Pindar, Roman copy of Greek 5th century BC bust (Museo Archeologica Nazionale, Naples)

Pindar (Ancient Greek: Πίνδαρος, Pindaros, pronounced [píndaros]; Latin: Pindarus) (ca. 522–443 BC), was an Ancient Greek lyric poet. Of the canonical nine lyric poets of ancient Greece, his work is the best preserved. Quintilian described him as "by far the greatest of the nine lyric poets, in virtue of his inspired magnificence, the beauty of his thoughts and figures, the rich exuberance of his language and matter, and his rolling flood of eloquence".[1] The Athenian comic playwright Eupolis however is said to have remarked that the poems of Pindar "are already reduced to silence by the disinclination of the multitude for elegant learning".[2] Pindar's 'elegant learning' also discouraged some in the modern period. With the discovery in 1896 of some poems by his rival Bacchylides it was found that some of his apparent idiosyncrasies, in for example the Victory Odes, were typical of the genre rather than of the poet himself. The brilliance of his poetry began to be more widely appreciated, although because his style challenges the casual reader he continues to be a much admired though largely unread poet.[3]

Pindar is the first Greek poet to reflect on the nature of poetry and on the poet's role.[4] Like other poets of the Archaic Age, he has a profound sense of the vicissitudes of life, but he also articulates a passionate faith in what men, by the grace of the gods, can achieve, most famously expressed in his conclusion to one of his Victory Odes:[5]

Creatures of a day! What is a man?
What is he not? A dream of a shadow
Is our mortal being. But when there comes to men
A gleam of splendour given of heaven,
Then rests on them a light of glory
And blessed are their days. (Pythian 8)[6][7]

His poetry illustrates the beliefs and values of Archaic Greece at the dawn of the classical period.[8]



He lived most of his life in Thebes.


Five ancient sources contain all the recorded details of Pindar's life. One of them is a short biography discovered in 1961 on an Egyptian papyrus dating from at least 200 AD (P.Oxy.2438).[9] The other four are collections that weren't finalized until some 1600 years after his death:

  • Commentaries on Pindar by Eustathius of Thessalonica;
  • Vita Vratislavensis, found in a manuscript at Breslau, author unknown;
  • a text by Thomas Magister;
  • some meagre writings attributed to the lexicographer Suidas.

Although these sources are based on a much older literary tradition, going as far back as Chamaeleon of Heraclea in the 4th century BC, they are generally viewed with scepticism today: much of the material is clearly fanciful.[10][11] Scholars both ancient and modern have turned to Pindar's own work – his victory odes in particular – as a source of biographical information: some of the poems can be accurately dated because they touch on historic events. After the 1962 publication of Elroy Bundy's ground-breaking work Pindarica.[12] many have argued that his Odes do not commemorate Pindar's personal thoughts and feelings, they are rather public statements "dedicated to the single purpose of eulogizing men and communities."[13] — it has been claimed that biographical interpretations of the poems are the product of a "fatal conjunction" of historicism and Romanticism.[14] The pendulum of intellectual fashion however has now swung back some of the way, and cautious use of the poems for biographical purposes is considered acceptable once more.[15][16]

Post mortem

The ancient Greeks cherished the memory of Pindar. His house in Thebes became one of the city's landmarks, especially after Alexander The Great demolished the city but left the poet's house intact out of gratitude for some verses praising his ancestor, king Alexander I of Macedon.[17] Some of Pindar's verses became an attraction in Lindos, Rhodes, where they were inscribed in letters of gold on a temple wall. At Delphi, the priests of Apollo exhibited an iron chair on which the poet used to sit during the festival of the Theoxenia. "Let Pindar the poet go unto the supper of the gods!" they intoned each night while closing the temple doors (he had once been elected to the priesthood there). One of his female relatives claimed that he had dictated to her some verses in honour of Persephone  — after he had been dead for several days!

Death and old age

Pindar lived to about eighty years of age, and died around 440 BC while attending a festival at Argos. His ashes were taken back home to Thebes by his musically-gifted daughters, Eumetis and Protomache. Nothing is recorded about his wife and son except their names, Megacleia and Daiphantus. In one of his last odes (Pythian 8), celebrating a victory by an athlete from Aegina, Pindar reveals that he lived near a shrine to the oracle Alcmaeon storing there some of his wealth. In the same ode he says that he had recently received a prophecy from Alcmaeon during a journey to Delphi  — "...he met me and proved the skills of prophecy that all his race inherit"[18]  — but he doesn't reveal what the long-dead prophet said to him nor in what form he appeared.

Note: Pindar doesn't necessarily refer to himself when he uses the first person singular. A large proportion of his 'I' statements seem to be generic, indicating somebody engaged in the role of a singer i.e. a 'bardic' I. Other 'I' statements articulate values typical of the audience, and some are spoken on behalf of the subject celebrated in the poem.[19] The 'I' that received the prophecy in Pythian 8 therefore might have been the athlete from Aegina, not Pindar. In that case the prophecy probably concerned his victory in the Pythian Games, and the property stored at the shrine was just a votive offering.[20]

His fame as a poet drew Pindar into Greek politics. Athens, for example, the most important city in Greece throughout his poetic career, was a rival both of his home city, Thebes, and of the island state Aegina, whose leading citizens commissioned about a quarter of his Victory Odes. There is no open condemnation of the Athenians in any of Pindar's poems, but it is claimed that he sometimes smuggles in some criticism. For example, the victory ode mentioned above (Pythian 8) is said to covertly celebrate a recent defeat of Athens by Thebes at the Battle of Coronea (447 BC), imaginatively represented as the downfall of the giants Porphyrion and Typhon[21] and the poem ends with a prayer for Aegina's freedom (which had long been threatened by Athenian ambitions).

