the joint worship of the Muses and Archilochus inside the temenos of the Arkhilokheion in Paros. [25] A key to the symbiotic relationship between the Muses and Archilochus is the characterization of Archilochus as a therapōn of the Muses: this word therapōn, which means ‘ritual substitute’ in this context, occurs both in the poetry attributed to Archilochus (F 1) and in the poetry attributed to the oracle of Apollo at Delphi, as we see from an oracular verse referring to the death of the poet (Delphic Oracle no. 4 PW). [26]
§11. It is precisely in the context of this symbiotic worship of Archilochus and the Muses that the myth about a mystical encounter of Archilochus with the Muses is narrated in the Mnesiepes Inscription (lines E1 II 23 and following). So the relationship between Archilochus and the Muses is a matter of myth as well as ritual. The myth that narrates how Archilochus met the Muses in a meadow and traded his father’s cow for the lyre of poetry is embedded in the ritual context of the sacred space where the poet and the Muses are worshipped together.
§12. As Clay has persuasively argued, the sacred space where this mythical encounter took place is notionally identical with the sacred space of the ritual complex where Archilochus and the Muses were worshipped together – and where the Mnesiepes Inscription was actually located. [27] In terms of Clay’s argument, the raison d’être of the Mnesiepes Inscription was to justify this localization, which may have involved the relocating of a preexisting cult of Archilochus and the Muses; evidently it also involved a consolidation with other preexisting cults of other divinities like Zeus Hyperdexios, Athena Hyperdexia, Poseidon Asphaleios, and so on. [28]
§13. Just as the Muses are linked to Archilochus not only in ritual but also in myth as correlated with the ritual complex of the hero’s sacred space, so also other divinities are linked to him within that same ritual complex. A case in point is the god Dionysus, who as we have seen is aetiologically relevant to the ‘iambic’ function of Archilochus just as the Muses are aetiologically relevant to his more general poetic function. Another case in point is the god Apollo in his role as Mousāgētēs, that is, as a choral leader of the Muses (E1 II 3-4). As I have argued in other work, this mythological role of Apollo is relevant to the ritual role of Archilochus as the therapōn or ‘ritual substitute’ of the Muses. [29] {262|263}
§14. By now we have seen that the hero cult of Archilochus was the context for narrating myths about Archilochus, mediated by the Life of Archilochus as transmitted by way of written records like the Mnesiepes Inscription – or like the Sosthenes Inscription. But this hero cult was also the context for preserving and transmitting the poetry of Archilochus. [30] Moreover, the verses embedded in the stories of the Life of Archilochus were not extrinsic to the mythological and ritual agenda of that Life. Rather, they were intrinsic. The poetry of these verses, as notionally lived by Archilochus in the Life of Archilochus, was in fact the foundational myth of Archilochus. And the nomen loquens of the primary transmitter of this poetry may be relevant to what seems to be his priestly function: he is Mnēsiepēs, ‘he who recalls [mnē-] the verses [epea]’. [31]


[ back ] 1. D. Clay, Archilochus Heros: The Cult of Poets in the Greek Polis (Washington DC and Cambridge MA 2004).
[ back ] 2. Clay pp. 69-71.
[ back ] 3. G. Nagy, “Prologue,” Flavius Philostratus: Heroikos (translated with an Introduction and Notes by J. K. Berenson Maclean and E. B. Aitken; Atlanta 2001) xv-xxxv, especially p. xxv note 17.
[ back ] 4. As edited by Clay (n1) 105-106.
[ back ] 5. Viewing the two comparatives as a pair, I note that lôion ‘better’ is the marked member while ameinon ‘better’ is the unmarked. My translation approximates this relationship.
