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Pindar's works

The poems on which Pindar's fame chiefly rests are the ἐπινίκια, or Songs of Victory, composed in celebration of successes gained at the great national games. It is
true that these poems constituted only one phase of his work, but they are the most important, the most characteristic, of all. Else they had not alone survived entire. They were more popular than the others, says Eustathios, because they addressed themselves more to human interests, the myths were fewer, and the obscurity was less. But these reasons, which are strange to us now, do not account for the survival. That which embodies the truest, inliest life of a people comes down, the rest perishes and passes over into new forms. Antique epos, antique tragedy, the Old Attic comedy, the ἐπινίκια of Pindar — for these there is no Avatar, and they live on; and yet it would not be doing justice to the rare genius of Pindar to judge him by the ἐπινίκια alone, and fortunately the fragments of the other poems that remain are long enough to justify a characteristic, or at all events long enough to vindicate his versatility. The Pindar of θρῆνος, ὑπόρχημα, σκολιόν, is the Pindar of the ἐπινίκια, but now his mood is sweeter, tenderer, now brighter and more sportive, than in the ἐπινίκια.


a rapid enumeration must suffice here. The Pindaric fragments are arranged under the following heads:
  • 1. Ὕμνοι, the fundamental notion of which is praise (κλέος). The fragment of the ὕμνος that called forth the counsel of Korinna suggests a κλέος in every line.
  • 2. Παιᾶνες. The Doric name (Παιάν, Παιών) shows a Doric origin, and the rhythms were Dorian (τεταγμένη καὶ σώφρων Μοῦσα, says Plutarch). The theme is either petition or thanksgiving. Pindar's paeans are mainly on Apollo, to whom, with his sister Artemis, the paean originally was exclusively addressed. The paean seldom had orchestic accompaniment, and so forms a contrast to
  • 3. Ὑπορχήματα, in which the dancing is prominent, and in which there is a close correlation between the theme and the orchestic movement. The greatest master of this mimetic composition was Simonides of Keos, αὐτὸς αὑτοῦ κράτιστος. The hyporchemata were more secular than the paean, and represented the exuberant joy of the festival. Pindar composed a hyporchema in honor of Hieron, of which we have fragments; and famous is the passage also from the hyporchemata touching the eclipse of the sun.
  • 4. Of προσόδια, or processional songs with flute accompaniment, Pindar composed two books, the most considerable fragment of which was prepared for a πομπή to Delos, the others for a πομπή to Delphi.
  • 5. Παρθένια, with flute accompaniment in the Dorian mood for choruses of virgins in honor of gods, as Apollo or Pan, in the fragments of Pindar; or of men, as Hieron (P. 2.19).
  • 6. ᾿Ἐγκώμια are laudatory poems in the widest sense. In a narrower sense they are songs sung at the Dorian κῶμος in honor of distinguished men, and evidently it would often be difficult to tell an ἐπινίκιον from an ἐγκωμιον.
  • 7. Παροίνια, or “drinking-songs,” of which the σκόλια, or rather σκολιά,1 were sung by individuals at banquets. The name is puzzling, and has been variously explained in ancient and in modern times; the “obliquity” of the σκολιόν being referred now to the zigzag way in which the song was passed on from singer to singer, now to the character of the rhythm. Engelbrecht, the most recent investigator, maintains that it was a generic name for the lighter Aiolian (Terpandrian) composition in contradistinction to the gravity of the epic. As developed in literature the skolia were brief, pithy songs, almost epigrammatic. The themes were love, wine, the philosophy of life, the stirring scenes of history. Clement of Alexandreia compares them oddly, but not ineffectively, with the psalms. The most famous of all the Greek σκολιά is that of Kallistratos in honor of Harmodios and Aristogeiton, the slayers of Hipparchos (ἐν μύρτου κλαδὶ τὸ Ξίφος φορήσω). Böckh thinks that Pindar developed the σκολιόν and put it into a choral form, the chorus dancing while the singer was singing. All which is much disputed.2 The fragments that we have are dactylo-epitrite. One of them is referred to in the introduction to O. 13.
  • 8. The dithyramb (διθύραμβος) — a half-dozen etymologies might be given, each absurder than the other — is a hymn to Iakchos (Bakchos), the mystic god, whose more mundane side is expressed by the name Dionysos. It is a fragment of one of Pindar's dithyrambs that preserves to us the memorable encomium of Athens: “ ταὶ λιπαραὶ καὶ ἰοστέφανοι καὶ ἀοίδιμοι,
    Ἑλλάδος ἔρεισμα, κλειναὶ Ἀθᾶναι, δαιμόνιον πτολίεθρον.
  • 9. Yet one more department must be mentioned — one in which Pindar attained the highest excellence. Simonides, his rival, touched tenderer chords in the θρῆνος, or “lament,” and the fragment that tells of Danaë's lullaby to Perseus, the noble tribute to those who died at Thermopylai, are among the most precious remains of Greek poetry. But Pindar's θρῆνοι struck a higher key, and at the sound of his music the gates of the world beyond roll back. The poet becomes a hierophant.

1 See A. G. ENGELBRECHT, De Scoliorum Poesi, Vienna, 1882, p. 20

2 ENGELBRECHT, l. c. p. 95.

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