This text is part of:
Table of Contents:
AT the solemnity of the Pythian Games, there was a consult about taking away all such sports as had lately crept in and were not of ancient institution. For after they had taken in the tragedian in addition to the three ancient, which were as old as the solemnity itself, the Pythian piper, the harper, and the singer to the harp, as if a large gate were opened, they could not keep out an infinite crowd of plays and musical entertainments of all sorts that rushed in after him. Which indeed made no unpleasant variety, and increased the company, but yet impaired the gravity and neatness of the solemnity. Besides it must create a great deal of trouble to the umpires, and considerable dissatisfaction [p. 317] to very many, since but few could obtain the prize. It was chiefly agreed upon, that the orators and poets should be removed; and this determination did not proceed from any hatred to learning, but forasmuch as such contenders are the most noted and worthiest men of all, therefore they reverenced them, and were troubled that, when they must judge every one deserving, they could not bestow the prize equally upon all. I, being present at this consult, dissuaded those who were for removing things from their present settled order, and who thought this variety as unsuitable to the solemnity as many strings and many notes to an instrument. And when at supper, Petraeus the president and director of the sports entertaining us, the same subject was discoursed on, I defended music, and maintained that poetry was no upstart intruder, but that it was time out of mind admitted into the sacred games, and crowns were given to the best performer. Some straight imagined that I intended to produce some old musty stories, like the funeral solemnities of Oeolycus the Thessalian or of Amphidamas the Chalcidean, in which they say Homer and Hesiod contended for the prize. But passing by these instances as the common theme of every grammarian, as likewise their criticisms who, in the description of Patroclus's obsequies in Homer, read ῥήμονες, orators, and not ῤ̔ ἥμονες, darters, 1 as if Achilles had proposed a prize for the best speaker,—omitting all these, I said that Acastus at his father Pelias's funeral set a prize for contending poets, and Sibylla won it. At this, a great many demanding some authority for this unlikely and incredible relation, I happily recollecting myself produced Acesander, who in his description of Africa hath this relation; but I must confess this is no common book. But Polemo the Athenian's Commentary of the Treasures of the City Delphi I suppose most of you have diligently perused, he being a [p. 318] very learned man, and diligent in the Greek antiquities. In him you shall find that in the Sicyonian treasure there was a golden book dedicated to the God, with this inscription: Aristomache, the poetess of Erythraea, dedicated this after she had got the prize at the Isthmian games. Nor is there any reason, I continued, why we should so admire and reverence the Olympic games, as if, like Fate, they were unalterable, and never admitted any change since the first institution. For the Pythian, it is true, hath had three or four musical prizes added; but all the exercises of the body were for the most part the same from the beginning. But in the Olympian all beside racing are late additions. They instituted some, and abolished them again; such were the races of mules, either rode or in a chariot, as likewise the crown appointed for boys that were victorious in the five contests. And, in short, a thousand things in those games are mere novelties. And I fear to tell you how at Pisa they had a single combat, where he that yielded or was overcome was killed upon the place, lest again you may require an author for my story, and I may appear ridiculous if amidst my cups I should forget the name.
1 Il. XXIII. 886.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.
An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.