Masterpieces of Greek Literature (1902)/First Pythian Ode

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FIRST PYTHIAN ODE.

In honor of a victory with the chariot in the Pythian Gaines won by Hiero, king of Syracuse, in 470 B. C. Reference is made to a recent volcanic eruption of Mt. Aetna, and to the newly founded city Aetna, which Hiero had recently established with a Spartan constitution, near the foot of that mountain, on the site of the modem Catania. There Hiero had made his son Deinomenes king. Matthew Arnold paraphrases part of this ode in his Empedocles on Etna.


Hail, golden lyre! whose heav'n-invented string
To Phoebus and the blaek-hair'd nine belongs;
Who in sweet chorus round their tuneful king
Mix with thy sounding chords their sacred songs.
The dance, gay queen of pleasure, thee attends; 5
Thy jocund strains her list'ning feet inspire;
And each melodious tongue its voice suspends
Till thou, great leader of the heav'nly quire,
With wanton art preluding giv'st the sign—
Swells the full concert then with harmony divine. 10

Then, of their streaming lightnings all disarm'd,
The smould'ring thunderbolts of Jove expire;
Then, by the music of thy numbers charm'd,
The birds' fierce monarch drops his vengeful ire;
Perch'd on the sceptre of th' Olympian king, 15
The thrilling darts of harmony he feels;
And indolently hangs his rapid wing,
While gentle sleep his closing eyelid seals;
And o'er his heaving limbs in loose array
To ev'ry balmy gale the ruffling feathers play. 20

Ev'n Mars, stern god of violence and war,
Soothes with thy lulling strains his furious breast,
And driving from his heart each bloody care,
His pointed lance consigns to peaceful rest.
Nor less enraptur'd each immortal mind 25
Owns the soft influence of enchanting song,
When, in melodious symphony combin'd,
Thy son,[1] Latona, and the tuneful throng
Of muses, skill'd in wisdom's deepest lore,
The subtle pow'rs of verse and harmony explore. 30

But they, on earth, or the devouring main,
Whom righteous Jove with detestation views,
With envious horror hear the heav'nly strain,
Exil'd from praise, from virtue, and the muse.
Such is Typhoeus,[2] impious foe of gods, 35
Whose hundred headed form Cilicia's cave
Once foster'd in her infamous abodes;
Till daring with presumptuous arms to brave
The might of thund'ring Jove, subdued he fell,
Plung'd in the horrid dungeons of profoundest hell. 40

Now under sulph'rous Cumae's sea-bound coast,
And vast Sicilia lies his shaggy breast;
By snowy Aetna, nurse of endless frost,
The pillar'd prop of heav'n, for ever press'd:
Forth from whose nitrous caverns issuing rise 45
Pure liquid fountains of tempestuous fire,
And veil in ruddy mists the noon-day skies,
While wrapt in smoke the eddying flames aspire,
Or gleaming thro' the night with hideous roar
Far o'er the redd'ning main huge rocky fragments pour. 50

But he, vulcanian monster, to the clouds
The fiercest, hottest inundations throws,
While with the burthen of incumbent woods,
And Aetna's gloomy cliffs o'erwhelm'd he glows.
There on his flinty bed out-stretch'd he lies, 55
Whose pointed rock his tossing carcase wounds:
There with dismay he strikes beholding eyes,
Or frights the distant ear with horrid sounds.
Ο save us from thy wrath, Sicilian Jove!
Thou, that here reign'st, ador'd in Aetna's sacred grove: 60

Aetna, fair forehead of this fruitful land!
Whose borrow'd name adorns the royal town,
Rais'd by illustrious Hiero's gen'rous hand,
And render'd glorious with his high renown.
By Pythian heralds were her praises sung, 65
When Hiero triumph'd in the dusty course,
When sweet Castalia with applauses rung,
And glorious laurels crown'd the conqu'ring horse.
The happy city for her future days
Presages hence increase of victory and praise. 70

