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Biographies (4)



522 - 446
   Pindarus, Pindar, (Pindaros). The greatest of the Greek lyric poets, son of Daiphantos, was born at or near Thebes, B.C. 522. He belonged to a noble and priestly family and was carefully educated. His musical training was received from the best masters of the time, among whom is mentioned, perhaps without sufficient warrant, Lasos of Hermione, the regenerator of the dithyramb. Familiar is the story of his unsuccessful contest with Corinna, and of the advice which she gave the youthful poet when he crowded the opening of one of his hymns with mythological figures: "Sow with the hand and not with the whole sack." Pindar began his career as a local poet early in life, and the Tenth Pythian, which is said to have been composed when he was only twenty years old, shows all the elements of his future greatness. By the time of the Persian War Pindar had risen to the position of a national poet, and though he was a good Theban and a stanch aristocrat, though he was bound by the ties of his family, which belonged to the old nobility, and by the ties of his people, who sided with the Persians, he was too true a Greek, too thoroughly Pan-Hellenic not to be proud of the victory of the Greeks of Attica over the Persians, and the victory of the Greeks of Sicily over the Carthaginians. According to the well-known story the high praise which he bestowed on Athens as the "Stay of Greece" roused the indignation of the Thebans, who imposed on him a heavy fine, which the Athenians reimbursed twofold, adding, as is further reported, a statue and other honours. Like the other lyric poets of his time, Pindar travelled far and wide in fulfilment of his calling, though, doubtless, he often sent his song instead of going himself. A long sojourn in Sicily is beyond a doubt, and Aegina, which he loved only next to Thebes, must have been to him a second home; nor is it unlikely that he knew Macedon in the North and Cyrene in the South. He was received everywhere with veneration and bore himself as a peer of princes. And not only was he honoured by the highest on earth, but the gods themselves are said to have shown him special favour and to have sent him at last the boon of a swift and easy death as he rested his head on the lap of his favourite in the theatre or in the gymnasium of Argos. The date of that death we do not know with certainty, but his life can hardly have been prolonged much beyond the middle of the fifth century. The reverence felt for the poet in his lifetime was paid to his genius after his death, and when Thebes was pillaged and destroyed by the Macedonian soldiery in the next century, the house of Pindar was spared by the express order of Alexander the Great, whose ancestor he had celebrated in song.
    Pindar was a consummate master of the whole domain of lyric poetry, as is shown by the fragments of his hymns (humnoi), his paeans (paianes), his dancing-songs (huporchemata), his processional songs (prosodia), his songs for choruses of virgins (parthenia), his songs of praise (enkomia), his drinking-songs (paroinia) and catches (skolia), his dithyrambs (dithuramboi) and dirges (threnoi). These show the breadth of his genius; the height of it we must estimate by the one group of his poems which we have entire, the Songs of Victory (epinikia or epinikoi), composed to celebrate the successful contestants in the great national games of Greece, Olympian (Olumpionikai, sc. humnoi), Pythian (Puthionikai), Nemean (Nemeonikai), Isthmian (Isthmionikai). In these poems, which were delivered by trained choruses, the poet is the spokesman, and this is an important point for the appreciation of the often intensely personal tone of the lyric chorus as compared with the chorus of the drama. A victory at one of the great games was a matter of joy and pride not only to the victor himself and to his kindred, but also to the community, so that there is a peculiar blending of the private with the public, of intimate allusion with wide scope. The elements are many: festal joy, wise and thoughtful counsel, the uplifting of the heart in prayer for prince and for people, the inspiration of a fervent patriotism; but the victory is the dominant theme, and that victory is raised to the high level of the eternal prevalence of the beautiful and the good over the foul and the base; the victor is transfigured into a glorious personification of his race, and the present is reflected, magnified, illuminated in the mirror of the mythic past. The epinician becomes the triumphal song of Hellenism and the triumphal song of idealized humanity. To understand this it is necessary to understand also the deep religious and ethical and artistic meaning of the great games of Greece, of which the Olympian Games were the crown; so that whatever else a man might achieve or suffer, an Olympian