“Lycambes offered his daughter Neobule to Archilochus and promised a dowry which he refused to give later. So Archilochus composed invective in iambic meter about him and talked so savagely about him and his wife and his daughter that he compelled them to hanging. For they preferred dying over living with such foul abuses.”
Lycambes Neobulen, filiam suam, Archilocho desponsavit et dotem promisit; quam quia postea negavit, Archilochus in iambico metro invectivam in ipsum fecit et tam turpia de eo dixit quod ipsum et uxorem et filiam ad laqueos coegit: maluerunt enim mori quam sub turpibus obprobriis vivere.
Eustathius, Commentary in Hom. Od. 11.277 (1684.45)
“You should know that many have hanged themselves over grief. This is why the ancient account has the daughters of Lykambes doing so thanks to Archilochus’ poems because they could not endure the rumors from his insults. The man was skilled at offending. For this reason we have the proverb “you’ve tread on Archilochus” which is for people who are good at insults, as if someone claims you stepped on snake or a sharp thorn.”
“Because he wanted to slander his enemies, [Hipponax] broke his meter and made it stumble instead of straight: he made the rhythm irregular. This is appropriate for surprise and attack. For rhythmic and smooth composition is more appropriate for praise than for blame. This is all I have to say about hiatus.”
“My Rome praises, loves, and sings my little books—
Every pocket, every hand holds me.
Look: someone turns red, yellow, is dumbstruck, looks again, and hates!
This is what I long for: now my songs have pleased even me.”
Laudat, amat, cantat nostros mea Roma libellos,
meque sinus omnes, me manus omnis habet.
Ecce rubet quidam, pallet, stupet, oscitat, odit.
Hoc uolo: nunc nobis carmina nostra placent.
Perhaps shit-talking is a trope in Roman poetry
Catullus, Carmen 83
“Lesbia talks a lot of shit about me when her husband is around
This brings the greatest pleasure to that fool.
Ass, do you know nothing? She would be sound
If she forgot us in silence—but she rants and she squawks.
She not only remembers me but—a thing sharper to touch,
She’s enraged: it’s like this, she’s burning and talks.”
Lesbia mi praesente viro mala plurima dicit:
haec illi fatuo maxima laetitia est.
mule, nihil sentis? si nostri oblita taceret,
sana esset: nunc quod gannit et obloquitur,
non solum meminit, sed, quae multo acrior est res,
irata est. hoc est, uritur et loquitur.
“Where should I protest, whom should I implore, Senators, because the republic is being torn apart for any kind of audacious profiteer? Should I complain to the Roman people? They are so corrupted by bribes that they offer themselves and their fortunes for sale.
Should I appeal to you, Senators? You whose authority is a joke to any kind of criminal miscreant in this place where Marcus Tullius defends the laws, the courts and the state and acts like he is in charge here as if he were the only man left from a family of the most famous man, Scipio Africanus, and not some orphan found on the street, summoned here, and only just recently rooted in this city?”
Ubi querar, quos implorem, patres conscripti, diripi rem publicam atque audacissimo cuique esse praedae? apud populum Romanum? qui ita largitionibus corruptus est, ut se ipse ac fortunas suas venales habeat. an apud vos, patres conscripti? quorum auctoritas turpissimo cuique et sceleratissimo ludibrio est; ubi M. Tullius leges, iudicia, rem publicam defendit atque in hoc ordine ita moderatur quasi unus reliquus e familia viri clarissimi, Scipionis Africani, ac non reperticius, accitus, ac paulo ante insitus huic urbi civis.
The First Cologne Epode, the longest fragment attributed to the archaic poet Archilochus, offends modern sensibilities and no doubt it had something like shock value in the poet’s own time.
The opening lines are lost. There’s no consensus on how to fill the most meaningful of the text’s many lacunae. There are also colloquialisms, euphemisms, allusions and irresolvable ambiguities which challenge, and charm. (The “glossary” following the poem should answer a few questions.)
Nonetheless, we can discern enough to say: the poem takes the form of a carefully constructed dialogue in which an unmarried young woman tries to turn a sexually eager man’s attention to someone else–unsuccessfully.
Archilochus: fr. 196a West
“…while you abstain completely, wait for requited love.
But, if you’re in a rush, your passion in charge,
There’s someone in our house brimming with yearning,
A lovely virgin, and tender. Her figure’s flawless,
I would say. Make her your beloved.”
That’s what she said. And I replied with this:
“Daughter of Amphimedo, that noble woman
Whom the moldy earth now holds:
Young men have many pleasures from the goddess,
Beside the divine thing. One of them will do.
You and I will plan this calmly, with god’s help.
I’ll do what you say, eager as I am
To be first under your cornice and inside your gate.
Don’t begrudge me this, my dear,
For I’ll keep to your grassy meadow.
And know this: as for that Neoboule,
Another man can have her! She’s too ripe.
Her virgin bloom, her former loveliness,
Have fallen away. She’s not reined in her lust.
The raving woman’s shown the scale of her madness.
