Odes of Pindar (Myers)/Pythian Odes/4

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The Extant Odes of Pindar, translated into English  (1874)  by Pindar, translated by Ernest Myers
Pythian Ode IV.




Pindar has made this victory of Arkesilas, King of the Hellenic colony of Kyrene in Africa, an occasion for telling the story of Jason's expedition with the Argonauts. The ostensible reason for introducing the story is that Kyrene had been colonised from the island of Thera by the descendants of the Argonaut Enphemos, according to the prophecy of Medea related at the beginning of the ode. But Pindar had another reason. He wished to suggest an analogy between the relation of the Iolkian[errata 1] king Pelias to Jason and the relation of Arkesilas to his exiled kinsman Demophilos. Demophilos had been staying at Thebes, where Pindar wrote this ode, to be afterwards recited at Kyrene. It was written B.C. 466, when Pindar was fifty-six years of age, and is unsurpassed in his extant works, or indeed by anything in all extant poetry.

This day O Muse must thou tarry in a friend's house, the house of the king of Kyrene of goodly horses, that with Arkesilas at his triumph thou mayst swell the favourable gale of song, the due of Leto's children, and of Pytho. For at Pytho of old she who sitteth beside the eagles of Zeus—nor was Apollo absent then—the priestess, spake this oracle, that Battos should found a power in fruitful Libya, that straightway departing from the holy isle he might lay the foundations of a city of goodly chariots upon a white breast of the swelling earth, and might fulfil in the seventeenth generation the word of Medea spoken at Thera, which of old the passionate child of Aietes, queen of Colchians, breathed from immortal lips.

For on this wise spake she to the warrior Jason's god-begotten crew: 'Hearken O sons of high-hearted mortals and of gods. Lo I say unto you that from this sea-lashed land the daughter[1] of Epaphos shall sometime be planted with a root to bring forth cities that shall possess the minds of men, where Zeus Ammon's shrine is builded.

And instead of short-finned dolphins they shall take to them fleet mares, and reins instead of oars shall they ply, and speed the whirlwind-footed car.

By that augury shall it come to pass that Thera shall be mother-city of mighty commonwealths, even the augury that once at the outpourings of the Tritonian lake Euphemos leaping from the prow took at the hands of a god who in the likeness of man tendered this present to the stranger of a clod of earth; and the Father Kronian Zeus confirmed it with a peal of thunder.

[2]What time he came suddenly upon them as they were hanging against the ship the bronze-fluked anchor, fleet Argo's bridle; for now for twelve days had we borne from Ocean over long backs of desert-land our sea-ship, after that by my counsel we drew it up upon the shore.

Then came to us the solitary god, having put on the splendid semblance of a noble man; and he began friendly speech, such as well-doers use when they bid new-comers to the feast.

But the plea of the sweet hope of home suffered us not to stay. Then he said that he was Eurypylos son of the earth-embracer, immortal Ennosides; and for that he was aware that we hasted to be gone, he straightway caught up of the chance earth at his feet a gift that he would fain bestow. Nor was the hero unheeding, but leaping on the shore and striking hand in hand he took to him the fateful clod.

But now I hear that it was washed down from the ship and departed into the sea with the salt spray of evening, following the watery deep. Yet verily often did I charge the labour-lightening servants that they should keep it safe, but they forgot: and now upon this island[3] is the imperishable seed of spacious Libya strown before the time appointed; for if the royal son[4] of Poseidon, lord of horses, whom Europa Tityos' child bare him on Kephisos' banks, had in his own home thrown it down beside the mouth of Hades'[5] gulf, then in the fourth generation of his sons his seed would have taken that wide continent of Libya, for then they would have gone forth from mighty Lakedaimon, and from the Argive gulf, and from Mykenai.

But now he shall in wedlock with a stranger-wife raise up a chosen seed, who coming to this island with worship of their gods shall beget one to be lord of the misty plains[6]. Him sometime shall Phoibos in his golden house admonish by oracles, when in the latter days he shall go down into the inner shrine at Pytho, to bring a host in ships to the rich Nile-garden of the son of Kronos[7].'

So ran Medea's rhythmic utterance, and motionless in silence the godlike heroes bowed their heads as they hearkened to the counsels of wisdom.

Thee, happy son[8] of Polymnestos, did the oracle of the Delphian bee[9] approve with call unasked to be the man whereof the word was spoken, for thrice she bid thee hail and declared thee by decree of fate Kyrene's king, what time thou enquiredst what help should be from heaven for thy labouring speech. And verily even now long afterward, as in the bloom of rosy-blossomed spring, in the eighth descent from Battos the leaf of Arkesilas is green. To him Apollo and Pytho have given glory in the chariot-race at the hands of the Amphiktyons: him will I commend to the Muses, and withal the tale of the all-golden fleece; for this it was the Minyai sailed to seek when the god-given glories of their race began.

