Université de Strasbourg

Fellows Seminar – Invective poetry and archaic Greek social politics

February 9, 2021
From 15:30 until 17:00

By Kirk Ormand, 2020 Fellow

The 7th and 6th centuries BCE in Greece were a time of important social and political change.  During this period, we see the rise of Greek city-states (poleis), and, with the advent of literacy, the first written law codes. We also see the development of the idea of citizenship, and with it, important new restrictions on the practice of marriage, extra-marital sex, and familial inheritance.

This shifting political milieu is the backdrop for the rise of Greek “lyric” poetry, best known for its depictions of erotic desire, aristocratic dinner-parties, and elitist declarations of inherited social worth. But within that genre of poetry, an important sub-genre also emerges, that of “iambic” or invective poetry, in which the speaker launches a bitter narrative attack on a political or social rival. The best known of these invective poets are Archilochos of Paros, Hipponax of Ephesus, and Semonides of Amorgos. It is not a coincidence that these poets also position themselves in their poems as anti-aristocratic (however well-born they seem to be personally). They belong to a sub-group of poets whom Leslie Kurke and Ian Morris have identified as championing a “middling” aesthetic.

I will give a brief overview of biographical traditions concerning Archilochus and Hipponax as invective poets, and then turn to some specific examples of their poetry. In particular, I hope to show that they position themselves as “punching up”, within the elitist tradition of archaic poetry.


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