Damn her! May Zeus not make me a joke to my neighbors,
With such a wife. I prefer you: one not inconstant
or two-faced. She’s biting, and as for all her men…
I fear fathering blind, untimely children with her,
My zeal and rush to blame, just like the famed bitch.”
That’s what I said, and clutched the virgin girl—
Laid her down among the blooming flowers—
Covered her with my soft cloak—
Cradled her neck in my arms—
A girl as frightened as a fawn.
My hands gently clasped her breasts
And exposed youth’s fresh flesh.
As I felt up her gorgeous body
I discharged my white might,
Lightly touching her fair hair.
A glossary of archaic smut:
“Under your cornice and inside your gate”: Euphemism for sex.
“Pleasures from the goddess/Beside the divine thing”: Aphrodite’s gifts are the amorous pleasures, with intercoutse presumably the highest of them (“the divine thing”).
“I’ll keep to your grassy meadow”: Euphemism for a sex act short of penetration but involving the pubic area.
”I fear fathering blind, untimely children . . . like the famed bitch”: Allusion to what’s regarded as the world’s oldest proverb–“the hasty bitch [female dog] brings forth blind puppies.” The expression means something done without due care produces a bad result.
“But [the Spartans] dealt with those who entrusted their safety to them so that they defended themselves best of all people against those charges which at certain times were brought against our city. The explanation for this is not their savagery nor any of those common things which one might easily say to fault them, but the basic failure of their nature to measure up to ours. While the Athenians, furthermore, were in control for more than 70 years, the Spartans could not even hold their empire for three Olympiads. And this would not have even been a true statement if they had not taken over while the first Olympiad period ongoing!
This is why I get annoyed at those who want to compare the two cities. I might in fact seem strange to some of you in criticizing them and then proceeding to do the same thing myself all while saying these things for the very same reasons that I claim they shouldn’t be said. But this illustrates clearly that whatever favor they believe they bestow on the city is not at all remarkable and that these sorts of arguments are not be made freely. So, if someone thinks that I should not have said these things, this is why I said them. In addition, these statements were made without personal attack and because of a pressing need—for there was no other way to show what I wanted to and I was compelled to say what I said for the very reasons I tried not to.
For the Spartans seem to me to have suffered in comparison to this city what Teucer did from Ajax at Homer’s hands. For Teucer retreats to Ajax when he risks his life in front of the rest and at the same time is famous and then sullied by this. In the same way, the Spartans, who stood in front and endangered themselves for the Greeks in a time of need, are still children when compared to our city.”
“You lie, I trust you. You recite terrible poems, I praise them.
You sing, I sing. You drink, Pontilianus and I drink too.
You fart, I ignore it. You want to play a board game, I am defeated.
You do one thing without me, I’ll be quiet too.
You do no duty for me at all: You say, “when you’re dead”
I will take good care of you. I don’t want anything, but you can die.”
Mentiris: credo. recitas mala carmina: laudo.
cantas: canto. bibis, Pontiliane: bibo.
pedis: dissimulo. gemma vis ludere: vincor.
res una est sine me quam facis: et taceo.
nil tamen omnino praestas mihi. ‘mortuus’ inquis
‘accipiam bene te.’ nil volo: sed morere.
“Ligurra, you fear that I might compose
Verses against you, a brief, intense poem—
Oh how you long to seem worthy of this fear.
But you fear in vain, in vain you long.
The Libyan lions growl at bulls;
They do not pester butterflies.
I will advise you—if you are in pain to be read,
Find a drunk alley poet who writes
with broken coal or dusty chalk
the poems people read while shitting.
This face of yours can’t be known by my touch.”
Versus et breve vividumque carmen
in te ne faciam times, Ligurra,
et dignus cupis hoc metu videri.
sed frustra metuis cupisque frustra.
in tauros Libyci fremunt leones,
non sunt papilionibus molesti.
quaeras censeo, si legi laboras,
nigri fornicis ebrium poetam,
qui carbone rudi putrique creta
scribit carmina quae legunt cacantes.
frons haec stigmate non meo notanda est
“May the gods grant as much as you desire in your thoughts,
A husband and home, and may they give you fine likemindness,
For nothing is better and stronger than this
When two people who are likeminded in their thoughts share a home,
A man and a wife—this brings many pains for their enemies
And joys to their friends. And the gods listen to them especially”
“A woman has two days which are the sweetest:
When someone marries her and when someone carries her out dead.”
δύ᾿ ἡμέραι γυναικός εἰσιν ἥδισται,
ὅταν γαμῇ τις κἀκφέρῃ τεθνηκυῖαν.
Babrius, Fable 24: Frogs at the Sun’s Wedding
“It was the time of the wedding of the summer Sun
And the animals held charming revels for the god.
Even the frogs were putting on choruses in their pond.
But a toad stopped and said to them, “this is no time
For our hymns of praise! This is for worry and grief.
For the sun nearly dries up every pool when he is alone—
What kind of evils we will suffer if, once he’s married,
He fathers a child who is something like himself?
Many people, thanks to an excess of empty-headedness
Delight at things which in the future they will not love, to the extreme.”