Odes of Pindar (Paley)/Preface
The translations of Pindar's Epinicia now published have been made at different times, and for the most part have been long lying by, through want of leisure on my part to revise them finally for the press. In the course of reading Pindar for many years past with pupils, I have often been compelled to complain of the unsatisfactory renderings which are given in commentaries; and so, with at least a strong desire to do better, I have been in the habit of attempting occasionally the careful and close translation of an entire ode. By such experiments from time to time repeated the work has grown up, as it were, from small beginnings. I think an accurate translation of an author so very difficult as Pindar will be of use to students; and I do not know that, under the circumstances mentioned above, it is necessary to add a word on the question how far translations are or are not serviceable to the cause of sound scholarship. Pindar may be called in some respects an exceptional poet. Partly from the difficulty and somewhat archaic character of the Greek, partly from his highly figurative and "flowery" style, but chiefly from the nature of his subject, which is not human nature but human glory, he is not very extensively read in this country, nor perhaps by any but by students of the higher class; and with them he is not commonly a great favourite. The fact is, that Pindar, to use a hackneyed phrase, must be known to be appreciated. And to know him well must be the work and the study of years. And yet, as the earliest genuine Greek poet of antiquity—which, with the grave doubts that hang over the composition of the Homeric and the greater part at least of the Hesiodic poems, I think he may fairly be called—he well deserves to hold a foremost place in our curriculum of classical studies.
Any one who attempts to render Pindar, with tolerable closeness, into readable English, will soon find that he has undertaken an extremely difficult, not to say a formidable task. It would be hard to conceive any two forms of literature more widely different than the chivalrous, sententious, highly florid style of the Greek lyric poet, and the average prose-writings of our own times and country. If we try to translate a dozen lines of Pindar very literally, and word for word, we shall too often obtain a result that reads very like downright nonsense. If we aim at a style and diction somewhat antiquated, and borrow the vocabulary of Spenser or the old English ballads, we fall into a forced artificial mannerism which, simply because it is unreal, savours strongly of quaintness, pedantry, and affectation. If we endeavour to represent the author's mind and meaning in the plain and clear terms which are the vehicle of modern thought, we run the serious risk of violating the very genius and essence of lyric poetry, and bringing it down almost to the level of ordinary dinner-table talk. Though well aware of the stupendous descent that must in this case be made, I have nevertheless preferred to make the attempt, and have endeavoured to represent Pindar's mind and meaning, and the connexion of thought, in plain unvarnished Saxon English. In doing this, I have tried to give a tolerably literal, but not servile version, i.e., a version only so far free as to allow of Greek being exchanged for English idioms. For a translation which reproduces all the idioms of the original is but a travestie; it has no right to be called a translation (or transference) at all.
I have ventured to call Pindar the most genuine of the early Greek poets; and in the sense, that his extant works have come down to us on the whole less tampered with and less modernised than any others, I think this is true. In reading Pindar, we feel a well-founded confidence that we have before us the very words of one who lived at a known time and place. In Pindar too we have a poet sui generis. Standing widely apart from,—we can hardly say between,—the epic on one side and the dramatic on the other,—the lyric poetry of Pindar has the impress of a peculiar and quite unique genius. Chivalrous, if somewhat wanting in pathos, sententious rather than philosophical, jealous of his own fame though genial to others, patriotic without being illiberal, and combining real piety and trust in a divine superintendence with an unquestioning credulity in the wildest legends, he is totally absorbed in the one great idea, the contemplation of human glory as attained by the grace of the gods, in the great athletic contests of Hellas. In him we see reflected the intense admiration of the early Greeks for bodily strength, skill, beauty, endurance, and all those qualities which adorn the outer man and make him enviable in the sight of others. Additional value is imparted to works as early as Pindar's, viz., reaching back five centuries before our era, by the knowledge that we have, in most cases, of the exact year in which the odes were composed, or at least, in which the victories they commemorate were gained. Contrasted with the utter vagueness and uncertainty attending the dates of the poems which have come to us under the names of Homer and Hesiod, this is a satisfactory circumstance. We now for the first time in Grecian, annals feel that we are fairly and safely within the historic period; and though the historical facts are incidental, and generally subordinate to the legendary, they have this special interest,—the victors are real persons, whose country, parentage, clan, and in part, family history, are given us with circumstantial minuteness. The localities are real, and the games, if mythical in their institution, were historical in their periodical recurrence. From these considerations alone we perceive how different is the position which Homer and Pindar hold in Grecian literature.
