Pouring hunger through the heart to feed desire in intravenous ways
like the ways of gods with humans in the innocent combination of light
and flesh or as the legends ride their heroes through the dark to found
great cities where all life is possible to maintain as long as time.
“Ode to Joy”
As life goes on we discover that certain thoughts sustain us in defeat, or give us victory, whether over ourselves or others, and it is these thoughts, tested by passion, that we call convictions. Among subjective men(in all those, that is, who must spin a web out of their own bowels) the victory is an intellectual daily re-creation of all that exterior fate snatches away, and so that fate’s antithesis; while what I have called “the Mask” is an emotional antithesis to all that comes out of their internal nature.
—WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS,
“The Trembling of the Veil”
“BEST is water, but gold is A flashing fire” (ariston men hudor, ho de chrusos aithomenon pur, O.l.l).1 Pindar begins and ends this opening aphorism with the two elements, water and fire, that according to Lévi-Strauss may be taken to sum up and close the “vast system” of myth. But in Pindar the system of myth has lost any primary systemization; in Pindar’s work the Olympian myths are already undergoing a transmutation comparable to that in Heraclitus, though Pindar reworks and readapts the system of myth while Heraclitus leaves it behind.
Heraclitus, indeed, also offers us all four of these terms—water in his notion of flux, fire in whatever his doctrine of physical process may mean, “best” in his social oppositions, and gold in some pointed statements (В 9, В 22, В 90). Не notably connects gold and fire in В 90, while fire and water are connected as interchangeable elements in the cyclic process that В 31 describes.
There is, further, a schematism in Pindar’s statement which is logically as well as syntactically analogous to the Heraclitean proportion:
Water : best : : gold : fire
Here we have three visible elements and one invisible, a fact which makes Pindar’s statement correspond even more closely to В 90, where we are again given three visible elements (fire, gold, goods) and one which is ambivalently visible or invisible (all things):
Fire : all things : : gold : goods
Heraclitus’ statement, of course, is a proposition. Pindar’s is at once more elaborate, more homely, and more casual. It is a passing apophthegm, meant, it would seem, not to alert the thought of a new class of thinkers but rather to evoke what a communal group of victory celebrants may take for granted.
Transitory though it is, Pindar’s statement will soon lead up to some myths: it is a “priamel,” to use the term Bundy adopts, an introductory statement that will soon serve as a comparison and “foil” for a new, more central subject, but also drop away before it. A little priamel occurs within the statement itself; water itself drops away before gold in this aphorism. Water and gold are both complementary and contrasting entities.
Gold here gets something more than a descriptive term; it gets a metaphoric ornamentation; it is a “blazing fire.” The Homeric simile is condensed, while remaining poetic. The poet not only invents the statement but also exhibits the process of invention, publicly. Part of the Programm of the epinician ode, to adapt Schadewalt’s term, is the poet’s obligatory reference to his own skill at composition. An athletic victory crowns a prowess of a sort that the Iliad celebrates, a set order of known events. In Pindar’s poem, however, the order of events is unknown. The events themselves are unknown, though it is known in the Programm that the poet will apply an unforeseeable series of myths and aphorisms in an unforeseeable order to a specific present event, a particular victory in a particular contest, centering on a single victor.
A rapid, self-conscious, and somewhat abstract redeployment of Homeric values is made in the first strophe of this poem, where the excellence of the compared elements, extended by the imagination into their striking natural setting, is linked to the contest and also to the skill of the poet:
Best is water but gold is a flashing fire
In that it shines out in the night supreme over lordly wealth.
If prizes you wish
To sing, dear heart,
Look for no hotter
Bright star in the day than the sun
Through the desert ether,
And let us proclaim no finer contest than Olympia
Whence the many-speeched hymn is cast round1
With the counsels of the skilled, to proclaim
The son of Kronos when they come to the rich,
Blest hearth of Hieron.
Water, gold, the sun, the Olympian contest—these are called up for their superlative qualities in the poet’s sounding voice (audasomen, 7).
We are still in the world of Homer, where the elements and values, the mythic forces, are taken for granted. But Pindar’s act of linking them is so strenuous that it constitutes a redefinition. Hieron’s victory (through a jockey) and his success at rule draw to him the superlatives that in the song associate him to the “son of Kronos” (Kronou paid, 10). The association is emphasized by the poem’s opening superlative. Celebrating this victory at Olympia, praising Zeus, following the counsels of the wise, (sophon metiessi, 9), enjoying Hieron’s hospitality—these acts are multiple (polyphatos, 8) and comprehensively (amphiballetai, 8) included in the song (hymnos). In the ‘hymn’ itself Pindar transfers attention and praise from gods to men, according to Jaeger (1965, p. 208). Hieron’s hearth is described as “blest” (makairan, 11), a word usually associated with the gods, as it is later (52) in this very poem, where it means “gods.’ Both parties to the interchange between singer and victor are comprehended (amphi, 17) in the clustering (thama, 17) around his table; the victor “culling the crests from all virtues” is glorified in “the flower of music”:
Who tends the lawful sceptre in Sicily
Rich in sheep, culling the crests from all virtues,
And is glorified
In the flower of music
As we men sport
Clustering round his dear table. (12-17)
The song declares that song is necessary to effectuate the transition from the praise of Hieron’s victory to that myth which at once illuminates the victory and directs its meaning, the myth of Pelops and Tantalus. In Homer, of course, the teller does not appear, and the narration stays with a sequence in the story, making it seem present as it is told. In Pindar’s epinicians the myth is necessarily drawn from a past remote enough to be legendary, and it is referred to in a way that makes it seem so within the poem. It is the poet who makes the connection, who “takes the Dorian lyre from its peg” (17); and the glory that “shines” (23) does not automatically reach admiring eyes. The poet can distort, as Pindar accuses precisely Homer of doing; and “the greater throng of men has a blind heart” (N.7.23-24)—a phrase that echoes, and as it were assimilates, Heraclitus В 1, В 2, В 19, В 34, В 56, and В 104.
In Olympian 1 Pindar is concerned to correct a slanderous version of the Pelops story. Pelops did not lose his shoulder at a cannibalistic banquet given by his father Tantalus, who also stole nectar and ambrosia to serve the gods. It was Clotho, rather, who took him from the “pure vessel,” his shoulder already “fashioned illustrious with ivory” (27). Poseidon fell in love with Pelops, as Zeus had with Ganymede “at another time” (deutero chrono, 43), and transferred him (metabasai, 42) to the dwelling of Zeus, invisible to mortals. Tantalus too was much honored by the gods, “but he could not digest/ Great bliss and in satiety seized/ Overweening madness” (55-57), and incurred the permanent torment of a boulder hanging over his head. But his son Pelops, when “down covered his black cheek in flowered youth” (67-68), married Hippodameia with the supernatural aid of his divine lover, and she “bore six leaders, sons striving in prowesses” (89). At the very moment of Pindar’s poem (nun d’, 90), Pelops shares in the glories of sacrifice and possesses a much-visited tomb on the spot of the games he founded, in which he excelled.
The poem emphasizes, first of all, the appealing youth of Pelops, which matches the athletic games won; and then the banquet his father held for the gods, which matches the victory feast; and then his own victory at the foundation of these same games; and then his patriarchal fertility, which establishes a flattering analogy between the legendary, vast foundations of Olympia in the Pelop-onnesus and Hieron’s vigorous recent efforts to colonize within Sicily. The transformations over long time, from Pelops to Hieron, already are at work in the movement from Pelops’ boyhood to his youth, and then to his manhood, when his erotic appeal for Poseidon becomes the basis for his getting the god’s aid to marry Hippodameia.
The central comparison, persistently offered but left reverently unstated, is between Pelops, a mythical figure, and Hieron, a present ruler. As Finley says (pp. 74-75), there is a “tacit and incomplete metaphor underlying the odes. There is something godlike in men.” Here the proleptic foreshortening of all other references hints at the further applicability of this myth. Pretention, Bundy explains (p. 19), is a major device in Pindar. It becomes a vehicle for dealing with the ineffable by suggesting through omission there might be more to say.2
A relation between men and gods is here recommended that would follow the model of the comparison between Hieron and Pelops. Poseidon loved Pelops and aided him, but Tantalus, even though he did not chop his son up, as envious slanderers have maintained (49-51), did aspire too high and stole from the gods.
Though men and gods are said elsewhere to have a common descent and a common mother (7V.6.1-3), “a wholly differentiated power/ Constrains us apart, as the one is nothing while for the other the safe bronze seat,/ Heaven, abides always” (3-5).3 There is a contradiction here that must be managed, and in Olympian 1 Pindar buoys up his interpretation of Pelops and Tantalus with a whole series of aphorisms.
The aphorisms come first and last: they predominate in such a way that they serve as summaries of the myths, except that the success of legendary beings, like the success of Hieron to which it is implicitly compared, offers a whole if transitory glory of which the aphorism can catch only one aspect: hence the need for swirling series of aphorisms. “There are many marvels, and as for the speaking (phatis)/ Among mortals beyond a true saying (logos)/ Do tales (mythoi) deceive, decked out with variegated lies” (28-29); “Grace (charis), fashions all things honeyed for mortals/ Bringing honor, has made even the unbelievable believed/ Many times” (30-31); “Days coming after/ Are the wisest witnesses” (33-34); “It is seemly for a man to say good things about gods; there is less guilt (aitia)” (35). This is all one series, which mingles the terms logos and mythos, focusing them on the “grace” which is a key term in the ode (18, 75).
