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*Pi/ndaros), the greatest lyric poet of Greece, according to the universal testimony of the ancients. Just as Homer was called simply ποιητής, Aristophanes κωμικός, and Thucydides συγγραφεύς, in like manner Pindar was distinguished above all other lyric poets by the title of λυρικός. Our information however respecting his life is very scanty and meagre, being almost entirely derived from some ancient biographies of uncertain value and authority. Of these we possess five; one prefixed by Thomas Magister to his Scholia on the poet; a second in Suidas; a third usually called the metrical life, because it is written in thirty-five hexameter lines; a fourth first published by Schneider in his edition of Nicander, and subsequently reprinted by Böckh along with the three other preceding lives in his edition of Pindar; and a fifth by Eustathius, which was published for the first time by Tafel in his edition of the Opuscula of Eustathius, Frankfort, 1832.

Pindar was a native of Boeotia, but the ancient biographies leave it uncertain whether he was born at Thebes or at Cynoscephalae, a village in the territory of Thebes. All the ancient biographies agree that his parents belonged to Cynoscephalae ; but they might easily have resided at Thebes, just as in Attica an Acharnian or a Salaminian might have lived at Athens or Eleusis. The name of Pindar's parents is also differently stated. His father is variously called Daiphantus, Pagondas, or Scopelinus, his mother Cleidice, Cleodice or Myrto; but some of these persons, such as Scopelinus and Myrto, were probably only his teachers in music and poetry; and it is most likely that the names of his real parents were Daiphantus and Cleidice, which are alone mentioned in the "Metrical Life" of Pindar already referred to. The year of his birth is likewise a disputed point. He was born, as we know from his own testimony (Fragm. 102, ed. Dissen), during the celebration of the Pythian games. Clinton places his birth in Ol. 65. 3, B. C. 518, Böckh in Ol. 64. 3, B. C. 522, but neither of these dates is certain, though the latter is perhaps the most probable. He probably died in his 80th year, though other accounts make him much younger at the time of his death. If he was born in B. C. 522, his death would fall in B. C. 442. He was in the prime of life at the battles of Marathon and Salamis, and was nearly of the same age as the poet Aeschylus; but, as K. O. Miller has well remarked, the causes which determined Pindar's poetical character are to be sought in a period previous to the Persian war, and in the Doric and Aeolic parts of Greece rather than in Athens; and thus we may separate Pindar from his contemporary Aeschylus, by placing the former at the close of the early period, the latter at the head of the new period of literature. One of the ancient biographies mentions that Pindar married Megacleia, the daughter of Lysitheus and Callina; another gives Timoxena as the name of his wife; but he may have married each in succession. He had a son, Daiphantus, and two daughters, Eumetis and Protomacha.

The family of Pindar ranked among the noblest in Thebes. It was sprung from the ancient race of the Aegids, who claimed descent from the Cadmids, who settled at Thebes and Sparta, whence part emigrated to Thera and Cyrene at the command of Apollo. (Pind. P. 5.72, &c.) We also learn from the biography by Eustathius, that Pindar wrote the δαφνηφορικὸν ᾀσμα for his son Daiphantus, when he was elected daphnephorts to conduct the festival of the daphnephsoria ; a fact which proves the dignity of the family, since only youths of the most distinguished families at Thebes were eligible to this office. (Paus. 9.10.4.) The family seems to have been celebrated for its skill in music; though there is no authority for stating, as Bückh and Müller have done, that they were hereditary flute-players, and exercised their profession regularly at certain great religious festivals. The ancient biographies relate that the father or uncle of Pindar was a flute-player, and we are told that Pindar at an early age received instruction in the art from the flute-player Scopelinus. But the youth soon gave indications of a genius for poetry, which induced his father to send him to Athens to receive more perfect instruction in the art; for it must be recollected that lyric poetry among the Greeks was so intimately connected with music, dancing, and the whole training of the chorus that the lyric poet required no small amount of education to fit him for the exercise of his profession. Later writers tell us that his future glory as a poet was miraculously foreshadowed by a swarm of bees which rested upon his lips while he was asleep, and that this miracle first led him to compose poetry. (Comp. Paus. 9.23.2; Aelian, Ael. VH 12.45.) At Athens Pindar became the pupil of Lasus of Hermione, the founder of the Athenian school of dithyrambic poetry, and who was at that time residing at Athens under the patronage of Hipparchus. Lasus was well skilled in the different kinds of music, and from him Pindar probably gained considerable knowledge in the theory of his art. Pindar also received instruction at Athens from Agathocles and Apollodorus, and one of them allowed him to instruct the cyclic choruses, though he was still a mere youth. the returned to Thebes before he had completed his twentieth year, and is said to have received instruction there from Myrtis and Corinna of Tanagra, two poetesses, who then enjoyed great celebrity in Boeotia. Corinna appears to have exercised considerable influence upon the youthful poet, and he was not a little indebted to her example and precepts. It is related by Plutarch (De Glor. Athen. 14), that she recommended Pindar to introduce mythical narrations into his poems, and that when in accordance with her advice he composed a hymn (part of which is still extant), in which he interwove almost all the Theban mythology, she smiled and said, "We ought to sow with the hand, and not with the whole sack" (τῇ χειρὶ δεῖν σπείρειν, ἀλλὰ μὴ ὅλψ τῷ θυλάκψ). With both these poetesses I'indar contended for the prize in the musical contests at Thebes. Although Corinna found fault with Myrtis for entering into the contest with Pindar, saying, "I blame the clear-toned Myrtis, that she, a woman born, should enter the lists with Pindar,"

