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"Become what you are." --Pindar

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Pindar or Pindarus (Greek: Πίνδαρος; probably born 522 BC in Cynoscephalae, a village in Boeotia; died 443 BC in Argos), was an Ancient Greek lyric poet.


Pindar's original and strongly individual genius is apparent in all his extant compositions but, unlike Simonides and Stesichorus for example, he created no new lyrical genres. He was however innovative in his employment of the genres he inherited – for example, in one of his victory odes (Olympian 3), he announces his invention of a new type of musical accompaniment, combining lyre, flute and human voice (though our knowledge of Greek music is too sketchy to allow us to understand the full nature of this innovation). He probably spoke Boeotian Greek but he composed in a literary language fairly typical of archaic Greek poetry, relying on Doric dialect more consistently than his rival Bacchylides, for example, but less insistently than Alcman. There is an admixture of other dialects, especially Aeolic and epic forms, and there is an occasional use of some Boeotian words. He composed 'choral' songs yet it is by no means certain that they were all sung by choirs - the use of choirs is testified only by generally unreliable scholiasts. Scholars at the Library of Alexandria collected his compositions in seventeen books organized according to genre:

Of this vast and varied corpus, only the epinikia — odes written to commemorate athletic victories — survive in complete form; the rest survive only by quotations in other ancient authors or from papyrus scraps unearthed in Egypt. Even in fragmentary form, however, the various genres reveal the same complexity of thought and language that are found in the victory odes.

Victory odes

Almost all Pindar's victory odes are celebrations of triumphs gained by competitors in Panhellenic festivals such as the Olympian Games. The establishment of these athletic and musical festivals was among the greatest achievements of the Greek aristocracies. Even in the 5th century, when there was an increased tendency towards professionalism, they were predominantly aristocratic assemblies, reflecting the expense and the leisure needed to attend such events either as a competitor or spectator. Attendance was an opportunity for display and self-promotion, and the prestige of victory, requiring commitment in time and/or wealth, went far beyond anything that accrues to athletic victories today, even in spite of the modern preoccupation with sport. Pindar's odes capture something of the prestige and the aristocratic grandeur of the moment of victory, as in this stanza from one of his Isthmian Odes, here translated by Geoffrey S. Conway:

If ever a man strives
With all his soul's endeavour, sparing himself
Neither expense nor labour to attain
True excellence, then must we give to those
Who have achieved the goal, a proud tribute
Of lordly praise, and shun
All thoughts of envious jealousy.
To a poet's mind the gift is slight, to speak
A kind word for unnumbered toils, and build
For all to share a monument of beauty. (Isthmian I, antistrophe 3)

His victory odes are grouped into four books named after the Olympian, Pythian, Isthmian, and Nemean Games – Panhellenic festivals held respectively at Olympia, Delphi, Corinth and Nemea. This reflects the fact that most of the odes were composed in honour of boys, youths and men who had recently enjoyed victories in athletic (and sometimes musical) contests at those festivals. In a few odes, however, much older victories and even victories in lesser games are sometimes celebrated, often being used as a pretext for addressing other issues or achievements. For example, Pythian 3, composed in honour of Hieron of Syracuse, briefly mentions an old victory he had once enjoyed at the Pythian Games, but it is actually intended to console him for his chronic illness. Nemean 9 and Nemean 10 celebrate victories in games at Sicyon and Argos, and Nemean 11 celebrates a victory in a municipal election on Tenedos (though it includes mention of some obscure athletic victories). These three odes are the final odes in the Nemean book of odes and there is a reason for their inclusion there. In the original manuscripts, the four books of odes were arranged in the order of importance assigned to the festivals, with the Nemean festival, considered least important, coming last. Any victory odes that lacked the aura of a Panhellenic subject were then bundled together at the end of the book of Nemean odes.

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