“Lack of gain is the frequent lot of slanderers” (53); “If a man hopes as he acts to escape the god, he errs” (64); “Great risk does not take a valorless man” (81); “For those who must die, why should one sit and digest/ An anonymous old age in darkness vainly?” (83-84). “Nobility day by day afresh/ Comes highest for every mortal” (99-100); “Some are great in one thing, some in another; the summit is crowned/ For kings. Peer no longer too far.” (113-114).
The time included in “no longer” (meketi) suggests that the function of the myth in the act of celebration is to set limits at the same time that it is extending horizons. The myth illustrates the aphorism, the aphorism explains the myth; the interaction between myth and aphorism carries the celebrants safely beyond the kind of questions Xenophanes and Heraclitus would raise about myths and aphorisms.
All the time there is a kind of strain put upon the myth here; its aspects must be presented as flashing facets of a known series of events, rather than presented squarely, as in Homer or even later in the centralizing foci of Greek tragedy. Pindar has, so to speak, totally transformed Homer’s verse form by conflating the fixed formula type and the flexible formula pattern: the distinctions discerned by Parry and Hainsworth no longer apply. And even the known series requires a careful tact of presentation. It is wrong to say anything less than good of the gods (or the heroes, one may conclude from the central subject here). And, at the same time, the processes of envy exact a constant sifting of false from true. Pindaks poem sets the record straight; eschewing envy and celebrating glory become aspects of a single act, at once moral and aesthetic: it is the function of the poet to accomplish this complex act. The myth he invokes will have the effect of assessing by comparison, and also preserving, the difficult excellence of the victor by fending off possible errors. And errors consist of exceeding limits, “peering too far” towards the gods, either by slighting the possibility of persisting through difficulties to glory; or by slighting the very fact of glory as it emerges from such difficulties as Pelops had to overcome in order to found the Olympic games. Here, as elsewhere, notably in the praise of Neoptolemos’ comeback in Nemean 7, a rhetorical preterition in the form “I will not say ill of x” works both to face and to skirt the unpalatable.
The myth is under enough strain to require management, in short; the poem emphasizes and exemplifies this again and again.4 A distinction is made between deed and thought, though both serve the same ideal. “Strength acts by deed (ergo),/ But mind by deliberations (boulais)” (N.1.26-27). Mortals, at once gloriously like the gods and transiently different from them, must somehow perform strenuous acts of mind, must attend to this kind of poem, in order to endow the strenuous acts of body with a grace that in Homeric society would, for all the gloom of the Iliad, have been accorded them automatically.
Time also needs management. The remoteness of Pelops from the event of Olympian 1 has two aspects: it can close the gap of time by reminding those celebrating one victory at Olympia of the games’ foundation; and it can also unify moments in a time no longer cyclic. The “nobility” of the aphorism quoted above is seen as coming in series, day after day (parameron), and it is the sequent (epiloipoi, 33) days that are the “wisest witnesses.” The very phrasing of these commonplaces contains an energetic assumption of linear time to be managed, rather than of a cyclic time to be confidently assumed. About the afterlife Pindar offers not a vague terrain, as Homer does, but two somewhat opposed ideas; on the one hand man is not to aspire to an “immortal life” (P.3.61); but on the other hand, a quasi-Orphic land of the blest stands ready for the virtuous (Olympian 2). Most vividly seen is a transience linked to an unreality of perception:
From Zeus for men there follows no clear
Token. But still we embark on great endeavors
Striving after many deeds. By a shameless
Hope the limbs are bound. The streams of forethought lie afar.
Here forethought (promatheia) is triumphantly named and linked to a keen sense of transience somewhat reminiscent of the river aphorisms of Heraclitus. This is late Pindar, and so is another expression of transience:
Of a day! What is one? What not? A dream of a shadow is
Man, but when the Zeus-given gleam comes
There is a shining light for mortals and a honeyed age.
“Age”(aion, also “life”) is a time-word, here coordinated with two perceptions in space, one markedly transient, “gleam” (aigle) and the other steady, “light” (phengos). Olympian 1 also ends with a mingling of space and time:
May it be for you to tread this time on high,
And for me just as long to consort
With victors, being eminent for wisdom among Hellenes everywhere.
One person is to be active, in the powerful mixed metaphor of treading time; the other is visibly eminent (prophanton). The water, the fire, and the sun of this poem’s opening have been displaced by the act of celebration. The sense of limits verges on an acute mastery of time in the very submission to it, and in a subversion of its very features, whereby time can become a very space, like a mountain (“on high,” hypsou) where one may “tread” (patein).
The time here manipulated has become abstract enough to lose its given Homeric periodicity. That heroic time is accepted and at the same time deeply questioned, taking on an abstract character. While Vernant (p. 199) cites Jeanmaire as noting that Hesiod only once mentions the Hours, the notion of time, along with related notions like acros, kairos, and аkme, pervades Pindar, bringing a series of myths constantly to bear on one ground and precondition of mythic thought, the awareness of time, which is also dramatized in the composition and the momentary public performance of the epinician ode.
Greek tragedy tests the myth still more profoundly than Pindar does, as 1 have said elsewhere (Cook, 1971). And the concluding aphorisms of a Greek tragedy are even more general in their application. Homer, too, is finally general: the application of the stories to present cases is left up in the air. Pindar, however, resolves and tests the sense of the myth by giving it a special application, linking it to a single living figure whom the poem is celebrating, linking Pelops to Hieron. If the myth served simply to illustrate the aphorisms, Pindar would not keep thrusting new myths forward. And he can, on occasion, either do mostly without the myth (P.8, 0.8, 0.12), or conclude with the example of the myth rather than that of the victor, as Nemean 1 concludes with the marriage of Heracles. And yet, if the myth itself were not needed Pindar could have followed the practice of “Theognis” and given us simply aphorisms, or some other, flatter version of Archilochus’kallinikos.
The yield of the myth is a wisdom that conquers the transience in time by accepting it, thus balancing a fame throughout all Greece: space is coordinated with time; and I have been summarizing the last lines of Olympian 1. But the thought can be found throughout Pindar’s work. It persists, though at the same time it provides the unity of an individual ode, a lead notion so distinct that it might be called a Grundgedanke after Dissen, a basic thought or leading idea underlying each ode. Yet each ode’s Grundgedanke is so perfectly merged into the linkage of myth with victor that it seems inward—as in Schadewalt’s definition (p. 3), “The subjective unity of the poem, which is necessarily a unity of thought.”
The “thought” of Pindar’s longest poem, Pythian 4, seems curiously simple and tangential to its myth, which is the founding of Cyrene by an Argonaut’s descendant. The thought involves a proposal about the future rather than just a meditation on Arkesilas’ chariot victory: in the interests of peace and healing a certain Demophilus should be recalled to Cyrene from exile. This thought is arrived at after an extraordinary series of movements in myth that involve dispersions of persons in space and in time, a complexity unusual even for Pindar. The thought itself, however, remains relatively simple; its connections with the mythic material remain the more hidden, and so the more emphatic in the assumed force of its mere presentation. In this Pindar radically expands and transforms the ring composition he may be said to have got from Homer.5 What Schadewalt (pp. 43-44) says of the enchainment of thoughts is only true here if one allows that enchainment to include both the myths and the particular order of their presentation along with the thoughts: “To compose the ‘coherence’ according to its many-sidedness is a basic movement in Pindar’s way of disposing his thought.” That is, in fact, not the solution but the problem.
As for space, the beginning of Pythian 4 harks back to an act of colonization, from the island of Thera to the city of Cyrene. Cyrene is the site of the victory being celebrated in this recited ode and Pythian 5, the processional ode that follows (though it may have been first in the actual presentation). This theme of movement between two spaces is expanded in the poem, which includes a host of locations. The poet brings in Lake Tritonis (20) and the Nile some distance along the North African shore from Cyrene (6); Cape Taenarus (44, 174), from which Euphamus might have set out (43-53); other locations in the Peloponnesus, such as Argos (49), Messene (126), Pylos (174), and Mycenae (49); Attica, through the Cephisus river (47); Thebes, whence Pindar has travelled to deliver this ode (299); Pherae (125) and Iolcus in Thessaly (188), where Jason lands, about to depart for Colchis at the extreme eastern end of the Black Sea; Lemnos in the northern Aegean, where the remote ancestor of Cyrene’s founder was sired (252); Naxos, an island in the Cyclades (88); Delphi, “central navel of the well-treed mother” (74), where the race was won and where the oracle founding these games was delivered. In this poem Pindar touches on every major area of the eastern Mediterranean except Ionia.
The poem is made to recreate, as it were, the new trans-tribal conditions under which Pindar of Thebes receives invitations from all over the Panhellenic world to celebrate the spatial and temporal focus of a single victory. Alone among peoples, to begin with, the Greeks were able to expand their hegemony without radiating from a single capital, though Athens’ supremacy for nearly half a century has obscured this point. Indeed, from Archilochus and perhaps even Homer on down, it seems that no writer lived in the birthplace for which he was named, with the possible exceptions of Empedocles of Acragas and Heraclitus of Ephesus. The necessity for alliances in the Persian wars, and the medizing of Pindar’s native city, added tension to the internationalism that his commissions formalize and also spiritually assert. The pro-Persian Thebans and the pro-Greek cities all took part in the Olympian games of 480, immediately before Salamis.