Μέμφομη δὲ κὴ λιγούραν Μούρτιδ᾽ ἱώνγα
ὅτι βάνα φοῦσ᾽ ἔβα Πινδάροιό ποτ᾽ ἔριν
: still she herself is said to have contended with him five times, and on each occasion to have gained the prize. Pausanias indeed does not speak (9.22.3) of more than one victory, and mentions a picture which he saw at Tanagra, in which Corinna was represented binding her hair with a fillet in token of her victory, which he attributes as much to her beauty and to the circumstance that she wrote in the Aeolic dialect as to her poetical talents.

Pindar commenced his professional career as a poet at an early age, and acquired so great a reputation, that he was soon employed by different states and princes in all parts of the Hellenic world to compose for them choral songs for special occasions. He received money and presents for his works; but he never degenerated into a common mercenary poet, and he continued to preserve to his latest days the respect of all parts of Greece. His earliest poem which has come down to us (the 10th Pythian) he composed at the age of twenty. It is an Epinican ode in honour of Hippocles, a Thessalian youth belonging to the powerful Aleuad family, who had gained the prize at the Pythian games. Supposing Pindar to have been born in B. C. 522, this ode was composed in B. C. 502. The next ode of Pindar in point of time is the 6th Pythian, which he wrote in his twenty-seventh year, B. C. 494, in honour of Xenocrates of Agrigentum, who had gained the prize at the chariotrace at the Pythian games, by means of his son Thrasybulus. It would be tedious to relate at length the different occasions on which he composed his other odes. It may suffice to mention that he composed poems for Hieron, tyrant of Syracuse, Alexander, son of Amyntas, king of Macedonia, Theron, tyrant of Agrigentum, Arcesilaus, king of Cyrene, as well as for many other free states and private persons. He was courted especially by Alexander, king of Macedonia, and Hieron, tyrant of Syracuse ; and the praises which he bestowed upon the former are said to have been the chief reason which led his descendant, Alexander, the son of Philip, to spare the house of the poet, when he destroyed the rest of Thebes (Dion Chrysost. Oral. de Regno, ii. p. 25). About B. C. 473, Pindar visited the court of Hieron, in consequence of the pressing invitation of the monarch; but it appears that he did not remain more than four years at Syracuse, as he loved an independent life, and did not care to cultivate the courtly arts which rendered his contemporary, Simonides, a more welcome guest at the table of their patron. But the estimation in which Pindar was held by his contemporaries is still more strikingly shown by the honours conferred upon him by the free states of Greece. Although a Theban, he was always a great favourite with the Athenians, whom he frequently praised in his poems, and whose city he often visited. In one of his dithyrambs (Dithyr. fr. 4) he called it "the support (ἕρεισμα) of Greece, glorious Athens, the divine city." The Athenians testified their gratitude by making him their public guest (πρόζενος), and giving to him ten thousand drachmas (Isocr. περὶ ἀντιδ. p. 304, ed. Dind.); and at a later period they erected a statue to his honour (Paus. 1.8.4), but this was not done in his lifetime, as the pseudo-Aeschines states (Epist. 4). The inhabitants of Ceos employed Pindar to compose for them a προσόδιον or processional song. although they had two celebrated poets of their own, Bacchylides and Simonides. The Rhodians had his seventh Olympian ode written in letters of gold in the temple of the Lindian Athena.

