Pindar

Poet of theIn the midst of the Winter Olympics, it seemed logical to add the the wonderful poet Pindar to Who's Who. Why? Pindar composed poems, epinicion odes for famous victors in the Olympic, Pythian, Isthmian, and Nemean games, Epinikion is Greek meaning 'for victory'. His poems most likely would have been sung by a chorus and accompanied by music, perhaps a lyre player and or flute player.


His beautiful poetry inspired Roman poet Horace, the great English poet Dryden, and also Classical scholar Prof. Armand Angour who composed a Pindaric styled ode for the London Olympics (in Ancient Greek, I might add).


Pindar was from Thebes, and we think he lived around 518-438 BC and he was born in Cynoscephalae in Boiotia. I am not going to spend long on Pindar's biography. We do now know a huge amount specifically about his life and how much we can resontrcut his life from his poetry is the subject of much debate in scholarship (trust me, I had to read a lot of it while studying Pindar at University). However, what we can be sure of is that he was in demand. He wrote for the tyrants (supreme rulers, that is, not aggressive dictator-types as in the modern definition) of Sicily, especially Hieron of Syracuse. He also composed his stunning fourth Pythian for the ruling, but he also wrote for victors from democratic Athens, Aegina, and Rhodes.


One of his great contemporaries, Bacchylides from Ceos, also composed epinician odes and some scholars have argued that a rivalry between them is evident in their works as they bid for patronage. This is by no means certain, however, and I am not convinced I buy it myself.


Pindar also composed paeans (hymns in honour of Apollo), dirges (threnoi), and hymns. All beautiful, but very tragically fragmentary.


He enjoyed great honour after his death. The site of his house in Thebes (or what was believed to be his house) became a special, sacred site and was one of the few buildings spared by Alexander the Great when he destroyed Thebes in 335 BC.


Pindar often comments on the importance of poetry and its lasting power to commemorate in his work. His poetry can also contain highly philosophical musings. I am going to end his entry in Who's Who with one of my favourites. Fame is great, but it is fleeing:


Creatures of a day! What is anyone?

What is he not? A mere dream of a shadow

Is a mortal. But when there comes to men

A gleam of splendour granted by heaven,

Then rests on them a light of glory

And blessed are their days.


The beam of glory is 'victory'. Good luck Team GB.

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