The Iliad offers a complete, Panhellenic space, elaborately and precisely mappable, as Simpson and Lazenby have shown. The Odyssey supplements this with descriptions of miraculous peoples, dimly apprehended, who live on the margins of the known world, margins reclaimed and brought into focus by Herodotus as the result of patient inquiry. Pindar’s sense that the legendary world lay open to profound movement and countermovement reinvents a space that in Homer was taken for granted. Homer was confident of his answers. Pindar is obliged to find the locus even of his questions. The space of the victory and its relation to the home territory of the victor is only a starting point, a sort of wavering compass needle around which Pindar builds the compass of his ode.
Except for Cyrene, the locations in Pythian 4 are not presented at all as stable settlements in space. Every single one of them exists on what might be called a vector; each is a point from which or towards which someone is moving. Jason, the main mythical person of the poem, has arrived in Iolcos (literally with one sandal on and one sandal off), poised to depart in search of the Golden Fleece as he gathers the famous comrades, among them Heracles and the Dioskouri and Orpheus. These Argonauts are themselves coming on their own journeys from various locations in Greece. Medea is moving, and in her speech (earlier in the poem) she describes Euphamus as moving, in the journey of the Argo and also in the other journey that will ultimately found Cyrene. Jason is moving through Lemnos. Lake Tritonis is seen not as a stable inland body of water but, contrary to geography, as having an outlet into the sea, which washes the magic clod away. Euphamus is moving, and Pindar is moving, and he finally recommends that another person be recalled to Cyrene from an enforced journey away.
So much for space. As for time, the end of all this spatial movement is to have founded the city of Cyrene and to maintain the dynasty whose latest representative is embodied in the victor Arkesilas. The sweep of time back to the founder is seventeen generations long (10), while “Arkesilas among these sons blooms as the eighth in the succession” (meros, share, 65). Euphamus is, so to speak, displaced from the central myth; Jason and the more famous Argonauts dominate the poem; but Euphamus is the founder of the line and of the city. Each landing in space is motivated by a series of events in time. Jason himself, confronting Pelias, is in a complex line of his own. He will repair the wrong done to Phrixus (160), son of his great uncle, Athamas, who fled with Helle on the ram of the golden fleece because of ill treatment at the hands of his stepmother Melikerte (162). Athamas is the son of Aiolos and Enarea (108, 142), and the brother of the Salmoneus (143) who was punished for challenging Zeus. Athamas’ daughter Tyro (136) had by Poseidon (138) the very Pelias (71 and passim) who has caused Jason all the trouble. Pelias’ brother Neleus fathered Periklumenos (175) and Nestor, which brings us just within range of the whole Trojan legend, nowhere explicitly mentioned in Pythian 4.
Aiolos’ third son Kretheus (142) was the father of Aison (118), who fathered Jason; of Pheres (126), who fathered the Admetus (126) of another legend; and of Amythaon (125), who fathered the Melampus of still another. These four remote generations are all woven into the time-references of the poem, and the references to Phrixus and Ino touch on the Theban legend of Pindar’s home city. Epaphus, son of Zeus and Io, is mentioned as the father of Libya (14). Europa is brought into the poem (46), and Apollo and Artemis (4), and Boreas (183) and Hera (184) and Tityos (90), and Atlas (289) and the Titans (291), Chiron (102-116) and Oedipus (263).
Jason, throughout many of the lines allotted him, is poised in readiness for his possibilities. To be timely requires timing; “the ripe moment (kairos) for men has a short measure” (285). By letting the fateful, symbolic clod of earth be swept away at the wrong moment, then wash ashore on the Thera that Medea is telling about, Euphamus has acted “before its time.” So, although he has found the actual fulfillment here being celebrated, he has missed a whole vast empire that Pindar envisions dimly as a might-have-been of escaped prophecy:
And now the deathless seed of Libya the broad-for-dancing
Has been poured in this island before its time. For if at home he had cast it to the earth-
Mouth of Hades, come to holy Taenarus, Euphamus,
The son of horse-ruling Poseidon and lord,
Whom once Europa the daughter of Tityos
Bore by the banks of Cephisus;
Then the blood of the fourth generation of his children come into being
Would have taken with the Danaans that broad mainland.
And in that time from great
Lacedemon, look, they are rising up and away, [exanistantai, “prophetic present”]
And from the Gulf of Argos and from Mycenae. (43-49)
The contrary-to-fact statement about the descendants of Euphamus cannot be made without including an intricate genealogical situation both past and future to the failed moment under consideration. The epithet given to Poseidon, “horse-ruling,” applying to both land and water, includes past and future by recalling the extended tropes with which Medea has, for these voyagers, characterized the later voyage of settlement, “they shall change fast horses for swift winged dolphins/ Reins for oars . . .” (15-25).6
Time is a “servant (therapon), but not a slave (drastas)” (287); and this aphorism is being brought to bear on Damophilus, who is praised for managing his knowledge of proper timing. Still, even knowledge does not spare some, and Pindar immediately adduces the contrasting cases of the imprisoned Atlas and the freed Titans who benefited from the “changes in time” (292). Here time is a puzzle whose solution does not necessarily bring a prosperous success. In Pindar time is not the complex but manageable seasonal cycle of tribal perception that is taken for granted in Homer.
Action in time tends to encompass space, as in the voyage of the Argo here, and in what Pindar says of the sons of Aeacus in Isthmian 6. Their fame—seen, interestingly, as a kind of extension-in-space—exceeds extreme south and extreme north:
Myriads of roads, hundred-footed in their breadth, are cleft for good deeds
And beyond the springs of the Nile
And through the Hyperboreans.
Such distances are here conceived of as heroic: Heracles goes through thunder to the Hyperboreans in Olympian 3, to bring back the olive-shade of the Olympian crown. Perseus went to the Hyperboreans, but men cannot get there any more “by foot or by ship” (Pythian 10.2835). In Pythian 4 we are given circular journeys, all inside the encompassing journey of a Pindar come from Thebes to Cyrene, who speaks of his host’s countrymen as “guest-friended at Thebes” (299) in the last words of this longest of his poems. Medea’s speech describes one circular journey, that of Euphamus back to Thera. Jason is involved in two circular journeys, the first beginning in his infancy. He is sent from Iolcos, under cover of his pretended funeral procession (110-115), to be reared by Cheiron. When grown he returns to Iolcos. The second, longer journey is the voyage of the Argo out from Iolcos to Colchis, and back again to Iolcos via Egypt and the islands. That these journeys of the myth are analogous to the journey of Arkesilas is stressed by the rhetorical organization of the poem. As Gildersleeve notes (p. 280), “the story of the Argonauts makes the same returning sweep to Arke-silas and Apollo as the Prophecy of Medeia.”
Moreover, time is inverted in the sort of vast hysteron proteron into which the main presentation of the myth is organized. In the poem Medea’s speech (13-58) comes before the much longer account of Jason’s arrival and voyage (67-256), but in time her speech comes after his acts. The occasion of her speech is a future to these events. The voyage of the Argo is shown first as a project and then as a series of past events. Triton’s gift of the prophetic sod to Epaphus, with which Medea’s speech concludes, is quickly balanced by the account of the oracle’s prophecy to Battus (59-63). The first word of the entire poem is “today” (sameron), and Pindar “hurries” himself as he comes to the end of the story about Jason to make way for the concluding aphorisms.
These aphorisms reach a crescendo (to use another of Bundy’s terms) in the “wisdom” (sophia, 212) of Oedipus. Such “wisdom,” unclear in its effect, may include the condition of a sort of prophetic function for poetry, since sophia is a word Pindar frequently uses to describe his own poetry.7 Just as it is not clear whether Oedipus’ “wisdom” lies in the act of guessing a riddle, the riddle itself, or the existence of the suffering figure himself (as the parable here suggests); so there is not a point where we can assign subsidiary or introductory or merely poetic roles to any of the events presented here, the real ones or the legendary ones. We cannot isolate any of the contrasting elements as the culminating one, though the Oedipus parable of the lopped oak might be conceived of as the last item because of its late position. Still later, however, in the poem comes the contrast of Atlas and the Titans, and still later the injunction to let Damophilus live out his life at home in peace.
The simple and sweeping reversals of time and inclusions of space keep any event problematic in relation to others, and yet susceptible to coordination by the sets of maxims about the meaning and progress of life. The events, the present real ones and the past legendary ones, are nodes; nonsense would quickly result if the analogy between Damophilus or Arkesilas on the one hand and Jason or Oedipus on the other were either pressed too far or not taken into consideration at all.8 The myths and the present events, like the myths and the aphorisms, are poised in a relation to one another that is not dialectical, because at any point a single aphorism can do the summing up, or a single subenigmatic parable:
Know now the wisdom of Oedipus. For if one with a sharp-cutting axe
Were to hew down the branches of a great oak and shame its wondrous form
Though it be failing of fruit, it would give a vote about itself
If ever at last it come to the wintry fire
Or propping with upright pillars in a master’s house
It perform a painful toil in the walls of others,
Having deserted its own place. (262-269)
The oak, through the passage of time, would have lost its seasonal function, its function in time, of bearing fruit; and it would have lost its place. Still it would give a kind of testimony (psephos, “vote”) about persistence in time and in spite of space. On the other hand, the application of the Oedipus parable cannot easily be extended to the Cyrene which immediately precedes in the poem or the healing Apollo who immediately follows.
