Eyridiki Sellou | Nov 25, 2023

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Pindar, in ancient Greek Πίνδαρος

A strong personality deeply attached to traditional religion and to the ancient Dorian aristocracy that predominated in Thebes, Pindar disliked Athens whose democratic spirit worried him: preferring cities governed by an aristocracy that knew how to establish Eunomia (the "good order", from the ancient Greek εὐνομία), he devoted his songs to celebrating this old ideal. As a worthy heir to the aristocratic and Dorian conception of athletic contest, Pindar is the first to make the epinicia, a triumphal hymn, a kind of poem whose meaning is both religious and moral. Considered since antiquity as the undisputed and inimitable master of Greek choral lyricism, a synthesis of poetic, musical and choreographic art, he also inaugurates in his Triumphal Odes a powerful art with learned rhythms where sumptuous images abound, an art rediscovered by the Moderns only in the 19th century, and which has inspired the greatest poets. By evoking "serene Pindar full of epic rumors", Victor Hugo summarized the two essential features of the Greek poet, the quiet and almost religious majesty which struck his admirers, and the vigor flowing in the broad and sonorous streams of his images and his language.

The biographical elements we have on Pindar are thin, despite the five Lives left by Antiquity.

The beginnings of the poet

According to tradition, he is a member of an aristocratic family. His father was named Daïphante and his mother, Cléodicé. He was born in 518 in Cynocephales, in Béotie, a village at the doors of Thèbes; he says with pride " child of the illustrious Thèbes, whose sources quenched his thirst ". In fragment 193 of his works, he evokes "the quinquennial festival

Maturity and glory

In 480 BC, the Persians invaded Greece. Thebes, governed by an aristocracy, pacted with the enemy near which it fights; the Persian general Mardonios occupies the city and Thebes provides him the support of its cavalry with the battle of Platées in 479; after the victory of the Greek army, Thebes is besieged and the leaders of the party mède put to death. Did Pindar approve this policy of alliance with the Persians, as the historian Polybe of Megalopolis affirms? He undoubtedly feared a civil war if a violent revolt broke out against the power of the Theban oligarchs. It is certain in any case that he had to suffer thereafter from the treason of the Thebans and that he regretted it as shows the panegyric which he makes of the bravery of the Eginetes, composed right after the victory of Salamine in 480 as well as the panegyrics composed for Athens: in one of them, Pindar celebrates Athens as the rampart of Greece: " O you, illustrious Athens, brilliant, crowned with violets and famous by your song, rampart of Hellade, divine city ". Athens rewards him by allotting him the dignity of proxene and by gratifying him with ten thousand drachmas for the dithyramb that he devoted to her. But it is Simonide de Céos, not Pindare, who made himself the song of the victories gained against Persians.

Between 480 and 460, Pindar's fame spread all over the Greek world; crowned with the full glow of his glory, he became attached to various Greek aristocratic courts, such as that of the tyrant Hieron of Syracuse, in whose honor he composed the First Olympics and the first three Pythics, or that of the king of Cyrene, Aresilaus IV, for whom he composed the Fourth and Fifth Pythics. These princely clients, at the head of an important fortune, were indeed the only ones to be able to practise the breeding and to have carriages for the two tests of the horse race and the race of carts. In the field of the epinicies ordered by the Greek tyrants of Sicily, it is competed by the poet Bacchylide, characterized by a more delicate style. This competition is indicated by some features of jealousy in one and the other of these two poets.

As Pindar attended most often the Panhellenic games, and then generally directed himself the execution of his triumphal odes, it is certain that during these twenty years he had to travel almost all Greece. He is in relation with the king of Macedonia, Alexander I, for whom he composes a praise. It is in memory of the relations of Alexander I of Macedonia with Pindar, that, according to the legend, Alexander the Great spared the house of the lyric poet in Thebes during the sack of this city by the Macedonians. Probably in 476, Pindar went to Sicily, to the court of Theron of Acragas and to that of Hieron. On this occasion, he travels through the main cities of Sicily, including Syracuse. He seems to express a personal impression when he evokes, in the First Pythic, Etna in eruption with its torrents of red lava rolling "blocks of rock with a bang". Another journey undoubtedly led him to Arcésilas IV, king of Cyrène, a city he seems to have visited and of which he describes the long road paved with solid blocks that the ancestors of the king had built in the middle of the sands by conquering it on the desert.

Pindar was married to a woman named Megaclee, according to the biography of Eustathius, and he had two daughters and a son named Daiphantos who was a daphnephorus in Thebes.

