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7 Philosophical Lessons Archilochus Has Taught Me

Archilochus: one of my new favorite philosopher+poet+warriors:

Who was Archilochus?

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Archilochus isn’t that well known, but long story short– he was a warrior-soldier who wrote poems on the side. Archilochus is very “old-school”; but a lot of his wisdom has been timeless.

1. Do you want to be a fox or a hedgehog?

One of the ideas that Archilochus put forth is this concept:

“The fox knows many tricks,
the hedgehog only one. A good one.”

Philosophers and poets have argued for a long time:

What did Archilochus mean?

And also,

Is it preferable to be a fox (knowing many tricks) or is it preferable to be a hedgehog (knowing 1 trick very well)?

Of course there isn’t a right or wrong answer. Philosophically we must dictate for ourselves what we believe in.

There has been many interesting things said in history– for example Bruce Lee who said something like:

I don’t fear the man who knows thousands of moves. I fear the man who has practiced 1 move thousands of times.

If we look at geniuses in history– generally they have impacted humanity for 1 major contribution. For example, Leonardo da Vinci on painting, Steve Jobs and personal computing, Rosa Parks and civil rights, and Gandhi and peaceful resistance.

If we really study these great geniuses of history — of course they had diverse knowledge and wisdom. Yet their genius was this:

Taking all of their skills, knowledge, and wisdom– and focusing it into 1 thing that could maximize their impact in the world.

Thus it is of my belief that I am like a fox and know many things– yet, ultimately I am a hedgehog that all of my ideas and knowledge is distilled into one thing — which I think is philosophy-art.

2. Simple needs

In my spear, my barley-bread, in my spear, my rich wine.
I drink
leaning on my spear.

A soldier doesn’t need much– a spear, some food, and wine. A soldier doesn’t need furniture– Archilochus enjoyed his wine while leaning on his spear.

The way I interpret Archilochus’ poem:

You don’t need much in life to be powerful.

In today’s world, all we need is a laptop, some food, and coffee.

As a photographer, we just need 1 camera, 1 lens, and a wifi connection.

Let us not get suckered by getting weighed by owning too much stuff.

3. Artist x Warrior

“I am a servant of the kingly wargod Enyalios and am also skilled in the lovely arts.”

Or another Greek translation:

εἰμὶ δʼ ἐγὼ θεράπων μὲν Ἐνυαλίοιο ἄνακτος
καὶ Μουσέων ἐρατὸν δῶρον ἐπιστάμενος.

I am a servant [therapōn] of lord Ares [10]
and of the Muses, and am skillful in their lovely gift.

Archilochus was BOTH a soldier AND an artist-poet!

Which is interesting– because in today’s world, we equate artists with being weak and flabby, and soldiers as being strong and brute-dumb-like.

But what if we could be like Archilochus and have the strength of a soldier, and have the wisdom of a philosopher-artist?

I think this is what we should strive for! Let us be BOTH an phlosopher-poet-artist and a warrior-hero!

4. Love

“I pray for one gift: that I may merely touch Neobouleʼs hand.”

Neoboule was the love of Archilochus’ life.

What did Archilochus desire the most? Simple — just to touch her hand. Beautiful, simple, and truly God-Like in his poetic powers.

5. What doesn’t concern you?

Archilochus says:

These golden matters
Of Gyges and his treasuries
Are no concern of mine.

Let us not worry about the gold and possessions/treasures of others.

Let us not become the slave of jealousy:

Jealousy has no power over me, Nor do I envy a god his work, And I do not burn to rule.
Such things have no Fascination for my eyes.

Don’t envy others for their works, nor desire to rule over others. Desire instead to rule over yourself, and become fascinated in yourself– instead of being fascinated in others, fascinated in the artwork of others, or fascinated with the possessions or the money of others.

6. Bite back.

“I have a high art: I hurt with cruelty those who wound me.”

Archilochus says something bold which totally runs contrary to Christian morality (turn the other cheek). Archilochus says:

“I hurt with cruelty those who wound me.”

That means, if someone is powerful enough to wound you– hurt them back. Do it artfully.

But spoken in practical terms:

Ignore petty small people. But if someone is really doing true damage to you — destroy them.

7. Be bold!

One of my favorite poems of Archilochus:

Be bold! That’s one way
Of getting through life.
So I turn upon her
And point out that,
Faced with the wickedness
Of things, she does not shiver. I know how to love those
Who love me, how to hate. You whom the soldiers beat, You who are all but dead, How the gods love you
And I, alone in the dark,
I was promised the light.

Archilochus says being bold is one way of getting through life. To me, being bold is the only way of getting through life!

When we face things that might scared us, let us not shiver. Let us expand our capacity of love, but also our ability to hate.


Be strong; let us think more of Ancient Greek-hero ethics, morals, and ways of living.

Escape pettiness, be magnanimous, and for inspiration — I recommend reading: