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Pindar's life

The names of Pindar's parents are variously given. If we follow the prevalent statement, he was the son of Daïphantos; and his son, in turn, after established Greek usage, bore the name Daïphantos. His brother, of uncertain name, was a mighty hunter, and much given to athletic sports, and this has suggested the unfailing parallel of Amphion and Zethos. The names of his mother, Kleodike (or Kleidike), of his wife, whether Timoxene or Megakleia, his daughters, Protomache and Eumetis, have an aristocratic ring, for there were aristocratic names in antiquity as in modern times. There is no reason for mythologizing Kleodike, Timoxene, Megakleia. As well allegorize Aristeides, Perikles, Demosthenes, because their names happen to fit their fortunes. But Pindar's aristocratic origin rests on surer foundations, and we have good reason for calling him an Aigeid (P. 5.69-71).
Pindar an Aigeid.
What the relations were between the Theban and the Spartan Aigeidai is a matter of lively discussion. It is enough for understanding Pindar that it was an ancient and an honored house, and that Pindar was in every fibre an aristocrat. This explains his intimacy with men of rank, and his evident connection with the priesthood — the stronghold of the aristocracy. To his aristocratic birth, no less than to his lofty character, was due his participation in the θεοξένια, or banquet of the gods at Delphi — an honor which was perpetuated in his family; and the story that he was a priest of Magna Mater is confirmed by his own words (P. 3.77-79), if not suggested by them.

Pindar was born at Thebes, the head of Boeotia — Boeotia, a canton hopelessly behind the times, a slow canton, as the

nimble Attics would say, a glorious climate for eels, but a bad air for brains. Large historical views are not always entertained by the cleverest minds, ancient and modern, transatlantic and cisatlantic; and the annals of politics, of literature, of thought, have shown that out of the depths of crass conservatism and proverbial sluggishness come, not by any miracle, but by the process of accumulated force, some of the finest intelligences, some of the greatest powers, of political, literary, and especially religious life. Modern illustrations might be invidious, but modern illustrations certainly lie very near. Carrière compares Boeotia with Austria and the Catholic South of Germany at the close of the eighteenth century, with their large contributions to the general rise of culture in song and music. If such parallels are not safe, it may be safe to adduce one that has itself been paralleled with the story of the Island of the Saints, and to call attention to the part that the despised province of Cappadocia played in the history of the Christian Church. A Cappadocian king was a butt in the time of Cicero; the Cappadocians were the laughing-stock of the Greek anthology, and yet there are no prouder names in the literary history of the Church than the names of the Cappadocian fathers, Basil and the Gregories. But, apart from this, Boeotia has been sadly misjudged. Pindar, Pelopidas, and Epameinondas were not all, nor yet the πρέσβειρα Κωπᾴδων κορᾶν of the Acharnians. There is no greater recommendation of the study of Greek lyric poetry than this — that it enfranchises the reader from Athenian prejudice and Athenian malice, while Athens herself is not less dear than before. Pindar, then, was an aristocrat in a canton1 that a modern census-taker might have shaded with select and special blackness. Himself born at Thebes, his parents are said to have come to the city from an outlying northwestern deme, Kynoskephalai, a high hill overlooking the
Pindar of Kynoskephalai.
swamp Hylike. Of his infancy we know nothing. The tale that bees distilled honey on his lips is told over and over of the childhood of poets and philosophers. Non sine dis animosus infans, we are as ready to believe to be true of him as of any other great man. Of course he enjoyed the advantage of an elaborate training. Perhaps Boeotians trained even more than did the Athenians. The flute he learned at home, and it is supposed that at a later period
he enjoyed the instructions of Lasos of Hermione, the regenerator of the dithyramb; although it must be noted that the Greeks have an innocent weakness for connecting as many famous names as possible in the relation of teacher and pupil. The statement imposes on nobody. One goes to school to every great influence. It is only honest to say, however, that if Pindar studied under Lasos he was either an ungrateful scholar or underrated his indebtedness to his master. Unfortunately the jibbing pupils are sometimes the best, and the teacher's fairest results are sometimes gained by the resistance of an active young mind. At all events, Pindar has very little to say about training in his poems, much about native endowment, which was to him, as an aristocrat, largely hereditary. We may therefore dismiss Pindar's teachers — Skopelinos, Apollodoros, Agathokles. It is enough for us to know or to divine that he was carefully trained, and had to submit to the rude apprenticeship of genius. First a drillmaster for others, then a composer on his own account, he had to work and wait. His great commissions did not come until he had won a national name. Goethe has commended, as others had done before and others have done since, the counsel of noble women to all who seek the consummation of art, the caput artis, decere. Korinna — the story is at least well
invented — Pindar's fellow-student, not his teacher, gave him a great lesson. In his first poem, he had neglected to insert myths. Admonished of this omission by Korinna, and remembering that his monitress was herself famous for her handling of the myth, he crowded his next hymn with mythological figures — the fragment is still preserved (II. 1, 2) — whereupon she said, with a smile: “One ought to sow with the hand, not with the whole sack” (τῇ χειρὶ δεῖν σπείρειν ἀλλὰ μὴ ὅλῳ τῷ θυλάκῳ). It is unnecessary to emphasize the feminine tact of the advice. On another occasion Korinna is said to have blamed Pindar for having used an Attic word. This, also, is not a bad invention. It accords with the conservative character of woman; it accords with the story that Korinna won a victory over Pindar by the familiar charm of her Boeotian dialect as well as by the beauty of her person, a beauty not lost in the picture at Tanagra, which represented her in the act of encircling her head with a fillet of victory. Aelian, an utterly untrustworthy scribbler, adds that Pindar, in the bitterness of his heart, called his successful rival a swine. If Pindar used the phrase at all, it must be remembered that Βοιωτία ὗς (O. 6.90) was a common expression — half spiteful, half sportive — and that the moral character of the swine stood higher with the Greeks than it stands with us. The swine-woman of Phokylides, who was neither good nor bad, was not the sow of the Old Testament or the New. The Greeks were brotherly to the lower animals. Bull, cow, heifer, cock, ass, dog, were at all events not beneath the level of the highest poetry.