Pindar's old age is overshadowed by the misfortunes of Thebes, defeated and dominated by Athens, from 457 to 447, in spite of the success of the Thebans at the battle of Coronaea (446 BC). He died at the age of eighty, according to one of his biographers, perhaps in Argos shortly after 446, which is the latest year of his works that we can date. According to the biography of Suidas, Pindar would have died in the theater of Argos, during a representation, the head leaned on the shoulder of his young friend Théoxène of Ténédos, for whom he had composed an In praise of love quoted by Athénée, this scene would have occurred in the gymnasium.

The Pindaric corpus has come down to us in the form of papyri (from the 2nd century BC to the 2nd century AD), including many fragments of peans and epinicies. We also have manuscripts from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, among which the most important are Ambrosianus C 222, Vaticanus græcus 1312, Laurentianus 32, 52 and Parisinus græcus 2774. They come from a selection made in the third century and include only epinicies.

We have preserved from Pindar four books of epinicies or triumphal odes (in ancient Greek ἐπίνικοι

The epinicies represent only about a quarter of the whole of Pindar's work, which makes it difficult to appreciate in all its diversity the art of this poet and to judge the evolution of his style; the enormity of his production, quantified at about twenty-four thousand verses (in the κῶλα

A poetry sung and danced

The Greek choral lyricism is at the same time dance, as much as poetry and music. The performance of Pindar's odes, which the poet often had to supervise himself, could take place during a private ceremony, a banquet, in the presence of a restricted public; but if the triumphal ode was performed during the procession accompanying the return of the victor to his homeland, or even, more rarely, during the march of the procession which accompanied him to the temple where he was going to lay down his victor's wreath, the public was then numerous.

We know the sacred value of dance in Greece in solemn ceremonies. Thus, the hymns in honor of the gods were danced in a circle around an altar, with a movement to the right, then to the left, before the final stop. The great odes of Pindar were also sung and danced by a choir recruited among the children, the girls or the young people of good birth, in the city where these odes were carried out. The number of members of this choir varied from fourteen to fifty according to the importance of the ceremony. The song was performed by a soloist, or by the whole choir, or by the soloist and the choir alternating. It was the leader of the choir who intoned each stanza after having preluded with his zither: at the beginning of the First Pythic, Pindar evokes "the golden lyre" and "the first notes of the preludes which guide the choirs". The musical instruments accompanying the song were the lyre, the phorminx, the double flute called aulos; one also found the large Phrygian flute in boxwood and the Lydian flute with high sounds for the high notes or as support of the voices of children. The double accompaniment of the phorminx and the flute appears in the IIIrd, VIIth and Xth Olympics, while the Ist and IInd Pythics are accompanied only by the zither.

The musical mode, according to the odes, was Aeolian, Dorian or Lydian; the Aeolian mode, with the lightness of the rhythm with three times, was brilliant, lively and impassioned; the Dorian mode, where dominated the long syllables, produced a virile and majestic impression, as it is the case in III Olympics; finally the Lydian mode, more dolent, appears in V and XIII Olympics. These melodies guided the movements and the rhythmic step of the choreutes; from the old testimonies, it appears that, in the choral lyricism, the poet composed at the same time the words and the music on which they were sung; the strophe and the antistrophe of an ode corresponded to evolutions in opposite direction, and the epode, with a song on the spot which allowed a better listening of the text. Pindar himself indicates these dancing movements and their musical accompaniment: "Weave, sweet phorminx, weave without further delay, in the Lydian mode, this song loved by Œnone and Cyprus"; it is possible that a circular orchestral movement accompanied the narrative unfolding of the myths, until the final stop marked by the epode, but the musical and choreographic score of these odes has not been transmitted to us, and this aspect of choral lyricism escapes us nowadays. These three arts, dance, music and poetry, allied and subordinated, appear intimately united within the rhythmic and prosodic structure of Pindar's odes.

Structure and meters

The scholars in charge of editing the text of the Odes had to solve a delicate problem of presentation of Pindar's verses in an edition of the Triumphal Odes. For a long time, their ordering has been a problem in terms of where to place the beginning and the end of the verses, and how to delimit sequences that one does not know where to punctuate. In the Hellenistic period, Aristophanes of Byzantium and Aristarchus of Samothrace placed Pindar's work in the Alexandrian Canon. They establish an edition on which philologists have long relied. The Hellenistic grammarians fix the text in the form of côla (from Greek κῶλα

While originally the stanzas of a lyric poem were sometimes all similar, Pindar's odes are presented in the form of the famous triads of Stesichore, i.e. groups comprising a stanza, an antistrophe and an epode; this last one, built on a different meter, was sung on a different tune than the previous ones, and accompanied by a dance also different. Some of Pindar's odes have only one triad, many have between four and six, and the IV Pythic has thirteen. A large stanza of Pindar comprises more than ten or sometimes more than fifteen members, unequal and variously constituted from the point of view of prosody.

Each ode of Pindar has its own metric structure. The meters that the poet used the most are the logaedic meters, also called aeolian meters, in the tradition of Alceus of Mytilene and Sappho, and the dactylo-epitrite meters, called Dorian meters, characterized by the epitrite (in these two types, dactyls and trochees are combined or follow each other. They share more or less equally the whole of the Odes. Only the II Olympian and the V Pythian, which have a religious and serious character, have as their dominant foot the peon, composed of one long and three short (- ∪∪∪∪∪ -).

Then the question of the unity of the ode arises. Pindar's odes do not conform to any plan as to the themes treated. The poet himself declares in his Xth Pythic: "Like the bee, my beautiful hymns of praise fly from one subject to another". A first current of research, described as "historicist", represented by authors such as Böckh and Wilamowitz (19th century), has focused on identifying biographical or historical elements in the text. Another current preferred to focus on the "lyrical idea" behind each art (Dissen, Metger, Alfred Croiset, 19th century). The contemporary criticism tries for its part to note the recurrence of motives and images.

Pindar and the esoteric doctrines

Esoteric doctrines were widespread in Pindar's time, and the tyrants of Agrigento and Syracuse whom he knew in Sicily may have had indulgences in mysticism. There is no doubt that Pindar was influenced by the mystical currents of his time. A whole cluster of clues in his work provides proof of this. It is not possible to say precisely which mystical currents are involved, since Orphism and Pythagoreanism are indistinguishable at this date.

In the crowd of Greek deities, Pindar seems to give a particular importance to those who preside over the mysteries. Perhaps he himself was initiated at Eleusis, as we can think from this fragment of Threne quoted by Clement of Alexandria:

"Blessed is he who has seen this before he went down under the earth: he knows what the end of our life is and what is the principle of it, given by Zeus."

- Pindar, fragment 137-8 (Schrœder).

But Pindar was certainly not the slave of any system. This was already the opinion of Alfred Croiset and Erwin Rohde, according to whom Pindar's theology remains "secular and betrays everywhere the spirit of a poet." It is certain in any case that, without being a follower of any sect or philosophical school, he felt an undeniable attraction for eschatological and mystical questions, and that he was aware of a doctrine on the destiny of the soul. This influence of the Orphic-Pythagorean currents appears clearly at first in the First Olympics, which seems to allude to the Orphic dogmas of the original fall and of the personal recovery to which the initiate has access; one also sees the belief in metempsychosis developed in particular in the Second Olympics, whose myth operates a general synthesis. The metempsychosis accompanies the affirmation of the survival in the Underworld and of the retribution of merits. The transmigration of the souls, the most characteristic dogma taught by the disciples of Pythagoras, is added in this ode to precepts of moral conduct like, in the verses 76-77, the requirement to "keep his soul absolutely pure of evil"; and another detail of Pythagorean inspiration appears in the verse 72, namely the concern of truth: the poet makes a place of honor, in "the island of the Blessed ones", to "those who loved the good faith". Pythagoras exhorted his disciples to avoid lies, a concern considered as an essential duty in the sect and reiterated many times in Pindar's work: "Principle of great virtue, Truth, O Sovereign, make sure that my words never stumble against the pitfall of lies! Finally, the predominance that Pindar grants, in his myths, to heroes, echoes their traditional cult among the followers of Pythagoras : we know from Aristoxenus that a perfect Pythagorean had to perform daily duties of piety not only towards the gods, but also towards heroes.

Gods and men

Refusing to report anything scandalous or attacking the majesty of the gods, because "rarely one escapes the punishment that blasphemy attracts", Pindar remains faithful to this principle of morality: "Man must attribute to the gods only beautiful actions: it is the safest way". With him, the divinities are thus freed from the quarrels, violence of all kinds, incestuous loves and naiveties still present in Homer. His theology, penetrated of philosophy, presents a divine ideal of an irreproachable morality worthy of being used as model with humanity: it marks thus the increasing maturity of the religiosity in Greece. And this ideal of divine perfection, in the spirit full of piety of the poet, tends towards the idea of a single and all-powerful divinity, independently of any determination of person: "What is god? What is he not? God is the All", he says in a fragment quoted by Clement of Alexandria.

In his poetry, there are two great divinities to which he grants a particular interest: Zeus and Apollo. To do good to the best of mortals, and to punish revolt and excess, such is the first care of Zeus, whom the poet invokes with an almost biblical sense of his majesty:

"Supreme God, who holds the reins of the thunder, this tireless steed, O Zeus, the Seasons that you govern send me, to the sound of the phorminx, to bear me witness to the most sublime victories. Ah! Son of Cronos, master of Etna, receive in favor of the Charites, this Olympionic procession."

- Olympics, IV, verses 1 to 10.

Happiness, not mere passing success but true lasting happiness is the reward of Zeus to those he loves for their virtues; a truly happy man is therefore necessarily, in the eyes of Pindar, a man who is a friend of Zeus: by singing his glory and his triumphs, Pindar is in a way only adoring in this man the effect of the friendship of the gods for whoever deserves it.

This is why, in saluting the prosperous fortune of his heroes, Pindar does not only celebrate the physical and material superiority of a victor; he sings of the favor of the gods lighting up the forehead of a mortal, which gives his triumphal Odes their always religious tone. Thus, the human impotence or weakness are compensated by the divine grace:

"Ephemeral beings! Man is the dream of a shadow. But when the gods direct a ray upon him, a brilliant glow surrounds him, and his existence is sweet."

- Pythics, VIII, verses 95 to 97.

As for Apollo, god of the poets, healing and civilizing god, master of the Delphic oracle, he is a figure of the first rank in Pindar: it is him "who grants to the men the remedies which cure their cruel diseases; he gave us the zither; he makes penetrate in the hearts the love of the concord, the horror of the civil war". Pindar invokes him as the omniscient god whose power is infinite:

"You who can neither lie nor wander, you who know the fatal end of all things and all the paths they take, you who can count the leaves that the earth makes grow in the spring, and the grains of sand that, in the sea or in the rivers, the waves and the winds roll, you who see clearly the future and its origin..."

- Pythics, IX, verse 42 and following.

His devotion to the god of Delphi, source of all poetic inspiration, is so deep that Pindar borrows his attributes, the arrows and the phorminx.

Heroes and myths

Of the forty-four triumphal odes of Pindar, the majority celebrate the myths which relate to the fatherland of the victor, or the legends of the powerful families when it was a question of singing some prince of illustrious race. But always, in the variety of the local legends, Pindar privileges those which are attached to the Dorian tradition and to that of his fatherland, Thèbes.

Depending on the researcher and the period, myths have been attributed either a purely aesthetic role, or a paradigmatic value closely linked to victory and the victor, or finally a religious and moral goal of edification of the listeners. Jacqueline Duchemin, as well as several other researchers, considers that the myth proposes to the victor and to those who surround him a heroic ideal, intended to give a lesson of aristocratic ethics.

Pindar is above all concerned with celebrating those heroes who have been rewarded, at the end of an ordeal, for their outstanding virtues and their moral value: such is the case of Perseus defeating the Gorgon, and especially of the heroes of the lineage of Aeacus, Ajax and Achilles instructed by his master, the Centaur Chiron; but it is Heracles, the hero born in Thebes, that Pindar wants to celebrate above all; in him the poet sees the founder, with the Dioscuri, of the sacred Games of Olympia, but also the exemplary benefactor of the men, the one who incarnates in his eyes the perfect heroic asceticism and the athletic virtues par excellence, the endurance, the patience, and "an invincible courage". This is why Heracles is rewarded with a blessed eternity, as the soothsayer Tiresias predicted to Amphitryon:

"He revealed to him that, eternally in peace, Heracles would obtain, to compensate for his hard work, the privilege of an unalterable happiness, in the abode of the Blessed; he would receive in marriage the flourishing Hebe, and, living near Zeus the Cronid, would give thanks to his august law."

- Néméennes, I, verses 69-73.

In the narrative parts of the Odes, Pindar does not linger to tell the myths in detail, refusing to "make his lyre carry the burden of the epic"; no circumstantial explanations nor superfluous developments : he proceeds lyrically by brief allusions. They are in general vivid sketches, paintings reduced to a few lines, intended to awaken impressions and feelings, the maxims mixed with the account adding a moral note to it. Thus, in the IVth Pythic, in the story of Jason and the Golden Fleece, once the useful features for the moral he wants to draw from it have been identified, the poet abbreviates and quickly concludes: "But the return would be long by the main road; the hour presses me, and I know a shorter path. To many others I know how to show the way of genius."

In praise of the heroic spirit

Pindar never feels himself to be either a slave to his subject or dependent on the athlete. He dwells very little on the sporting event itself, of which he does not give an account, but he is satisfied with sometimes briefly pointing out its nature; thus, in the Vth Pythic, he limits himself to mentioning the winner in the chariot race, Carrhotis, who "knew how to keep his reins intact by leading his fast-footed horses to the end, in the hippodrome with the twelve courses, without breaking any part of his apparatus".

If Pindar is generally discreet in the personal praise of the winner, it is because he is anxious to rise, from the plane of the anecdote, to that of the general and noble ideas: singing, not so much the hero as the heroic spirit, he puts the accent not on the physical gifts but on the moral qualities of the athlete, the boldness, the loyalty, the valour or the skill; the courage in the pancrace of Melissos of Thebes thus evokes "the valour of the roaring wild beasts, and its prudence is that of the fox which, turning over on itself, stops the impetus of the eagle". For Pindar, "victory in the games calls for the most beautiful songs, those that celebrate the companion radiant with crowns and virtues". Such is the key word of his poetry, "virtue, merit," in ancient Greek and in the Doric form employed by Pindar, the ἀρετά

The mission of the poet as educator

Those to whom Pindar addresses himself in his odes are at the same time simple winners in the games, but also often the great ones of this world, kings, princes and members of the nobility. The poet adapts his praise to each one, without forbidding himself the duty to dispense, with frankness and tact, advice and warnings.

By giving their beautiful exploits as examples to be imitated, Pindar pushed the athletes to "rise to the height of merit", and to reach the perfection of the ideal heroes of myth. Like Homer before him, the poet is thus an educator. Thus, before praising the young Trasybule, Pindar evokes the Centaur Chiron, the typical educator of heroes, who taught Achilles respect for the gods as well as filial piety. For in this wise centaur, the poet finds an ideal model for his own mission of educator; it is still to Chiron, the master full of wisdom, that he refers in the eulogy of the first inhabitants of the island of Aegina, ancestors of the victor named Aristocleides. And Pindar is so attached to this mission of education, that he is the first, before Plato, to question whether excellence can be learned, or if it results only from atavism. His answer is illustrated by the innate heroism of Achilles and by the example of Asclepius: Chiron educated Asclepius, "this sublime child, by developing by appropriate exercises all the instincts of his great heart". Education can only work if it is based on native virtues:

"By hereditary heroism, a man is greatly powerful. But he who is content with what he has been taught is like a man walking in darkness. His intelligence wavers; he never advances with a sure step, and the deficiency of his mind tempts glory by all means."

- Pindar, Néméennes, III, verses 40-42.

Pindar fulfills the same mission of educator with regard to the powerful ones: he flatters himself indeed to be "a man with the frank word is worth in any country, near the tyrants, where the impetuous crowd reigns, and in the cities which govern the wise ones", that is to say in the three principal political regimes: monarchy, democracy and aristocracy. This is what is implied by this exhortation given to Hieron I, tyrant of Syracuse, to realize his true personality, from the moment when Pindar, who praises him, has revealed it to him:

"Become who you are, when you have learned it

- Pindar, Pythics, II, verse 72.

In all the odes addressed to this tyrant, Pindar dispenses his precepts of wisdom and moderation: "Do not aim higher than your present fortune", he tells him, and "since envy is better than pity, do not renounce beautiful designs. Steer your people with the rudder of justice. Give up your sail to the wind, like a good pilot, without letting yourself be deceived, friend, by the seduction of interest". These moral precepts, far from being traditional maxims or commonplaces, are always appropriate to the particular case of those to whom Pindar addresses them. Thus, history teaches us that Hieron of Syracuse was not free of the usual defects of tyrants, so the poet wishes to correct his notorious avarice by inviting him to give widely, like Croesus, since his wealth allows him this duty of generosity; but it is especially the king of Cyrene, Arcésilas IV, who receives from the poet the most serious warnings, developed at length, to have "to govern the city by an upright and prudent policy", because "it is easy to put disorder in a city, the vilest peasants are capable of it. But to restore it in its state, that is difficult"; Pindare ends this ode with a supplication to obtain the recall of Damophilus, an aristocrat exiled following disorders intervened in Cyrene, and who had incurred the hatred or the distrust of Arcésilas. However, shortly after the execution of this ode in the city of Cyrene, Arcésilas IV, vainly warned by Pindare, was overthrown by a revolution.

The art of Pindar

The incomparable poetic gift is of divine essence, according to Pindar, and cannot be learned: so he contrasts the skillful man (σοφός), favored by the gods, with the singers "who know only to have learned" (μαθόντες δὲ).

Ignoring the term poet, (ποιητής), entirely absent from his work, he has a wide range of expressive terms or periphrases to designate his art: he calls himself "servant of Letô" i.e., of Apollo, or "privileged herald who gives voice to learned words" or "famous interpreter of the Piriods," ἀοίδιμον Πιερίδων προφάταν. This term of προφάτας

"I carry under my arm innumerable swift arrows in my quiver; they know how to penetrate the good spirits; to reach the crowd it is necessary to have interpreters. Wise (those who know only to have learned, like crows, in their incessant chatter, that they croak in vain against the divine bird of Zeus!"

- Pindar, Olympics, II, verse 91 sqq.