Pindar's stated residence was at Thebes (τᾶς ἐρατεινὸν ὕδωρ πίομαι, Ol. 6.85), though he frequently left home in order to witness the great public games, and to visit the states and distinguished men who courted his friendship and employed his services. In the public events of the time he appears to have taken no share. Polybius (4.31.5) quotes some lines of Pindar to prove that the poet recommended his countrymen to remain quiet and abstain from uniting with the other Greeks in opposition to the Persians; but there can be little doubt that Pindar in these lines exhorts his fellow-citizens to maintain peace and concord, and to abstain from the internal dissensions which threatened to ruin the city. It is true that he did not make the unavailing effort to win over his fellow-citizens to the cause of Greek independence ; but his heart was with the free party, and after the conclusion of the war he openly expressed his admiration for the victors. Indeed the praises which he bestowed upon Athens, the ancient rival of Thebes, displeased his fellow-citizens, who are said even to have fined him in consequence. It is further stated that the Athenians paid the fine (Eustath. Vit. Pind. ; Pseudo-Aeschin. Ep. 4) ; but the tale does not deserve much credit.


The poems of Pindar show that he was penetrated with a strong religious feeling. He had not imbibed any of the scepticism which began to take root at Athens after the close of the Persian war. The old myths were for the most part realities to him, and he accepted them with implicit credence, except when they exhibited the gods in a point of view which was repugnant to his moral feelings. For, in consequence of the strong ethical sense which Pindar possessed, he was unwilling to believe the myths which represented the gods and heroes as guilty of immoral acts; and he accordingly frequently rejects some tales and changes others, because they are inconsistent with his conceptions of the gods (comp. Grote, Hist. of Greece, vol. i. p. 507, &c.). Pindar was a strict observer of the worship of the gods. He dedicated a shrine to the mother of the gods near his own house at Thebes (Paus. 9.25.3; Philostr. Sen. Imag. 2.12; comp. Pind. P. 3.77). He also dedicated to Zeus Ammon, in Libya, a statue made by Calamis (Paus. 9.16.1), and likewise a statue in Thebes to Hermes of the Agora (Paus. 9.17.1). He was in the habit of frequently visiting Delphi ; and there seated on an iron chair, which was reserved for him, he used to sing hymns in honour of Apollo. (Paus. 10.24.4.)

The only poems of Pindar which have come down to us entire are his Epinicia, or triumphal odes. But these were only a small portion of his works. Besides his triumphal odes he wrote hymns to the gods, paeans, dithyrambs, odes for processions (προσόδια), songs of maidens (παρθένεια), mimic dancing songs (ὑπορχήματα), drinking-songs (σκολιά), dirges (θρῆνοι), and encomia (ἐγκώμια), or panegyrics on princes. Of these we have numerous fragments. Most of them are mentioned in the well-known lines of Horace (Hor. Carm. 4.2) :

Sen per audaces nova dithyrambos
Verba devolvit numerisque fertur
Lege solutis :
Seu deos (hymns and paeans) regesve (encomia) canit, deorum
Sanguinem : --
Sive quos Elea domum reducit
Palma caelestes (the Epinicia) :--
Flebili sponsae juvenemve raptum
Plorat (the diryes).

