Three Options in War

The many Greek epigrams on martial themes could lead to the belief that the only reaction to grim war was to fight valiantly and kill, kill, kill. That was of course the celebrated option:

Simonides 6.2 (Greek Anthology)

This bow, now retired from tear-filled battle,
Rests under the roof of Athena’s temple.
Often the cause of groans
In the chaos of men’s wars,
It’s been cleansed in the blood of Persian horsemen.

But as Timocreon, a contemporary of Simonides, demonstrated, one might also defect to the enemy, and cheer the exposure of other turncoats:

Timocreon Fr.729

It was not Timocreon alone
Who swore an oath to the Medes.
There were other rogues;
Mine is not the only clipped tail.
There are other foxes.

Archilochus showed yet another alternative to fighting: take the life-preserving coward’s path of dropping your weapons and running away:

Archilochus Fr.5

Some Saion is strutting with my shield,
Pristine gear I dropped by a shrub.
But, I did save myself!
What’s that shield to me?
Screw it!
The new one I get will be no worse.

Simonides 6.2 (Greek Anthology)

τόξα τάδε πτολέμοιο πεπαυμένα δακρυόεντος
νηῷ Ἀθηναίης κεῖται ὑπορρόφια,
πολλάκι δὴ στονόεντα κατὰ κλόνον ἐν δαῒ φωτῶν
Περσῶν ἱππομάχων αἵματι λουσάμενα.

Timocreon Fr.729

οὐκ ἄρα Τιμοκρέων μόνος
Μήδοισιν ὁρκιατομεῖ,
ἀλλ᾽ ἐντὶ κἆλλοι δὴ πονη-
ροί κοὐκ ἐγὼ μόνα κόλου-
ρις· ἐντὶ κἄλλαι ᾽λώπεκες.

Archilocus Fr.5

ἀσπίδι μὲν Σαΐων τις ἀγάλλεται, ἣν παρὰ θάμνῳ
ἔντος ἀμώμητον κάλλιπον οὐκ ἐθέλων:
αὐτὸν δ᾽ ἔκ μ᾽ ἐσάωσα: τί μοι μέλει ἀσπὶς ἐκεινη;
ἐρρέτω: ἐξαῦτις κτήσομαι οὐ κακίω.

Corinthian helmet. c.700-480 BC.
Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at

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