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Page:Pindar in English Verse (Way 1922).djvu/11

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INTRODUCTION

It must also be remembered that these high-born men were superior to the lower classes not only in pride of lineage, but they bore about with them the witness to this in their bodily development. The aristocrat was a stronger man, and far more skilled in the use of that strength for personal encounters than the average democrat. He was a man of leisure, and we may say that practically all such men made it their aim, their daily practice, to perfect their physical condition in the gymnasiums which were in every town. In many states, perhaps in all which belonged to the Peloponnesian League, a small organized body of aristocrats kept the far more numerous commonalty in subjection, solely by their fighting superiority.[1] We must not lose sight of the transcendent importance of bodily vigour in an age when all fighting was hand-to-hand, and where the numbers on each side were so small that a few abnormally strong men might, by breaking the enemies' line, decide the issue. Each successful champion in the great athletic contests means a large number of men who went through a course of training in which they were wrought up to the highest pitch of perfection not only of muscular development, but also of pluck and endurance.

Among reasons which have been assigned for the discursiveness of these triumphal odes, in which a very small space is given to the victor, and none to the details of the contest, perhaps the most important was this: excessive praise was universally regarded as mischievous to its objects, as tending directly to provoke the jealousy of the Gods, and to invite their nemesis. In the mouth of an enemy it was malicious, tactless

  1. Cf. the speech of Brasidas to his soldiers: 'You are not to be cowed by any numerical superiority of your foes, since you do not come from states in which such a lesson is learnt. You come from those in which the masses do not lord it over the select few, but where the minority rule the majority—a supremacy which they acquired by nothing save fighting superiority.'—Thucydides, IV, 126.