What power first drave them in the beginning to the quest? What perilous enterprise clenched them with strong nails of adamant?

There was an oracle of God which said that Pelias should die by force or by stern counsels of the proud sons of Aiolos, and there had come to him a prophecy that froze his cunning heart, spoken at the central stone of tree-clad mother Earth, that by every means he should keep safe guard against the man of one sandal, whensoever from a homestead on the hills he shall have come to the sunny land of glorious Iolkos, whether a stranger or a citizen he be.

So in the fulness of time he came, wielding two spears, a wondrous man; and the vesture that was upon him was twofold, the garb of the Magnetes' country close fitting to his splendid limbs, but above he wore a leopard-skin to turn the hissing showers; nor were the bright locks of his hair shorn from him but over all his back ran rippling down. Swiftly he went straight on, and took his stand, making trial of his dauntless soul, in the marketplace when the multitude was full.

Him they knew not; howbeit some one looking reverently on him would speak on this wise: 'Not Apollo surely is this, nor yet Aphrodite's lord of the brazen car; yea and in glistening Naxos died ere now, they say, the children of Iphimedeia, Otos and thou, bold king Ephialtes: moreover Tityos was the quarry of Artemis' swift arrow sped from her invincible quiver, warning men to touch only the loves within their power.'

They answering each to each thus talked; but thereon with headlong haste of mules and polished car came Pelias; and he was astonied when he gazed on the plain sign of the single sandal on the right foot. But he dissembled his fear within his heart and said unto him, 'What land, O stranger, dost thou claim to be thy country, and who of earth-born mortals bare thee of her womb out of due time[10]? Tell me thy race and shame it not by hateful lies.'

And him with gentle words the other answered undismayed, 'I say to thee that I bear with me the wisdom of Cheiron, for from Chariklo and Philyra I come, from the cave where the Kentaur's pure daughters reared me up, and now have I fulfilled twenty years among them without deceitful word or deed, and I am come home to seek the ancient honour of my father, held now in rule unlawful, which of old Zeus gave to the chief Aiolos and his children. For I hear that Pelias yielding lawlessly to evil thoughts hath robbed it from my fathers whose right it was from the beginning; for they, when first I looked upon the light, fearing the violence of an injurious lord, made counterfeit of a dark funeral in the house as though I were dead, and amid the wailing of women sent me forth secretly in purple swathing-bands, when none but Night might know the way we went, and gave me to Cheiron the son of Kronos to be reared.

But of these things the chief ye know. Now therefore kind citizens show me plainly the house of my fathers who drave white horses; for it shall hardly be said that a son of Aison, born in the land, is come hither to a strange and alien soil. And Jason was the name whereby the divine Beast[11] spake to me.'

Thus he said, and when he had entered in, the eyes of his father knew him; and from his aged eyelids gushed forth tears, for his soul was glad within him when he beheld his son, fairest of men and goodliest altogether.

Then came to him both brothers, when they heard that Jason was come home, Pheres from hard by, leaving the fountain Hypereis, and out of Messena Amythaon, and quickly came Admetos and Melampos to welcome home their cousin. And at a common feast with gracious words Jason received them and made them friendly cheer, culling for five long nights and days the sacred flower of joy us life.

But on the sixth day he began grave speech, and set the whole matter before his kinsmen from the beginning, and they were of one mind with him.

Then quickly he rose up with them from their couches, and they came to Pelias' hall, and they made haste and entered and stood within.

And when he heard them the king himself came forth to them, even the son of Tyro of the lovely hair. Then Jason with gentle voice opened on him the stream of his soft speech, and laid foundation of wise words: 'Son of Poseidon of the Rock, too ready are the minds of mortal men to choose a guileful gain rather than righteousness, howbeit they travel ever to a stern reckoning. But thee and me it behoveth to give law to our desires, and to devise weal for the time to come. Though thou knowest it yet will I tell thee, how that the same mother bare Kretheus and rash Salmoneus, and in the third generation we again were begotten and look upon the strength of the golden sun. Now if there be enmity between kin, the Fates stand aloof and would fain hide the shame. Not with bronze-edged swords nor with javelins doth it beseem us twain to divide our forefathers' great honour, nor needeth it, for lo! all sheep and tawny herds of kine I yield, and all the lands whereon thou feedest them, the spoil of my sires wherewith thou makest fat thy wealth. That these things furnish forth thy house moveth me not greatly; but for the kingly sceptre and throne whereon the son of Kretheus sate of old and dealt justice to his chivalry, these without wrath between us yield to me, lest some new evil arise up therefrom.'

