Pindar and Anacreon/Pindar/Pythian Odes/4

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In the opening of this extremely long and highly poetical ode, Pindar, whose subject leads him to the mention of Cyrene, interweaving mythology with historical relation, digresses to the origin of the colony, and the prediction given by Medea to Euphemus, one of the Argonauts, and subjoins the interpretation of it from the Delphic oracle given to Battus concerning the origin of the colony which was to be planted by him in Libya.—This introduces a long and episodical narration of the Argonautic expedition; the slaying of the dragon, and the recovery of the golden fleece.—The simple and beautiful description of Jason's sudden appearance among the citizens of Iolcos.—The remainder of the ode is occupied with admonitions to Arcesilaus respecting the prudent and judicious government of his kingdom.—In this part the piety and wisdom of the poet are conspicuous, although it may be justly doubted whether the conclusion be altogether suitable to the nature of a lyric ode.

This day thy prompt assistance lend,
Muse, to the hero and the friend,
Lord of Cyrene, famed for generous steeds—
To Delphi and Apollo raise
The well-earn'd melody of praise,5
As the bright pomp Arcesilaus leads.
In ages past the priestess there,
Who near Jove's golden eagles [1] held her throne,
With voice oracular made known
What truths the present god inspired her to declare.
That Battus, when he left the sacred isle,[2]11
(The colonist of Libya's fruitful land,)
Should rear th' equestrian city's towering pile,
Secure upon its chalky rock to stand. 15

And treasured in his mind should lie15
Medea's ancient prophecy.
Which when the seventeenth age was past,
Æetes' vengeful child foretold,
In every point fulfill'd at last,
The sons of Thera should behold.20
The Colchian queen inspired to tell
What from her lips immortal fell,
Thus spoke the fates' supreme command
To warlike Jason's naval band:
"From gods and mighty heroes sprung,25
Give ear to my prophetic tongue.
Hereafter from this seabeat shore
The child of Epaphus shall move,
By mortals cherish'd as before,
And plant the root where men adore30
The majesty of Libyan Jove. 28

Then for the short-finn'd dolphin's speed
Shall they direct the rapid steed;
Instead of oars, their rein shall steer
The cars that mock the storm's career.[3]35
That omen issuing from the skies
True will the sure event declare,
When spacious Thera shall arise,
Metropolis of cities fair:
Which at the mouth of the Tritonian lake,40
From the great god in human form, whose hand
To his kind host return'd the fertile land,
Euphemus hurried from the prow to take.
To ratify the sign, Saturnian Jove
Thunder'd auspicious from his throne above. 41

Now while the brazen anchor's might,46
Curb of the rapid Argo's flight,
The sailors o'er the ship suspend,
He comes their labours to attend.[4]
Twelve days from ocean's watery bed50
On the earth's desert back we led,
Counsell'd by me, the naval frame.
The cheerful mien assuming then
Of him, the most revered of men,
Alone the mighty godhead came;55
As when to each arriving guest
The liberal master of the feast
At first his courteous speech applies. 55

But sweet desire, our homeward way
To urge, forbade a longer stay.60
Eurypylus who traced his birth,
To him who girds and shakes the earth,
Observed our eager haste to move:
Then snatching straight the fertile clod,[5]
Pledge of the hospitable god,65
To give it to Euphemus strove.
Obedient to the will divine,
The hero leap'd upon the strand,
Receiving with extended hand
The mystic earth his fates assign:70
That whelm'd beneath the briny tide,
When evening's shadows gather'd round,
Was from the vessel heard to glide
Far in the watery gulf profound. 70


Full oft had I the menial train75
To guard that precious gift enjoin'd;
But dull oblivion seized their mind,
And render'd all my caution vain.
Now in this isle is shed before the time
The immortal seed of spacious Libya's clime;80
For when by sacred Tænarus he pass'd,
Whose subterranean mouth to Hades leads,
At home the treasure had Euphemus cast,[6]
Great Neptune's son who rules his potent steeds;
Whom in a former age Europa bore,85
Daughter of Tityus, on Cephisus' shore. 82