A comparable dissociation of statement may be attributed to the shorter processional poem, Pythian 5, which is paired with this recitative ode. And it contains a ritual where echoes of the lopped oak may be traced. Instead of a lopped oak, which may be a symbol for the recommended Damophilus, we are given a primitive wooden statue with ritual connections to the Pythian festivals and to an ancient Greek people, the Cretans:
The shrine of cypress holds them
Close to the statue
Which the bow-bearing Cretans under the roof on Parnassus
Set up, from a plant single-hewn. (P.5.39-42)
This is even more mysterious in its connections than the lopped oak, though its ritual context is given. And since this ode celebrates the same victory as Pythian 4, there may be some connection between the hewn block and the lopped oak themselves. Here the Cretan hewn-block statue is merely mentioned as standing beside the gifts that the charioteer Karrhotos has brought to the shrine. The atavistic reminders it may carry seem simply to be passed over, with a sense of both reminder and relief, since this particular ode concentrates on wealth (olbos), repeating the word again and again.9
Karrhotos’ success at saving himself from the chariot disasters of the race where others were killed (49-50) is also passed over quickly, and the incident where a lion frightened Battus out of his stammer (57-62) is seen only in the light of its success. Battus is seen not as daring his way out of the future-laden risks of Pythian 4 but as a founder of searoutes (81) and a builder of temples (83-87) to Apollo, whose bestowals of health, peace, and harmony the ode also celebrates. In this ode the prophecy is seen not as a dangerous future but as something long fulfilled (55-62).
The constituents of Pythian 4 (and of Pindar’s work generally) are here reshuffled, with a difference of emphasis that raises the question of how these differences are applied to the same victorious occasion. While “No one is or will be free of the lot of struggles” (50), this maxim merely names Battus’ struggles without entering into them for description. He is seen instead as a fixed monument, “a tower for the city and a most shining eye for strangers” (56-57), whose “ancient prosperity (olbos) manages this and that” (55). The genealogical and spatial mazes have been provisionally sorted out. Heracles is here a sponsor (71), and Pindar himself is connected, in one tradition (73-81), to Thera through his forefathers, the Aigeidae, who went there via Sparta and thence to Thebes. A guest-friendship also connects the Trojan descendants of Antenor to Cyrene, “who came there with Helen/ When they had seen their fatherland burned up/ In war” (83-85). The peoples are gathered, and the ode brings into equipoise a vision of a firm space and an ordered time. Such is a fit vision for the orderly gathering of this choral procession as against the dark strivings of the trans-Homeric single reciter of Pythian 4, who quotes Homer about the welcome messenger (P.4.277), while restructuring the Homeric cyclic universe into an expansive space and a much fragmented time. Now Arkesilas is shown to have blessings in the face of such powerful cross-currents—or perhaps to have them, and the other possibility for time is touched on in the penultimate sentence of the second ode:
And for the rest may the blest sons of Kronos
Give him that he have the like in deeds and counsels
Unless fruit-ruining wintry blasts
Of winds make havoc of time. (P.5.117-121)
Here the progress of the seasons, a cyclic time, is seen as undermining time. The Homeric commonplace that “like to the generation of leaves is the race of mortal men” (Iliad 6.140) has been transmuted into a risk at once certain and contingent. This is stated so powerfully that the word “time” (chronos) has disturbed commentators. They have glossed chronos as “life,” sapping some of the energetic questioning in the word by assimilating it to a sense sometimes used of aion, “age.”10 Here the energetic questioning is passed over; the ode emphasizes success, but in Pindar the questioning does not pass from view.
Our terms secular and religious cannot be stretched so as to offer, in contrast with each other, a definition of the complex, transitional situation in which Pindar finds himself with respect to the cults in whose context his epinicians, and perhaps his other kinds of poems too, were delivered. The prediction of Medea in Pythian 4 is a sort of secular oracle, somewhat outside of a divine context, though not wholly, since as a witch (implied by zamenes, “raging/’ Pythian 4, 11) Medea would have had powers of the same kind a prophetess possessed. To say, as Jaeger does (1965, pp. 205-222), that Pindar has transferred the choral ode from religious cult uses to secular ones is only a half-truth. If the victor is secular and the myth is religious, then the whole point of his activity would be at once to attribute a quasi-religious aura to the victor and at the same time not to fuse him into legend.11 Did Pindar believe Hieron or Arkesilas to be the same sort of persons the originals of Heracles or Pelops or Jason or Battus once were? Would his victors merge into legendary heroes after the passage of time? There is no way to answer these questions, and there is no way not to ask them. The occasion of the epinician ode bears on these questions, and the occasion itself involves several foregrounded elements, whereas in lyric poetry from Alcaeus on, the only elements in the foreground are a single poet writing and his imagined auditors.
First, there is the athletic contest, at Olympia or Delphi or Nemea or the Isthmus or elsewhere, dedicated to Zeus or Apollo or Poseidon. This contest has a ritual side, but the epinician, which may be recited after the return of the victor to his home, which may be as far away as Sicily or North Africa, is only presumptively a part of that ritual. It may, indeed, at the same time partake of another; Pythian 5 may well have been recited during the Karneia at Cyrene. At whatever remove, the epinician includes the god to whom the athletic festival is dedicated, and the references are usually explicit and prolonged, like those to Zeus in Olympian 1 and to Apollo in Pythian 1.
Pindar’s epinicians, scored for public performance, include music, and the poet chooses (as a lyric poet also would have done) a preponderant meter, Aeolic or Doric. Though he is, in Thomson’s reading, free to vary and blend his meters, the particular mode chosen raises certain expectations, Doric being rather sterner than others, Aeolic rather more high-flown. In the myths themselves, as Ingomar Weiler points out, contests involving music and athletic contests are both distinguished from and associated with each other in many ways. This aspect of the myths finds an echo in Pindar’s free but conditioned handling of musical modes to celebrate athletic contests.
The occasion also includes dance, which the poems sometimes refer to, for example, in Pythian 2, (“lyre . . . that the footstep hearkens to” 1-2). The particular victory in the contest, chariot race or pentathlon, must also be mentioned, and along with it the home city of the victor. Odes sometimes celebrate even more than one victory, as Hamilton points out (pp. 103-105).
As a focus for the occasion a myth is chosen, and freely chosen: the myth may be that of the founding of the games themselves, as in Olym-pian 1, or the founding of the victor’s city, as in Pythian 4 and 5, or it may be one deemed appropriate to this particular victory, as the myth about Ajax is seen to be somehow appropriate for the boy Sogenes in Nemean 7. The myth chosen may combine all these stipulations: Jason is somehow appropriate to Arkesilas and also linked to him in the past of his city as providing the occasion whereby Euphamus would be on the move enough to have mysteriously begun its foundation.
And the home city of the poet, Thebes, may enter, as it does at the very end of Pythian 4. If a Theban myth has been chosen for a particular ode, that cannot be dissociated from the reciting poet. It becomes part of an elaborate compliment to the victor, diplomatic in that it implies that the victor is worthy of evoking from the poet a reference to the myths associated with his own native city.
All these elements are brought together by the act of praise and, finally, unified by it, as Segal’s (3) summary of Thummer’s categories points up: “(1) praise of the victory; (2) praise of the victor; (3) praise of the victor’s family; (4) praise of the victor’s city; (5) praise of the happiness connected with the victory; (6) praise of the poet and his art; (7) prayers; (8) main decorative components of the odes (proems and myths); (9) interconnection of the motifs of praise; (10) stylistic means of intensifying the praise.”
While, on the face of it, these are not all correlative, the unity of tone tends to make them so. They are bound also in the forceful connection between contest and victor which, for Pindar and Bacchylides alike, defines the occasion of the epinician ode. One could not refer to these motifs of praise in the context of the contest without interconnecting them. Pindar may vivify his own verbal acts of connection more impressively than Bacchylides does, but both poets are called on to perform the connection, in an act of recitation that is at once individual and public, that celebrates the commonalty of myth while at the same time resisting an unconsidered fusion into a cyclic, tribal world.
This yoking of the legendary and the momentary, the private act and the public celebration, keeps in dynamic suspension the connection between the myth and the poem’s moment, rather than simply transmitting the myth, as Homer may be said to do. So the connection between the aroused individual celebrant and his tribal myth is loosened.12
Where Heraclitus sets up a crux of definition between the individual and the crowd, the many and the few, Pindar dramatizes their poised reciprocity. Heraclitus allows the crowd to be sleepers but the logos to be common. Pindar does not wake them from the Homeric sleep other than to redefine the Homeric universe. The community of logos that he offers is not a philosophical questioning but a shared act of poetic redefinition passive on their part and active on his, but common nonetheless. It is with reference to Homer’s audience that he says, “the greater throng of men has a blind heart” (N.7.23-24). The groups of heroes in flower are connected with the gathering of peoples in space, implicitly in the emotional equivalent between the collective expedition of the Argo and the impetus of celebration in Cyrene, explicitly in the act of praise:
Without a shout did the flowers of heroes dwelling round about
Desire and willingly yield to his leadership,
Those who marshalled the host in craggy Athens
And the descendants of Pelops round Sparta.