Of the many compositions attributed to Pindar,—hymns, dithyrambs, paeans, dancing-songs, and not a few others,—it may seem remarkable that the Epinicia alone have descended to our times, and that these seem to be complete, with the exception, probably, of a few which have been lost from the end of the Isthmia. This may be partly due to the interest which, in later times, when these poems first began to be collected, the representatives of the old Doric clans felt in perpetuating the honours of their houses. There is not the slightest proof that the Odes of Pindar were originally written. On the contrary, there are several strong arguments to prove they were orally taught, and conveyed to their destination by ἄγγελοι, i.e., by persons instructed by Pindar himself both in the words and the music, and commissioned to teach them to the local choruses by whom they were to be publicly performed. Not only is there no mention in Pindar of reading and writing (except the single allusion to a written name under the words ἀναγνῶναι and γράφειν), but the oral conveyance by ἄγγελοι is often alluded to, and the words in Ol. vi. 91 seem absolutely to admit of no other interpretation; for the poet there compares the person who is sent to impart the ode to a scytale or writing-staff,—a short wooden cylinder round which a paper was wrapped for penning brief messages. If the man carried with him the ode written, the comparison is utterly pointless. He is called a scytale because he performs the same part, vicariously, of communicating a message. It would be perfectly absurd to call an errand-boy figuratively "a note," simply because he carried a note to a friend's house. I cannot here go into this question at length, though quite prepared to do so, and though it is one of the greatest importance and interest. I will merely state in few words my present conviction,—that a written literature was entirely unknown to the Greeks even in the times of Pindar.
The great value attached to a hymn of victory composed by a poet of note, is clear from many passages. Pindar himself is conscious of his importance, and does not attempt to disguise it. Though only orally learnt, and orally perpetuated, an ode recording a great victory would not have been allowed to perish in any family. Every anniversary of the event would be duly solemnised by the performance or recitation of it. Pindar himself calls the comus-song" a long-lasting light of deeds of valour," "a much-talked-of hymn," "a much-admired hymn," etc. When the period arrived, some generations later, when the oral compositions of the earlier bards began to be consigned to writing, it was this class of odes which would be the most easily recovered and the most religiously preserved.
To understand this the better, we must take a glance at the nature of the festivities held on the occasion of a victory (ἐπινίκια), and at the performance of the comus-song itself. It seems that a grand banquet was given to the victor and his friends by the members of his clan, in which hired choruses, with players on the pipe and the lute, were engaged to sing the victor's praises. This was done either by a procession through the streets (κῶμος) to the house of the victor or the temple of his patron-god, or by a chorus of boys or men who danced and sang to music in the front court (πρόθυρον) of the house, or before the temple, or perhaps at the banquet itself. The processional comus-song has its modern counterpart in the bands of country-people who in some, perhaps most, of the romance countries may be seen coming down from the mountains in companies, headed by a person with a guitar, singing and stamping out a tune to the music. All Greek metre of the choral kind is in fact a dancing-step of some sort; the beat to which an air was danced and sung. Hence the metre is called πέδιλον in Ol. iii. 5. The terms strophe and antistrophe mean, that the same dance, consisting of a certain number of turns and figures, performed by one half of the chorus, was taken up responsively by the other half, in the way of part and counterpart. Pindar's metres in this respect do not differ in any essential particular from those of the Greek choruses, which were also performed to music, like our operas. Those odes which have the Doric beat are in fact extremely simple, being mere alternations of trochees with dactyls, as in the third Olympian and the fourth Pythian ode. The Aeolian or Aeolo-Lydian odes are distinguished by combinations of short syllables, and they are more complex and less simple in their beat. The two first Olympian odes are Aeolian, the fourth is Aeolo-Lydian, and more nearly approaches the dactylic run of the Dorian.