His children's fourth succeeding race
Had seized, with Grecian arms to aid,
The continent's extended space;
When, exiles from great Sparta made,90
Mycenæ and the Argive bay,
The wand'ring train pursue their way.
Now will he find that chosen race
Sprung from the Lemnian dames' embrace,
When honour'd by th' immortal host,95
They come to this sea-girded coast,
And there beget the man, whose reign
Shall stretch o'er Libya's clouded plain.
When to the sacred Pythian dome
That glitters with abundant gold,100
Battus in after times shall come,
Phœbus will his decree unfold,
That he in ships should bring a numerous band
Far as Saturnian Nilus' fruitful land."[7] 99


Such were the strains by fate inspired105
That dropp'd from sage Medea's tongue,
Silent the godlike men admired,
And round in fix'd attention hung.
Bless'd son of Polymnestus! thee,
Gladden'd by this spontaneous strain,110
The Delphic priestess'[8] augury
Bade the sublimest hopes maintain.
Thrice cried her monitory voice,
"Cyrene's destined king, rejoice!"
When thou inquiredst at the Pythian shrine115
The doubtful issue of the voice divine. 112

And now, as in the vernal hour
Impurpled glows each opening flower,
So shines his eighth succeeding race,
Arcesilaus' youthful grace.120
Apollo in the Pythian field
And just Amphictyons' high decree
To his triumphant coursers yield
The glorious palm of victory.
Him will I to the muses' train125
Give with the ram's bright fleece of gold,
For which when sail'd the Minyæ bold,
Honours from heaven 'twas theirs to gain. 123


To urge their bark's career what cause was found?
In chains of adamant what peril bound?130
'Twas doom'd that Pelias should expire
By force or fraudulent design,
Who waked the hero's vengeful ire,
Sprung from the brave Æolian line.
To his quick thought returning still135
The oracle of Delphi spoke
In sounds of wo that loud and shrill
From earth's well-wooded centre broke;
And bade his jealous mind beware
The man with foot of sandal bare.140
When he from Chiron's high retreat
The stranger citizen should come
To famed Iolcos' western seat,
And gain at length a foreign home.
Then brandishing his double spear,145
Approach'd the wondrous mortal near.
Wrapp'd are his limbs of beauteous mould
Within a double vesture's fold—
Magnesian, and the foreign pard,
'Gainst pelting rains the surest guard;150
While locks in sacrifice unshorn
His ample back with grace adorn.
Straight coming on with quiet tread,
He show'd a mind devoid of dread. 151

When one among th' assembled crowd155
Turn'd to th' unknown, thus spoke aloud:
"'Tis not Apollo I behold,
Nor Venus' spouse, the god of war,
Who thunders in his iron car.
Long since, as ancient fame has told,160
Deceased in fertile Naxos lie
Iphimedeia's progeny,
Otus, and thou, King Ephialtes bold.[9]
The virgin huntress' rapid dart
From her unconquer'd quiver flew,165
And high-aspiring Tityus slew,
That mortals may desire to prove
The transports of permitted love." 164

So they their mutual thoughts impart.
Then with his mules and polish'd car170
Came Pelias rushing from afar.
Mute wonder held his mind in thrall
Soon as alone the right foot round
He view'd the well-known sandal bound.
But with dissembled fear address'd175
The monarch, his unwelcome guest:
"What country boast'st thou thy dear land to call?
Fair offspring of a spotless womb,
By mortal lineage art thou come?
Tell quickly thine illustrious race,180
Nor by detested lies disgrace." 178

To him the bold and fearless youth
In placid words this answer gave:
"I come from Chiron's shady cave,
Who disciplined my soul to truth.185
By Chariclo and Philyra the fair,
Centaurus' daughters, I was nurtured there.
But when the twentieth year had fled,
Homeward my youthful steps I bent.
To them no word of parting said,190
Naught that could mark my fix'd intent
To take the sceptre of the land,
Grasp'd by another's lawless hand.
An honour which the king of heaven
To Æolus and to his sons had given. 192195