Note: Covert criticism of Athens (traditionally located in odes such as Pythian 8, Nemean 8 and Isthmian 7) however is now generally considered to be highly unlikely, even by scholars who allow for some biographical and historical interpretations of the poems.[22]

Middle age

Pindar seems to have used his odes to advance his, and his friends, personal interests.[23] In 462 BC he composed two odes in honour of Arcesilas, king of Cyrene, (Pythians 4 and 5), pleading for the return from exile of a friend, Demophilus. In the latter ode Pindar proudly mentions his own ancestry, which he shared with the king, as an Aegeid or descendent of Aegeus, the legendary king of Athens. The clan was influential in many parts of the Greek world, having intermarried with ruling families in Thebes, in Lacedaemonia, and in cities that claimed Lacedaemonian descent, such as Cyrene and Thera. The historian Herodotus considered the clan important enough to deserve mention (Histories IV.147). Membership of this clan possibly contributed to his success as the poet, and it informed his political views, which are marked by a conservative preference for oligarchic governments of the Doric kind.

Note: It is possible to doubt Pindar's claim to be an Aegeid on the grounds that his 'I' statements do not necessarily refer to himself. The Aegeid clan did however have a branch in Thebes, and his reference to "my ancestors" in Pythian 5 could have been spoken on behalf of both Arcesilas and Pindar – he may have used this ambivalence to establish a personal link with his patrons.[24]

He was possibly the Theban proxenos or consul for Aegina and/or Molossia, as indicated in another of his odes, Nemean 7,[25] in which he glorifies Neoptolemus, who was revered in Aegina and Molossia. According to tradition, Neoptolemus died in a fight with priests at the temple in Delphi over their share of some sacrificial meat. Pindar diplomatically glosses over this. The ode ends mysteriously with an earnest protestation of innocence – "But shall my heart never admit that I with words none can redeem dishonoured Neoptolemus" – and possibly this was said in response to anger among Aeginetans and/or Molossians over his portrayal of Neoptolemus in an earlier poem, Paean 6, which had been commissioned by the priests at Delphi and which depicted the hero's death in traditional terms, as divine retribution for his past crimes.

Note: Some doubt this biographical interpretation of Nemean 7 since it is largely based on some marginal comments by scholiasts and Pindaric scholiasts are sometimes unreliable; the fact that Pindar gave different versions of the myth simply reflects the needs of different genres, and does not necessarily indicate a personal dilemma.[26] Nemean 7 in fact is the most controversial and obscure of Pindar's victory odes, and scholars ancient and modern have exercised ingenious and imaginative in their attempts to explain it, so far with no agreed success.[27]

In his first Pythian ode, composed in 470 BC in honour of the Sicilian tyrant Hieron, Pindar celebrated a series of victories by Greeks against foreign invaders: Athenian and Spartan-led victories against Persia at Salamis and Plataea, and victories by the western Greeks led by Theron of Acragas and by Hieron against the Carthaginians and Etruscans at the battles of Himera and Cumae. Such celebrations were not appreciated by his fellow Thebans: they had sided with the Persians and had incurred many losses and privations as a result of their defeat. His praise of Athens with such epithets as bulwark of Hellas (fragment 76) and city of noble name and sunlit splendour (Nemean 5) induced the authorities in Thebes to fine him 5000 drachmae, to which the Athenians are said to have responded with a gift of 10000 drachmae. According to another account,[28] the Athenians even made him their proxenus or consul in Thebes, though this claim is now largely discredited.[29] His association with the fabulously rich Hieron was another source of annoyance at home. It was probably in response to Theban sensitivities over this issue that he denounced the rule of tyrants (i.e. rulers like Hieron) in an ode composed shortly after a visit to Hieron's sumptuous court in 476–75 BC (Pythian 11).[30]

Note: Pindar's actual phrasing in Pythian 11 was "I deplore the lot of tyrants" and though this was traditionally interpreted as an apology for his dealings with Sicilian tyrants like Hieron, an alternative date for the ode has led some scholars to conclude that it was in fact a covert reference to the tyrannical behaviour of the Athenians, although this interpretation is ruled out if we accept the earlier note about covert references. According to yet another interpretation Pindar is simply delivering a formulaic warning to the successful athlete to avoid hubris.[31]

Lyric verse was conventionally accompanied by music and dance, and Pindar himself wrote the music and choreographed the dances for his victory odes. Sometimes he trained the performers at his home in Thebes, and sometimes he trained them at the venue where they performed. Commissions took him to all parts of the Greek world – to the Panhellenic festivals in mainland Greece (Olympia, Delphi, Corinth and Nemea), westwards to Sicily, eastwards to the seaboard of Asia Minor, north to Macedonia and Abdera (Paean 2) and south to Cyrene on the African coast. Other poets at the same venues vied with him for the favours of patrons. His poetry sometimes reflects this rivalry. For example Olympian 2 and Pythian 2, composed in honour of the Sicilian tyrants Theron and Hieron following his visit to their courts in 476–75 BC, refer respectively to ravens and an ape, apparently signifying rivals who were engaged in a campaign of smears against him – possibly the poets Simonides and his nephew Bacchylides.[32] Pindar's original treatment of narrative myth, often relating events in reverse chronological order, is said to have been a favourite target for criticism.[33] Simonides was known to charge high fees for his work and Pindar is said to have alluded to this in Isthmian 2, where he refers to the Muse as "a hireling journeyman".

