Michael AyrtonMay 15 2021
Michael Ayrton (1921-1975) was a British painter, printmaker and sculptor who never fit easily into any of the major currents of modern British and European art. Although he left school while still in his teens, he possessed a deep knowledge of European history and literature and often drew upon that knowledge to create his works of art. Retired Hope College professor Jack Nyenhuis is one of the world authorities on Michael Ayrton and the museum's collection of Ayrton artworks is largely due to his efforts and generosity.
Archilochos was a lyric poet from the Greek island of Paros who lived during the middle decades of the 7th century BCE. His poetry was innovative in both form and content. He experimented with new verse structures and meters, and was among the first ancient Greek poets to write about his own experiences and feelings.
In antiquity, Archilochos was famous for his poems about war, which were informed by his personal experiences fighting as a soldier in the Parian army. He was also famous, or perhaps infamous, for his poems about a young woman named Neoboulé and her father Lykambes. Legend says that Archilochos was once betrothed to marry Neoboulé, but that Lykambes broke the engagement and cancelled their marriage plans. In revenge, Archilochos wrote scathing satirical poems about his former fiancée and her father, which so humiliated them that they eventually committed suicide. Although Archilochos’s poetry was highly revered in the ancient world, only fragments of his verse have survived through a handful of stone and papyrus inscriptions as well as quotations in the writings of other authors. Nevertheless, modern scholars have assembled those fragments of verse into thematic groups that provide at least a partial glimpse into Archilochos’s life and literary talents.
Michael Ayrton began a project to translate and illustrate the fragmentary poems of Archilochos in 1974. As he did with the mythical characters of Daedalus and the Minotaur, Ayrton tried to get inside the mind of the poet, using his imagination to flesh out the people, places and experiences described in the poetic texts. He then created a series of sixteen etchings to accompany the translations that were posthumously published in a 1977 book titled Archilochos.