Home » II. Olympic Games » b. Pindar: Olympian 1, Olympian 3, Olympian 10

b. Pindar: Olympian 1, Olympian 3, Olympian 10

(Translations have been taken from the Perseus Digital Library)

Pindar, Olympian 1 – Pelops Foundation Myth

For Hieron of Syracuse Single Horse Race 476 B. C.

Water is best, and gold, like a blazing fire in the night, stands out supreme of all lordly wealth. But if, my heart, you wish to sing of contests, [5] look no further for any star warmer than the sun, shining by day through the lonely sky, and let us not proclaim any contest greater than Olympia. From there glorious song enfolds the wisdom of poets, so that they loudly sing [10] the son of Cronus, when they arrive at the rich and blessed hearth of Hieron, who wields the scepter of law in Sicily of many flocks, reaping every excellence at its peak, and is glorified [15] by the choicest music, which we men often play around his hospitable table. Come, take the Dorian lyre down from its peg, if the splendor of Pisa and of Pherenicus placed your mind under the influence of sweetest thoughts, [20] when that horse ran swiftly beside the Alpheus, not needing to be spurred on in the race, and brought victory to his master, the king of Syracuse who delights in horses. His glory shines in the settlement of fine men founded by Lydian Pelops, [25] with whom the mighty holder of the earth Poseidon fell in love, when Clotho took him out of the pure cauldron, furnished with a gleaming ivory shoulder. Yes, there are many marvels, and yet I suppose the speech of mortals beyond the true account can be deceptive, stories adorned with embroidered lies; [30] and Grace, who fashions all gentle things for men, confers esteem and often contrives to make believable the unbelievable. But the days to come are the wisest witnesses. [35] It is seemly for a man to speak well of the gods; for the blame is less that way. Son of Tantalus, I will speak of you, contrary to earlier stories. When your father invited the gods to a very well-ordered banquet at his own dear Sipylus, in return for the meals he had enjoyed, [40] then it was that the god of the splendid trident seized you, his mind overcome with desire, and carried you away on his team of golden horses to the highest home of widely-honored Zeus, to which at a later time Ganymede came also, [45] to perform the same service for Zeus. But when you disappeared, and people did not bring you back to your mother, for all their searching, right away some envious neighbor whispered that they cut you limb from limb with a knife into the water’s rolling boil over the fire, [50] and among the tables at the last course they divided and ate your flesh. For me it is impossible to call one of the blessed gods a glutton. I stand back from it. Often the lot of evil-speakers is profitlessness. If indeed the watchers of Olympus ever honored a mortal man, [55] that man was Tantalus. But he was not able to digest his great prosperity, and for his greed he gained overpowering ruin, which the Father hung over him: a mighty stone. Always longing to cast it away from his head, he wanders far from the joy of festivity. He has this helpless life of never-ending labor, [60] a fourth toil after three others, because he stole from the gods nectar and ambrosia, with which they had made him immortal, and gave them to his drinking companions. If any man expects that what he does escapes the notice of a god, he is wrong. [65] Because of that the immortals sent the son of Tantalus back again to the swift-doomed race of men. And when he blossomed with the stature of fair youth, and down darkened his cheek, he turned his thoughts to an available marriage, [70] to win glorious Hippodameia from her father, the lord of Pisa. He drew near to the gray sea, alone in the darkness, and called aloud on the deep-roaring god, skilled with the trident; and the god appeared to him, close at hand. [75] Pelops said to the god, “If the loving gifts of Cyprian Aphrodite result in any gratitude, Poseidon, then restrain the bronze spear of Oenomaus, and speed me in the swiftest chariot to Elis, and bring me to victory. For he has killed thirteen [80] suitors, and postpones the marriage of his daughter. Great danger does not take hold of a coward. Since all men are compelled to die, why should anyone sit stewing an inglorious old age in the darkness, with no share of any fine deeds? As for me, on this contest [85] I will take my stand. May you grant a welcome achievement.” So he spoke, and he did not touch on words that were unaccomplished. Honoring him, the god gave him a golden chariot, and horses with untiring wings. He overcame the might of Oenomaus, and took the girl as his bride. She bore six sons, leaders of the people eager for excellence. [90] Now he has a share in splendid blood-sacrifices, resting beside the ford of the Alpheus, where he has his attendant tomb beside the altar that is thronged with many visitors. The fame of Pelops shines from afar in the races of the Olympic festivals, [95] where there are contests for swiftness of foot, and the bold heights of toiling strength. A victor throughout the rest of his life enjoys honeyed calm, so far as contests can bestow it. But at any given time the glory of the present day [100] is the highest one that comes to every mortal man. I must crown that man with the horse-song in the Aeolian strain. I am convinced that there is no host in the world today who is both knowledgeable about fine things and more sovereign in power, [105] whom we shall adorn with the glorious folds of song. A god is set over your ambitions as a guardian, Hieron, and he devises with this as his concern. If he does not desert you soon, I hope that I will celebrate an even greater sweetness, [110] sped by a swift chariot, finding a helpful path of song when I come to the sunny hill of Cronus. For me the Muse tends her mightiest shaft of courage. Some men are great in one thing, others in another; but the peak of the farthest limit is for kings. Do not look beyond that! [115] May it be yours to walk on high throughout your life, and mine to associate with victors as long as I live, distinguished for my skill among Greeks everywhere.