Note: It was assumed by ancient sources that Pindar's odes were performed by a chorus, but this has been challenged by some modern scholars, who argue that the odes were in fact performed solo.[34] It is not known how commissions were arranged, nor if the poet travelled widely: even when poems include statements like "I have come" it is not certain that this was meant literally.[35] Uncomplimentary references to Bacchylides and Simonides were found by scholiasts but there is no reason to accept their interpretation of the odes.[36] In fact some scholars have interpreted the allusions to fees in Isthmian 2 as a request by Pindar for payment of fees owed to himself.[37]

Adulthood to infancy

The early to middle years of Pindar's career coincided with the Persian invasions of Greece in the reigns of Darius and Xerxes. During the invasion in 480/79 BC, when Pindar was almost forty years old, Thebes was occupied by Xerxes' general, Mardonius, who with many Theban aristocrats subsequently perished at the Battle of Plataea. It is possible that Pindar spent much of this time at Aegina. His choice of residence during the earlier invasion in 490 BC is not known, but he was able to attend the Pythian Games for that year, where he first met the Sicilian prince, Thrasybulus, nephew of Theron of Acragas. Thrasybulus had driven the winning chariot and he and Pindar were to form a lasting friendship, paving the way for his subsequent visit to Sicily.

Pindar was about twenty years old in 498 BC when he was commissioned by the ruling family in Thessaly to compose his first victory ode (Pythian 10). He studied the art of lyric poetry in Athens, where his tutor was Lasos of Hermione, and he is also said to have received some helpful criticism from Corinna. It is reported that he was stung on the mouth by a bee in his youth and this was the reason he became a poet of honey-like verses (an identical fate has been ascribed to other poets of the archaic period). He was probably born in 522 BC or 518 BC (the 65th Olympiad) in Cynoscephalae, a village in Boeotia, not far from Thebes. His father's name is variously given as Daiphantus, Pagondas or Scopelinus, and his mother's name was Cleodice.[10]

Note: Corinna's dates are disputed, and the extant poetry attributed to her actually belongs to the 3rd century BC.[38]


Pindar's strongly individual genius is apparent in all his extant compositions but, unlike Simonides and Stesichorus for example, he created no new lyrical genres.[39] He was however innovative in his use of the genres he inherited – for example, in one of his victory odes (Olympian 3), he announces his invention of a new type of musical accompaniment, combining lyre, flute and human voice (though our knowledge of Greek music is too sketchy to allow us to understand the full nature of this innovation).[40] Although he probably spoke Boeotian Greek he composed in a literary language that tended to rely more on the Doric dialect than his rival Bacchylides, but less insistently than Alcman. There is an admixture of other dialects, especially Aeolic and epic forms, and an occasional use of some Boeotian words.[41] He composed 'choral' songs yet it is by no means certain that they were all sung by choirs — the use of choirs is testified only by the generally unreliable scholiasts.[42] Scholars at the Library of Alexandria collected his compositions in seventeen books organized according to genre:[43]

  • 1 book of humnoi"hymns"
  • 1 book of paianes"paeans"
  • 2 books of dithuramboi"dithyrhambs"
  • 2 books of prosodia"processionals"
  • 3 books of parthenia"songs for maidens"
  • 2 books of huporchemata"songs for light dances"
  • 1 book of enkomia"songs of praise"
  • 1 book of threnoi"laments"
  • 4 books of epinikia"victory odes"

Of this vast and varied corpus, only the epinikia — odes written to commemorate athletic victories — survive in complete form; the rest survive only by quotations in other ancient authors or from papyrus scraps unearthed in Egypt. Even in fragmentary form however they reveal the same complexity of thought and language that are found in the victory odes.[44]

Victory odes

The so-called 'Farnese Diadumenos' is a Roman copy of a Greek original attributed to Pheidias ca.440 BC, depicting an athlete tying a victory ribbon round his head

Almost all Pindar's victory odes are celebrations of triumphs gained by competitors in Panhellenic festivals such as the Olympian Games. The establishment of these athletic and musical festivals was among the greatest achievements of the Greek aristocracies. Even in the 5th century, when there was an increased tendency towards professionalism, they were predominantly aristocratic assemblies, reflecting the expense and leisure needed to attend such events either as a competitor or spectator. Attendance was an opportunity for display and self-promotion, and the prestige of victory, requiring commitment in time and/or wealth, went far beyond anything that accrues to athletic victories today, even in spite of the modern preoccupation with sport.[45] Pindar's odes capture something of the prestige and the aristocratic grandeur of the moment of victory, as in this stanza from one of his Isthmian Odes, here translated by Geoffrey S. Conway:

If ever a man strives
With all his soul's endeavour, sparing himself
Neither expense nor labour to attain
True excellence, then must we give to those
Who have achieved the goal, a proud tribute
Of lordly praise, and shun
All thoughts of envious jealousy.
To a poet's mind the gift is slight, to speak
A kind word for unnumbered toils, and build
For all to share a monument of beauty. (Isthmian I, antistrophe 3)[46]

His victory odes are grouped into four books named after the Olympian, Pythian, Isthmian, and Nemean Games – Panhellenic festivals held respectively at Olympia, Delphi, Corinth and Nemea. This reflects the fact that most of the odes were composed in honour of boys, youths, and men who had recently enjoyed victories in athletic (and sometimes musical) contests at those festivals. In a few odes however much older victories, and even victories in lesser games, are celebrated, often as a pretext for addressing other issues or achievements. For example, Pythian 3, composed in honour of Hieron of Syracuse, briefly mentions a victory he had once enjoyed at the Pythian Games, but it is actually intended to console him for his chronic illness. Nemean 9 and Nemean 10 celebrate victories in games at Sicyon and Argos, and Nemean 11 celebrates a victory in a municipal election on Tenedos (though it also mentions some obscure athletic victories). These three odes are the final odes in the Nemean book of odes, and there is a reason for their inclusion. In the original manuscripts, the four books of odes were arranged in the order of importance assigned to the festivals, with the Nemean festival, considered least important, coming last. Victory odes that lacked a Panhellenic subject were then bundled together at the end of the book of Nemean odes.[40]