[ back ] 6. The participial construction that follows can best be rendered by way of ‘if’. For parallel syntax in a parallel oracular context, I cite SEG 21.519.5-8 (Attic) ἀνεῖλεν λῶιον καὶ ἄμεινον εἶναι τῶι δ|ήμωι τῶι Ἀχαρνέων καὶ τῶι δήμωι τῶι Ἀ[θ]|ηναίων οἰκοδομήσασι τοὺς βωμοὺς το[ῦ] | Ἄρεως καὶ τῆς Ἀθηνᾶς τῆς Ἀρείας. Another example is Xenophon On the Constitution of the Athenians 8.5: ἐλθὼν σὺν τοῖς κρατίστοις εἰς Δελφοὺς ἐπήρετο τὸν θεὸν εἰ λῷον καὶ ἄμεινον εἴη τῇ Σπάρτῃ πειθομένῃ οἷς 
αὐτὸς ἔθηκε νόμοις. Still another example is Didymus (Grammaticus), In Demosthenem (P. Berol. 9780) (1312: 003)
“Didymi in Demosthenem commenta” (ed. L. Pearson and S. Stephens; Stuttgart 1983) column 14, lines 46-47: ἀνελόντος τοῦ θεοῦ λῶιον κ(αὶ) 
ἄμεινον (εἶναι) μὴ ἐργαζομένοις.
[ back ] 7. The aorist form of the participle here cannot be interpreted as a marker of tense; it is simply a marker of aspect. Still, the aorist of the participle of the verb in this context at line 2 and again at line 9 corresponds to the perfect of the indicative of the same verb in the context of line 17.
[ back ] 8. The conjunction δέ here triggers a “conjunctional reduction”: the syntax now shifts from a marked participial construction to an unmarked infinitival construction.
[ back ] 9. For the syntax see the note at line 1.
[ back ] 10. For the syntax see the note at line 1.
[ back ] 11. For the syntax see the note at line 2.
[ back ] 12. For the syntax see the note at line 4.
[ back ] 13. For the syntax see the note at line 1.
[ back ] 14. For the syntax see the note at line 1.
[ back ] 15. This topos ‘place’ called the Arkhilokheion in line 17 is the same place as the temenos ‘precinct’ of the divinities in lines 2 and 9.
[ back ] 16. The perfect indicative here in line 17 corresponds to the aorist participle in lines 2 and 9.
[ back ] 17. The present indicative here in line 18 corresponds to the “present” participle in lines 3 and 10.
[ back ] 18. Clay p. 11.
[ back ] 19. Clay p. 11.
[ back ] 20. Clay p. 156n16, with references to parallel phenomena in other inscriptions.
[ back ] 21. Clay p. 11 and p. 156n16.
[ back ] 22. Commentary by G. Nagy, Pindar’s Homer: The Lyric Possession of an Epic Past (Baltimore 1990) 431-432 (14§35).
[ back ] 23. Commentary by Nagy, Pindar’s Homer pp. 395-400 (13§§32-39).
[ back ] 24. For examples, see G. Nagy, The Best of the Achaeans: Concepts of the Hero in Archaic Greek Poetry (Baltimore 1979; 2nd ed. 1999) 118 (7§1n2).
[ back ] 25. Nagy, Best of the Achaeans pp. 304-306 (18§§4-6). For more on the practice of sacrificing to divinities within the precincts of cult heroes, see Clay p. 157n26, with important further citations.
[ back ] 26. Nagy, Best of the Achaeans pp. 301-302 (18§1). See also Clay p. 157n19. For a brief survey of the meaning ‘ritual substitute’ inherent in the noun therapōn, see V. Tarenzi, “Patroclo ΘΕΡΑΠΩΝ,” Quaderni Urbinati 80 (2005) 25-38.
[ back ] 27. Clay pp. 10-12.
[ back ] 28. Clay pp. 12-13.
[ back ] 29. Nagy, Pindar’s Homer pp. 363-364 (12§49).
[ back ] 30. Nagy, Best of the Achaeans pp. 304-305 (18§4n4); Clay p. 156n14.
[ back ] 31. Nagy, Pindar’s Homer pp. 363-364 (12§49n133). For attestations of other such names like Mnēsiepēs on the island of Paros, see Clay p. 156n14 on Praxiepēs and Ktēsiepēs.

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