Pindar and Anacreon/Pindar/Isthmian Odes/4
THE FOURTH ISTHMIAN ODE.
TO THE SAME MELISSUS.
This ode begins with the praises of Melissus' ancestors, and relates the melancholy consequences of a defeat sustained by his family; whose good fortune, however, again shone forth in this triumph gained by Melissus.—The panegyric of his ancestors and of himself is resumed, and continued with digression to the story of Ajax and Ulysses, Hercules and Antæus, &c.—Apotheosis of Hercules, and divine honours paid him by the yearly sacrifices of the Thebans.—The ode concludes with the praise of Melissus and his charioteer Orseas.
Bless'd by the gods, to me belong
A thousand avenues of song;
Thy triumphs in the Isthmian field,
Melissus, fair occasion yield
The hymn of victory to frame 5
That all thy virtues shall proclaim;
With which the god delights to grace
Through life Cleonymus' high race;
While by the ever-varying blast
Mankind are still at random cast. 10 10
For they at Thebes with honour crown'd,
From times of ancient date were said
To be the hosts of all around,
And free from strife's discordant sound,
By every deed to make their own 15
What tests of glory wide had flown
Among the living or the dead.
Brave in the valour of their race,
They touch'd at the remotest land,
Where the Herculean pillars stand: 20
Nor let ambition ask an ampler space. 22
They loved to train the generous steeds,
While brazen Mars approved their deeds.
But in the course of one short day
The rough and sanguine cloud of war 25
Four heroes had impell'd away
From their deserted hearth afar:
And now, the wintry darkness o'er,
Soon as the vernal months succeed,
Serene they flourish as before; 30
Thus crimson roses cover o'er,
At Heaven's behest, the altered mead. 32
While he, the earth-disturbing god,
Who makes Onchestus his abode, 
And the sea bridge that bids the tide 35
From Corinth's walls at distance glide—
Granting this hymn their noble race
With wondrous potency to grace,
Sings their high deeds, whose loud acclaim
Wakes from her couch primeval fame. 40
Aroused, her fair form glows with splendour bright,
As mid the other stars shines Phosphor's nobler light. 41
She who in Athens' verdant field
Proclaim'd the triumphs of his car,
And bade the bards of Sicyon wield 45
Their vocal lyres, to tell afar
What wreaths the Adrastean contests yield.
They when the whole assembly strove,
Like them their crooked chariot drove;
Contending with the Grecian train 50
Whose costly steeds the palm should gain. 50
While they in contest never shown,
Are pass'd with silence and unknown.
Obscure their fate, too, who contend
Ere they attain the wish'd-for end, 55
And this their glorious toils bestow.
Oft the superior in the fray
Has seen his guerdon snatched away
By fraud of some inferior foe.
Ye know that Ajax' deadly might 60
By his own sword at dead of night
Cut off untimely, reprehension bore
To Hellas' sons, who sought the Trojan shore. 62
But Homer's songs with honour grace
Him among men of warlike race; 65
Those strains divine his valour raise,
Heralds of after ages' praise:
For this immortal sound proceeds
When bards proclaim triumphant deeds;
While through the fruitful earth and main 70
This beam its deathless splendour shall maintain.
Propitious be the muses' care!
As we the torch of song illume,
And to Telesia's offspring bear,
Melissus brave, the chaplet fair, 75
Worthy upon the victor's brow to bloom.
His mind, by labour unsubdued,
Rivals the roaring lion's might,
Or like the fox in crafty mood,
That stays the whirling eagle's flight. 80
'Tis just the foe's imperious will
By force to conquer or to foil by skill. 81
For not to him Orion's fame
Had been assign'd by partial fate. 84
Though mean to view, with ponderous weight
Fell from his arm the massive spear.
Erst to Antæus' mansion came
From Thebes to fertile Libya's land,
Of stature short, but dauntless soul,
He that should struggle to control 90
The bloody monster's fierce career,
Who could delight with savage hand
The fane of Neptune to adorn
With scalps from hapless strangers torn,
Alcmena's son—who took his flight 95
Up to Olympus' sacred height,
Exploring earth, and through the hoary wave
To mariners a tranquil passage gave. 98
Now by the ægis-bearing god
In bliss he holds his fair abode 100
With Hebe his celestial bride,
Honour'd and graced by love divine,
King of the domes with gold that shine,
And to heaven's queen in filial bonds allied.
To him above th' Electran gates 105
The new-constructed altars rise;
On him the genial banquet waits,
With all the pomp of sacrifice.
His shrine we citizens surround
With the eight lifeless bodies crown'd, 110
Who by the sword there slaughter'd lie,
Alcides hapless progeny,
Whom Megara, great Creon's daughter, bore. 109
To them, when sets the solar beam,
The rising fire's continual gleam 115
Is given night's darkness to explore;
While lambent smoke's thick volumes rear
Its fumes of incense through the air. 113
The deed of strength, the second day
Still terminates the annual fray: 120
Where round this victor's honour'd brow
Chaplets of pallid myrtle glow;
Rewarding past and present fame,
Which boyhood's threefold triumphs claim.
In his skill'd driver he confides, 125
Who, steersman-like, the chariot guides.
Him, then, with Orseas will I praise,
Distilling grace from my mellifluous lays. 124
- See note on ode i., 53. By the sea bridge in the next verse is to be understood the isthmus of Corinth, which Claudian describes in similar terms: (de Bel. Get. 188:)—
"Vallata mari Scironia rupes,
Et duo continuo connectens æquora muro
So Ovid: (Med. Jasoni, 104:)—
"Quique maris gemini distinet isthmos aquas?"
(See Nem., vi., 65)
- I have adopted Heyne's conjectural emendation of τουτο and κλεος instead of the common reading τωνδε and τελος, from which I think none but a weak sense can be elicited.
- The remarkable expression of the original, κατα ῥαβδον εφρασεν, probably means nothing more than that Homer delivered his rhapsodies in a consecutive series of lines. See the opening of the second Nemean ode. Sudorius' paraphrase is opere expolitor.