Encouraged, perhaps, by Korinna's success, a younger poetess, Myrtis, attempted to cope with Pindar. She was ingloriously

defeated, and sharply chidden by Korinna, with the sweet inconsistency of her sex.

Pindar was twenty years old when he composed the tenth Pythian in honor of Hippokleas of Thessaly. This poem, as

Pindar's earliest poem.
the firstling of Pindar's genius, has a special interest; but it requires determined criticism to find in it abundant evidence of the crudeness of youth. If Pindar was twenty years old at the time when he composed the tenth
Date of his birth.
Pythian, and the tenth Pythian was written in honor of a victory gained Pyth. 22 (Ol. 69, 3=502 B.C.), Pindar must have been born in 522 B.C. A close contemporary of Aischylos (born 525 B.C.), Pindar suggests a comparison with the great Athenian; but no matter how many external resemblances may be found, nay, no matter how many fine sentiments and exemplary reflections they may have in common, the inner dissidence remains.2 One question always arises when the Μαραθωνομάχης and Pindar are compared, and that is the attitude of the Theban poet during the Persian
Pindar and the Persian war.
war. Was Pindar in thorough sympathy with the party of the Theban nobility to which he belonged by birth, by training, by temperament, or was he a friend of the national cause — as it is safe to call a cause after it has been successful? Within the state there seems to be no question that Pindar was a thoroughpaced aristocrat, and those who think they have noticed greater liberality in the middle of his life have to acknowledge that he became more rigid towards the close. Without the state his imagination must have been fired by the splendid achievements of the Hellenes, and his religious sense must have been stirred by the visible working of the divine power in setting up and putting down. He could not but be proud of the very victories that told against his own country, and yet there is no note in all his poems that shows the kinship that reveals itself in Simonides. The story that the famous fragment in praise of Athens brought upon him the displeasure of his countrymen, which they manifested by the imposition of a heavy fine, reimbursed twofold by the Athenians — this story, with all its variations, the statue, the προξενία, has not escaped the cavils of the critics, and does not, in any case, prove anything more than a generous recognition of the prowess of an alien state, if, after all, anything Greek could be alien to a man so fully in sympathy with all that made Greece what it was. For in the sense that he loved all Greece, that he felt the ties of blood, of speech, above all, the ties of religion, Pindar was Panhellenic. The pressure of the barbarian that drew those ties tighter for Greece generally, drew them tighter for him also; but how? We are in danger of losing our historical perspective by making Pindar feel the same stir in the same way as Aischylos. If he had, he would not have been a true Theban; and if he had not been a true Theban, he would not have been a true Greek. The man whose love for his country knows no local root, is a man whose love for his country is a poor abstraction; and it is no discredit to Pindar that he went honestly with his state in the struggle. It was no treason to Medize before there was a Greece, and the Greece that came out of the Persian war was a very different thing from the cantons that ranged themselves on this side and on that of a quarrel which, we may be sure, bore another aspect to those who stood aloof from it than it wears in the eyes of moderns, who have all learned to be Hellenic patriots. A little experience of a losing side might aid historical vision. That Pindar should have had an intense admiration of the New Greece, should have felt the impulse of the grand period that followed Salamis and Plataia, should have appreciated the woe that would have come on Greece had the Persians been successful, and should have seen the finger of God in the new evolution of Hellas — all this is not incompatible with an attitude during the Persian war that those who see the end and do not understand the beginning may not consider respectable.