A suppliant to the holy knees of Aeacus for his dear city
And for those citizens I seize and bear
A Lydian mitre ringingly bedecked,
A Nemean ornament for Deinias in the double stade and his father Megas.
Pindar is free not to use the formulaic verse-staples of the Homeric traditions, as were the poets who preceded him. The private lyric expression they developed is available to him, and the given conditions of the epinician occasion themselves offer a substitute for formulaic verses, since they amount to a sort of repertoire of thought-formulas.
And myths, too, are thought-formulas, in that they carry their connections along with them when chosen whole. To choose Aeacus or Pelops or Heracles is to choose congeries of story-units or mythemes from which some or all may be selected for presentation.
To contrast these mythemes, and their consequent gnomic concomitants, and to set them into prelude-like “priamels” and “foils,” performs a dynamic testing of the formulas. This testing does not undermine them; it revitalizes them. The glory Glaucus invokes when encouraging Sarpedon in the Iliad on the eve of battle is what all heroes may be said to assume. All victors assume the glory that the contest gives, but they are themselves powerless to express it, as silent as statues before the sounding articulation of the epinician ode itself.
Pindar, as it happens, abjures the identification of his epinicians with the cult statues of heroes, which had notably proliferated in the “severe” style of the archaic sculpture just before him:
I am not a statue-maker to fashion images
Reposing on their very pedestal
To stand; but upon every towed boat and in a skiff,
Sweet song, speed from Aigina, announcing
This very denial establishes a closeness of function between the statue and the poem, while insisting on the distinction between them. He substitutes for such static images an image of movement.
The epinician ode does have one kind of monumental repose; it doubles back upon itself in the threefold repeated colometry of strophe, antistrophe, and epode. There is in Pindar what Schadewalt calls a “horror . . . before the hiatus” (p. 40). Still, the very breaks between the stanzaic sections or cola of these triads produce a disjunction that is alien to the seamless and uninterrupted circularity of Homeric ring composition. That form is continued, as Illig and Finley (p. 71) have argued, in the rhetorical structure as well as in the rhythmic repetitions of the Pindaric ode. Schadewalt (p. 75) points out that Pythian 3 so composes the relation between Asklepios and Hieron. Here in his form, as in other respects, Pindar continues Homer, but with a signal difference.13
Homer moves unbrokenly, line by line, from a perceived item through its associations and back again to the perceived item. It is possible indeed, as Whitman has shown us, to map the whole presentational pattern of the Iliad as a set of geometric correspondences, an overall ring composition that eventually circles back on itself.
In Pindar, however, there are abrupt rhythmic breaks from stanza to stanza, and also abrupt interruptions of subject matter. Moreover, he is constantly circling back because in a sense he is always saying the same thing: that the heroic victor deserves godlike praise in the very brevity of life.
Pindar moves freely into his subject. The constant counterpoise of “foil,” “priamel,” and “cap” maintains the elevation while in fact permitting this associative freedom. And the complexity of the ode’s Programm guarantees that no element freely taken up in a given line will be unrelated to some aspect of what the poet’s commission obliges him to say. Pindar makes the tria of Stesichorus and Simonides sustain a digressive pressure which calls attention to both the manifest maintenance of the form and its ostensive subservience to a flow of constantly renewed myth-recall and axiom-testing.
By bringing an elaborated fixed form to bear upon a freely varied staple of statements Pindar highlights both the balance of the one form and the fluidity of the statements. His very freedom to turn where he will in his verse obliges him to make the fluidity work so as to bear up the staples of an ode’s Programm. In terms of words or verses (epeon) he speaks of their marshalled ranks (stiches, P.4.57) and of their placement (thesin, 0.3.8). The second strophe of Olympian 3, a rather even passage, may be taken to illustrate his strenuously careful attention to the placement, or ordonnance, of his words, item by item, in their effect at sustaining both the myth and the aphorism:
Having persuaded the people of the Hyperboreans, Apollo’s servant, by a statement,
Thinking loyal thoughts for the all-taking grove of Zeus he besought
A shadowy growth common for men and a crown of prowesses.
Already for him, the altars to his father consecrated,
A split־month moon had shone forth its whole
Eye of the golden-charioted evening. (16-20)
So far from formulaic is each of these words in turn that no one can be expected after the other. In that sense this poetry is already “modern,” emphasizing its liberation from its own conventions as well as from those of ordinary discourse. Yet in this instance there are no surprises of conjunction beyond the surprise of freedom.Pista does go with phroneon ordinarily enough, that thought with Dios whom one associates with aitei and with alsei, which in turn is expected to be pandoko, a sub-formulaic adjective, like skiaron, and chrysarmatos. Stephanon is conventional for aretan as well as literal—there will be a crown for the Olympic victor. The poetry of the last line resides not so much in invention of image as in the verbal conjunction which has suspended the subject of a sentence to the very end, linking each of the three nouns to an adjective from which it is separated by the strongly marked rhythmic phrasing of the dactylo-epitritic cluster: “hesperas opthalmon antephlexe mena.”
The effect is one of a constant elevation which, in its very suspension, calls attention to the mythic units being offered for glorious inspection. It is, as it were, correct but misleading to call this a “symbolic” effect. As Schadewalt says (p. 58), “Images have a far greater concrete valorization than we may feel in the ‘poetic image’.” Pindar is not a symbolic thinker in the sense that he offers, as the body of myth may be said to do, a single figure from whom a rich and somewhat contradictory set of statable inferences may be drawn. Rather, he takes that “symbolic” function over from the given body of Greek myth, precisely as a given. His poetic work consists in making it yield inferences, creating a balance thereby between the myths and the inferences. The “poetry” resides in the connections brought dexterously about between them. Pindar’s act of poetry is to make the myth yield inferences: he is less dark, and at the same time less to be taken for granted, than the myth-system on which he draws. In this sense he is, like Heraclitus, a wise man, a sophos as he repeatedly calls himself in a term that surely calls attention to more than the disjunct metrical and compositional skills of the aoidos (“singer”). “It is often impossible to define Pindar’s exact implication . . . The difficulty of understanding him is not in his boldness of language or use of myth or cult, but in the weight of meaning which his mythic figures carry.” (Finley, p. 6). If this is true, it is true globally of Pindar, rather than in an individual ode, where our very sureness that Pelops is being applied to Hieron or Jason and Euphamos to Arkesilas, acts as a guide to establishing the connections. Then, in the ode’s achieved system of connections, we have left the fixed Homeric-Olympian cosmos of assumptions. Thus to reaffirm this cosmos is to establish it in a freedom of utterance that radically qualifies it.
The consequent freedom of poetic statement is not just a personal achievement of Pindar’s; Bacchylides enjoys a similar freedom, though he chooses a linear clarity of deliberate presentation for his myths. Pin-dar in his freedom gives a richness of designative function to the individual metaphor, a richness independent of the myth if correlative with it. So when Jason is made to say of Pelias (P.4.109) that he was “obeying white thoughts” (leukais pithesanta phrasin), white, probably a hieratic color in early Greek and pre-Greek religion, probably has no hieratic function here, whether it refers to envy or simply to “the opposite of Homer’s black” and so “clear” rather than “deep” as the scholia say (Drachmann, II, 125, ad loc). The same may be said of the water and gold of Olympian 1 and Olympian 6 and elsewhere. J. Duchemin (p. 279) sees gold as “luminous burst or a color first of all, a visual notion.” The very isolation of the common words for light and its effects that Duchemin goes on (p. 282) to list amounts to a disjunct naming of mere qualities without reference to hieratic system: phaneros, phaidimos, aglaos, phengos, phaos, auge, phlegein, lamp ein.
Terms like these are in their nature hyperbolic. They accord extravagant praise to their object. If Zeus, “god of the bright sky” in A.B. Cook’s designation, is the source of light, then these terms of light carry with them an animism that becomes residual once the features of light are attributed to an object assigned but arbitrary, things associated to a winner in athletic games. The religious aura of the terms partakes of and evokes the religious aura of the games; but at the same time it releases that aura for uses which are also secular in their very freedom from the fixities of ritual utterances, to say nothing of ritual acts. Pindar never reminds us, as Burkert does (1972), that the Olympian and Pythian festivals have their origin in a sacrifice. The connection with cosmological magic is now vestigial; yet the sanctified air of that connection is deliberately called into play.
As J.A. Symonds (I, p. 349) says of Pindar, “splendor became his vital atmosphere.” Pindar’s hyperbole, a marked and constant feature of his poetic practice, cannot be divorced from the function he is per־forming. It is not just a stylistic option, chosen as an eighteenth-century poet or a modern poet might opt for the sublime. It resides already, at the very least, as a powerful tendency, both in the mythic situs of the games and the application of myth to a victor. To call hyperbole constantly into play is to evoke that situation and at the same time to master it by controlling it in a new poetic order. The whole mythic universe has been rendered available to personal but public manipulation: we are on our way to Greek tragedy (and in one sense at least, Pindar is more secular than Greek tragedy, which transposed but did not forget sacrifice).
The very meters of the poems have a hyperbolic ring. The especially long lines may be taken to suggest elevation, as may the elaborate variation from line to line and of metrical figures within the given line. A particular phrase attributed to the sons of Hermes in the list of Argonauts (P.4.179), kachladontes Heba, “ringing out with youth” not only sustains the elevation of the catalogue with an extravagant metaphor, it would seem to underscore the hyperbole with a particular swelling of long syllables.