In all of these varieties Pindar equally excelled, as we see from the numerous quotations made from them by the ancient writers, though they are generally of too fragmentary a kind to allow us to form a judgment respecting them. Our estimate of Pindar as a poet must be formed almost exclusively from his Epinicia, which were all composed in commemoration of some victory in the public games, with the exception of the eleventh Nemean, which was written for the installation of Aristagoras in the office of Prytanis at Tenedos. The Epinicia are divided into four books, celebrating respectively the victories gained in the Olympian, Pythian, Nemean, and Isthmian games. In order to understand them properly we must bear in mind the nature of the occasion for which they were composed, and the object which the poet had in view. A victory gained in one of the four great national festivals conferred honour not only upon the conqueror and his family, but also upon the city to which he belonged. It was accordingly celebrated with great pomp and ceremony. Such a celebration began with a procession to a temple, where a sacrifice was offered, and it ended with a banquet and the joyous revelry, called by the Greeks κῶμος. For this celebration a poem was expressly composed, which was sung by a chorus, trained for the purpose, either by the poet himself, or some one acting on his behalf. The poems were sung either during the procession to the temple or at the comus at the close of the banquet. Those of Pindar's Epinician odes which consist of strophes without epodes were sung during the procession, but the majority of them appear to have been sung at the comus. For this reason they partake to some extent of the joyous nature of the occasion, and accordingly contain at times jocularities which are hardly in accordance with the modern notions of lyric poetry. In these odes Pindar rarely describes the victory itself, as the scene was familiar to all the spectators, but he dwells upon the glory of the victor, and celebrates chiefly either his wealth (ὄλβος) or his skill (ἀρετή),--his wealth, if he had gained the victory in the chariot-race, since it was only the wealthy that could contend for the prize in this contest; his skill, if he had been exposed to peril in the contest. He frequently celebrates also the piety and goodness of the victor ; for with the deep religious feeling, which preeminently characterizes Pindar, he believed that the moral and religious character of the conqueror conciliated the favour of the gods, and gained for him their support and assistance in the contest. For the same reason he dwells at great length upon the mythical origin of the person whose victory he extols, and connects his exploits with the similar exploits of the heroic ancestors of the race or nation to which he belongs. These mythical narratives occupy a very prominent feature in almost all of Pindar's odes; they are not introduced for the sake of ornament, but have a close and intimate connection with the whole object and purpose of each poem, as is clearly pointed out by Dissen, in his admirable essay, "De Ratione Poetica Carminum Pindaricorum, &c." prefixed to his edition of Pindar, an essay which deserves, and will well repay the attentive perusal of the student. The metres of Pindar are too extensive and difficult a subject to admit of explanation in the present work. No two odes possess the same metrical structure. The Doric rhythm chiefly prevails, but he also makes frequent use of the Aeolian and Lydian as well.


The Editio Princeps of Pindar was printed at the Aldine press at Venice in 1513, 8vo., without the Scholia, but the same volume contained likewise the poems of Callimachus, Dionysius, and Lycophron. The second edition was published at Rome by Zacharias Calliergi, with the Scholia, in 1515, 4to. These two editions, which were taken from different families of manuscripts, are still of considerable value for the formation of the text. The other editions of Pindar published in the course of the sixteenth century were little more than reprints of the two above named, and therefore require no further notice here.

The first edition, containing a new recension of the text, with explanatory notes, a Latin version, &c. was that published by Erasmus Schmidius, Vitembergae, 1616, 4to. Next appeared the edition of Joannes Benedictus, Salmurii, 1620, 4to., and then the one published at Oxford, 1697, fol. From this time Pindar appears to have been little studied, till Heyne published his celebrated edition of the poet at Göttingen in 1773, 4to. A second and much improved edition was published at Göttingen in 1798-1799, 3 vols. 8vo., containing a valuable treatise on the metres of Pindar by Godofred Hermann. Heyne's third edition was published after his death by G. H. Schafer, Leipzig, 1817, 3 vols. 8vo. But the best edition of Pindar is that by A. Böckh, Leipzig, 1811-1821, 2 vols. 4to., which contains a most valuable commentary and dissertations, and is indispensable to the student who wishes to obtain a thorough insight into the musical system of the Greeks, and the artistic construction of their lyric poetry. The commentary on the Nemean and Isthmian odes in this edition was written by Dissen. Dissen also published in the Bibliotheca Graeca a smaller edition of the poet, Gotha, 1830, 2 vols. 8vo., taken from the text of Böckh, with a most valuable explanatory commentary. This edition is the most useful to the student from its size, though it does not supersede that of Böckh. A second edition of Dissen's is now in course of publication under the care of Schneidewin : the first volume has already appeared, Gotha, 1843. There is also a valuable edition of Pindar by Fr. Thiersch, Leipzig, 1820, 2 vols. 8vo., with a German translation, and an important introduction. The text of the poet is given with great accuracy by Th. Bergk in his Poetae Lyrici Graeci, Leipzig, 1843.


The translations of Pindar into English are not numerous. The most recent is by the Rev. H. F. Cary, London, 1833, which is superior to the older translations by West and Moore.

Further Information

The histories of Greek literature by Müller, Bernhardy, Bode, and Ulrici; J. G. Schneider, Versuch über Pindar's Leben und Schriften, Strasburg, 1774, 8vo; Mommsen, Pindaros. Zur Geschichte des Dichters,&c., Kiel, 1845, 8vo; Schneidewin's Life of Pindar, prefixed to the second edition of Dissen's Pindar.

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hide References (9 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (9):
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 9.10.4
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 9.16.1
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 9.17.1
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 9.23.2
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 10.24.4
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 1.8.4
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 9.25.3
    • Polybius, Histories, 4.31.5
    • Aelian, Varia Historia, 12.45
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