Pindar's poetic style is very distinctive, even when the peculiarities of the genre are set aside. The odes typically feature a grand and arresting opening, often with an architectural metaphor or a resounding invocation to a place or goddess. He makes rich use of decorative language and florid compound adjectives.[47] Sentences are compressed to the point of obscurity, unusual words and periphrases give the language an esoteric quality, and transitions in meaning often seem erratic, the images seem to burst out – it's a style that sometimes baffles but also makes his poetry vivid and unforgettable.[48]

"Pindar's power does not lie in the pedigrees of ... athletes, ... It lies in a splendour of phrase and imagery that suggests the gold and purple of a sunset sky." – F.L. Lucas[49]

"He has that force of imagination which can bring clear-cut and dramatic figures of gods and heroes into vivid relief...he has that peculiar and inimitable splendour of style which, though sometimes aided by magnificent novelties of diction, is not dependent on them, but can work magical effects with simple words; he has also, at frequent moments, a marvellous swiftness, alike in the succession of images, and in the transitions from thought to thought; and his tone is that of a prophet who can speak with a voice as of Delphi." – Richard Claverhouse Jebb[50]

His odes were animated by..."one burning glow which darted out a shower of brilliant images, leapt in a white-hot spark across gaps unbridgeable by thought, passed through a commonplace leaving it luminous and transparent, melted a group of heterogeneous ideas into a shortlived unity and, as suddenly as a flame, died." - Gilbert Highet[51]

Some of these qualities can be found, for example, in this stanza from Pythian 2, composed in honour of Hieron:

God achieves all his purpose and fulfills
His every hope, god who can overtake
The winged eagle, or upon the sea
Outstrip the dolphin; and he bends
The arrogant heart
Of many a man, but gives to others
Eternal glory that will never fade.
Now for me is it needful that I shun
The fierce and biting tooth
Of slanderous words. For from old have I seen
Sharp-tongued Archilochus in want and struggling,
Grown fat on the harsh words
Of hate. The best that fate can bring
Is wealth joined with the happy gift of wisdom.[52][53]

The stanza begins with the human struggle for justice, and then abruptly shifts to a darker, more allusive train of thought, featuring a highly individual, even eccentric condemnation of a renowned poet, Archilochus Grown fat on the harsh words of hate. Archilochus took a sardonic and often humorous view of his own and other people's faults – a regrettable tendency from the viewpoint of Pindar, whose own persona is intensely earnest, preaching to Hieron the need for moderation (wealth with wisdom) and submission to the divine will. The reference to the embittered poet appears to be Pindar's meditative response to some intrigues at Hieron's court, possibly by his rivals, condemned elsewhere as a pair of ravens (Olympian 2). The intensity of the stanza suggests that it is the culmination and climax of the poem. In fact, the stanza occupies the middle of Pythian 2 and the intensity is sustained throughout the poem from beginning to end. It is the sustained intensity of his poetry that Quintilian refers to above as a rolling flood of eloquence and Horace below refers to as the uncontrollable momentum of a river that has burst its banks. Longinus likens him to a vast fire[54] and Athenaeus refers to him as the great-voiced Pindar.[55]

Pindar's treatment of myth is another unique aspect of his style, often involving variations on the traditional stories.[56] Myths enable him to develop the themes and lessons that pre-occupy him – in particular mankind's exulted relation with the gods via heroic ancestors and, in contrast, the limitations and uncertainties of human existence – but sometimes the traditional stories were an embarrassment and were carefully edited, as for example: "Be still my tongue: here profits not / to tell the whole truth with clear face unveiled," (Nemean 5, epode 1); "Away, away this story! / Let no such tale fall from my lips! / For to insult the gods is a fool's wisdom," (Olympian 9, strophe 2); "Senseless, I hold it, for a man to say / the gods eat mortal flesh. / I spurn the thought," (Olympian 1, epode 2).[57] His mythical accounts are also edited for dramatic and graphic effects, usually unfolding through a few grand gestures against a background of large, often symbolic elements such as sea, sky, darkness, fire or mountain.[47]


Pindar's odes typically begin with an invocation to a god or the Muses, followed by praise of the victor and often of his family, ancestors and home-town. Then follows a narrated myth, usually occupying the central and longest section of the poem, which exemplify a moral, while aligning the poet and his audience with the world of gods and heroes.[58] The ode usually ends in more eulogies, for example of trainers (if the victor is a boy), and of relatives who have won past events, as well as with prayers or expressions of hope for future success.[40] The event where the victory was gained is never described in detail, but there is often some mention of the hard work needed to bring the victory about.