This image of the eagle recurs elsewhere in Pindar, sometimes to suggest the lightning force of the bird "which seizes in the twinkling of an eye the bloody prey in its talons", sometimes to evoke "the king of birds" asleep on the scepter of Zeus, possessed by the magical power of music. For the image is not a gratuitous poetic ornament; the eagle symbolizes the majestic elevation of tone and style in Pindar's poetry, and the metaphysical realm in which his thought evolves, "far above the low regions where the shrieking jays seek their sustenance". Opposed to crows and shriek jays, the divine eagle also expresses the distance between genius and mere talent, a distinction that is repeated many times in Pindar's Odes.

Like all the great poets of the choral lyricism, Pindar uses a language which is not a living dialect, but a literary language in which enter Ionian elements i.e. the dialect of the Homeric epic, as well as Aeolian elements, and whose fundamental color is Dorian. The proportion of these various dialectal forms was largely determined by the tradition and the taste of each poet. Their mixture at Pindar is, with the judgment of Eustathius of Thessalonica, always discrete and harmonious.

Pindar's language has certain grammatical peculiarities designed to create an impression both unexpected and more venerable than everyday speech: thus, a subject in the plural can receive a verb in the singular or duel, a passive verb has its regime in the genitive without ὑπό, and some prepositions have a meaning slightly altered into bold hyperbates.

Poet conscious of being invested with a quasi divine mission, Pindar declares himself "dispenser of the gifts of the Muses", and he cultivates his art "by putting at its service a language which is never lazy". Indeed, his lexicon abounds in new words of which we do not know if he created them himself; these words, of which the Greek language offers no example before him, are epithets and compound words, such as πολύβατος, ("much frequented"), πανδαίδαλος, ("worked with great art"), ἐαρίδρεπτος, (a musician-poet, Pindar loves words with beautiful, vivid sounds, such as χρυσάρματος, μεγαλοπόλιες, ἱπποχαρμᾶν, highlighted by their place in the verse or by strong beats of rhythm. Pindar's taste for nobility of expression leads him to employ, instead of the proper but neutral and banal term, terms connoting moral greatness or beautiful sentiment: thus, instead of ἆθλον, "prize given to the victor," he employs "honor" (τιμά), or "pleasure" (χάρις), or "honorable present" (γέρας).

Pindar makes abundant use of picturesque epithets; some are time-honored epithets borrowed from the Homeric epic, such as "Thebes with golden chariots" (but he innovates by sometimes applying them to deities in an unconventional way, thus Harmony is said to be "wide-eyed", Ἁρμονίαν βοῶπιν ; many of the epithets are new and creatively original, such as "wealth that grows men," μεγάνωρ πλοῦτος, or "a battle of brass," ἀγὼν χάλκεος.

All figures of speech are represented in the Odes, and Pindar's imagination personifies even abstract realities in a bold way: the allegorical figure of Excuse, is "daughter of the obtuse Epimetheus", and "Alala, daughter of Polemos", is the personification of the War Cry. He also uses a great number of aphorisms and moral sentences, sometimes in the form of a word alliance, the most famous of which announces both Hamlet and Life is a Dream: "Ephemeral beings! What is each of us, what is he not? Man is the dream of a shadow."

But the royal image that the poet likes is the metaphor. It is not a simple external and purely decorative element, but on the contrary an element ensuring the unity of the ode, the transition between the actuality and the myth, and a significant element which justifies the subject of the work. The metaphor of the sea voyage in particular, to which Pindar gave a singular brilliance, seems to be of his invention. Often bold, long spun, the metaphors follow one another or are mixed, thus showing not only the aesthetic importance that Pindar grants them, but also the philosophical and religious conception of his vision of the world: the attitude in some way "symbolist" of the poet in front of the nature, detects between the sensible reality and the intelligible reality a great number of analogies; the divine and the human are constantly mixed or in perpetual transformation. In the IXth Olympique, it is the quadruple image of the blaze, the horse, the ship and the garden of Charites which translates the sovereign powers of poetry: " The ardent flame of my songs will empourpris this cherished city, and, faster than a generous horse or the ship which flies, I will publish everywhere my message, if the fate well willed that my hand knew to cultivate the privileged garden of Charites ". These metaphors make abstract ideas sensible: borrowed from the living world of plants and the elements of the universe (especially fire and light), from the games of the stadium and works of art, they abound everywhere in his Odes, so he evokes "the first seat of wise words", "the indestructible steel nails of danger" that keeps those who brave it chained, "the bubbling of youth" or again, "the whip of unfulfilled desires". Conversely, the concrete noun is sometimes replaced by an abstract locution, for example "the inexpugnable mobility of the stones which join together", poetically evokes the rocks of the Symplegades. This alliance of the sensible and the intelligible, which is the "very principle of art" according to Paul Valéry, thus confers to his style a shimmering that enhances the speed and the conciseness, the two essential constants of his aesthetics, as he specifies himself: "If one knows how to concentrate in few words a lot of substance, one is less exposed to the blame of men."