“Flying” and “bold transgression” (Übergang) are the terms Hermann Fränkel (1927, p. 233) uses to characterize Pindar’s style. Hyperbole also characterizes his diction, not only in his fondness for terms about light, and not only in the use of superlatives, as David Young finds superlatives placed strategically first at the beginning and then at the end of Olympian 1. His diction generally tends towards hyperbole; he constantly uses religious terms:hieros, hagnos, hagnizo, katharos, semnos, sebizo, daimonios, deinos, terpnos. (This particular list is Rudberg’s, p. 265.) Verbs like thambein, “to wonder,” or the very frequent thallo, “to blossom,” have a hyperbolic cast, as do many other verbs he uses.14 The key terms aotos and kairos themselves are hyperbolic in conception: they denote a supreme moment in time, as acme does in space (and time). Many of Pindar’s most frequent adjectives too, carry a hyperbolic effect.15 And since the subjects he dwells on partake of the superlatives that are accorded them, his nouns frequently add to the hyperbole as well, nouns for sun, gold, eagle, renown, surge, crown, king, might, master, omphalos, hybris, grief, festival, bronze, garland, hymn of praise, hero, victor, splendor (charis), prophet, happiness, delight, wealth, desire, satiety, bliss, danger, lightning, peace, youth, effort, heart, herald, gain, thunderbolt, portent, fruit, perhaps even horse, and peak. To these, of course, the names of gods and heroes carry a superadded hyperbolic force.
The “counter-flash” (antephlex) of the Moon in the strophe quoted above from Olympian 3 breaks into a particular hyperbolic emphasis close to the end of a sentence whose final slowed rhythms suggest control. The immediately following antistrophe rhythmically matches and continues the elevated expression with a string of all but constantly hyperbolic words:
And a holy judgment of the great contests and along with it the fifth-year festival
He established on the hallowed banks of the Alpheus;
But the ground of Pelops did not blossom then with beautiful trees in the vales of Kronos’ son.
The garden bare of these seemed to him to be subdued to the sun’s sharp rays
Then his spirit urged him to journey to the land. (21-25)
Moreover, the whole passage gets a further hyperbolic force from the fact that all of these events are being recounted about a hero par excellence, Heracles.
The hypotactic syntax, of which Bacchylides did not avail himself so flexibly, helps to keep the sublime at its hyperbolic pitch, and also to display the inventive talent of the poet, whereas the hyperboles of ritual utterance in many cultures are characteristically paratactic and merely cumulative in their effect. At no point can one find in liturgical texts the constant effort at inventive variation that Pindar offers.
Pindar puts himself in a position where the hyperbole constantly lifts the assertion into acts of praise that in a primitive style would be more automatic. Blame is not a possible use of poetry for Pindar, and he is conscious, as he keeps telling us, that pessimism is to be avoided. Even “at a distance” he says he has seen the straits to which the practice of calumny had reduced Archilochus (Pythian 2.55), and yet it is significant for his sense of his own inventions that he thus singles out this particularly inventive poet as a predecessor.
The meter, too, at every step makes us aware of the poet’s necessity to invent, because the length of a strophic line is not fixed till it is produced, nor is the length that of the next line. The hexameter itself, in Nagy’s reading, is a composite of underlying Indo-European meters, an expansion from the base of the pherecratics which are still a resource for Pindar. In that sense his usage takes advantage of primitive patterns in this and other comparably staple lyric measures, when he would choose an Aeolic measure for part or all of a poem. But the hexameter is fixed, whereas Pindar, in Thomson’s reading, can change the meter in mid-line, or even change the mode through devices of protraction, overlap, resolution, link, anacrusis, echo, and even concurrence, when two meters are arguably present. And by Pindar’s time, in A.M. Dale’s deduction, the metrical patterns had become an abstract, partially interchangeable repertory. Certainly we must allow some version of Thomson’s and Dale’s theses, indeed, when the same scansions produce somewhat different, and equally plausible assignment of metrical combinations to, say, Olympian 1, from Thomson, Snell, and Gildersleeve. The dactylo-epitrites of Pythian 4 and other poems often flow along almost like dactylic hexameters, but the poet is always free to shorten or lengthen his line. This freedom, in concert with hyperbolic diction and the eulogistic occasion, makes it seem that Pindar, unlike the Homeridae he mentions in Nemean 2.1, is not drawing the means of praise from hoary tradition, but strenuously creating it anew with every foot of his meter.
Doric, Aeolic, Ionic, and Paeonic are each still more composite as meters than is the hexameter or even the Sapphic and Alcaic stanzas. The Homeric hexameter moves from more variables at the beginning of a line (Russo) to fewer at the end—towards a poetic closure in the line itself—while Pindar’s meter stays open to the end. Pindar goes further and blends the modal measures so that their already composite figures are made to blend into further compositions with each other. This produces the significant overtones of combining the mood-associations of the individual modes.Pythian 12, written for a victory in a flute-playing contest, speaks of Athene’s inventing the art of flute-playing as a death dirge for Medusa, and the myth of the many-headed monster and the much-varied music are linked in the description, “finding it for mortals to have/ She called it the mode of many heads” (kephalan pollan noman, 22-23). The statement converges with the poetry, the act of those who use statement with that of the singers (logiois kai aiodidois, Pythian 1.93, where logiois in its combination must mean something like “unaccompanied and unmetrical statement-makers”—a term which might well include others than Farnell’s ‘historians’ [sub voc] among the logioi).
To begin with, poetry of celebration occurs, according to the typology of the Chadwicks (III, 706ff.), at the earliest stage of oral literature. Their type D comprises appeals, exhortations, hymns, elegies, and panegyrics. It would therefore include all the kinds of poetry Pindar wrote —epinicians, dithyrambs, hymns, parthenia, enkomia, hyporchemata, prosodia, and paeans. This poetry of celebration is prior to all other types, except for the other ‘primary’ type E, poems of personal diversion (of which the Pindaric epinicians might also be considered an expansion). Narrative poetry, both heroic (war) and nonheroic (religion and law), their type A, tends to be derived in primitive cultures from the poetry of celebration, as are type B, “speeches of dialogues in character,” and type C, “didactic poetry or saga.”
Whether or not this typology is wholly or partly adopted, the early productions which it is classifying highlight by comparison Pindar’s act of reversion to what is a kind of primary poetic mode. The sense in which he elaborates his predecessors is triumphantly apparent in the very hyperbolic character of his work. What is less apparent is that the substratum of hyperbole itself amounts to a recovery, as well as an invention, of a direct state of mind that wills a union of distant god and present leader-hero under the aegis of ritual praise. In this, as in other respects, Pindar’s poetic practice parallels the chthonic revivals of pre-Olympian religion contemporary with him. And the very elaborateness of his invention, at the same time, brings to bear upon that act of praise a kind of purified mind, which parallels the purity that Heraclitus enjoins upon those who would celebrate sacrifices without pollution (B 69).
Certain of Pindar’s hyperbolic nouns, like kairos, aotos, and charis, have the force of philosophical abstractions. They define the special qualities of the area where myth is predominant but are not themselves susceptible of being combined in philosophical propositions, beyond the after-the-fact of a gnomic apophthegm. They are, however, susceptible to remythologizing. The “truth” which is “laid bare” (a-letheia, in Heidegger’s emphasis) is itself derived, improvisationally and thus unstably, from this or that combination of mythic figures: “O mother of gold-crowned contest, Olympia,/ Mistress of Truth” (0.8.1-2); “Truth, daughter of Zeus” (0.10.4); “O mistress Truth, beginning of great virtue” (Fgt. 205).
In each of these cases truth is a product equally of the outcome of the victory and of the poet’s utterance—an abstract product, managed beyond the function of the poet to confect credible lies. This ability to tell charming lies, which Hesiod claims as the validation of his poet’s function, Pindar explicitly avoids. And yet his “truth” has not yet become what it will be for the philosopher.16 It could be rendered simply as “veracity” in each of these passages.
The very improvisational character of these phrases forbids our taking them allegorically, while their myth-oriented genealogy at the same time would easily lend them to such a function. They are freer and quicker, we may conjecture, than, for example, Alcman’s attempts in this: “Chance, sister of Good-order and Persuasion/ And sister of Forethought” Fgt. 62, (45). Pindar’s combinations provide a comparable phrasing—“Who did not bring Pretext,/ Daughter of late-born Afterthought” (P.5.26-27)—but this is parenthetical, as is another comparable phrase, “the streams of forethought lie afar” (N. 11.46).
Here the identification of abstractions and the possibility of myth-combinations flow into one another in a sensitized but open state of expression. Before long a more rigid meter, the hexameter, will be used to cast such faintly allegorized abstractions in the role of rigid and powerful quasi-mythic figures, the Aletheia of Parmenides, the Philotes and Neikos of Empedocles. The last of Pindar’s phrases quoted is a thread in a tissue of maxims:
Trees are not wont in all circuits of years
To bear a sweet-smelling flower equal in wealth,
But in a change. And thus does fate conduct
The mortal race. From Zeus for men a clear sign [tekmar, “goal”]
Does not follow. But still we embark on great endeavors
Striving after many deeds. By a shameless hope
The limbs are bound. The streams of forethought lie afar.
It is necessary to hunt for a measure of gains.