A lot of modern criticism tries to find hidden structure or some unifying principle within the odes. 19th century criticism favoured 'gnomic unity' i.e. that each ode is bound together by the kind of moralizing or philosophic vision typical of archaic Gnomic poetry. Later critics sought unity in the way certain words or images are repeated and developed within a particular ode. For others, the odes are just celebrations of men and their communities, in which the elements such as myths, piety, and ethics are stock themes that the poet introduces without much real thought. Some conclude that the requirement for unity is too modern to have informed Pindar's ancient approach to a traditional craft.[41]

The great majority of the odes are triadic in structure – i.e. stanzas are grouped together in three's as a lyrical unit. Each triad comprises two stanzas identical in length and meter (called 'strophe' and 'antistrophe') and a third stanza (called an 'epode'), differing in length and meter but rounding off the lyrical movement in some way. The shortest odes comprise a single triad, the largest (Pythian 4) comprises thirteen triads. Seven of the odes however are monostrophic (i.e. each stanza in the ode is identical in length and meter). The monostrophic odes seem to have been composed for victory marches or processions, whereas the triadic odes appear suited to choral dances.[40] Pindar's metrical rhythms are nothing like the simple, repetitive rhythms familiar to readers of English verse – typically the rhythm of any given line recurs infrequently (for example, only once every ten, fifteen or twenty lines). This adds to the aura of complexity that surrounds Pindar's work. In terms of meter, the odes fall roughly into two categories – about half are in dactylo-epitrites (a meter found for example in the works of Stesichorus, Simonides and Bacchylides) and the other half are in Aeolic metres based on iambs and choriambs.[41]

Chronological order

Modern editors (e.g. Snell and Maehler in their Teubner edition), have assigned dates, securely or tentatively, to Pindar's victory odes, based on ancient sources and other grounds. The date of an athletic victory is not always the date of composition but often serves merely as a terminus post quem. Many dates are based on comments by ancient sources who had access to published lists of victors, such as the Olympic list compiled by Hippias of Elis, and lists of Pythian victors made by Aristotle and Callisthenes. There were however no such lists for the Isthmian and Nemean Games[59]Pausanias (6.13.8) complained that the Corinthians and Argives never kept proper records. The resulting uncertainty is reflected in the chronology below, with question marks clustered around Nemean and Isthmian entries, and yet it still represents a fairly clear general timeline of Pindar's career as an epinician poet. The code M denotes monostrophic odes (odes in which all stanzas are metrically identical) and the rest are triadic (i.e. featuring strophes, antistrophes, epodes):

Estimated chronological order
Date BC Ode Victor Event Focusing Myth
498 Pythian 10 Hippocles of Thessaly Boy's Long Foot-Race Perseus, Hyperboreans
490 Pythian 6 (M) Xenocrates of Acragas Chariot-Race Antilochus, Nestor
490 Pythian 12 (M) Midas of Acragas Flute-Playing Perseus, Medusa
488 (?) Olympian 14 (M) Asopichus of Orchomenos Boys' Foot-Race None
486 Pythian 7 Megacles of Athens Chariot-Race None
485 (?) Nemean 2 (M) Timodemus of Acharnae Pancration None
485 (?) Nemean 7 Sogenes of Aegina Boys' Pentathlon Neoptolemus
483 (?) Nemean 5 Pythias of Aegina Youth's Pancration Peleus, Hippolyta, Thetis
480 Isthmian 6 Phylacides of Aegina Pancration Heracles, Telamon
478 (?) Isthmian 5 Phylacides of Aegina Pancration Aeacids, Achilles
478 Isthmian 8 (M) Cleandrus of Aegina Pancration Zeus, Poseidon, Thetis
476 Olympian 1 Hieron of Syracuse Horse-Race Pelops
476 Olympians 2 & 3 Theron of Acragas Chariot-Race 2.Isles of the Blessed 3.Heracles, Hyperboreans
476 Olympian 11 Agesidamus of Epizephyrian Locris Boys' Boxing Match Heracles, founding of Olympian Games
476 (?) Nemean 1 Chromius of Aetna Chariot-Race Infant Heracles
475 (?) Pythian 2 Hieron of Syracuse Chariot-Race Ixion
475 (?) Nemean 3 Aristocleides of Aegina Pancration Aeacides, Achilles
474 (?) Olympian 10 Agesidamus of Epizephyrian Locris Boys' Boxing Match None
474 (?) Pythian 3 Hieron of Syracuse Horse-Race Asclepius
474 Pythian 9 Telesicrates of Cyrene Foot-Race in Armour Apollo, Cyrene
474 Pythian 11 Thrasydaeus of Thebes Boys' Short Foot-Race Orestes, Clytemnestra
474 (?) Nemean 9 (M) Chromius of Aetna Chariot-Race Seven Against Thebes
474/3 (?) Isthmian 3 & 4 Melissus of Thebes Chariot Race & Pancration 3.None 4.Heracles, Antaeus
473 (?) Nemean 4 (M) Timisarchus of Aegina Boys' Wrestling Match Aeacids, Peleus, Thetis
470 Pythian 1 Hieron of Aetna Chariot-Race Typhon
470 (?) Isthmian 2 Xenocrates of Acragas Chariot-Race None
468 Olympian 6 Agesias of Syracuse Chariot-Race with Mules Iamus
466 Olympian 9 Epharmus of Opous Wrestling-Match Deucalion, Pyrrha
466 Olympian 12 Ergoteles of Himera Long Foot-Race Fortune
465 (?) Nemean 6 Alcimidas of Aegina Boys' Wrestling Match Aeacides, Achilles, Memnon
464 Olympian 7 Diagoras of Rhodes Boxing-Match Tlepolemus
464 Olympian 13 Xenophon of Corinth Short Foot-Race & Pentathlon Bellerophon, Pegasus
462/1 Pythian 4 & 5 Arcesilas of Cyrene Chariot-Race 4.Argonauts 5.Battus
460 Olympian 8 Alcimidas of Aegina Boys' Wrestling-Match Aeacus, Troy
459 (?) Nemean 8 Deinis of Aegina Foot-Race Ajax
458 (?) Isthmian 1 Herodotus of Thebes Chariot-Race Castor, Iolaus
460 or 456 (?) Olympian 4 & 5 Psaumis of Camarina Chariot-Race with Mules 4.Erginus 5.None
454 (?) Isthmian 7 Strepsiades of Thebes Pancration None
446 Pythian 8 Aristomenes of Aegina Wrestling-Match Amphiaraus
446 (?) Nemean 11 Aristagoras of Tenedos Inauguration as Prytanis None
444 (?) Nemean 10 Theaius of Argos Wrestling-Match Castor, Pollux