Thus he spake, and mildly also did Pelias make reply: 'I will be even as thou wilt, but now the sere of life alone remaineth to me, whereas the flower of thy youth is but just burgeoning; thou art able to take away the sin that maketh the powers beneath the earth wroth with us: for Phrixos biddeth us lay his ghost, and that we go to the house of Aietes, and bring thence the thick-fleeced hide of the ram, whereby of old he was delivered from the deep and from the impious weapons of his stepmother. This message cometh to me in the voice of a strange dream: also I have sent to ask of the oracle at Kastalia whether it be worth the quest, and the oracle chargeth me straightway to send a ship on the sacred mission. This deed do thou offer me to do, and I swear to give thee up the sway and kingly rule. Let Zeus the ancestral god of thee and me be witness of my oath and stablish it surely in thine eyes.'

So they made this covenant and parted; but Jason straightway bade heralds to make known everywhere that a sailing was toward. And quickly came three sons of Zeus, men unwearied in battle, whose mothers were Alkmene and Leto of the glancing eyes[12], and two tall-crested men of valour, children of the Earth-shaker, whose honour was perfect as their might, from Pylos and from farthest Tainaros: hereby was the excellence of their fame established—even Euphemos' fame, and thine, wide-ruling Periklymenos. And at Apollo's bidding came the minstrel father of song, Orpheus of fair renown.

And Hermes of the golden staff sent two sons to the toilsome task, Echion and Eurytos in the joy of their youth; swiftly they came, even from their dwelling at the foot of Pangaios: and willingly and with glad heart their father Boreas, king of winds, harnessed Zetes and Kalaïs, men both with bright wings shooting from their backs. For Hera kindled within those sons of gods the all-persuading sweet desire for the ship Argo, that none should be left behind and stay by his mother's side in savourless and riskless life, but each, even were death the price, achieve in company with his peers a magic potency of his valour.

Now when that goodly crew were come to Iolkos, Jason mustered them with thanks to each, and the seer Mopsos prophesied by omens and by sacred lots, and with good will sped the host on board.

And when they had hung the anchors over the prow, then their chief taking in his hands a golden goblet stood up upon the stern and called on Zeus whose spear is the lightning, and on the rush of waves and winds and the nights and paths of the deep, to speed them quickly over, and for days of cheer and friendly fortune of return. And from the clouds a favourable voice of thunder pealed in answer; and there came bright lightning flashes bursting through.

Then the heroes took heart in obedience to the heavenly signs; and the seer bade them strike into the water with their oars, while he spake to them of happy hopes; and in their rapid hands the rowing sped untiringly.

And with breezes of the South they came wafted to the mouth of the Axine sea; there they founded a shrine and sacred close of Poseidon, god of seas, where was a red herd of Thracian bulls, and a new-built altar of stone with hollow top[13].

Then as they set forth toward an exceeding peril they prayed the lord of ships that they might shun the terrible shock of the jarring rocks: for they were twain that had life, and plunged along more swiftly than the legions of the bellowing winds; but that travel of the seed of gods made end of them at last[14].

After that they came to the Phasis; there they fought with dark-faced Kolchians even in the presence of Aietes. And there the queen of keenest darts, the Cyprus-born, first brought to men from Olympus the frenzied bird, the speckled wry-neck[15], binding it to a four-spoked wheel without deliverance, and taught the son of Aison to be wise in prayers and charms, that he might make Medea take no thought to honour her parents, and longing for Hellas might drive her by persuasion's lash, her heart afire with love.

Then speedily she showed him the accomplishment of the tasks her father set, and mixing drugs with oil gave him for his anointment antidotes of cruel pain, and they vowed to be joined together in sweet wedlock.

But when Aietes had set in the midst a plough of adamant, and oxen that from tawny jaws breathed flame of blazing fire, and with bronze hoofs smote the earth in alternate steps, and had led them and yoked them single-handed, he marked out in a line straight furrows, and for a fathom's length clave the back of the loamy earth; then he spake thus: 'This work let your king, whosoever he be that hath command of the ship, accomplish me, and then let him bear away with him the imperishable coverlet, the fleece glittering with tufts of gold.'

He said, and Jason flung off from him his saffron mantle, and putting his trust in God betook himself to the work; and the fire made him not to shrink, for that he had had heed to the bidding of the stranger maiden skilled in all pharmacy. So he drew to him the plough and made fast by force the bulls' necks in the harness, and plunged the wounding goad into the bulk of their huge sides, and with manful strain fulfilled the measure of his work. And a cry without speech came from Aietes in his agony, at the marvel of the power he beheld.

Then to the strong man his comrades stretched forth their hands, and crowned him with green wreaths, and greeted him with gracious words. And thereupon the wondrous son[16] of Helios told him in what place the knife of Phrixos had, stretched the shining fell; yet he trusted that this labour at least should never be accomplished by him. For it lay in a thick wood and grasped by a terrible dragon's jaws, and he in length and thickness was larger than their ship of fifty oars, which the iron's blows had welded.