The simplest and oldest form of the comus-song was that described in Ol. ix. 1, and alluded to in the last verse of the Acharnians of Aristophanes,
τήνελλα καλλίνικον ᾄδοντές σε καὶ τὸν ἀσκόν.
It consisted of three verses, or rather of two with the addition of τήνελλα καλλίνικε. These were sung without music (φωνᾶεν) but the word τήνελλα was so pronounced as to imitate the sound of a harp-string (like our words ting or twang; compare the Latin tinnulus). In the absence of a more elaborate ode, this seems to have been, so to call it, the regulation-song with which a victor was escorted either to the temple, to acknowledge the victory, or to his own home or that of his father.
Much solemnity was added to these processions by the carrying of the newly-won crown, probably held aloft conspicuously on a pole, to be consecrated at the altar of some god. This was called a στεφανηφορία, and was regarded at once as an act of piety and generosity in the victor; it does not appear however to have been the rule, or even the ordinary practice. Yet from Ol. xiii. 29, it might be inferred that the crown itself was usually exhibited in the procession, even when not intended as an offering.
There is yet another circumstance that adds a peculiar interest to the Odes of Pindar, and it is one to which less attention has hitherto been directed than it deserves. It is this; that though he dwells much and often on Homeric themes and characters, it is only occasionally that he touches on scenes in our Iliad or Odyssey. The fact is extremely suggestive, and raises grave doubts if Pindar could have known the Homeric poems in the form under which we now have them. As that form bears the clearest indications, both in diction and allusions, of an Asiatic hand, it is by no means improbable that, if they then existed at all in their present form (which appears to me far from certain, since it is not till the time of Plato, or very little before it, that we are able to identify them with certainty by quotations from them), they were unknown to a Doric poet of European extraction. Even if he did know them, it seems likely that he would be content to follow the local stories about Achilles which then prevailed at Aegina and Phthiotis, near his own native town of Thebes. And these stories, relating mainly to the early education of the hero by Chiron, and his more youthful exploits, are, as might be expected, in many, though not in all, respects different from his adventures as described in the Iliad, at an advanced period of the war.
Those who maintain that because some of the allusions in Pindar to the story of Helen, Glaucus the Corinthian, Hector, Ajax, etc., suit more or less well the narrative in our Iliad, therefore Pindar was acquainted with that poem, are bound to furnish a reasonable explanation of the wide discrepancy that exists in other passages between the Pindaric and the Homeric accounts. In some of the former, e.g. in Ol. ii. 79, we seem to have a strange combination of what is in our Homer with what is not. "Achilles was brought (viz., to the isles of the blest) by his mother, after she had persuaded the heart of Zeus by her prayers; that hero who proved himself more than a match for Hector, that sturdy pillar of Troy, and who gave Cycnus to death, and the Ethiopian son of the Morning (Memnon)." Again, in Isthm. iv. 39 the same characters are joined with another non-Homeric one, "Say, who slew Cycnus, who Hector, and the undaunted leader of the Ethiopian hosts, Memnon of the brazen spear: who it was that wounded the brave Telephus with his spear by the banks of the Caïcus." What is more perplexing still, Pindar gives a detailed account of events only just alluded to, and apparently epitomised, in our Homer. Thus, in Od. iv. 187, we read that a son of Nestor wept, "for he remembered in his soul the valiant Antiloclius, whom the handsome son of the bright Morning (i.e., Memnon) slew." Now in Pyth. vi. 28–39 we have a full narrative of the whole affair. The very slight allusion to the suicide of Ajax, through his defeat in the contest for the armour of Achilles, in Od. xi. 545, cannot possibly have given rise to the fuller details in Nem. vii. 25 and viii. 23 seqq., and in the play of Sophocles. In Nem. viii. 30 we find that Ulysses and Ajax both fought for the recovery of the body of Achilles; whereas the death of that hero by Paris is only spoken of as "looming in the distance" in the Iliad. In Isthm. vii. 47 it is said that "the mouths of poets showed forth to the inexperienced the valour of Achilles, who slew Telephus, secured the return of the Atridae, and killed Memnon, Hector, and other chiefs;" and then he adds a passage nearly identical with that in Od. xxiv, 60 seqq., describing how the Muses came and wept over the pyre of Achilles. In fine, if any student will carefully compare (which he can easily do by the help of the index) all the passages in Pindar in which Peleus, Thetis, and Achilles are mentioned by name, he will find, perhaps with some surprise, that by far the greater part contain allusions to stories not found in our Homer at all.
