Francis Bartlett donation of 1900; Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

“So do you, O Phoebus, grant to me a pleasing gift in return.” Thus reads the second of two archaic Greek hexameters, the poetic line of six metrical feet used by Homer, chiseled in a horseshoe pattern on the thighs of this nude bronze warrior (compare with drawing of archaic Greek hexameter from a nude bronze warrior). Around 700 B.C., a man named Mantiklos presented the statue as a devotional offering to the god Apollo (also known as Phoebus) for guiding him in battle.

Two epithets for Apollo that we find in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey (“him of the silver bow” and the “far-darter”) also appear in the first line of the Mantiklos inscription. And the phrase “grant to me a pleasing gift in return” appears word for word (in the original Greek) near the beginning of Book III of the Odyssey, where Athena prays to Poseidon. This inscription, written down not long after the invention of the Greek alphabet, suggests that alphabetic writing may have been created not to record mundane business transactions but to capture the lilting rhythms of oral poetry.