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Pindar

Pindar (or Pindarus / Pindaros) (522 BC443 BC), considered the greatest of the nine lyric poets of ancient Greece, was born at Cynoscephalae, a village in Thebes. He was the son of Daiphantus and Cleodice. The traditions of his family have left their impression on his poetry, and are not without importance for a correct estimate of his relation to his contemporaries. While his father belonged to the 'aristocracy', his mother is said to have been a member of the 'rightless' class or maybe even a slave. Together with the fact that his relation with a woman from the aristocracy ended abruptly, this would remain a source of inspiration for Pindar. He felt looked down upon. He got his 'revenge' through his poetry. It is even said that the same girl and his father committed suicide after reading his work.

But nevertheless, through his father, he truly belonged to the aristocracy, and from a very early age on, he became familiar with all the intimacies of the aristocratic ranks and titles. This is something to keep in mind when studying Pindar's work. The clan of his father, the Aegidae – tracing their line from the hero Aegeus – belonged to the Cadmean element of Thebes, i.e., to the elder nobility whose supposed date went back to the days of the founder Cadmus.

Employing himself by writing choral works in praise of notable personages, events and princes, his house in Thebes was spared by Alexander the Great in recognition of the complimentary works composed for king Alexander I of Macedon.

Pindar composed choral songs of several types. According to a Late Antique biographer, these works were grouped into seventeen books by scholars at the Library of Alexandria. They were, by genre:

  • 1 book of humnoi "hymns"
  • 1 book of paianes "paeans"
  • 2 books of dithuramboi "dithyrhambs"
  • 1 book of prosodia "preludes"
  • 3 books of parthenia "songs for maidens"
  • 1 book of huporchemata "songs to support dancing"
  • 1 book of enkomia "praise-songs"
  • 1 book of threnoi "laments"
  • 4 books of epinikia "victory odes"

Of this vast and varied corpus, only the victory odes survive in complete form. The rest are known to us only by quotations in other ancient authors or papyrus scraps unearthed in Egypt.

Pindar's victory odes were composed for aristocratic victors in the four most prominent athletic festivals in early Classical Greece: the Olympian, Pythian, Isthmian and Nemean Games. Rich and allusive in style, they are packed with dense parallels between the athletic victor, his illustrious ancestors, and the myths of gods and heroes underlying the athletic festival. But "Pindar's power does not lie in the pedigrees of ... athletes, ... or the misbehavior of minor deities. It lies in a splendour of phrase and imagery that suggests the gold and purple of a sunset sky."[1] Two of Pindar's most famous victory odes are Olympian 1 (476 BC) and Pythian 1 (433 BC).

Pindar is to be conceived, then, as standing within the circle of those families for whom the heroic myths were domestic records. He had a personal link with the memories which everywhere were most cherished by Dorians, no less than with those which appealed to men of "Cadmean" or of Achaean stock. And the wide ramifications of the Aegidae throughout Hellas rendered it peculiarly fitting that a member of that illustrious clan should celebrate the glories of many cities in verse which was truly Panhellenic.

Pindar is said to have received lessons in aulos-playing from one Scopelinus at Thebes, and afterwards to have studied at Athens under the musicians Apollodorus (or Agathocles) and Lasus of Hermione. Several passages in Pindar's extant odes glance at the long technical development of Greek lyric poetry before his time, and at the various elements of art which the lyricist was required to temper into a harmonious whole. The facts that stand out from these meagre traditions are that Pindar was precocious and laborious. Preparatory labour of a somewhat severe and complex kind was, indeed, indispensable for the Greek lyric poet of that age.

Pindar's wife's name was Megacleia, and he had a son named Daiphantus and two daughters, Eumetis and Protomache. He is said to have died at Argos, at the age of seventy-nine, in 443 BC.

Reference

  • [1]:Lucas, F. L. "Greek Poetry for Everyman", p.262, Macmillan Company, New York


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