Long were it for me to go by the beaten track, for the time is nigh out, and I know a certain short path, and many others look to me for skill. The glaring speckled dragon, O Arkesilas, he slew by subtlety, and by her own aid he stole away Medea, the murderess of Pelias. And they went down into the deep of Ocean and into the Red Sea, and to the Lemnian race of husband-slaying wives; there also they had games and wrestled for a prize of vesture, and lay with the women of the land.

And then it was that in a stranger womb, by night or day, the fateful seed was sown of the bright fortune of thy race. For there began the generations of Euphemos, which should be thenceforth without end. And in time mingling among the homes of Lakedaimonian men they made their dwelling in the isle that once was Kalliste[17]: and thence the son of Leto gave thy race the Libyan plain to till it and to do honour therein to your gods, and to rule the divine city of golden-throned Kyrene with devising of the counsels of truth.

Now hearken to a wise saying even as the wisdom of Oedipus. If one with sharp axe lop the boughs of a great oak and mar its glorious form, even in the perishing of its fruit it yet giveth token of that it was; whether at the last it come even to the winter fire, or whether with upright pillars in a master's house it stand, to serve drear service within alien walls, and the place of it knoweth it no more[18].

But thou art a physician most timely, and the god of healing maketh thy light burn brightly. A gentle hand must thou set to a festering wound. It is a small thing even for a slight man to shake a city, but to set it firm again in its place this is hard struggle indeed, unless with sudden aid God guide the ruler's hand. For thee are prepared the thanks which these deeds win. Be strong to serve with all thy might Kyrene's goodly destiny.

And of Homer's words take this to ponder in thy heart: Of a good messenger, he saith, cometh great honour to every deed. Even to the Muse is right messengership a gain. Now good cause have Kyrene and the glorious house of Battos to know the righteous mind of Demophilos. For he was a boy with boys, yet in counsels an old man of a hundred years: and the evil tongue he robbeth of its loud voice, and hath learnt to abhor the insolent, neither will he make strife against the good, nor tarry when he hath a deed in hand. For a brief span hath opportunity for men, but of him it is known surely when it cometh, and he waiteth thereon a servant but no slave.

Now this they say is of all griefs the sorest, that one knowing good should of necessity abide without lot therein. Yea thus doth Atlas struggle now against the burden of the firmament, far from his native land and his possessions. Yet the Titans were set free by immortal Zeus. As time runneth on the breeze abateth and there are shiftings of the sails. And he hath hope that when he shall have endured to the end his grievous plague he shall see once more his home, and at Apollo's fountain[19] joining in the feast give his soul to rejoice in her youth, and amid citizens who love his art, playing on his carven lute, shall enter upon peace, hurting and hurt of none. Then shall he tell how fair a fountain of immortal verse he made to flow for Arkesilas, when of late he was the guest of Thebes.

  1. Libya. Epaphos was son of Zeus by Io.
  2. This incident happened during the wanderings of the Argonauts on their return with the Golden Fleece from Kolchis to Iolkos.
  3. Thera.
  4. Euphemos.
  5. At Tainaros there was a cave supposed to be a mouth of Hades.
  6. Of Libya.
  7. The purport of this is: If Euphemos had taken the clod safely home to Tainaros in Lakonia, then his great-grandsons with emigrants from other Peloponnesian powers would have planted a colony in Libya. But since the clod had fallen into the sea and would be washed up on the shore of the island of Thera, it was necessary that Euphemos' descendants should first colonize Thera, and then, but not till the seventeenth generation, proceed, under Battos, to found the colony of Kyrene in Libya.
  8. Battos.
  9. The priestess.
  10. The epithet πολιᾶς is impossible to explain satisfactorily. It has been suggested to me by my friend Mr. Butcher of Trinity College, Cambridge, that χαμαιγενής may have been equivalent to γηγενής, and that Pelias may thus mean, half ironically, to imply that Jason's stature, garb and mien, as well as his mysteriously sudden appearance, argue him a son of one of the ancient giants who had been seen of old among men.
  11. The Kentaur Cheiron.
  12. I. e. one son of Zeus and Alkmene, Herakles, and two sons of Zeus and Leto, Kastor and Polydeukes.
  13. For the blood of the victims.
  14. The Symplegades having failed to crush the ship Argo between them were themselves destroyed by the shock of their encounter with each other. Probably a tradition of icebergs survived in this story.
  15. Used as a love-charm.
  16. Aietes.
  17. Thera.
  18. In this parable the oak is the state, the boughs its best men, the fire and the alien house destruction and servitude.
  19. The fountain Kyra in the heart of the city Kyrene.


  1. Original: Iolchian was amended to Iolkian: detail