For Fame reports that Pelias bold,
Slave to his wishes uncontroll'd,
My honour'd parents' rightful sway
Has snatch'd with violence away.
They, when I first the light survey'd,200
Dreading the haughty leader's pride,
Sent me in purple robes array'd,
(While female shrieks on every side
Raised through the house in solemn show
The mimic note of funeral wo,)205
When only dark and silent night
Was conscious of my secret flight;
And to Saturnian Chiron gave,
The nurture of his hand to crave. 205

But all the tale ye know full well—210
Where rose my noble sire's abode,
In car with milk-white steeds who rode,
Illustrious townsmen, clearly tell.
Great Æson's offspring, lo! I come
A native to no foreign home.215
From Saturn sprung, the heavenly beast
His charge by Jason's name address'd."
He spoke: a father's doting eye
Soon recognised his progeny;
And from his aged lids below220
The copious tears began to flow;
Which showed the soul's o'erflowing joy
To see his best and loveliest boy. 219

Attracted by the hero's fame,
To them both Æson's brothers came.225
This Pheres from Hyperia's fountain calls,
And Amythaon from Messene's walls.
These soon Admetus and Melampus join'd,
To greet their kinsman with a friendly mind.
Them at the hospitable board230
Jason with courteous speech address'd,
And bade the cheer profusely stored
Exhilarate the frequent guest.
Five days and nights their courses roll,234
While pleasure warms each festive soul. 233


But on the sixth, once more the youth
Repeats his tale in words of truth.
Then follow'd by the kindred band,
In haste he from the mansion went.
Their steps to Pelias' dome they bent,240
On rushing with tumultuous stand.
Soon as the sound assail'd his ear
Came bright-hair'd Tyro's offspring near.
From Jason's lips with sweetness fill'd,
The mild and gentle speech distill'd. 245245

"Petræan Neptune's son, the mind
To praise deceit is more inclined,
Than justice, though in grief it end,
And to a bitter issue tend.
Hence let our lawless anger cease,250
Be all the future joy and peace.
One mother, as full well ye know,
Bore Cretheus and Salmoneus bold.
And the third race from them who flow,
We the sun's golden might behold.255
The fates survey with adverse eyes
When impious kindred feuds arise. 260

'Tis not for us with sword or dart,
That perforate the brazen shield,
Our fathers' ample wealth to part,260
The heritage their glories yield.
I the white flocks that graze the plain,
And yellow herds to thee resign,
With all our parents' wide domain,
Which thou hast seized, enlarging thine.265
Nor shall my mind with envy grieve
To see thy house new wealth receive.
But thou the sceptred monarch's throne,
Seat of old Cretheus' royal son,
Whence he the laws with justice fraught270
To his equestrian subjects taught—
These without pain that both must rue,
Restore—lest fresher grief ensue!" 276

When thus the youthful hero spoke,
From Pelias this mild answer broke:275
"Such will I be—though tardy age
Now warn me of life's closing stage,
While thou art fresh in youth's gay flow'ret still—
Potent thy vigorous arm shall prove,
Th' infernal godheads' wrath remove,280
And murder'd Phryxus' high behest fulfil:[10]
'Haste, from Æetes' chambers bear
My soul, he cried, and golden hair,
On the ram's fleecy back outspread,
That once a certain refuge gave285
From stepdame's treachery and the wave.'
'Twas thus the wondrous vision said.
Where the Castalian waters flow,
To search the oracle I go—
When straight the voice prophetic there290
Bids me for naval flight prepare.
If thou thy prompt assistance lend,
Which may this arduous contest end,
I swear to make the lot thine own,
To monarchize and rule alone.295
Firm witness of the faithful oath
Be Jove, the common sire of both." 298

They part; this compact ratified,
Jason the herald's trump of fame,
His instant voyage to proclaim,300
Urges to sound on every side.
Thither the sons of Leda fair
And of Saturnian Jove repair;
Alcmena's too, her eyelids set
Within a silken fringe of jet.305
Two heroes of th' earth-shakers race,
Whose locks in clustering beauty play,
Dreading by fear or dull delay
Their ancient valour to disgrace;
From Pylos one directs his flight,310
And one from the Tænarean height.
Be this, Euphemus, to thy glory told,
And thine, oh Periclymenus the bold!
The harper Orpheus join'd the valiant train,
Apollo's vaunted son, and father of the strain.315