The rages are too keen of unattainable desires. (N. 11.40-48)
Characteristically, the pressure of the ode at its conclusion leaves only gnomic abstractions to sustain a summary. The tale of the myths alone will not do, except sometimes at the very end, and then sketchily. Here the power of the myth is rendered in the metered deliberations of conventional thought. That power is still present, but it stands in need of constant linguistic resuscitation.
The very arbitrariness of combination permits “cap” after “cap” of statement (to expand Bundy’s term somewhat), derived from and at the same time brought to bear on the legendary figures Heracles (27), Orestes (34), and Melanippus (37), as well as on the faintly abstract divinities Hestia (1) and Themis (9). Such recombination is in fact characteristic of the odes, which often offer series of mythic figures in quick succession, as in the beginning of Nemean 10 and Isthmian 7 or the end of Pythian 8 and Pythian 11. The last, like Nemean 10, presents Castor and Polydeuces as surviving among the gods after complex attainment, whereas in the Iliad they are held by the “life-giving earth” (3.243), examples of a seasonal circularity. The old system of Homeric virtues and rewards—timé, areté, euchos, aidos, alké, kleos, etc.—is still present in Pindar, as Podlecki notes. But it is made to undergo a circuit of recombination and revivification of which the athletic contest itself—a contest is not, after all, a war—may be taken to be a symbolic expression.
“Great deeds of prowess are always many-mythed” (aretai d’aiei megalai polymuthoi, P.9.76), and the arete of a heroic performance leads up to and away from a myth in both directions, a process Pindar defines by the act of bringing arete and muthos into a perpetual, and arbitrary conjunction.
The unity of the poem and also the main thrust of its impetus must be located in this constant mediation. As Schadewalt says (p. 18), “It is, however, also the force of substantive thinking and discovery that operates in the manifold inflections of the nuclear motifs under consideration in the song’s beginning.” Pindar keeps emphasizing the need for the poet to accord honor, quoting Homer in this connection (P.4.277 ff, a version of Iliad 15.207). For him, the act of according honor is one with the act of bringing it into interpretive relation to the myth. “For the all there is want/of interpreters’’ (es de to pan hermaneon chatizei, 0.2.8586). He thinks over his mythic material and draws conclusions from it, in a manner not wholly different from Herodotus’, and with a specific occasion before him calling for associative explanation, as Herodotus’ larger occasion also does.
Without effectuating Heraclitus’ problematic fusion between men and gods, Pindar holds himself back before the possibility of transfers of identification among them, through the agency of myth. Myth, which organizes the realm of the gods, may be made through poetry to yield a gnomic wisdom that is the property of men. And part of that wisdom is to know human limits, “Peer no further” (0.1.114). The assignment of myth to the gods and proverbs to men is not stable, however, because it is precisely the myths that can be made to yield the proverbial utterances, and from one vantage there is “one descent of men, one of gods; we both breathe from one mother.” (N.6.1-2). Even if one were to peer further, the wisdom of men falls short of that of the gods:
What do you hope wisdom (sophia)
To be, in which but a little
Man holds over man?
For there is no way the gods’
Counsels can be tracked out for a mortal mind. (Fgt. 61)
Having a god present, traditionally, lengthens bliss (olhos): “for planted with the god/ Does bliss linger more for men” (N.8.16-17).
Philip Slater discerns a whole quasi-Freudian family dynamic in the mythic system of Greece, wherein terror at the power of strong female figures produces the counter-reaction of emphasizing powerfully heroic males and cultivating, both athletically and erotically, younger men. Pindar, who is supposed to have died in the arms of an ephebe-lover, and who celebrated the living athletes by associating them with legendary heroes, not only inherits but vivifies this dynamic; and it is suggestively appropriate that he both mentions the mother goddess and is supposed to have had a shrine dedicated to her before his house. His dwelling on mother goddesses energizes the same constellation of features that underlay the chthonic revivals in the Demeter and Persephone cults, the mysteries and so on.17 But this whole, special dynamic is not exactly affirmed (or denied) by Pindar. Rather, it is a framework for another dynamic, that of envisioning, and articulating, and also evoking, the power of the myth in such a way as to provide a focus for both men and gods. “Life (aion) with rolling days changes one way and another; but unscathed are the sons of gods” (7.3.19). This conclusion to a poem so short that it has no myth just evades making absolute the main mangod separation of its basic contrast by referring not to gods but to the “sons of gods,” leaving open the possibility of the divine parentage for mortals, in Aeacus and Peleus and Amphitryon and Coronis and others, that enters so often into the myths he does recount.
The heroic act or athletic victory itself moves up to, and is contained by, the at once analogous and inseminating mythic power. As Paolo Vivante says (p. 130) “the action grows out of the vision.” And this is equally true of the poet, a sophos who possesses his sophia by nature, “Wise he knowing many things by nature” (0.2.86). The beginning of Olympian 2 affects to ask “what god, what hero, what man shall we proclaim?”. It answers its own question by naming one of each: Zeus, Heracles, and Theron. Their points of similarity are kept at once provisional and vividly present as an impetus for the particular poetic act being carried out:
The god achieves every goal [tekmar, “sign”] for hopes,
The god who found even the winged eagle and changed
The dolphin in the sea and bent one of high-thinking mortals
And gave ageless glory to others. I must
Flee the violent bite of slanders (P.2.49-53)
Here, too, the act of granting glory to some mortals and denying it to others is coordinated with the power of managing the hieratic figures of air and sea, and not only of inspiring the poet but also of obliging him to avoid the practice, and hence the fate, of the Archilochus whom Pindar here goes on to name.
The heightened seasonal world of cyclic time glimpsed in these lines, and expressed by Pindar generally in his sense of peak-moment (kairos) and flower (aotos), both includes and transcends a tribal sense of the relation between men and gods. After the beginning of literacy, some such vision of permanence in the transitory tends to qualify a merely cyclic and tribal sense of seasons and generations. Such a notion transmutes the Homeric notion about the good seasonal life of peacetime; it performs a reflective act thereupon, and it is Pindar, first and foremost, who formulates the transmuted notion about the seasons, in such a way that even hoariness and youth can be associated with one another fruitfully but unseasonably (para ton halikias eoikota chronon, o.4.31), a notion with which he concludes a short poem. The island of Rhodes fuses with the rose (rhodos) plucked by the sun in Olympian 7. Kings, wise men, and heroes recover from the cycle of Persephone’s punishment (Fgt. 133), and the land of the blest in Olympian 2 is a heightened version of seasonal enjoyments here on this earth. In fragment 131b a distinction is made between the body and the persistent life, an “image of age” (aionos eidolon) “which alone is from the gods.”
Beyond the seasons is the momentary but successful presence of a human life for which the victor’s splendor stands. All the presences in Pindar’s victory odes illustrate what the athlete or his sponsor is supposed to glimpse, some kind of transcendence of momentary glory. They participate in celebration while being taken formally just as occasions for deduction and recommendation; the latter function is one not to be found in tribal rituals at all. And the earliest festivals had been celebrated each time simply with the “kallinikos” poem of Archilochus (Olympian 9.1). Pindar, by centering on deduction and recommendation about his victors, has displaced and somewhat suppressed the dominance of the sacred in the act of celebration, thereby rendering it at once more questionable and more powerful. The act of poetic deduction is a bridge of evocation across the abyss that separates gods from men.
In Olympian 2 such a state clarifies the vision of the afterlife, itself only partially resolved into a recommendation for virtue. In Olympian 14 the Graces are its sources and its guarantors: “Heirs of Cephisian waters who inhabit a lovely-colted seat, mistresses of song,” say the opening lines of that poem. Not only “is all this pleasing and/ sweet achieved with you for mortals,/ if a man be wise, if handsome, if glorious” (5-7) but “not even the gods without the holy Graces/ Can proclaim dances or feasts.” The effect is to evoke a state so primal that both men and gods, from this momentary viewpoint, stand identically disposed towards it. The gods accord bliss, but in the conclusion of another poem so short as to be mythless, Pythian 7, men even in the face of envy enjoy a “steadfast . . . blessedness” (parmoniman . . . eudai-monian), “For they say/ Thus for a man steadfast/ Blossoming bliss/ Brings this and that” (15-18). Here the contrast between the bliss and the envy is not resolved nor does it need to be. The many victories of Megacles and his kin here (10-14) persist in such a state, under the sponsorships, indistinguishably blinded, of Apollo (8), the city of Athens (1-7), and the poet (3, 14).
The bliss of contact between men and gods can be sexual, as in Pythian 9’s poetically savored union between Apollo and the nymph Cyrene. And if the sexual bliss is illusory, it will be fatal: on a cloud he believes to be Hera Ixion fathers a creature who, in the next generation (Pythian 2), mates to produce the race of centaurs, dangerous but benevolent. Still, the benevolence can be itself dangerous, and Asklepius is punished for trying to bring back the dead, a limit we are reminded of in a poem (Pythian 3) whose overreaching rhetorical thrust is to express the somewhat contrary wish that Asklepius’ sire, the centaur Cheiron, were still alive to cure the sick Hieron.
