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This ode seems to owe its position at the head of Pindar's extant works to Aristophanes the grammarian, who placed it there on account of its being specially occupied with the glorification of the Olympic games in comparison with others, and with the story of Pelops, who was their founder.

Hieron won this race B.C. 472, while at the height of his power at Syracuse. Probably the ode was sung at Syracuse, perhaps, as has been suggested, at a banquet.

Best is Water of all, and Gold as a flaming fire in the night shineth eminent amid lordly wealth; but if of prizes in the games thou art fain, O my soul, to tell, then, as for no bright star more quickening than the sun must thou search in the void firmament by day, so neither shall we find any games greater than the Olympic whereof to utter our voice: for hence cometh the glorious hymn and entereth into the minds of the skilled in song, so that they celebrate the son[1] of Kronos, when to the rich and happy hearth of Hieron they are come; for he wieldeth the sceptre of justice in Sicily of many flocks, culling the choice fruits of all kinds of excellence: and with the flower of music is he made splendid, even such strains as we sing blithely at the table of a friend.

Take from the peg the Dorian lute, if in any wise the glory of Pherenikos[2] at Pisa hath swayed thy soul unto glad thoughts, when by the banks of Alpheos he ran, and gave his body ungoaded in the course, and brought victory to his master, the Syracusans' king, who delighteth in horses.

Bright is his fame in Lydian Pelops' colony[3], inhabited of a goodly race, whose founder mighty earth-enfolding Poseidon loved, what time from the vessel of purifying[4] Klotho took him with the bright ivory furnishment of his shoulder.

Verily many things are wondrous, and haply tales decked out with cunning fables beyond the truth make false men's speech concerning them. For Charis[5], who maketh all sweet things for mortal men, by lending honour unto such maketh oft the unbelievable thing to be believed; but the days that follow after are the wisest witnesses.

Meet is it for a man that concerning gods he speak honourably; for the reproach is less. Of thee, son of Tantalos, I will speak contrariwise to them who have gone before me, and I will tell how when thy father had bidden thee to that most seemly feast at his beloved Sipylos, repaying to the gods their banquet, then did he of the Bright Trident[6], his heart vanquished by love, snatch thee and bear thee behind his golden steeds to the house of august Zeus in the highest, whither again on a like errand came Ganymede in the after time.

But when thou hadst vanished, and the men who sought thee long brought thee not to thy mother, some one of the envious neighbours said secretly that over water heated to boiling they had hewn asunder with a knife thy limbs, and at the tables had shared among them and eaten sodden fragments of thy flesh. But to me it is impossible to call one of the blessed gods cannibal; I keep aloof; in telling ill tales is often little gain.

Now if any man ever had honour of the guardians of Olympus, Tantalos was that man; but his high fortune he could not digest, and by excess thereof won him an overwhelming woe, in that the Father hath hung above him a mighty stone that he would fain ward from his head, and therewithal he is fallen from joy.

This hopeless life of endless misery he endureth with other three[7], for that he stole from the immortals and gave to his fellows at a feast the nectar and ambrosia, whereby the gods had made him incorruptible. But if a man thinketh that in doing aught he shall be hidden from God, he erreth.

Therefore also the immortals sent back again his son to be once more counted with the short-lived race of men. And he when toward the bloom of his sweet youth the down began to shade his darkening cheek, took counsel with himself speedily to take to him for his wife the noble Hippodameia from her Pisan father's hand.

And he came and stood upon the margin of the hoary sea, alone in the darkness of the night, and called aloud on the deep-voiced Wielder of the Trident; and he appeared unto him nigh at his foot.

Then he said unto him: 'Lo now, O Poseidon, if the kind gifts of the Cyprian goddess are anywise pleasant in thine eyes, restrain Oinomaos' bronze spear, and send me unto Elis upon a chariot exceeding swift, and give the victory to my hands. Thirteen lovers already hath Oinomaos slain, and still delayeth to give his daughter in marriage. Now a great peril alloweth not of a coward: and forasmuch as men must die, wherefore should one sit vainly in the dark through a dull and nameless age, and without lot in noble deeds? Not so, but I will dare this strife: do thou give the issue I desire.'

Thus spake he, nor were his words in vain: for the god made him a glorious gift of a golden car and winged untiring steeds: so he overcame Oinomaos and won the maiden for his bride.

And he begat six sons, chieftains, whose thoughts were ever of brave deeds: and now hath he part in honour of blood-offerings in his grave beside Alpheos' stream, and hath a frequented tomb, whereto many strangers resort: and from afar off he beholdeth the glory of the Olympian games in the courses called of Pelops, where is striving of swift feet and of strong bodies brave to labour; but he that overcometh hath for the sake of those games a sweet tranquillity throughout his life for evermore.

Now the good that cometh of to-day is ever sovereign unto every man. My part it is to crown Hieron with an equestrian strain in Aeolian mood: and sure am I that no host among men that now are shall I ever glorify in sounding labyrinths of song more learned in the learning of honour and withal with more might to work thereto. A god hath guard over thy hopes, O Hieron, and taketh care for them with a peculiar care: and if he fail thee not, I trust that I shall again proclaim in song a sweeter glory yet, and find thereto in words a ready way, when to the fair-shining hill of Kronos I am come. Her strongest-wingëd dart my Muse hath yet in store.

Of many kinds is the greatness of men; but the highest is to be achieved by kings. Look not thou for more than this. May it be thine to walk loftily all thy life, and mine to be the friend of winners in the games, winning honour for my art among Hellenes everywhere.

  1. The Olympic games were sacred to Zeus.
  2. The horse that won this race for Hieron.
  3. Peloponnesos.
  4. I.e. immediately on his birth. Pindar refuses to accept the legend which made Pelops' ivory shoulder a substitute for his fleshly one eaten at Tantalos' table by the gods; for thus the gods would have been guilty of an infamous act. Perhaps, as has been suggested, the story had root in some southern or eastern stranger's showing a white shoulder in contrast with a swarthier, because constantly exposed, face. These legends, current among the Hellenes as to the beginning of their race, are suggestive and valuable evidence, but it is difficult to interpret them with anything like certainty.
  5. Goddess of Grace or Beauty. Often there are three Charites or Graces. Pindar means here that men are prone to believe an untrue tale for the sake of the beauty of the form in which it is presented, but that such tales will not stand the test of time.
  6. Poseidon.
  7. Sisyphos, Ixion, and Tityos.