Horace's tribute

The Latin poet, Quintus Horatius Flaccus, was an admirer of Pindar's style. He described it in one of his Sapphic poems, addressed to a friend, Julus Antonius:

Pindarum quisquis studet aemulari,
Iule, ceratis ope Daedalea
nititur pennis vitreo daturus
nomina ponto.
monte decurrens velut amnis, imbres
quem super notas aluere ripas,
fervet immensusque ruit profundo
Pindarus ore... (C.IV.II)

Translated by James Michie:[60]

Julus, whoever tries to rival Pindar,
Flutters on wings of wax, a rude contriver
Doomed like the son of Daedalus to christen
Somewhere a shining sea.
A river bursts its banks and rushes down a
Mountain with uncontrollable momentum,
Rain-saturated, churning, chanting thunder –
There you have Pindar's style...

Manuscripts, shreds and quotes

Pindar's verses have come down to us in a variety of ways. Some are only preserved as fragments via quotes by ancient sources and papyri unearthed by archeologists, as at Oxyrhynchus – in fact the extant works of most of the other canonic lyric poets have survived only in this tattered form. Pindar's extant verses are unique in that the bulk of them – the victory odes – have been preserved in a manuscript tradition i.e. generations of scribes copying from earlier copies, possibly originating in a single archetypal copy and sometimes graphically demonstrated by modern scholars in the form of a stemma codicum, resembling a 'family tree'. Pindar's victory odes are preserved in just two manuscripts, but incomplete collections are located in many others, and all date from the mediaeval period. Some scholars have traced a stemma through these manuscripts, for example Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, who inferred from them the existence of a common source or archetype dated no earlier than the 2nd century AD, while others, such as C.M. Bowra, have argued that there are too many discrepancies between manuscripts to identify a specific lineage, even while accepting the existence of an archetype. Otto Schroeder identified two families of manuscripts but, following on the work of Polish-born classicist, Alexander Turyn,[61] Bowra rejected this also.[62] Different scholars intepret the extant manuscripts differently. Bowra for example singled out seven manuscripts as his primary sources (see below), all featuring errors and/or gaps due to loss of folios and careless copying, and one arguably characterized by the dubious interpolations of Byzantine scholars. These he cross-referenced and then supplemented or verified by reference to other, still more doubtful manuscripts, and some papyral fragments – a combination of sources on which he based his own edition of the odes and fragments. His general method of selection he defined as follows:

"Where all the codices agree, there perhaps the true reading shines out. Where however they differ, the preferred reading is that which best fits the sense, meter, scholia and grammatic conventions. Wherever moreover two or more readings of equal weight are found in the codices, I have chosen that which smacks most of Pindar. Yet this difficulty rarely occurs, and in many places the true reading will be found if you examine and compare the language of the codices with that of other Greek poets and especially of Pindar himself."[63]
Selected manuscripts – a sample of preferred sources (Bowra's choice, 1947)
Code Source Format Date Comments
A codex Ambrosianus C 222inf. paper 35x25.5 cm 13–14th century Comprises Olympian Odes 1–12, with some unique readings that Bowra considered reliable, and including scholia.
B codex Vaticanus graeca 1312 silk 24.3x18.4 cm 13th century Comprises odes Olympian 1 to Isthmian 8 (entire corpus), but with some leaves and verses missing, and includes scholia; Zacharias Callierges based his 1515 Roman eddition on it, possibly with access to the now missing material.
C codex Parasinus graecus 2774 silk 23x15 cm 14th century Comprises odes Olympian 1 to Pythian 5, including some unique readings but also with many Byzantine interpolations/conjectures (Turyn rejected this codex accordingly), and written in a careless hand.
D codex Laurentianus 32, 52 silk 27x19 cm 14th century Comprises odes Olympian 1 to Isthmian 8 (entire corpus), including a fragment (Frag. 1) and scholia, written in a careless hand.
E codex Laurentianus 32, 37 silk 24x17cm 14th century Comprises odes Olympian 1 to Pythian 12, largely in agreement with B, including scholia but with last page removed and replaced with paper in a later hand.
G codex Gottingensis philologus 29 silk 25x17 cm 13th century Comprises odes Olympian 2 to Pythian 12, largely in agreement with B (thus useful for comparisons), including Olympian 1 added in 16th century.
V codex Parasinus graecus 2403 silk 25x17 cm 14th century Comprises odes Olympian 1 to Nemean 4, including some verses from Nemean 6; like G, useful for supporting and verifying B.

Influence and Legacy

The influential Alexandrian poet Callimachus was fascinated by Pindar's originality. His masterpiece Aetia included an elegy in honour of Queen Berenice, celebrating a chariot victory at the Nemean Games, composed in a style and presented in a manner that recall Pindar.[64]

Pindar was much read, quoted, and copied during the Byzantine Era. For example, Christophoros Mytilenaios of the 11th century parodied a chariot race in his sixth poem employing explicit allusions to Pindar.[65]