And Hermes of the golden wand316
Sent his twin sons, whose bosoms beat
To join the enterprising band
With fervent youth's impetuous heat.
Prompt at the call, with fearless heart320
Echion, Erytus depart
From their loved home, that lay below;
Distant Pangæus' lofty brow.
Boreas, whose rule the winds obey,
Arm'd his brave sons, whose back display'd325
The ample pinions' purple shade,
Zetes and Calais for the fray. 326

Great Juno waked the sweet desire
Which bade the demigods aspire
With Argo o'er the deep to roam;330
That fix'd in his maternal home
Remote from peril none should stay
And wear his laggard age away.
But share his fellow heroes' toil,
Death's fairest antidote, the spoil335
Soon as to proud Iolcos' town
Came the bright flower of seamen down,
Jason extoll'd with praises due,
And numbered all the valiant crew.
Skill'd in each bird that cleaves the sky,340
And sacred lots of augury,
Mopsus enjoin'd the host their sail
To spread before the favouring gale.
But when they hang upon the prow
Their anchors o'er the deep below,345
Fix'd at the stern, the chief displays
His sacred vial's golden blaze.
Invoking heaven's great father Jove,
Who wields his lightning spear above;
Waves that o'er ocean's bosom play,350
And breezes' every varying way,
Calm nights and days his prayers implore,
And sweet return, their wanderings o'er. 349

Propitious thunder's awful sound
Heaven's favouring answer quickly spoke,
And lightning's forked darts around356
From all the clouds irradiate broke.
Elated at the prosperous sign,
The heroes glow with joy divine.
The augur issued his command360
To ply their oars with constant force,
Suggesting to the valiant band
Sweet hopes to cheer them on their course.
Quick gaining with the breezy south
Th' inhospitable ocean's mouth,365
There to the god a shrine they rear
Who sways the raging sea's career.
(Of Thracian bulls a tawny herd,
To aid the sacrifice, appear'd,)
And hollow altar's heaven-built pile,370
From stony quarry hewn erewhile. 367

Not yet the dangerous pass explored,
They supplicate the vessel's lord
To fly the inevitable shock
That springs from the twin clashing rock.375
But now the jarring portals close,
For ever fix'd in dead repose:
Since the proud demigods by fate
Are urged to cross the narrow strait.
And next the wandering heroes trace380
To Phasis' flowing streams their way,
Mingling with Colchis' swarthy race,
And great Æetes in the fray.
Venus, whose darts inflict the sharpest wound,
First to mankind the raging songster bore,385
Which to the wheel indissolubly bound,[11]
That from Olympus gain'd its magic round,
Taught wise Æsonides her charmed lore;386

That from Medea's raging mind
All shame of parents left behind390
Persuasion's lash might take, and prove
Greece the sole object of her love.
The sum of all the labours dire
Enjoin'd him by her cruel sire
She told; and mingled with the oil395
Her antidotes to rugged toil,
Given to anoint his manly frame,
Then in sweet Hymen's bands they vow'd to quench their flame. 397

But when the adamantine plough
Æetes in the midst had set,400
And oxen wont the fires to blow
From cheeks that rage with constant fret,
While thundering' on alternate feet,
The soil with brazen hoofs they beat—
He only their rough spirit broke,405
And led obedient to the yoke.
Then straight a cubit's length impress'd
Of furrow on earth's yielding breast,
And thus he spoke: "In this high deed
If the ship's ruler shall succeed,410
The fleece immortal let him bear,
Irradiate with its golden hair." 411

He said: his robe of saffron hue
Aside the youthful Jason threw,
And trusting in immortal aid,415
His arduous enterprise essay'd.
On him the fire could work no harm,
Awed by his potent hostess' charm.
Then dragging on the rustic load,
Their necks and well-ribb'd haunches bound420
With thongs compulsive thrown around,
He urged the sharp and bitter goad;
Then labour'd on with manly strength,
Completing soon his measured length.
O'erwhelm'd at first in speechless wo,425
Æetes view'd the arduous deed;
Then admiration's transports flow,
And praises unrepress'd succeed. 424