victory was sunshine for life. "To spend and to toil"--this is the motto of him who would attain; a motto that means self-sacrifice, submission to authority, devotion to the public weal; and this motto is incarnate in the Pindaric Heracles, who is held up as the type of achievement and endurance in obedience to the divine will. Heracles is the Doric ideal, and Pindar his last prophet. Pindar still lives in the world of the old gods, still believes in the array of their shining forms, and if he rejects a myth that dishonours god, his faith is intact, the priestly temper conquers. Life was a serious thing to him. The melancholy strain that is not absent from Homer, that dominates Hesiod, makes itself heard in Pindar. We hear over and over again of the shortness and the sorrowfulness of human life, the transitoriness of its pleasures, our utter dependence upon the will of an envious god. And yet it is not a melancholy that degenerates into doleful brooding. It is ‘a spur that the clear spirit doth raise’ to noble action. But for noble action noble blood is necessary. Pindar is an aristocrat, and to him the blood of the gods is the true channel of the grace of the gods. Government fitly reposes only in the hands of those who are endowed by nature for the work of the ruler, and what is true of government is true also of art. Art is divine, and the eagle, the bird of Zeus, is its chosen symbol. Ineffectual chatter is all that can be expected of crows and daws. But the divine right of government, the divine right of genius, is not absolute, and is to be exercised only in obedience to divine law. Native endowment being god-given involves the duty of self-restraint, which is imposed by the giver. And this "measure," which is the summary of Pindaric ethics, brings with it the recompense of reward in that other world which Pindar sees and makes us see with a startling sense of reality.
    Pindar was claimed by the ancient rhetoricians as an exemplar of the "austere" style, as belonging to the same order as Aeschylus in tragedy, as Thucydides in history. His style is the grand style, but grand after the antique pattern of grandeur, which combines weight and fulness of meaning with artistic exactness in every detail. The copiousness of Pindar is a commonplace, but the subtle art of Pindar is often overlooked in the earlier characterizations of his poetry, and it is safe to follow the poet himself, who bears ample witness to his own excellences. Opulence, elevation, force, cunning workmanship, vigorous execution--these are all claimed by the poet for himself; and his splendour, his loftiness, his wealth of imagery, his forceful concentration, his varied metaphor, his vivid narrative, his superb diction must be recognized at once, though the admiration of these characteristics is indefinitely enhanced by closer study. But what withdraws itself from the reader is the sequence of thought, the planfulness of the epinician, and yet this is a point which Pindar also insists on. This planfulness, though disregarded or denied by literary people ancient and modern, has been diligently sought after by the best commentators and by the most thoughtful students of Pindar, and while no consensus has been reached, much has been done to show sequence and balance, to reproduce the architectonic principle, to bring out the relations of the myth which forms the heart of every ode to the rest of the organism, to trace the thread of the thought and to make audible the burden of the song as revealed by the recurrence of significant words and significant sentiments. Despite much straining and much overinterpretation, Pindar is much nearer to us than he was ever before. The music and the dance are lost without which the full significance of a Pindaric ode cannot be appreciated, but the rhythm remains, and under the guidance of the rhythm we can penetrate into many of the recesses of Pindaric songs.
    The great Pindaric MSS. are, according to Mommsen's notation, A (Ambrosianus A), twelfth century; B (Vaticanus B), also of the twelfth century; C (Parisinus G), belongs to the close of the twelfth century); D (Mediceus B) in the Laurentian Library at Florence, thirteenth or fourteenth century. The inferior MSS. are called Thomani, Moschopulei, Tricliniani, as they represent the editions of Thomas Magister, Moschopulos, and Triclinius. A good reading in them is a lucky accident.
    The older scholia to Pindar go back to Didymus as Didymus goes back to an earlier time, and they have a certain value for the constitution of the text; the later scholia have very little value of any kind. A critical edition was begun by E. Abel with Nemeans and Isthmians in 1884.

This text is from: Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities. Cited Nov 2002 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks

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