Pindar was a poet of ancient Greece, significantly later than Homer but not quite as late as the famous tragedians. He (and others) wrote odes to commemorate athletic victories at the Olympic games, the Pythian games, and other such competitions. Apparently, the Greeks liked these poems very much, and Pindar was often paid very well for composing an ode either for a victorious local noble or for a local noble who sponsored a victorious athlete.

This may seem somewhat silly to us, like something between making a living writing poetry for commercials and giving movie roles to professional athletes, but the Greeks did not see things this way. The games were very important politically, and a nobleman's participation was probably something akin to a United States politician's travels around his/her constituency during an election year. So writing poems about athletic victories was thought to be more of noble occupation and less like selling out.

Unfortunately, Pindar's odes are not a fun read in modern times. They jump between unexplained references to myths and Greek social practices that were certainly familiar to the intended audience but are often very confusing to today's readers, even when those readers are Classics majors. Those who can read Greek have also noted that the language used in the odes is often very hard to interpret. Finally, it can be dissatisfying to the reader to follow a poem that can be summed up as:

  • This great noble from that city is very good.
  • He is responsible for a great victory at this specific event.
  • He also throws great parties to poets who write about him. (I'm honestly not exaggerating this.)
  • This relates to a great myth about him or his city.
  • And this other myth.
  • Many more myths.
  • And this is why he's such a great athlete or sponsor.

But, while Pindar may be a less enjoyable read than Plato, Homer, or even Aeschylus, he does give a lot of obscure tidbits of information to those who are willing to study him deeply, since many of the myths and customs he mentions are otherwise completely unknown. This gives Classics people things to write books and papers about.

Pindar of Thebes, (c.518-c.438 BCE)

Around the year 518 BCE, Pindar was born in Kynoskephalae, a village just outside Thebes in Boeotia. Pindar was an aristocrat of the distinguished Spartan family Aegeidae, whose name was known thoughout ancient Greece. As a child, Pindar studied music with the famous musicians Agathocles and Apollodoros in Athens. It is said that Pindar also received instruction from uncle, Scopelinus, a skilled flute player. The young Pindar was, of course, also adept as a poet. He is said to have studied with the poetess Corinna, a fellow Boeotian from Tanagara. Legend holds that the two developed a rivalry and engaged in poetry contests. After Pindar had been defeated in one contest, Corinna is said to have criticized the lushness of his style and excessive use of myth, with the famous lines: "sow with the hand, and not the whole sack." Despite this early criticism, Pindar's skill of employing myth was to earn him repute as one of the greatest Greek lyric poets of all time - it was his ability to express Panhellenic spirituality and religion that earned him this distinction.

Pindar soon gained much fame in his home city. He became known as "The Eagle of Thebes," who bore a likeness to the "roar of the river." As his fame grew throughout Greece, Pindar received invitationses from rulers to visit their courts. Amyntas of Macedon, Arkesilaos of Kyrene, Theron of Agrigentum and Hieron of Syracuse were among the many who were patrons of Pindar. Pindar was a rather prolific poet. Later, Alexandrian scholars divided his works into seventeen books, yet today all that remain are his epinicia, songs celebrating victorious athletes at the Panhellenic games, sung by a chorus usually at the scene of the victory or during a celebratory feast. The epinicia contained 14 Olympian, 12 Pythian, 11 Nemean and 8 Isthmian odes.

In 438 BC, Pindar died in the theater of Argos while reciting a poem. The Athenians honored Pindar after his death by making him an ambassador, proxenos, and erected a bronze statue of him. Thebans were angered at Pindar for glorifying the enemy city of Athens, but later constructed a temple near his former home.

Pin"dal (?), Pin"dar (?), n. [D. piendel.] Bot.

The peanut (Arachis hypogaea); -- so called in the West Indies.


© Webster 1913.

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