To the brave youth their friendly hands
Extend the social train,430
His brow they crown with verdant bands,
And greet in courteous strain.
Straight the sun's wondrous offspring show'd
Where was the shining skin bestow'd,
Extended high on Phryxus' sword,435
A gift to war's impetuous lord.
But still, these mighty dangers pass'd
He hoped the youth would fail at last.
For in an ambush'd wood 'twas laid,
Kept by a greedy dragon's care,440
With whose dire bulk, at large display'd,
No lengthen'd vessel might compare,
Though urged by fifty oars, by strokes of iron made.

Still could I speed my chariot's way,
But time forbids the long delay.445
A shorter path I know full well,
In wisdom who the rest excel.
The varied snake of azure hue
He soon, Arcesilaus, slew;
And with it bore Medea home,450
Author of murder'd Pelias' doom.
Then mingling in the ocean deep,
The Erythræan sea they sweep;[12]
Thence mid the Lemnian race, who gave
Their youthful husbands to the grave,455
A test of corporal strength they made—
(Aside the cumbering garments laid)
And shared their couch of sweet repose. 452

Thus in a foreign region bright
By day or in the peaceful night460
Your beams of happiness arose.
For planted there, Euphemus' race
Illustrious shines with endless grace.
To Lacedæmon's fertile seats
And hardy sons the wanderers come;465
Then fair Callista's island greets
The heroes in a foreign home.
With honour hence derived from heaven
To you Latoides [13] has given
Fair Libya's wealthy plain to crown,470
And golden-throned Cyrene's town
With counsel justly framed to sway,
Which her bless'd citizens obey. 466

Now learn the Theban sage's art—[14]
If sharp-edged axe with ruthless stroke475
Her branches from the giant oak,
The form disgraced, compel to part,
Though shorn her fruit, enough is there
Her pristine beauties to declare—
If fire be ever sought at last480
To shelter from the wintry blast,
Or among pillars straight and tall,
It now sustain some lordly dome,
Hard labour in a foreign wall,
Leaving all bare its native home. 479485

Thou a most timely healer art,
Since Pasan's favour crowns thy name—
Then, oh! a tender hand impart
To heal the state's disorder'd frame:
A city's pride the weakest arm490
May shake with danger and alarm.
But hard indeed the task to place
Her glory on its ancient base,
Unless the god with sudden sway
Direct the steersman on his way.495
For thee in gratitude is wove
The garland of a people's love;
Then still let bless'd Cyrene share
Thy kind and persevering care. 492

Now, monarch, with attentive ear500
This maxim of the poet hear;[15]
A virtuous messenger will crown
Each action with supreme renown;
And thus will to the muse accrue
Praise from the herald's message true.505
Long time through fair Cyrene's town
Has just Demophilus been known;
And Battus' glorious house confess'd
The graces of his spotless breast.
Ere yet complete youth's narrow span,510
Among the boys he shone a man:
In solemn counsel he appears
The Nestor of a hundred years:
Slander's free tongue he bids be mute,
His virtues all her tales confute: 504515

Taught the base railer to abhor,
And with the good to wage no war;
Protracting naught by slow delay,
For short with man occasion's stay.
Well can he seize the fitting hour,[16]520
No slave to wayward fortune's power.
The heaviest this of human woes,
That he who each fair blessing knows,
Bound by necessity's strong chain,
Must his encumber'd foot restrain.525
Like Atlas, tottering with the weight
Of all the bright incumbent heaven,
He struggles with oppressive fate,
From home and his possessions driven.
Immortal Jove the Titan crew530
Released at length from thraldom due.
The seaman in a flagging gale
Loosens his idly-fluttering sail. 521

But soon, his deadly troubles o'er,
He prays to see his home once more.535
There by Apollo's sacred spring
To youthful revels yield his soul,
And to his skilful townsmen bring
The lyre its varied strains to roll.
With them to lead, remote from strife,540
The quiet tenour of his life.
And then in Thebes recall'd to dwell,
His grateful tongue shall freely tell
What new fount of ambrosial lays [17]
He struck, Arcesilaus, in thy praise. 533545