Thus when the mariners to prosp'rous winds,
The port forsaking, spread their swelling sails;
The fair departure cheers their jocund minds
With pleasing hopes of favorable gales,
While o'er the dang'rous deserts of the main, 75
To their lov'd country they pursue their ways.
Ev'n so, Apollo, thou, whom Lycia's plain,
Whom Delus, and Castalia's springs obey,
These hopes regard, and Aetna's glory raise
With valiant sons, triumphant steeds, and heav'nly lays! 80

For human virtue from the gods proceeds;
They the wise mind bestow'd, and smooth'd the tongue
With elocution, and for mighty deeds
The nervous arm with manly vigor strung.
All these are Hiero's: these to rival lays 85
Call forth the bard. Arise then, Muse, and speed
To this contention; strive in Hiero's praise,
Nor fear thy efforts shall his worth exceed;
Within the lines of truth secure to throw,
Thy dart shall still surpass each vain attempting foe. 90

So may succeeding ages, as they roll,
Great Hiero still in wealth and bliss maintain,
And joyous health recalling, on his sold
Oblivion pour of life-consuming pain.
Yet may thy memory with sweet delight 95
The various dangers and the toils recount,
Which in intestine wars and bloody fight
Thy patient virtue, Hiero, did surmount;
What time, by Heav'n above all Grecians crown'd,
The prize of sov'reign sway with thee thy brother found. 100

Then like the son of Poean didst thou war,
Smit with the arrows of a sore disease;
While, as along slow rolls thy sickly car,
Love and amaze the haughtiest bosoms seize.
In Lemnos pining with th' envenom'd wound 105
The son of Poean, Philoctetes,[3] lay:
There, after tedious quest, the heroes found,
And bore the limping archer thence away;
By whom fell Priam's tow'rs (so Fate ordain'd)
And the long harass'd Greeks their wish'd repose obtain'd. 110

May Hiero too, like Poeau's son, receive
Recovered vigor from celestial hands!
And may the healing God proceed to give
The pow'r to gain whate'er his wish demands.
But now, Ο Muse, address thy sounding lays 115
To young Dinomenes, his virtuous heir.
Sing to Dinomenes his father's praise;
His fathers praise shall glad his filial ear.
For him hereafter shalt thou touch the string,
And chant in friendly strains fair Aetna's future king. 120

Hiero for him th' illustrious city rear'd,
And fill'd with sons of Greece her stately tow'rs,
Where by the free-born citizen rever'd
The Spartan laws exert their virtuous pow'rs.
For by the statutes, which their fathers gave, 125
Still must the restive Dorian youth be led;
Who dwelling once on cold Eurotas' wave,[4]
Where proud Taÿgetus exalts his head,
From the great stock of Hercules divine
And warlike Pamphylus deriv'd their noble line. 130

These from Thessalian Pindus rushing down,
The walls of fam'd Amyclae once possess'd,
And rich in fortune's gifts and high renown,
Dwelt near the twins of Leda, while they press'd
Their milky coursers, and the pastures o'er 135
Of neighb'ring Argos rang'd, in arms supreme.
To king and people on the flow'ry shore
Of lucid Amenas, Sicilian stream,
Grant the like fortune, Jove, with like desert
The splendor of their race and glory to assert. 140

And do thou aid Sicilia's hoary lord
To form and rule his son's obedient mind;
And still in golden chains of sweet accord,
And mutual peace the friendly people bind.
Then grant, Ο Son of Saturn, grant my pray'r! 145
The bold Phoenician [5] on his shore detain;
And may the hardy Tuscan never dare
To vex with clam'rous war Sicilia's main;
Rememb'ring Hiero, how on Cumae's coast
Wreck'd by his stormy arms their groaning fleets were lost. 150