I may here add, as a noteworthy circumstance, that a people called Μέροπες are twice mentioned by Pindar, whereas in our Homeric text (though Μέροψ occurs as a man's name) we have the word only as an epithet, and in a combination which nobody pretends exactly to understand, μερόπων ἀνθρώπων.
Unquestionably, I think, either Pindar knew more epics on the Troica than are contained in our Homer, and held them to be of equal authority, or our own Homer is a compilation later than Pindar's time. The subject yet demands a very careful critical investigation. The difficulties of it are not to be evaded, by saying that Pindar may easily be supposed to have known and borrowed from both our Homer and the "inferior and later" Cyclic poets. That is a very superficial view of the matter. Pindar knew the tale of Troy generally from the rhapsodists, without distinction of early or late (see Pyth. iii. 113, Nem. ii. 1.) There are these two main facts (among many others) which, I repeat, must be fairly met and fully explained. (1.) Our Homer briefly embodies many incidents which, are known to have been treated at length in those very "Cyclics"; (2.) The ancient poets and artists, before about B.C. 420, were perfectly familiar with the "Cyclic" stories, while they show no clear recognition of our Homeric text.
There are some peculiarities in Pindar's style, on which it may be well here to say a few words, since the right understanding of them will often prove a key to his meaning.
1. His fondness for digression, or, in other words, his habit of running off into long legends immediately after mentioning the name of some hero. Thus, Ol. i. 25, "His glory shines in the colony of Pelops, of whom Poseidon was enamoured when," etc., and so on for the next eighty lines. Pyth. ix. 5, "the crown of Cyrene (the nymph) whom Apollo carried off from Pelion," of which the story is then given in about as many verses. Ol. vi. 28, "This day we must visit Pitane, who is said to have given birth to a son to Poseidon," of which the account directly follows, with the history of the child in the next fifty verses. Pyth. iv. 3, "We must swell the gale of song for Pytho, where erst the priestess foretold that Battus should be king of Cyrene." This introduces at once the long story, in 250 lines, of the Argonauts, the ancestors of Battus. Pyth. iii. 5, "O that Chiron had been still alive, as when he educated Asclepius, whom the daughter of Phlegyas gave birth to, but died in child-bed." Then the poet tells the whole tale of that event in fifty verses. Nem. x. 49, "As Castor was a guest of one of the victor's ancestors, no wonder that he is great in the games; for Castor and his brother preside over them, living alternately in heaven and on earth." The story follows in about forty verses to the end of the ode.
These tales, which are very numerous, and told with admirable spirit, form the most pleasing part of Pindar's works. It must be admitted that they have sometimes the appearance of being as it were dragged in; but the explanation is very simple: the poet's object was to praise not only the victor but his clan, or even his city; and to do this in a manner most pleasing to them he was compelled to dwell on the local or family legends, nearly all of which turn on some supernatural proofs of favour, or on a more or less remote descent from the gods. On the subject of Aegina and the Aeacidae the poet is always specially eloquent, influenced, it seems, by traditions of a mythical relation between the presiding divinities of Aegina and Thebes. He evidently thought that the ancient heroes of that island had attained to the utmost height of glory in war that man could attain to, Page:Odes of Pindar (Paley).djvu/27 Page:Odes of Pindar (Paley).djvu/28 Page:Odes of Pindar (Paley).djvu/29 Page:Odes of Pindar (Paley).djvu/30 Page:Odes of Pindar (Paley).djvu/31 Page:Odes of Pindar (Paley).djvu/32 Page:Odes of Pindar (Paley).djvu/33 Page:Odes of Pindar (Paley).djvu/34 Page:Odes of Pindar (Paley).djvu/35 Page:Odes of Pindar (Paley).djvu/36
- There is, at all events, less reason to suspect the "cooking" process in the Odes of Pindar than in any other poet of antiquity. But there is great probability, I fear, that in the form in which we have them, the works attributed to Homer and Hesiod are but compilations and adaptations of earlier compositions.