That a limit exists between men and gods is a topos so recurrent in Pindar that its very presence as a negation makes it linger as an aspiration:
If one peers to the far
He is short to reach the gods’ bronze-floored seat (7.7.43-44)
The bronze heaven will not ever be approachable to him (P. 10-26)
Do not, dear soul, aspire to immortal life. (P.3.61)
Do not seek to become a god. (0.5.27)
The limit governs the expressed closeness, and the more rarely expressed distance, between heroes of legend and victors of the real present. The “wondrous road” that Perseus travelled to the Hyperboreans long ago “you would not find going by ship or on foot” (P. 10.29-30). Happiness may come if the second generation persists, as Amphiaraus’ son Alemeon does in Pythian 8, or for the descendants of Ixion; or unhappiness can come, as it does to the seemingly wholly blissful Cadmus and Peleus, “who they say held the highest bliss of mortals” (P.3.88-89).
To this day in Africa in oral, tribal cultures the lines of ancestors are recited by rote. Something like such a recitation persists in the formula-fixed patronymics of the Iliad. In exploring dynastic origins, Pindar piously preserves them and at the same time boldly questions them for their aphoristic yield of possible connection to the descendants of the present day. It is in such a connection that Isthmian 5 offers (20-53) a long list of Aeacids. Usually they are not left in their series; the series is shaken up. And Pindar is remarkable, in contrast with Homer before him or the tragedians after, for dwelling on the earliest state of his dynasties, on the foundation of the Olympian games by Pelops; on Aeacus and the Aeacids; on Cadmus and Peleus rather than on Oedipus and Achilles. The birth of Heracles in Nemean 1 is an “ancient statement” (archaion logon, 34), as Méautis emphasizes (p. 174). But then Pindar gives us the successors too, Adrastus and Amphiaraus of the Seven Against Thebes, and the son of Achilles, together with his role in establishing the Pythian games, Neoptolemos, at greater length than Achilles himself.
Amphiaraus prophesies for his son in Pythian 8 as Medea is made to prophesy for Euphamus in Pythian 4: the dynastic past is rendered as a hopeful future. And the figures carry their own weight, as a kind of present, rather than in the simple past ancestor-series so familiar from oral cultures around the world. So the very end of Pythian 8, coupling extreme and illusory transience with a bright Zeus-given glory, coneludes with the bare near-litany of heroic names: Zeus; Aeacus, the founder of a dynasty; and Telamon, the father of a Trojan warrior who built the walls of Troy. After all these comes the legendary hero himself. His connection with the Aeginetan boy wrestler of immediate celebration is left hanging, the poem having worked up to a conclusion that it can totally take for granted:
Of a day! What is one? What not? A dream of a shadow is
Man. But when the Zeus-given gleam comes
There is a shining light for mortals and a honeyed age.
Aegina, dear mother, on a free voyage
Conduct this city with Zeus and with ruling Aeacus,
Peleus and good Telamon and with Achilles.
If there is anything asserted at the center of Pindar’s epinician odes, it is an attitude, which is recommended to both the winner and, by social inclusion, the reciting poet and his auditors. The attitude would seem to cry out for recommendation, and to require the definition that the ode provides. The attitude does not begin as a staple, even if it ends as one. It must be tested, by the realms of the gods and the heroes of the legendary past, and by the facts, perceptual and emotional, of the recited present.
The quasi-permanent bliss of the victor is, as always, cursorily envisioned in Olympian 1:
The victor for the rest of his life
Has a honeying calm
Because of his prizes. Nobility ever day by day afresh [aiei]
Comes highest for all of mortals. (97-100)
Yet the contradiction is not resolved just by this perception, and not just by the corresponding awareness of transience and mortality. As Charles Segal says of this poem (1964, p. 228), “though the First Olympian ends in triumph, it is a triumph gained only through the fullest acceptance of the negative implications of mortality. The joy and radiance of Pelops’ fame do not cancel fully the darkness and suffering of his prayer.”
The equilibrium is dynamic that obtains between the radiance and the darkness. The poem, in its progression, calls into play what seems a single force welling up, a powerful pressure that channels all the fluidity of the contradictions. In visual terms these can be tabulated not only into “radiance” and “darkness,” but into the near (human) and the far (divine), as Young (pp. 49, 116-120) has impressively done. But the far is always envisioned by the near, and the near always stands in need of a prospect on the far that the elevation of the poem provides.
Pindar’s key words, into which his gnomic language can be resolved, and his key myths, which are at the center of most of the individual odes, are alike in providing this elevation. Not only can the myth be translated into the key word, and vice versa, myth into language and language back again into myth. This very process is not simply a technique of explanation offered to the auditor, something the Theogony may be said to present before Pindar and the poems of Empedocles and Parmenides after him. Rather, it is an act of participative realization. The dark side and the bright side of the myth are not offered for com־ pieteness, but rather for a hortatory relationship to the very side of life which both the athletics and the mythology are seen to bring into coherent focus. Nearly every epinician ode turns a celebration of past triumph into an exhortation for a future whose guiding light will be an informed, and aroused, realization of what the triumph has implied. This notion can be pressed to seem a Xenophanic side of Pindar, and “Do not, dear soul, strive for life immortal” can imply an injunction to stress the bright side of life rather than the hidden side of the gods.
The complex reminders of Nemean 7 amount to an encouragement to thread through such difficulties as time may present to mortal life, for, after all, legendary times presented comparable ones to the founding heroes. Though the goddess of birth provides light (phaos, 3), “we do not all breathe to equal ends” (5). Even “the glorious songs of verses with Memory of the shining diadem” (15-16) may require some such act of realization as Pindar provides to resolve the contradiction between the beauty of celebratory verse and the facts. Pindar asserts that the fountainhead of “verses” (epeon, 16), Homer, has through the sweetness of his verse (dia ton haduepe, 21) given a too preponderant, and in fact a false (23), reputation to Odysseus over Ajax. “Skill (sophia) steals, leading astray with myths” (23). This maxim is not a caveat about himself, but the announcement of a way resolutely to transcend Homeric practice, as Heraclitus has transcended it, by weighing properly what the myth may yield. “Skills (sophiai) are difficult” (O.9.107-108).
The Neoptolemos of the ode’s central myth is factored down from various lies about him to a base of joy-after-suffering. He is buried at Delphi after sacking Troy (35-36), since the “wave of Hades weighs on the famous and the fameless alike” (31). The contradictions here are sorted out between the desirability and the inconsequentiality of fame-bestowing song, not by logical resolution but by the plain circumstances of the case. Pindar reminds the audience it is common knowledge that “sacking Neoptolemos came to an honored rest; the witness is not false” (49), “rest is sweet in every deed” (52), and “even honey and the pleasant flowers of Aphrodite have satiety” (52-53).
However difficult it may be to interpret just what Neoptolemos did, it is clear this is meant to be overcome by the act of heartening that the ode achieves, for the audience, and explicitly for the victor, Sogenes; for his father, Thearion, to whom maxims are also addressed (58); and for Pindar, who himself resembles Neoptolemos in being a voyager whom no one should blame (64-65), since he observed his limit (terma, 71) like the very athlete of the pentathlon whom he pointedly read-dresses (70). “If there was toil, delight comes along the greater” (74), and this can be applied to Aeacus and giant-taming (90) Heracles too (83-105). As Charles Segal shows us (1967), the complications are themselves a kind of intellectual foil pointing to their own resolution, through the myth and the carefully managed interpretation of myth.
The result of awareness is a state of mind “weaving together a bliss for gentle youth and old age” (N.8.98-99), a state addressed as “Loving-minded Peace, great-citied daughter of Justice” in Pythian 8 (1-2). The late ode places in the foreground a resolution of moods, against “unhoneyed grudge” (8) and “hybris” (11). The hero may have strength, but mere strength is not enough without awareness and control, “force deceives even the great-boaster in time” (15), and the mythic exemplum is again the Typhon of Pythian 2. Aegina is located in space as “not far from the Graces” (21), the trope of litotes evoking both nearness and distance as it links the gnomic and the mythic, the actual and the legendary, the human island with its tutelary gods. What Amphiaraus riddled (ainixato, 40) is now increased (auxon,38) by the victor, and by the poet who is responding from his own debt or need (chreos) to the boy (33). This victor, having actualized the circuit of myths around the Seven against Thebes, has been granted by Apollo “the greatest of delight” (64). He is welcomed home by feasts after his victory, and there is the string of victories won by various members of his family at various contests (70-84). For the losers there was no such “grace (charis) of sweet laughter roused round their mother as they come home.” They “cowered, bitten by chance” (85). This contrast leads into the concluding contrast between the brevity of life and its glory, achieved by the ode in such a way that another series of mythic figures need only be named.
The structure here is constantly mobile and self-defining. But the end effect is a poise that Finley (p. 23) compares to architecture. Pindar frequently borrows metaphors from architecture to designate his poems, as Burton (p. 17) points out.18 The contrastive inspection of myth tends to freeze not the cult figure but the whole, balanced contemplation of victory and related myths and poetry into one apprehended object, rather like a temple.
Pindar’s handling of myth is complete. He differs from Plato, who either receives his myths without any question or subjects them to mere allegorization, as he does with the myth of Prometheus, or invents wholly new ones. The myth of Er in the Tenth Book of The Republic translates a pre-Socratic cosmology into an eschatological myth. Plato, who quotes Pindar off and on in The Republic, does not mention him in this vision of the afterlife. Pindar’s afterlife in Olympian 2 is too fully absorbed in the poetic ascertainment of conditions and possibilities for bliss to alter what he has been given. He merely translates it, by a strenuous act of forcing the conditions of the epinician art to yield a self-definition.