The life of a lyric poet was usually a life of travel. Arion is the type of a wanderer, Ibykos and Simonides journeyed

far and wide, and although we must not suppose that Pindar went whithersoever his song went, he was not a home-keeping man. His long sojourn in Sicily is beyond a doubt. Aigina must have been to him a second home. Journeys to Olympia, to Delphi, to Nemea, are certain. If he studied under Lasos, he must have studied at Athens, and it is likely that he was familiar with many parts of Greece, that he went as far north as Macedon, as far south as Kyrene. Everywhere he was received with respect, with
veneration. Myths were woven about him as about few poets, even in myth-loving Greece. Not only did the princes of earth treat him as their peer, but the gods showed him distinguished honor. The Delphic priests, as we have seen, invited him to the θεοξένια as a guest of the divinities, and, more than this, Pan himself sang a poem of Pindar's, and Pindar returned thanks for the honor in the parthenion beginning Πάν. Of a piece with this story is the other that Pindar had a vision of a walking statue of Magna Mater, and it is needless to say that Magna Mater, Pan, and the rest are all combinations from various allusions in his poems. Unworthy of critical examination as they are, such stories are not to be passed by in silence, because they reflect the esteem in which the poet was held.

The death of Pindar, as well as his life, was a fruitful theme. The poet prayed for that which was best for man. The god, — Ammon, or Apollo, — sent him death on the lap of his favorite Theoxenos, — according to one legend, in the theatre at Argos, according to another, in the gymnasium. His bones, however, rested in Thebes. Persephone — or was it Demeter? —

Death of Pindar.
appeared to him in vision, and reproached him with not having celebrated her in song, her alone of all the deities, and she prophesied at the same time that he would soon make up for his shortcomings when he should be with her. In less than ten days Pindar had gone to “the blackwalled house of Phersephona” (O. 14.20), daughter of Demeter. After his death he appeared in vision to an aged kinswoman, and repeated a poem on Persephone, which she wrote down after she awoke, as Coleridge did Kubla Khan, and thus preserved it for after-times. The time of Pindar's death is very uncer
Time of Pindar's death.
tain. It is commonly supposed that he lived to an advanced age. Some make him die at eighty; others see no proof of his having gone beyond sixtysix. One prudent soul, with wise reserve, says he did not live to see the outbreak of the Peloponnesian war. The latest poem that we can date certainly is O. 4 (Ol. 82, 452 B.C.), but P. 8 is often assigned to 450 B.C.

Sundry apophthegms are attributed to Pindar. Most of them show the aloofness, so to speak, of his character.

“What is sharper than a saw? Calumny.” “What wilt thou sacrifice to the Delphic god? A paean.” “Why dost thou, who canst not sing, write songs? The shipbuilders make rudders but know not how to steer.” “Simonides has gone to the courts of the Sicilian tyrants. Why hast thou no desire to do the same? I wish to live for myself, not for others.” These expressions at least reproduce the temper of the man as conceived by antiquity. Such a self-contained personage could never have made himself loved by a wide circle. Admired he was without stint, often without true insight. The reverence paid his genius was manifested in many ways. Familiar to all is the story that when Thebes was pillaged and destroyed by the Macedonian soldiery, the house of Pindar was spared3 by the express order of Alexander the Great, whose ancestor he had celebrated in song (fr. VIII. 3).

1 Of course it may be said that Pindar was a Boeotian only in name, not in blood — belonging, as he did, to the old pre-Boeotian stock; but as he himself accepts the name with the responsibility (Βοιωτία ὗς), we need go no further.

2 “Both Aeschylus and Pindar speak of Etna in volcanic eruption. But Aeschylus — thoroughly Greek in this — fixes our thought on the scathe done to man's labor. Pindar gives a picture of natural grandeur and terror (P. 1.20). The lines on the eclipse of the sun [fr. VII. 4] are sublime. But it is not the moral sublimity of Aeschylus. Pindar never rises into the sphere of titanic battle between destiny and will. He is always of the earth, even when he is among the gods.” — JEBB.


The great Emathian conqueror bid spare
The house of Pindarus when temple and tow'r
Went to the ground.


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    • Pindar, Olympian, 14
    • Pindar, Olympian, 6
    • Pindar, Pythian, 3
    • Pindar, Pythian, 5
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    • Pindar, Pythian, 1
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