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Archilochus of Paros is one of the earliest surviving Greek poets, and can be dated to the 7th century bce. He composed iambus and elegy, and is most famous for his invective poems, which range from light-hearted banter with friends to vitriolic attacks on his enemies, and whose tone can be high-flown or vulgar. Despite the later tradition that narrowed the reception of Archilochus’s work to focus almost exclusively on abuse poetry, he was in fact one of the most wide-ranging of the Greek poets. The topics he treats include battle narratives, erotic stories, philosophical reflection, political criticism, lamentations for men lost at sea, heroic myths, and animal fables. Archilochus’s work survives only in fragments, but in antiquity he was highly rated as a poet, and his work is distinctive for its energy, its care with language and imagery, and its lively persona. His influence can be seen on classical, Hellenistic, and Roman writers.


Llewelyn Morgan and Jonathan Powell

Latin poetry obeyed rules of metrical composition that can seem restrictive to readers from other poetic traditions but were in fact a powerful means to creative expression. An understanding of metrical form is thus essential to a proper engagement with Roman poetry. Latin metre from the 2nd century bce onwards was fundamentally indebted to Greek, and metrical practice illustrates in its own way Rome’s creative encounter with Greek cultural forms. The interventions of certain poets were particularly influential: notably Ennius and the comic dramatists for the original introduction of Greek metres to Latin, and Catullus and Horace for their expansion of the range of metres available to Latin writers.

Metre is often considered a daunting subject of study, but the metre of Roman poetry is perfectly accessible once some basic and uncomplicated rules are grasped. There were developments in Roman practice over time, often related to the changing pronunciation of the Latin language, and ultimately the guiding Greco-Roman principle of syllable quantity found itself in competition with scansion by word accent. But the interaction of the Latin stress accent with metrical forms that had been formulated on this principle of quantity is an important consideration throughout the history of Latin versification. Roman metrical practice was also theorized and self-aware, the object of academic study as well as a poetic resource.