Pindar and Anacreon/Pindar/Isthmian Odes/1

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The poet, having laid aside the task which he had on hand, declares his wish to compose an ode to the conqueror Herodotus, after the example of Castor and Iolaus, in praise of whom he digresses.—Justice of celebrating the victor's triumphs, which are recorded in the remaining part of the ode.

Oh mother, Thebes with golden shield,
My theme shall to thy glory yield.
Let rocky Delos not disdain,
For whom I late have pour'd the strain.
Aught happier can the virtuous prove5
Than venerated parents' love?
Bless'd by Apollo's fostering care,
Resign, oh isle, thine envied place.
With the gods' aid, a double grace
To happy issue will I bear.10
Hymning the unshorn Phœbus' might,
Round Ceos where the waters flow,
And Isthmus, that with giant height
Uprears her ocean-girded brow. 11

Since on the brave Cadmæan band15
Six chaplets his victorious arm
Bestow'd, to grace his native land
With conquering valour's brightest charm.
Alcmena there in days of yore
Her own intrepid offspring bore;20
Him whom Geryon's monsters bold
With terror shudder'd to behold.
But I who the bright meed prepare,
Herodotus, to grace thy car,
Who with no foreign hands' control25
Thy four steeds urgest to the gaol,
The Castorean hymn would raise,
Or song in Iolaus' praise;
For they who the triumphant chariot drove,
In Thebes and Sparta born, all heroes rank'd above.

First in the numerous contests, they31
Adorn'd their halls with tripods rare,
With golden caldrons, goblets fair,
And bore the victor's wreaths away.
In naked stadia shines their valour clear,35
As in the armed course, whence sounds the martial spear. 32

And when they whirl'd the dart on high,
Or gave the stony disk to fly—
For yet no crown pentathlic gain'd,
Each deed its due success obtain'd.40
Their locks with frequent chaplets bound,
Erst in these contests won,
Where Dirce's streams refresh the ground,
And near Eurotas' wave was found
Iphicles' noble son;45
Who to the earth-sown Theban race
Could his illustrious lineage trace,
And Tyndarus', whose loved retreat
Was in Therapne's high Achæan seat. 43

All hail! while I compose the song,50
Whose strains to Neptune's power belong,
That rules the sacred Isthmian band,
Protector of the Onchestian strand.[1]
Connected with this hero's name,
Will I his sire Asopodorus' fame,55
And thy paternal soil, Orchomenos, proclaim. 51

Propp'd on a wreck that 'scaped the boundless wave,
A refuge from his dire mischance she gave;
And now once more congenial fate
Has raised him to his ancient state;60
While prudence arms his mind to bear
The heavy load of adverse care.
But if to purchase valour's meed,
Expense and toil must crown the deed,
Ne'er should the victor's praise be sung65
By an unjust and envious tongue. 61

The poet's recompense is light
His various labours to requite;
Who by the honest meed of praise
A common monument will raise.70
To mortal toils of various kind
Are sweet but different gifts assign'd.
The fowler, he that tends his sheep,
Who tills the soil, or ploughs the deep,
All by laborious efforts strive75
Hunger's dire pest away to drive.
But he whose valour in the fight,
Or contests of superior might,
Hath borne the splendid prize away,
Shall hear his panegyric sung80
By citizens' and strangers' tongue,
And gain of highest worth convey. 75

Be mine the task with loud acclaim
Saturn's earth-shaking son to name,
Whose near protecting godhead leads85
The chariot with its rapid steeds.
And thine, Amphitryo, to address
Eubœa, Minya's green recess,
Ceres' famed Eleusinian grove,
Along whose winding course the chariots move. 82

With these, Protesilaus, I combine,91
Rear'd by the Greeks in Phylace thy shrine:[2]
But to recount what numerous meeds
Herodotus' triumphant steeds
From Hermes, patron of the games,95
Have won, more ample limit claims
Than bounds my narrow hymn—the mind
In silence greater bliss can find. 89

Let him on lofty pinions soar
Of the Pierian vocal band,100
With choice boughs pluck'd from Pytho's store,
And where flows on Olympia's shore
Alpheus, let him fill his hand.
So shall his triumphs with renown
Thebes of the seven high portals crown.105
But he who nourishes a soul
That hopes of secret wealth control,
Thinks not, while others are his scorn,
How his inglorious life to Pluto speeds forlorn. 100


  1. Onchestus was a maritime region of Bœotia, consecrated to Neptune. It is here put for the Copiac lake, or any part of the neighbouring country. Heyne remarks that it is customary with Pindar to celebrate at the same time the victor, the game in which he conquered, and the god who particularly presided over it. It appears that the father of Herodotus had been expelled from Thebes in a civil commotion, and banished to Orchomenos.
  2. Phylace was a town in Thessaly, where Protesilaus reigned, and where funeral games were celebrated at his tomb.