  1. These were placed near the Delphic tripod, and probably gave rise to the story of the two birds sent by Jupiter, one from the east and the other from the west, in order to ascertain the true centre of the earth, and which met at Pytho, or Delphi.
  2. The island Thera or Callista.
  3. I. e., instead of the naval pursuits of islanders, they shall emulate the equestrian skill of their continental neighbours.
  4. The god Triton in the form of Eurypylus.
  5. This mythological tale is related at length by Apollonius, in the fourth book of his Argonautics: (1550–1600.)
  6. Virgil appears to have imitated this passage: (Georg. iv. 467:)—

    "Tænarias etiam fauces, alia ostia Ditis,
    Et caligantem nigra formidine lucum
    Ingressus, Manesque adiit, Regemque tremendum."

  7. The scholiast says that Pindar here mentions Nilus instead of Jupiter, since this river was by the Egyptians worshipped as a god. He also quotes a hemistich from Parmeno, addressing the Nile as the Egyptian Jove: Αιγυπτις Ζευ Νειλε.
  8. The expression in the original is remarkable, μελισσα Δελφις. So Callimachus of the priestesses of Ceres:

    Δηοι δ᾽ ουκ απο παντος ὑδωρ φορεουσι Μελισσαι.

    See the annotation in Benedict's edition. Perhaps μελισσα in this sense may not improbably be derived from the Hebrew מליץי, an intercessor or interpreter, whose office it was to smooth, or render agreeable the suit of the petitioner:[note 1] (Parkhurst ad verb.:) as μελισσα, a bee, probably descends from the same root in its primitive meaning of sweet. Virgil, indeed, speaking as a Pythagorean, says, (Georg. iv. 253,)

    "Hence to the bee some sages have assign'd
    A portion of the god, and heavenly mind."
    Sotheby's Version.

    So Horace of Orpheus, (ad Pis. 391,) sacer interpresque deorum.

  9. Homer (Od., iv., 304,) gives the same character of the Aloidæ gemini. See also Virg. Æn., vi., 581; and Stat. Theb., x., 850.

    "Vidisti Aloidas, cum cresceret impia tellus." &c.

  10. Phryxus, whose manes, as Pelias craftily insinuates, are to be appeased by the youthful Jason, was the father of Athamas and Ino, who were driven from their paternal soil and died in Colchis.
  11. This is the celebrated ιυγξ, a bird which was supposed to possess the power of inspiring the emotions of love. The scholiast gives us a long explanation of its properties, and in his comment on Nem. iv. 56, where it is again mentioned, gives its allegorical pedigree, by declaring it to have been a daughter of Echo, or, as some assert, of Peitho, the goddess of persuasion, who by filters, or magical incantations, allured Jupiter to the love of Ino, and was transformed by the revengeful Juno into a bird, which by its continued whirling expressed emblematically the raging agitation of love. The classical reader will call to mind the importance attached to its agency by Simætha, in the second Idyllium of Theocritus.
  12. It would not be an easy task to explain the geographical course which Pindar here describes the Argonauts to have taken on their return from the expedition in quest of the golden fleece. By the Erythræan Sea, the Indian Ocean is to be understood, through which it seems they came into Africa, and when arrived on land, carrying the ship on their shoulders until they came to the Tritonian lake, they sailed into the Mediterranean, and touched at Thera; thence through the Ægean they came to the island of Lemnos, and connected themselves with its homicidal women.
  13. Apollo, the son of Latona.
  14. Œdipus. In the remaining part of this ode Pindar cautions Arcesilaus against using unnecessary severity towards his Cyrenean subjects.
  15. The maxim of Homer, called by eminence the poet, to which Pindar alludes, is contained in the fifteenth book of the Iliad, in the exhortation of Neptune to Iris.
  16. Alludes to Demophilus, who had been banished by Arcesilaus, and whom Pindar wishes the monarch to recall.
  17. This perhaps alludes to the discovery of the fountain Hippocrene by the horse Pegasus.


  1. The word in Genesis, xlii., 23.