Alfred Croiset has shown, however, that the double nature of lyricism, both speech and music, leads to a sequence of images, feelings and thoughts which contribute to express the central idea of each ode with a poetic flexibility, as the musical notes in a song complete and correct each other to create a general harmony. This central idea transpires in the gnomic parts or under the veil of the myths. The composition of the odes adopts a symmetrical layout, with two fixed points, the beginning and the end echoing each other on the same theme: the poem thus takes the form of a closed circle. With rare exceptions, the odes begin and end with praises, with the central place reserved for mythical stories. And it is the beginning that appears magnificent, rich in epithets and brilliant images, while the end, shorter, is of a simpler tone. Pindar himself underlined the necessity of this beautiful beginning: "I want to raise, as in an admirable palace, high golden columns to support the rich vestibule: in any beginning, it is necessary that a brilliant frontage attracts the glances from afar." One has an example of this lively and brilliant entry in matter with the VIth Pythic.

If the Greeks have very quickly brought him to the pinnacle, Herodotus among the first, Pindar had hardly any imitators (the only other known author of epinicies is Bacchylides). One can regret, as Werner Jaeger did, that it was Pindar's rival, Simonides of Céos, that the Greek cities chose to commemorate on their monuments the memory of the soldiers who died during the Median wars, but it is true that the poet had preferred the enemy of Athens, Aegina. However the Alexandrians of the IIIrd century B.C. put him in the first rank of the Greek lyric poets.

Among the Romans, he was admired by Quintilian and by Horace who considered him inimitable; the latter painted, in his Odes, the broad and imposing movement of Pindar's style through the image of the overflowing river with agitated waters, and the sublime power of his vast genius taking flight towards the highest peaks, through the image of the swan:

"Pindar! Whoever undertakes to be his rival is taken away on wings of wax by the help of Daedalus and will give his name to the crystalline sea. As the course of a river that the rains have swollen over its familiar banks descends from the mountain, so bubbles and rushes, immense, Pindar with the deep mouth, worthy of receiving the laurel of Apollo, either through his daring dithyrambs he rolls new words and gets carried away in rhythms freed from laws, or he sings the gods and the kings, or he says those whom the palm of Elisabeth brings back in their fatherland equal to the gods of the sky, the pugilist or the horse, and endows them with an honor more precious than hundred statues. A great breath sustains the flight of the Dircean swan every time it ascends to the high regions of the clouds."

- Horace, Odes, IV, 2, verses 1 to 27.

In Europe, Pindar's fame first varied in proportion to the interest that was shown in the Ancients. In France, with the admiration of the Pléiade for Antiquity, the poets of the Renaissance were able to appreciate the Greek lyric, first and foremost Pierre de Ronsard, who composed Pindaric Odes; and even if Rabelais invented the mocking verb "pindarize", in reference to the lyric poet's emulators, he did not criticize the poet personally and remained a true apostle of Greek humanism. In Italy, while Chiabrera and Testi were trying to imitate the manner and verve of Pindar and Horace, others wanted to make us feel the original merit of these poets by translating them: the first one who dared to nationalize Pindar, was Alessandro Adimari. In the England of the XVII century, Pindar offers a high source of inspiration, for its taste of the sublime and its religious fervor, as John Dryden's Ode to Saint Cecilia and John Milton's Ode for the Nativity of Christ testify. On the other hand, the rationalism of the XVIIth century in France, very little lyrical by the way, starts the reaction against Pindar: François de Malherbe launched the first attacks against him by speaking of his "galimatias", in spite of Boileau, who was the only one to defend the Pindaric ode where, according to him, "a beautiful disorder is an effect of art"; then the Querelle des Anciens et des Modernes, with Charles Perrault and Houdar de La Motte, accentuated these attacks, to the point where the noun "Pindare" designated in the 18th century a sibylline poet, misunderstood by his contemporaries. A poet with a difficult style and still very poorly studied at that time, Pindar had his detractors, of which Voltaire was not the least: in a letter to his friend Chabanon, he called him "the unintelligible and bloated Theban"; it is true that he read him in an edition where the words were often cut in two, with "half of the word at the end of a verse, and the other half at the beginning of the following verse."

It was not until the 19th century and the progress of scholarship combined with the revival of lyric poetry that Pindar was rehabilitated: in the forefront of literary critics who discover the laws of Greek choral lyricism, we must mention Alfred Croiset; in Germany, Pindar is read with attention and translated brilliantly by Friedrich Hölderlin; the young Goethe of Prometheus, of the poems of Ganymede and of the Traveller, undergoes his internalized influence, as well as, later, the Nobel Prize of literature Carl Spitteler. In the twentieth century, in the wake of Martin Heidegger, he was translated and commented by the philosopher Jean Beaufret and René Char. In France, it has significantly influenced the poetry of Paul Claudel, who discovered it through André Suarès. The influence of Pindar on the composition of the Five Great Odes is obvious, and Claudel confirms it in a letter in December 1904: "The reading of Pindar has become one of my great sources and a literary comfort." As for Paul Valéry, he places his call to action and intelligence in the line of Pindar when he inscribes, as an epigraph to his Cimetière marin, the famous exhortation of the Theban poet to "exhaust the field of the possible".

