Odes of Pindar (Myers)/Pythian Odes/2





The classification of this ode as Pythian is probably a mistake: perhaps the victory was won at the Theban festival in honour of Herakles, or of Iolaos.

Anaxilaos, tyrant of Rhegium and Messana, had been deterred by Hieron's threats from attacking the Epizephyrian Lokrians, and the ode is partly occupied with congratulations of Hieron on this protective act. As Anaxilaos died B.C. 476, and Hieron was only placed at the head of the Syracusan state two years before, this seems to fix the date somewhere in these two years. As Pindar talks of sending his song across the sea, we may suppose that it was sung at Syracuse.

There is much obscurity about the significances of this ode. The poet's motive in telling the story of Ixion's sins has been variously guessed at. Some think it was meant to deter Hieron from contriving the death of his brother Polyzelos in battle in order to get possession of Polyzelos' wife (and if Hieron was to be suspected of such a thought it would be quite in Pindar's manner to mingle warning and reproof with praise): some think that it refers to the ingratitude of Anaxilaos toward Hieron. And most probably the latter part of the ode, in which sincerity is approved, and flattery and calumny are condemned, had some special and personal reference, though we need not suppose, as the commentators are fond of doing here and elsewhere, that it was aimed at Bacchylides or other rival poets.

Great city of Syracuse, precinct of warrior Ares, of iron-armed men and steeds the nursing-place divine, to thee I come[1], bearing from my bright Thebes this song, the tidings of earth-shaking racing of the four-horse car, wherein hath Hieron with his goodly chariot overcome, and decked with far-seen splendour of crowns Ortygia the dwelling-place of Artemis of the river, her by whose help he tamed with soothing hand his colts of spangled rein.

For the archer maiden with both hands fitteth the glittering trappings, and Hermes, god of games, whensoever Hieron to the polished car and bridle-guided wheels[2] yoketh the strength of his steeds, calling on the wide-ruling god, the trident-wielder.

Now unto various kings pay various men sweet song, their valour's meed. So the fair speech of Cyprus echoeth around the name of Kinyras, him whom Apollo of the golden hair loved fervently, and who dwelt a priest in the house of Aphrodite: for to such praise are men moved by the thankfulness that followeth the recompense of friendly acts. But of thee, O thou son of Deinomenes, the maiden daughter of the Lokrian in the west before the house-door telleth in her song, being out of bewildering woes of war by thy might delivered, so that her eyes are not afraid for anything.

Ixion, they say, by order of the gods, writhing on his winged wheel, proclaimeth this message unto men: To him who doeth thee service make recompense affair reward.

This lesson learned he plainly; for when that among the friendly Kronidai he had gotten a life of pleasantness, his bliss became greater than he could bear, and with mad heart he lusted after Hera, whose place was in the happy marriage-bed of Zeus: yet insolence drove him to the exceeding folly; but quickly suffering his deserts the man gained to himself a misery most rare.

Two sins are the causes of his pain; one that he first among the heroes shed blood of kindred[3] craftily, the other that in the chambers of the ample heavens he tempted the wife of Zeus—for in all things it behoveth to take measure by oneself[4].

Yet a mocking love-bed hurried him as he approached the couch[5] into a sea of trouble; for he lay with a cloud, pursuing the sweet lie, fond man: for its form was as the form of the most highest among the daughters of heaven, even the child of Kronos; and the hands of Zeus had made it that it might be a snare unto him, a fair mischief. Thus came he unto the four-spoked wheel, his own destruction; and having fallen into chains without escape he became proclaimer of that message[6] unto many.

His mate[7], without favour of the Graces, bare unto him a monstrous son, and like no other thing anywhere, even as its mother was, a thing with no place or honour, neither among men, neither in the society of gods. Him she reared and called by the name Kentauros, and he in the valleys of Pelion lay with Magnesian mares, and there were born thence a wondrous tribe, like unto both parents, their nether parts like unto the dams, and their upper parts like unto the sire.

God achieveth all ends whereon he thinketh—God who overtaketh even the winged eagle, and outstrippeth the dolphin of the sea, and bringeth low many a man in his pride, while to others he giveth glory incorruptible.

For me it is meet to eschew the sharp tooth of bitter words; for, though afar off, I have seen the fierce Archilochos lacking most things and fattening but on cruel words of hate. Of most worth are riches when joined to the happy gift of wisdom. And this lot hast thou, and mayest illustrate it with liberal soul, thou sovereign chief over many streets filled with goodly garlands, and much people. If any saith that ever yet was any man of old time throughout Hellas who excelled thee in honour or in the multitude of possessions, such an one with vain purpose essayeth a fruitless task.

Upon the flower-crowned prow[8] will I go up to sing of brave deeds done. Youth is approved by valour in dread wars; and hence say I that thou hast won boundless renown in thy battles, now with horsemen, now on foot: also the counsels of thine elder years give me sure ground of praising thee every way.

All hail! This song like to Phenician merchandize is sent across the hoary sea: do thou look favourably on the strain of Kastor in Aeolian mood[9], and greet it in honour of the seven-stringed lute.

Be what thou art, now I have told thee what that is: in the eyes of children the fawning ape is ever comely: but the good fortune of Rhadamanthos hath come to him because the fruit that his soul bare was true, neither delighteth he in deceits within his heart, such as by whisperer's arts ever wait upon mortal man.

An overpowering evil are the secret speakings of slander, to the slandered and to the listener thereto alike, and are as foxes in relentless temper. Yet for the beast whose name is of gain[10] what great thing is gained thereby? For like the cork above the net, while the rest of the tackle laboureth deep in the sea, I am unmerged in the brine.

Impossible is it that a guileful citizen utter potent words among the good, nevertheless he fawneth on all and useth every subtlety. No part have I in that bold boast of his, 'Let me be a friend to my friend, but toward an enemy I will be an enemy, and as a wolf will cross his path, treading now here now there in crooked ways[11].' For every form of polity is a man of direct speech best, whether under a despotism, or whether the wild multitude, or the wisest, have the state in their keeping.

Against God it is not meet to strive, who now upholdeth these, and now again to those giveth great glory. But not even this cheereth the heart of the envious; for they measure by an unjust balance, and their own hearts they afflict with bitter pain, till such time as they attain to that which their hearts devise.

To take the car's yoke on one's neck and run on lightly, this helpeth; but to kick against the goad is to make the course perilous. Be it mine to dwell among the good, and to win their love.

  1. Pindar here identifies himself with his ode, which he sent, not took, to Syracuse. Compare Ol. vii. 13, &c.
  2. Properly ἅρματα would seem to include all except the body of the chariot (δίθρος) in which the charioteer stood.
  3. His father-in-law Deïoneus.
  4. I.e. to estimate rightly one's capacities, circumstances, rights, duties.
  5. Reading ποτὶ κοῖτον ἱκόντ᾽.
  6. The message spoken of above, v. 24.
  7. The cloud, the phantom-Hera.
  8. The prow of the ship carrying this ode, with which Pindar, as has been said, identifies himself.
  9. It is supposed that another ode, more especially in honour of the chariot-victory, is here meant, which was to be sent later.

    From this point to the end the ode reads like a postscript of private import and reference.

  10. κερδώ[errata 1] a fox is not really connected with κέρδος gain.
  11. It appears to me to be an absurdity to suppose that Pindar means to express in this sentence his own rule of conduct, as the commentators have fancied. He is all through this passage condemning 'crooked ways.'


  1. Original: κέρδως was amended to κερδώ: detail