See also


  1. ^ Quintilian 10.1.61; cf. Pseudo-Longinus 33.5.
  2. ^ Eupolis F366 Kock, 398 K/A, from Athenaeus 3a, (Deipnosophistae, epitome of book I)
  3. ^ 'Some Aspects of Pindar's Style', Lawrence Henry Baker, The Sewanee Review Vol 31 No. 1 January 1923, page 100 preview
  4. ^ 'A Companion to the Greek Lyric Poets', Douglas E. Gerber, Brill 1997, page 261
  5. ^ 'A Short History of Greek Literature', Jacqueline de Romilly, University of Chicage Press 1985, page 37
  6. ^ 'Pindari Carmina Cum Fragmentis, Editio Altera', C. M. Bowra, Oxford University Press 1947, Pythia VIII, lines 95–7
  7. ^ 'The Odes of Pindar', translated by Geoffrey S. Conway, Everyman's University Library, 1972, page 144
  8. ^ 'The Odes of Pindar', translated by Geoffrey S. Conway, Everyman's University Library, 1972, Introduction page xv
  9. ^ William H.Race, Pindar:Olympian Odes, Pythian Odes, Loeb Classical Library (1997), page 4
  10. ^ a b 'A Companion to the Greek Lyric Poets', Douglas E. Gerber, Brill (1997) page 253
  11. ^ 'Pindar', Francis David Morice, Bibliobazaar, LLC (2009), page 211-15
  12. ^
  13. ^ E.Bundy, Studia Pindarica, Berkeley (1962), page 35
  14. ^ Lloyd-Jones, 'Pindar' in Proceedings of the British Academy 68 (1982), page 145
  15. ^ Simon Hornblower, Thucydides and Pindar – Historical Narrative and the World of Epinikian Poetry, Oxford University Press (2004), pages 38, 59, 67 inter alia
  16. ^ Bruno Currie, Pindar and the Cult of Heroes, Oxford University Press (2005), pages 11–13
  17. ^ Plutarch, Life of Alexander 11.6; Arrian, Anabasis Alexandri 1.9.10
  18. ^ 'The Odes of Pindar', Geoffrey S. Conway, J.M.Dent and Sons (1972), page 142
  19. ^ Bruno Currie, Pindar and the Cult of Heroes, Oxford University Press (2005), pages 20
  20. ^ Douglas E. Gerber, A Companion to the Greek lyric poets, Brill (1997) pages 268–9
  21. ^ 'The Odes of Pindar', Geoffrey S. Conway, John Dent and Sons (1972) page 138
  22. ^ Charles Segal, 'Choral Lyric in the Fifth Century', in The Cambridge History of Classical Literature: Greek Literature, P.Easterling and B.Knox (eds), Cambridge University Press (1985), pages 231–2)
  23. ^ T.K.Hubbard, 'Remaking Myth and Rewriting History: Cult Tradition in Pindar's Ninth Nemean', HSCP' 94 (1992), page 78
  24. ^ Douglas E. Gerber, A Companion to the Greek lyric poets, Brill (1997) pages 270
  25. ^ 'Thucydides and Pindar: Historical Narratives and the World of Epinikian Poetry', Simon Hornblower, Oxford University Press (2004), pages 177–80
  26. ^ Ian Rutherford, Pindar's Paeans, Oxford University Press (2001), pages 321–22
  27. ^ Leonard Woodbury, 'Neoptolemus at Delphi: Pindar, Nem.7.30ff, Phoenix Vol 33 No 2 (Summer 1979), pages 95–133
  28. ^ Isocrates 15.166
  29. ^ Simon Hornblower, Thucydides and Pindar – Historical Narrative and the World of Epinikian Poetry, Oxford University Press (2004), page 57 n.20
  30. ^ 'The Odes of Pindar', Geoffrey S. Conway, John Dent and Sons (1972) page 158
  31. ^ Simon Hornblower, Thucydides and Pindar – Historical Narrative and the World of Epinikian Poetry, Oxford University Press (2004), page 59
  32. ^ 'The Odes of Pindar', Geoffrey S. Conway, John Dent and Sons (1972) pages 10, 88–9
  33. ^ 'The Odes of Pindar', Geoffrey S. Conway, John Dent and Sons (1972), Introduction page XIII
  34. ^ Simon Hornblower, Thucydides and Pindar – Historical Narrative and the World of Epinikian Poetry, Oxford University Press (2004), page 16
  35. ^ William H.Race, Pindar:Olympian Odes, Pythian Odes, Loeb Classical Library (1997) pages 10–11
  36. ^ David Campbell, Greek Lyric IV, Loeb Classical Library (1992), page 6
  37. ^ 'The Odes of Pindar', Geoffrey S. Conway, John Dent and Sons (1972), page 239
  38. ^ David A. Campbell, Greek Lyric: Bacchylides, Corinna and Others, Loeb Classical Library (1992) pages 1-2
  39. ^ Richard Jebb, Bacchylides: the poems and fragments, Cambridge University Press 1905, page 41
  40. ^ a b c d Geoffrey S. Conway, 'The Odes of Pindar', J.M. Dent and Sons (1972), page 17
  41. ^ a b c Douglas E. Gerber, 'A Companion to the Greek Lyric Poets', Brill (1997) page 255
  42. ^ Gregory Nagy, Greek Literature in the Hellenistic Period, Routledge (2001), page 66
  43. ^ M.M. Willcock: Pindar: Victory Odes (p. 3). Cambridge UP, 1995.
  44. ^ Ewen Bowie, 'Lyric and Elegiac Poetry' in The Oxford History of the Classical World, J.Boardman, J.Griffin and O.Murray (eds), Oxford University Press (1986) page 110
  45. ^ Antony Andrewes, Greek Society, Pelican Books (1971), pages 219–22
  46. ^ Geoffrey S. Conway, 'The Odes of Pindar', J.M. Dent and Sons (1972), page 235
  47. ^ a b Charles Segal, 'Choral Lyric in the Fifth Century', in The Cambridge History of Classical Greek Literature: Greek Literature, P.Easterling and B.Knox (eds), Cambridge University Press (1985), page 232
  48. ^ Jacqueline de Romilly, 'A Short History of Greek Literature', University of Chicago Press (!985), page 38
  49. ^ Lucas, F. L.. Greek Poetry for Everyman. Macmillan Company, New York. p. 262. 
  50. ^ Richard Jebb, Bacchylides: the poems and fragments, Cambridge University Press 1905, page 41 digitalized Google version
  51. ^ Gilbert Highet, The Classical Tradition, Oxford University Press (1949), page 225
  52. ^ Geoffrey S. Conway, 'The Odes of Pindar', J.M.Dent and Sons (1972), pages 92–3
  53. ^ C.M.Bowra, 'Pindari Carmina cum Fragmentis, editio altera', Oxford University Press (1968), Pythia II 49–56
  54. ^ De Subl. 33.5
  55. ^ Athenaeus 13.5.64c
  56. ^ Ewen Bowie, 'Lyric and Elegiac Poetry' in The Oxford History of the Classical World, J.Boardman, J.Griffin and O.Murray (eds), Oxford University Press (1986) pages 107–8
  57. ^ Geoffrey S. Conway, 'The Odes of Pindar', J.M.Dent and Sons (1972), pages 192, 54, 4 respectively
  58. ^ Ewen Bowie, 'Lyric and Elegiac Poetry', in The Oxford History of the Classical World, eds. J.Boardman, J.Griffin and O.Murray (1986) page 108
  59. ^ Bruno Currie, Pindar and the Cult of Heroes, Oxford University Press (2005), page 25
  60. ^ The Odes of Horace James Michie (translator), Penguin Classics 1976
  61. ^ 'Alexander Turyn', Miroslav Marcovich, Gnomon, 54, Bd.,H.1 (1982) pp 97–98 [1]
  62. ^ C.M. Bowra (ed),Pindari Carmina Cum Fragmentis, editio altera, Oxford University Press (1947), Praefatio iii–iv, vii
  63. ^ C.M. Bowra (ed),Pindari Carmina Cum Fragmentis, editio altera, Oxford University Press (1947), Praefatio iv
  64. ^ A.W.Bulloch, 'Hellenistic Poetry', in The Cambridge History of Classical Literature I: Greek Literature, P.Easterling and B.Knox (ed.s), Cambridge University Press (1985), pages 556-57
  65. ^ F. Lauritzen, Readers of Pindar and students of Mitylinaios, Byzantion 2010