The Greek poet was especially admired and studied with great interest by Saint-John Perse, who quotes him in poem XII of Oiseaux and who finds in him a model, between nobility and vigor, for his own writing; for four years, beginning in 1904, Saint-John Perse practiced translating him "for a study of metrics and verbal structure" because he saw in him "the strongest metric of Antiquity; In this "great poet-born", Saint-John Perse admired "a great sense of unity imposing the restraint of the breath, the movement itself, in him, being attached to the only rhythm of a modulation pre-assigned" to the strict musical and choreographic discipline. Saint-John Perse's fascination for Pindar continued for a long time, and his poetics of praise owes much to the lightning clarity of the Greek poet.

In painting, Ingres' painting, entitled the Apotheosis of Homer (1827), shows, to the left of the famous poet, Pindar holding out the lyre and Phidias, the chisel. The Theban poet also provided the theme of the superiority of genius to the painter Henry-Pierre Picou in his painting, The Birth of Pindar (1848).


: document used as a source for the writing of this article.


  1. Pindar
  2. Pindare
  3. En termes politiques, l’eunomie désigne un idéal d'ordre, d'harmonie et de hiérarchie aristocratique. Pindare a personnifié « l'Eunomie, avec sa sœur Justice l'inébranlable, et son autre sœur, Paix, dispensatrices de la richesse, filles précieuses de la sage Thémis. » (Olympiques, XIII, vers 6 à 8).
  4. Ce sont les deux biographies en vers hexamètres d’Eustathe, la biographie dite Ambrosienne, celle due au byzantin Thomas Magister et l’article du Lexicon de Suidas.
  5. Agathocle était un musicien, un penseur et un moraliste, que Platon dans le Protagoras (316 e), qualifie de « grand sophiste ».
  6. Tycho Mommsen dans son Pindaros, pp. 51-52, estime que Pindare a été un partisan déclaré de l'alliance avec les Perses.
  7. ^ Pindar (1972) p. 212. The three lines here, and in Bowra's Greek, are actually two lines or stichoi in Greek prosody. Stichoi however are often too long to be preserved as single lines in published form, and they are then broken into metrical units, or cola, the break indicated by indentation. This practice is observed both in Greek and in translations, but it is a modern convenience or preference and it has no historical authority: "...nullam habet apud codices auctoritatem neque veri simile est Pindarum ita carmina manu propria conscripsisse."
  8. ^ There are several other accounts of supernatural visitations relating to Pindar (see for example C.M. Bowra, Pindar, pages 49-51). According to a scholium, he and a pupil, Olympichus, once saw a mysterious flame on a mountain, attended by strange noises. Pindar then beheld Rhea, the Mother of the Gods, advancing in the form of a wooden image. Pausanias (9.25.3) reported that he set up a monument near his home, dedicated conjointly to Pan and the Mother of the Gods (Δινδυμήνη). According to Eustathius (Proem. 27, p. 298. 9 Dr) and Vit. Ambr. (p. 2. 2 Dr.), Pan was once heard between Cithaeron and Helicon singing a paean composed to him by Pindar (fr. 85).
  9. ^ Paean 9.13-20). The eclipse is mentioned in a fragment quoted by Stobaeus, addressed to the Thebans:Is it some sign of war you bring? / Or blight on crops, or snow-fall's strength / Beyond all telling, or murderous strife at home, / Or emptying of the sea on land, / Or frost binding the earth, or south-wind in summer / With a flood of furious rain, / Or will you drown the land and raise / A new breed of men from the beginning?
  10. ^ fr. 129: τί θεός; τὸ πάν
  11. a b c d e f g h i j k l Castrén, Paavo & Pietilä-Castrén, Leena: ”Pindaros”, Antiikin käsikirja, s. 426–427. Helsinki: Otava, 2000. ISBN 951-1-12387-4.
  12. a b c d e f g Oksala, Päivö & Oksala, Teivas: Kreikkalaisia kirjailijakuvia, s. 87–103. Runojen ja runokatkelmien suomennoksia. Helsinki: Otava, 1965.
  13. Pindaros: Pythia 5.72, jne.
  14. ^ Si veda, per le questioni sulla formazione del poeta, Mario Untersteiner, La formazione poetica di Pindaro, Messina-Firenze 1951.

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