Pindar's thoughtMen who themselves owed everything to form have been found to maintain that translation conveys the essential, and that the highest survives the process of transmission without any considerable loss. Far less dangerous is the paradox of Moriz Haupt, “ Do not translate: translation is the death of understanding. The first stage is to learn to translate; the second to see that translation is impossible.1 ” In the transfer to a foreign language the word loses its atmosphere, its associations, its vitality. The angle at which it meets the mental vision is often changed, the rhythm of the sentence is lost. The further one penetrates into the life of a language, the harder does translation become; and so we often have the result that the version of the young student is better than that of the experienced scholar, because the latter tries to express too much, and hence falls into paraphrase and sheer cumbrousness. The true vision of a work of literary art is to be gained by the study of the original, and by that alone. And this holds even as to the ethic value of poetry. To put Pindar's thoughts, his views of life, into other words, is often to sacrifice the delicate point on which the whole moral turns. If this is true of the single word, the single sentence, it holds with still more force of the attempt to form an image of the poet's world of thought and feeling by the simple process of cataloguing translations of his most striking thoughts under certain rubrics. This has been done by various scholars, notably by Bippart and by Buchholz.2 With their help one can give ode and verse for Pindar's attitude towards the beliefs of his time, for his views of the gods and heroes, of human destiny, of politics, practical and speculative, of Pindar's relations to persons.3 One can give ode and verse for Pindar's belief in blood, in genius, for his contempt of the groundlings, for his tenets of art, of life, of government, if, indeed, we dare break up the antique unity in which all three are merged. But the methodical channels in which Pindar's poetical vein is thus made to run give no notion of the play of the poet's genius. The stream that escapes from the waste-pipe of a fountain gives no notion of the rise and fall and swirl and spray and rainbow glitter of the volume of water that rejoices to return the sportive touch of the sunlight. The catechism has its uses, but it is not the Bible, and as there is no space in this essay for a Pindaric catechism, it must suffice to show how much the study of a few odes will teach us of what Pindar believed concerning God, and what duty he thought God required of man. True, to the great question, “What is God?” Pindar has no answer in any of his odes; he is as silent as Simonides. But when we ask, “Are there more gods than one?” the answer comes speedily from the first Olympian, “There be gods many and lords many.” Zeus dominates officially (v. 10),
Still limiting our vision to the first Olympian, we ask, “What is Pindar's view of human life, human destiny?” The Greek wail over our mortality is heard here also. “The immortals sent Pelops straight back to dwell again among the tribes of men whose doom is speedy” (v. 65). And banished Pelops cries — “θανεῖν δ᾽ οἷσιν ἀνάγκα” (v. 82) — “As we needs must die, why should one nurse a nameless old age in darkness idly sitting, and all in vain?” Life is darkness unless it be lighted up by victory such as the sunshine of Olympia (v. 97), but that is all. The light within man is darkness, and the light that comes from without depends on the favor of God. God has Hieron's cause at heart (v. 106), but God may fail. “If he fail not speedily” (v. 108), then — This strain is heard over and over again, the shortness and the sorrows of human
Man is of few days and full of trouble.
Pindar an expounder of Greek ethics.
The next world.