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III.


FOR MELISSOS OF THEBES,


WINNER IN THE PANKRATION.




The date of this ode is uncertain, though some on the hypothesis that the battle alluded to is the battle of Plataiai, have dated it 478 or 474. In this battle, whatever it was, the Kleonymid clan to which Melissos belonged had lost four men. The celebrity of the clan in the games seems to have been eclipsed for some time, but Melissos revived it by a chariot-victory at Nemea and this pankration-victory at the Isthmus, won in spite of his small stature which might have seemed to place him at a disadvantage. The ode compares his match against his antagonists with that of Herakles against the African giant Antaios.

Very probably this ode was sung at a night meeting of the clan, while the altars of Herakles were blazing.




If any among men having good fortune and dwelling amid prizes of renown or the power of wealth restraineth in his heart besetting insolence, this man is worthy to have part in his citizens' good words.

But from thee, O Zeus, cometh all high excellence to mortals; and longer liveth their bliss who have thee in honour, but with minds perverse it consorteth never steadfastly, flourishing throughout all time.

In recompense for glorious deeds it behoveth that we sing the valiant, and amid his triumphal company exalt him with fair honours.

Of two prizes is the lot fallen to Melissos, to turn his heart unto sweet mirth, for in the glens of Isthmos hath he won crowns, and again in the hollow vale of the deep-chested lion being winner in the chariot-race he made proclamation that his home was Thebes.

Thus shameth he not the prowess of his kinsmen. Ye know the ancient fame of Kleonymos with the chariot: also on the mother's side being akin to the Labdakidai his race hath been conversant with riches, and bestowed them on the labours of the four-horse car.

But time with rolling days bringeth changes manifold: only the children of gods are free of wounds.

By grace of God I have ways countless everywhere open unto me[1]: for thou hast shown forth to me, O Melissos, in the Isthmian games an ample means to follow in song the excellence of thy race: wherein the Kleonymidai flourish continually, and in favour with God pass onward through the term of mortal life: howbeit changing gales drive all men with ever-changing drift.

These men verily are spoken of as having honour at Thebes from the beginning, for that they cherished the inhabitants round about, and had no part in loud insolence; if there be borne about by the winds among men aught of witness to the great honour of quick or dead, unto such have they attained altogether. By the brave deeds of their house they have touched the pillars of Herakles, that are at the end of things. Beyond that follow thou no excellence.

Horse-breeders moreover have they been, and found favour with mailed Ares; but in one day the fierce snow-storm of war hath made a happy hearth to be desolate of four men.

But now once more after that wintry gloom hath it blossomed, even as in the flowery months the earth blossometh with red roses, according to the counsels of gods.

For the Shaker of Earth who inhabiteth Onchestos and the Bridge[2] between seas that lieth before the valley of Corinth, now giveth to the house this hymn of wonder, and leadeth up out of her bed the ancient glory of the famous deeds thereof: for she was fallen on sleep; but she awaketh and her body shineth pre-eminent, as among stars the Morning-star.

For in the land of Athens proclaiming a victory of the car, and at Sikyon at the games of Adrastos did she give like wreaths of song for the sons of Kleonymos that then were. For neither did they refrain to contend with the curved chariot in the great meetings of the people, but they had delight to strive with the whole folk of Hellas in spending their wealth on steeds.

Touching the unproven there is silence, and none knoweth them: yea and even from them that strive Fortune hideth herself until they come unto the perfect end; for she giveth of this and of that.

The better man hath been ere now overtaken and overthrown by the craft of worse. Verily ye know the bloody deed of Aias, that he wrought beneath the far-spent night, when he smote himself through with his own sword, whereby he upbraideth yet the children of the Hellenes, as many as went forth to Troy.

But lo! Homer hath done him honour among men, and by raising up his excellence in the fulness thereof hath through the rod[3] of his divine lays delivered it to bards after him to sing.

For the thing that one hath well said goeth forth with a voice unto everlasting: over fruitful earth and beyond the sea hath the light of fair deeds shined, unquenchable for ever.

May we find favour with the Muses, that for Melissos too we kindle such beacon-blaze of song, a worthy prize of the pankration for this scion of Telesias' son.

He being like unto the roaring lions in courage taketh unto him their spirit to be his own in the struggle: but in sleight he is as the fox that spreadeth out her feet[4] and preventeth the swoop of the eagle: for all means must be essayed by him that would prevail over his foe. For not of the stature of Orion was this man, but his presence is contemptible, yet terrible is he to grapple with in his strength.

And verily once to the house of Antaios came a man to wrestle against him, of short stature but of unbending soul, from Kadmean Thebes even unto corn-bearing Libya, that he might cause him to cease from roofing Poseidon's temple with the skulls of strangers—even the son of Alkmene, he who ascended up to Olympus, after that he had searched out the surface of the whole earth and of the crag-walled hoary sea, and had made safe way for the sailing of ships. And now beside the aegis-bearer he dwelleth, possessing happiness most fair, and hath honour from the immortals as their friend, and hath Hebe to wife, and is lord of a golden house, and husband of Hera's child.

Unto his honour upon the heights Elektrai we of this city prepare a feast and new-built altar-ring, where we offer burnt sacrifice in honour of the eight mail-clad men that are dead, whom Megara, Kreon's daughter, bore to be sons of Herakles.

To them at the going down of the day there ariseth a flame of fire and burneth all night continually, amid a savoury smoke hurling itself against the upper air: and on the second day is the award of the yearly games, a trial of strength.

Therein did this our man, his head with myrtle-wreaths made white, show forth a double victory, after another won already among the boys, for that he had regard unto the many counsels of him who was the pilot of his helm[5]. And with Orseas' name I join him in my triumphal song, and shed over them a glory of delight.




  1. 'Many themes on which I can justly praise the clan.'
  2. The Isthmus.
  3. The rod or staff carried anciently by poets and reciters of poems.
  4. I.e. throwing herself on her back with outspread legs. If it is meant that she counterfeits death, then of course the parallel with the pankratiast will only hold good to the extent of the supine posture.
  5. His trainer, Orseas.