Pindar and Anacreon/Pindar/Isthmian Odes/7

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Pindar begins this highly poetical ode with an address to Thebes; concisely enumerating her ancient glories, and the most remarkable events in her history.—Praises the maternal uncle of Strepsiades, who had fallen in battle.—Then returns to the victor, and mingles good wishes with his commendations.—Concludes with beseeching Apollo to add a victory in the Isthmian games to the other triumphs of Strepsiades.

Oh happy Thebes! of all thy former joys,[1]
Which now the most thy mind employs?
Is it the hour when first to light of day
The fair-hair'd Bacchus sprang,
By Ceres throned, whose priests their homage pay
With cymbals' brazen clang? 6
Or think'st thou of the midnight hour
When veil'd within a golden shower
The chief of the celestial band
Deign'd at Amphitryo's doors to stand? 10 10


To aid, while sojourning on earth,
His spouse at the Herculean birth,
Or of Tiresias' counsels wise,
Or Iolaus, skilful charioteer,
Or earth-sown heroes,[2] wielding as they rise 15
The indefatigable spear:
Or when thou sent'st Adrastus far
From the rude shout and din of war,
Reft of his numerous friends, to roam
Back to equestrian Argos home: 20
Or when from distant Doris' land
Thou gavest on foot erect to stand
The colony of Spartan line—
Thy sons besieged Amyclæ's wall,
Ægidæ, faithful to the call 25
Of the prophetic Pythian shrine. 22

But mighty deeds of old renown
Sleep unremember'd and unknown,
Save when enrich'd the record lie
In the sweet dews of poetry. 30
Then lead the pomp, the hymn's soft lays
Awake, Strepsiades to praise,
Who, victor in the Isthmian fray,
Bears the pancratium's palm away;
Conspicuous in triumphant might, 35
And form pre-eminently bright; 32

While valour with an equal pace
Accompanies corporeal grace.
The dark-hair'd muses crown his fame
Whose triumphs a new grace have shed 40
On his maternal uncle's name,
Him lately in th' embattled field
The deity with brazen shield
Hath number'd with the dead.
But honour still the brave attends. 36 45

This let the patriot warrior know
Who drives the cloud of slaughter that impends
O'er his loved native soil, upon the foe.
His fame among the citizens shall bloom,
Growing through life, and living in the tomb. 50
But thou, Diodotus' brave son,
Rival of Meleager's fame,
Who emulatest Hector's name,
And glories by Amphiaraus won; 54
Breath'dst forth in war's first ranks thy flower of life,
Where the most brave sustain'd war's hopeless strife.

Then grief ineffable I bore;
But now the god, whose potent might
Girds the firm earth, day's splendour bright
Gives me for winter's gloom that lower'd before. 60
The victor's praise will I declare,
And fit the chaplet to his hair;
Nor let th' immortal train molest
With vengeful ire my tranquil breast,
Since to the destined term of age 65
Calm I approach life's closing stage,
And seize the fleeting pleasures of the day;
Though subject to unequal fate,
Death's common stroke we all await
But he that would the scene beyond survey, 70
To him will never find it given
To tread the brazen soil of heaven. 63

The winged Pegasus overthrew
Bellerophon his lord, who flew
In thought the heavenly seats above 75
To the bright council hall of Jove;
For still a bitter end alloys
The transport of unlicensed joys.
But, Phœbus, thou whose locks are spread
In golden lustre round thy head, 80
Grant us to gain the Isthmian crown,
And that which Pytho yields in contests all thine own! 72


  1. Dodwell, in his classical Travels in Greece, (vol. i., p, 271,) has a passage in which the glories and heroic characters of Thebes are enumerated, apparently in illustration of the highly poetical exordium of this ode.

    "The early or heroic history of Thebes is particularly splendid; and neither Athens, Lacedæmon, Argos, nor Mycene, were so much celebrated as the capital of Bœotia for great events, for heroes, and for demigods. The names of Kadmos, Semele, Bacchus, Antiope, Zethes, Amphion, Amphitryon, Alcmena, Hercules, Laius, and his unfortunate race, furnish strong evidence of the early power and original lustre of this country. No part of Greece produced characters of more exalted fame than Hesiod, Pindar, Pelopidas, Epaminondas, Plutarch, and Sextus Chæronensis. The dulness, therefore, which the rest of the Grecians ascribed to the Bœotians, on account of the density of their atmosphere, was not always agreeable to truth or consonant with experience. The conscious sublimity of Pindar repelled the imputation."

  2. This origin of the Thebans, who were fabled to spring from the sown teeth of the dragon, is frequently alluded to by the ancient poets. So Ovid: (Amor., iii., 12. 35:)—

    "Protea quid referam, Thebanaque semina, dentes?"

    and Euripides: (Herc. F. 4, 5:)—

    "ενθ᾽ δ γηγενης
    Σπαρτων σταχυς εβλαστεν."

    See also Eur., (Phœn., 953 ;) and Ovid, (Met., iii., 110:)—

    "Crescitque seges clypeata virorum."

    Virg., (Georg., ii., 140,) &c.