Further reading

  • Nisetich, Frank J., Pindar's Victory Songs. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980: translations and extensive introduction, background and critical apparatus.
  • Revard, Stella P., Politics, Poetics, and the Pindaric Ode 1450–1700, Turnhout, Brepols Publishers, 2010, ISBN 978-2-503-52896-0
  • Race, W. H. Pindar. 2 vols. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997.
  • Bundy, Elroy L. (2006) [1962] (PDF). Studia Pindarica (digital version ed.). Berkeley, California: Department of Classics, University of California, Berkeley. Retrieved 2007-02-12. 
  • Barrett, W. S., Greek Lyric, Tragedy, and Textual Criticism: Collected Papers, edited M. L. West (Oxford & New York, 2007): papers dealing with Pindar, Stesichorus, Bacchylides and Euripides
  • Kiichiro Itsumi, Pindaric Metre: 'The Other Half' (Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).

External links

Historic editions

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  • Pindar — (griechisch Πίνδαρος Píndaros, latinisiert Pindarus; * 522 oder 518 v. Chr. in Kynoskephalai bei Theben; † kurz nach 445 v. Chr.) war ein griechischer Dichter und zählt zum …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Pindar [1] — Pindar, griech. Dichter, s. Pindaros …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

  • Pindar [2] — Pindar, Peter, Pseudonym, s. Wolcott …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

  • Pindar — Pindar, griech. Lyriker, geb. 522 v.Chr. zu Theben, gest. wahrscheinlich 448 zu Argos; von seinen für den Chorgesang bestimmten Oden (Epinikien) auf die Sieger in den griech. Nationalspielen 45 erhalten, hg. von Böckh (mit ausführlichem lat.… …   Kleines Konversations-Lexikon

  • Pindar [2] — Pindar, Peter, Pseudonym, s. Wolcot, John …   Kleines Konversations-Lexikon

  • Pindar — Pindar, jener berühmte griechische Dichter, welcher mit seiner Zeitgenossin Korinna (s. d.) fünfmal um die Dichterkrone rang, und eben so oft von derselben besiegt ward, wurde 520 v. Chr. bei Theben geb., doch hat die Geschichte Näheres über sein …   Damen Conversations Lexikon

  • Pindar [1] — Pindar, der größte Lyriker Griechenlands, Thebaner, geb. um 480 v. Chr., gest. 441, von dessen Oden auf die Sieger in den griech. Nationalspielen 14 olympische, 12 pythische, 11 nemeische und 8 isthmische erhalten sind. (Ausgaben von Böckh,… …   Herders Conversations-Lexikon

  • Pindar [2] — Pindar, Peter, pseudonym für Wolcot (s.d.) …   Herders Conversations-Lexikon

  • Pindar — Pȉndar (o.518 446. pr. Kr.) DEFINICIJA lirički pjesnik antičke Grčke, u sačuvane 4 knjige (Epinikije) slavi pobjednike sportskih natjecanja, njihove zavičaje i božanstva (Pindarove ode), uzvisuje junaštvo, moralne vrline, ljepotu; za svoje ode… …   Hrvatski jezični portal

  • Pindar — [pin′dər, pin′där΄] 522? 438? B.C.; Gr. lyric poet …   English World dictionary

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