- If the necessities of the case have caused me apparently to pass over some of those nicer shades of meaning which the Greek language can so well express, I must beg the student not too hastily to conclude that I was therefore ignorant of them. Sometimes they cannot be rendered without clumsy verbiage.
- "Strange it may seem to us, that with all these clear perceptions the poet should yet retain in his teaching the wildest fictions of Hellenic theology. But these traditions, we must always remember, formed in those days an essential part of all poetic lore. Trained to receive them from its earliest years, a pious, reverential mind like Pindar's would be slow indeed to reject them wholly; rather he would try to mould and blend them into something at least which resembled consistence with the higher truths of his discernment. For a man so loyal and generous, scepticism on points like these was a feeling all but impossible. Indeed that his worship of the gods was as genuine in practice as in theory, we know from the records of an ancient and credible historian." (The "Nemean Odes of Pindar," by the Rev. Arthur Holmes, 1867.)
- The oldest extant ode, Pyth. x., dates B.C. 502.
- Enumerated in p. 327 of Dr, Donaldson's edition.
- Donaldson, p. 329.
- Ol. xi. 1–3. Compare Ol. iii. 30.
- Ol. vi. 90; Pyth. iv. 279; Ol. ix. 25, etc.
- Ol. i. 8; iv. 10; Nem. vii. 81; Isthm. iii. 39.
- Pindar mentions the two together in several passages; but in Ol. iii. 8, he speaks of a peculiar arrangement of words to the pipe and the lute as a recent invention of his own.
- This, I conceive, was the ῥυθμὸς or "time" of the music. Dr. Donaldson's explanation of the word (Preface, p. xvi.) is to me somewhat obscure; he says it was "either the relative duration of the sounds which enter into the composition of a piece of music, or the relative duration of the times occupied in pronouncing the syllables of a verse." In other words, he says, it was "a regulating principle which connected the music with the metres."
- They are given in Dr. Donaldson's note on Ol. ix. i.
- See Ol. ix. fin., Pyth. ii. 6, and Nem. v. fin.
- I have pointed out this fact elsewhere, in the Preface to Vol. i. of the Iliad, p. xxvii., and in a paper on the date of those poems, published in the Transactions of the Camb. Phil. Soc. (vol. ix. part ii.)
- Among many other passages I may refer the student to Ol. ii. 81–3; ix. 71–9; Pyth. vi. 28 seqq.; Nem. iii. 43; vi. 52; vii. 34; x. 7; Isth. iv. 39; vii. 50.
- Ol. xiii. 59; ii. 79; Nem. ii. 14.
- See Il. i. 524.
- Memnon is only once mentioned by name in the Odyssey, xi. 522.
- The common opinion is, that the fuller details were borrowed from post-Homeric poets. Thus Mr. Jebb (Preface to the Ajax, p. vi.) says, "In the interval between the Odyssey and Pindar, the episode of the contest for the arms was elaborated by two epic writers, of whom Proclus has preserved fragments; by Arctinus of Miletus, circ. 780 B.C., in his Aethiopis; and by Lesches of Lesbos, circ. 700 B.C., in his Ilias Minor."
- σοφῶν στόματα, as if Pindar recognised several poets (the rhapsodists, doubtless), and so Thucydides mentions παλαιοὶ τῶν ποιητῶν, whereas we fancy that our Homer alone is the source of all these tales.
- Nem. iv. 26; Isthm. v. 29.
- Isthm. vii. 16.