For a modern scholarly approach to Olympian 1, please view Gregory Nagy, Pindar’s Homer, Chapter 4: Pindar’s Olympian 1 and the Aetiology of the Olympic Games here.

Pindar, Olympian 3 – Heracles Foundation Myth

For Theron of Acragas Chariot Race 476 B. C.

I pray that I may be pleasing to the hospitable sons of Tyndareus and to Helen of the beautiful hair while I honor renowned Acragas by raising my song in praise of Theron’s victory at Olympia, won by the choicest of horses with untiring feet. With this in view the Muse stood beside me when I found a shining new manner [5] of fitting the splendid voice of the victory procession to the Dorian sandal. For the garlands twined around his hair exact from me this sacred debt, to blend harmoniously for the son of Aenesidamus the embroidered song of the lyre and the cry of the flutes with the arrangement of words, and Pisa bids me to raise my voice—Pisa, from which [10] god-fated songs come often to men, for anyone over whose brow the strict Aetolian judge of the Greeks tosses up around his hair the gray-green adornment of olive leaves, fulfilling the ancient behests of Heracles; the olive which once the son of Amphitryon brought from the shady springs of the Danube, [15] to be the most beautiful memorial of the Olympian contests, when he had persuaded the Hyperborean people, the servants of Apollo, with speech. With trustworthy intentions he was entreating them for a shady plant, to be shared by all men and to be a garland of excellence in the grove of Zeus which is hospitable to all. For already the altars had been consecrated to his father, and in mid-month the full [20] evening’s eye shone brightly, the Moon on her golden chariot, and he had established the consecrated trial of the great games along with the four years’ festival beside the sacred banks of the Alpheus. But Pelops’ sacred ground was not flourishing with beautiful trees in the valleys below the hill of Cronus. He saw that this garden, bare of trees, was exposed to the piercing rays of the sun. [25] And so his spirit prompted him to travel to the land of the Danube, where the horse-driving daughter of Leto had received him when he came from the mountain-glens and deep, winding valleys of Arcadia; through the commands of Eurystheus, compulsion from his father urged him on the quest of the doe with the golden horns, which once Taÿgete [30] had inscribed as a sacred dedication to Artemis who sets things right. Pursuing that doe he had also seen that land beyond the cold blasts of Boreas; there he had stood and marvelled at the trees, and sweet desire for them possessed him, to plant them around the boundary-line of the horse-racing ground with its twelve courses. And now in his kindness he comes regularly to this festival of ours, together with the godlike [35] twin sons of deep-waisted Leda. For Heracles, when he ascended to Olympus, assigned to them the ordering of the marvellous contest of men, the contest in excellence and in the driving of swift chariots. And so my spirit somehow urges me to say that glory has come to the Emmenidae and to Theron through the dispensation of the sons of Tyndareus with their fine horses, because that family [40] comes to them with the most hospitable feasting-tables of any mortal men, observing the rites of the blessed gods with pious thoughts. If water is best and gold is the most honored of all possessions, so now Theron reaches the farthest point by his own native excellence; he touches the pillars of Heracles. Beyond that the wise cannot set foot; nor can the unskilled set foot [45] beyond that. I will not pursue it; I would be a fool.

Pindar, Olympian 10 – Heracles Foundation Myth

For Hagesidamus of Western Locri Boys’ Boxing 476 B.C.

