This is part two of my review of Pindar’s Victory Songs by Frank J. Nisetich. This has been a beautiful book. If you are a bibliophile you will know how sometimes you just dread to reach the final page. I would encourage anyone who loves reading just to delight in pretty words, the right word, and the turn of a phrase to read this book. Classists; if you’ve never read Pindar, just mined him for gems, you have missed so much and will find so much more to treasure.
The Aeacides and Zero
Pindar quite often celebrates victors at the PanHellenic games who claim descent from Aeacus. If you don’t know the hero, he was the son of Zeus (aren’t the all) and an island nymph named Aegina. Aeacus, friend of the gods, had such a reputation for piety and justice that he became a judge of the dead in the afterlife. Meanwhile, she bore him two sons, Telamon, companion of Heracles and father of Ajax the Greater of the Iliad. Nisetich suggests that the other son Peleus was visiting King Akastos, Akastos’ wife Hippolyta offered herself to the hero. Peleus rejected the married woman’s advances. Consequently, “Because he had respected the claims of hospitality and chastity, Zeus…rewarded him with the hand of Thetis.” The Nereid Thetis insured her husband’s immortality by snatching him from earth towards the end of his life and taking him to live forever in her father’s halls beneath the Aegean Sea. Meanwhile Thetis bore to Peleus, Achilles the hero of the Iliad. Ajax and Achilles attained fame beneath the walls of Troy and spent eternity on the paradisiac Isle of White.
In Olympian 8 the odean says of the clan (and I paraphrase a lot) “Aiakos, whom Leto's child and Poseidon, lord of the tide summoned to help them crown Troy with her ring of walls… Apollo … said to Aiakos; “In the place where your hands have worked, Pergamos is taken…and she will fall through battle-might of yours, beginning with the first and ending in the third of your line.”
Nisetich explains that this means that “Telamon, in the first generation after Aiakos, sacked her the first time . In the next generation Telamon’s son Ajax” and his cousin Achilles besieged the city but “It was reserved for (Achilles’ son ) Neoptolemmos to destroy the city forever.“
Nisetich logic seems perfect. My confusion is that I was taught that the archaic counting system didn’t have “zero”. For example, the Ancient Greeks thought the Olympics were 5 years apart. Pretend it is 2016. You and I are in Brazil at the games. The next one is 2020 in Japan. How many years apart is that? Easy; 2016 is the first years, 2017 the second, 2018 the third, 2019 the fourth and 2020 the fifth. Was I taught wrong about the Ancient Greeks counting system prior to introduction of “zero”? Or was Pindar just smarter that everyone else?
Immortal Zeus Let the Titans Go
“immortal Zeus let the Titans go.” Pythian 4 This is about the clearest indication that the Zeus finally released the Titans defeated in the Titanomachy. Hesiod claims that their leader Cronus was also released from Tartarus “And they live untouched by sorrow in the Islands of the Blessed along the shore of deep swirling Oceanus, happy heroes for whom the grain-giving earth bears honey-sweet fruit flourishing thrice a year, far from the deathless gods, and Kronos rules over them; for the father of men and gods released him from his bonds. (Hesiod, Works and Days 156) Aeschylus, Fragment 114 Prometheus Unbound indicates that Prometheus to betrayer of the Titans and the Olympians was released. Pindar used the expression “immortal Zeus let the Titans go” as a sign that things can change; an expression of hope.
The Antenorides and Helen
Nisetich says that “Pindar tells us that the sons of Antenor came (to Cyrene) with Helen in their midst. Meaning , apparently that they accompanied Menelaus in his wandering after the fall of Troy. Antenor has known for his disapproval of the marriage of Helen and Paris. The Greeks spared him and his family when Troy fell. According to by Carlos Parada (www.maicar.com ) Antenor and his household were saved that awful night because Odysseus and Menelaus were bound by ties of hospitality to him. Antenor was their Trojan host during early peace negotiations. Antenor and his sons ended up founding Padua in Italy
Man; a Shadow’s Dream
“Man; a shadow’s dream” Pythian 8 The shadow in question is the shade of a beloved ancestor. The point is that we are the accumulation of our ancestors’ dreams and hopes. As Pindar points out repeatedly the deceased delight in the successes of their descendants. We discussed this in Hour 24. I will ask in Hour 25, which reference we used for the discussion back then.
Alceme and her Family
Nisetich declares that “Iolaos (son of Iphicles, son of Alcmene) had risen from the dead in order to kill Eurysetheus, the persecutor of Herakles and his children. The Thebans then buried him again in the tomb of his grandfather Amphitryon.” This sort of implies that Amphitryon the mortal father of Heracles and his grandson Iolaos enjoyed joint heroic honors at Thebes.
Pythian 11 begins with Pindar calling upon the goddesses Semele ( in the company f Olympian goddesses) and her sister Ino (undersea with the Nereids) , Heracles’ mother Alceme and the local nymph Melia. He refers to these Thebans as a “band of heroines. Heroic honors for Alceme? Pindar buts here in the company of some pretty high powered gods. Quiet the honor even if it isn’t heroic.
A Crooked Phrase upon my Lips
“a crooked phrase upon my lips; sung out of tune” (Nemean 7). Pindar is apologizing for himself , but it made me think of Thersites in the Iliad 2.212 “chattering on Thersites of measureless speech, whose mind was full of great store of disorderly words... in no orderly wise”
Pindar is full of sage advice and proverbs. I have thorough enjoyed this book and found words to live by repeatedly both from the poet and his translator. Let me leave you with one last thought.
“I would wish to lay my limbs in earth beloved by my fellow citizens because I praised the praiseworthy and scattered blame on those who deserved it”