What terrors! what destruction then assail'd!
Hurl'd from their riven decks what numbers died!
When o'er their might Sicilia's chief prevail'd,
Their youth o'erwhelming in the foamy tide,
Greece from impending servitude to save. 155
Thy favor, glorious Athens! to acquire
Would I record the Salaminian wave [6]
Fam'd in thy triumphs; and my tuneful lyre
To Sparta's sons with sweetest praise should tell,
Beneath Cithaeron's shade [7] what Medish archers fell. 160

But on fair Himera's wide-water'd shores [8]
Thy sons, Dinomenes, my lyre demand,
To grace their virtues with the various stores
Of sacred verse, and sing th' illustrious band
Of valiant brothers, who from Carthage won 165
The glorious meed of conquest, deathless praise.
A pleasing theme! but censure's dreaded frown
Compels me to contract my spreading lays.
In verse conciseness pleases ev'ry guest,
While each impatient blames and loathes a tedious feast. 170

Nor less distasteful is excessive fame
To the sour palate of the envious mind;
Who hears with grief his neighbor's goodly name,
And hates the fortune that he ne'er shall find.
Yet in thy virtue, Hiero, persevere! 175
Since to be envied is a nobler fate
Than to be pitied. Let strict justice steer
With equitable hand the helm of state,
And arm thy tongue with truth. Ο king, beware
Of ev'ry step! a prince can never lightly err. 180

O'er many nations art thou set, to deal
The goods of fortune with impartial hand;
And ever watchful of the public weal,
Unnumber'd witnesses around thee stand.
Then, would thy virtuous ear for ever feast 185
On the sweet melody of well-earn'd fame,
In gen'rous purposes confirm thy breast,
Nor dread expenses that will grace thy name;
But scorning sordid and unprincely gain,
Spread all thy bounteous sails, and launch into the main. 190

When in the mould'ring urn the monarch lies,
His fame in lively characters remains,
Or grav'd in monumental histories,
Or deck'd and painted in Aonian [9] strains.
Thus fresh, and fragrant, and immortal blooms 195
The virtue, Croesus, of thy gentle mind.
While fate to infamy and hatred dooms
Sicilia's tyrant,[10] scorn of human kind;
Whose ruthless bosom swell'd with cruel pride,
When in his brazen bull the broiling wretches died. 200

Him therefore nor in sweet society
The gen'rous youth conversing ever name,
Nor with the harp's delightful melody
Mingle his odious inharmonious fame.
The first, the greatest bliss on man conferr'd 205
Is in the acts of virtue to excel;
The second, to obtain their high reward,
The soul-exalting praise of doing well.
Who both these lots attains, is bless'd indeed,
Since fortune here below can give no richer meed. 210

Translated by Gilbert West.

 


  1. Apollo.
  2. Typhoeus or Typhon, an enemy of Zeus, is supposed by Homer to lie beneath the Cilician plain, in the "earthquake belt" of Asia Minor. But now that Mt. Aetna is an active volcano, Pindar transfers him thither, and he is said to extend from Cumae's coast (i. e. Mt. Vesuvius) to Sicily (Mt. Aetna).
  3. The Greeks on their way to Troy abandoned Philoctetes at Lemnos, but were obliged to seek his aid.
  4. The Eurotas flows past Sparta, and Mt. Taÿgetus rises high above the city. The Spartans derived their origin from Doris on the slopes of Pindus. Amyclae was the old capital of Lacedaemon. The "Twins of Leda" were Castor and Pollux, whose sanctuary was near Amyclae.
  5. I. e. the western Phoenician, or Carthaginian.
  6. Referring to the battle of Salamis, 480 B. C.
  7. Referring to the battle of Plataea, 479 B. C.
  8. The poet thus compares the battle of Himera, 480 B. C., won by Hiero and his brothers (sons of Dinomenes the elder) over the Carthaginians, with the battles of Salamis and Plataea.
  9. I. e. of the Muses.
  10. Phalaris, tyrant of Agrigentum (Girgenti), who was said to roast men alive in a bronze bull.