Read me the name of the Olympic victor, the son of Archestratus, where it has been written in my mind. For I owed him a sweet song, and I have forgotten. But come, Muse, you and the daughter of Zeus, unforgetting Truth: with the hand that puts things right, [5] keep from me the blame for lying, for wronging my friend. Approaching from far away, the future has arrived and made me ashamed of my deep debt. Still, payment with interest has a way of dissolving the bitter reproach of men. [10] Now, just as the flowing wave overwhelms the rolling pebble, so shall I pay my account in full, in gratitude and friendship. For unswerving Exactitude rules the city of the Western Locrians, and Calliope is important to them, and bronze-armored Ares. [15] Battle with Cycnus set back even Heracles, strong and violent; let Hagesidamus, victorious as a boxer at Olympia, offer thanks to Ilas, just as Patroclus did to Achilles. [20] With the help of a god, one man can sharpen another who is born for excellence, and encourage him to tremendous achievement. Without toil only a few have attained joy, a light of life above all labors. The laws of Zeus urge me to sing of that extraordinary contest-place which Heracles founded by the ancient tomb of Pelops [25] with its six altars, after he killed Cteatus, the flawless son of Poseidon and Eurytus too, with a will to exact from the unwilling Augeas, strong and violent, the wages for his menial labor. [30] Heracles lay in wait in the thicket below Cleonae, and in his turn overcame those men by the roadside; for once before those arrogant Moliones had destroyed his Tirynthian army, when it was encamped in the valley of Elis. And indeed it was not much later before the man who betrayed his friend, [35] the king of the Epeians, saw his land with all its possessions, his own city, sink into a deep channel of destruction beneath unyielding fire and blows of iron. A fight with a stronger man [40] is impossible to push away. So even he, by his own senselessness, last of all found himself captured and did not escape sheer destruction. But the brave son of Zeus gathered the entire army and all the spoils together in Pisa [45] and measured out a sacred precinct for his supreme father. He enclosed the Altis all around and marked it off in the open, and he made the encircling area a resting-place for feasting, honoring the stream of the Alpheus along with the twelve ruling gods. [50] And he called it the Hill of Cronus; it had been nameless before, while Oenomaus was king, and it was covered with wet snow. But in this rite of first birth the Fates stood close by, and the one who alone puts genuine truth to the test, [55] Time. Time moved forward and told the clear and precise story, how Heracles divided the gifts of war and sacrificed the finest of them, and how he established the four years’ festival with the first Olympic games and its victories. [60] Who won the first garland, with the skill of his hands or feet or chariot, setting the boast of victory in his mind and achieving it with his deeds? In the foot race the best at running the straight course [65] with his feet was the son of Licymnius, Oeonus, who had come from Midea at the head of an army. In wrestling, Echemus won glory for Tegea. And the prize in boxing was won by Doryclus, who lived in the city of Tiryns. And in the four-horse chariot [70] the victor was Samos of Mantinea, the son of Halirhothius. Phrastor hit the mark with the javelin. Niceus sent the stone flying from his circling arm beyond all the others, and his fellow soldiers raised a sudden burst of loud cheering. [75] The lovely light of the moon’s beautiful face lit up the evening and in the delightful festivities the whole precinct rang with a song in praise of victory. Even now we will follow the first beginnings, and as a namesake song of proud victory, we will shout of the thunder [80] and the fire-wrought shaft of Zeus who rouses the thunder-clap, the burning bolt that suits omnipotence. Swelling music will answer the reed-pipe in songs [85] which have come to light beside famous Dirce, after a long time, but like a long-desired child from the wife of a man who has already reached the opposite of youth, who fills his father’s mind with the warmth of love; since his wealth falling into the hands of a stranger who is master of another home [90] is the most hateful thing to a dying man. And, Hagesidamus, when a man with fine achievements but no songs reaches the house of Hades, he has spent his strength and his breath in vain and gained only a short-lived delight with his effort. But on you the soft-singing lyre and the sweet flute scatter grace [95] and the Pierian daughters of Zeus nurture your wide fame. While I, earnestly lending my hand, have embraced the famous tribe of the Locrians, showering with honey their city of fine men. And I praised the lovely son of Archestratus, [100] whom I saw at that time beside the Olympic altar, winning victory with the valor of his hands—beautiful in form, and blended with that youthful bloom which once [105] kept Ganymede from shameless death, with the help of Cyprian Aphrodite.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*