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Commentary On Pindar Olympian 1 Notes

Classics Notes > Greek Literature of the 5th Century BC Notes

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Commentary on Pindar Olympian 1 Pindar's Olympian 1 celebrates Hieron's victory in the single horse race in 476; as a result the ode has a strong encomiastic purpose. The most obvious technique he uses is the positive analogue which Pelops creates throughout and the negative one of Tantalus. The poor behaviour of Tantalus at the feasts, both in the version of the myth that Pindar rejects and the version he puts forward as the truth, reflects and emphasises the generosity for which Hieron is praised. For example in line ten Hieron's hearth is referred to as rich and blessed and bards come to praise his achievements with the finest songs around his friendly table. Tantalus is said to be the most honoured mortal in heaven but because of greed he brought a great punishment upon himself; this serves as both a compliment to Hieron who is himself greatly honoured by the gods by being granted this victory and also as a warning to him as to what to avoid. It teaches him to realise that the most fortunate man is not a god, an idea which is reflected in the closing lines of the Ode. He tells Hieron, "Look no further, may you walk on high for the time that is yours." He has reached the pinnacle of the political power he can achieve by having become king. More important, however, is the far more positive analogue between Pelops and Hieron which infers the greatest praise on the addressee of the ode. At both the beginning and the end of the myth in the centre of the ode the glory of the two men is explicitly linked. Firstly at line 23: "Pherenikos has indeed enthralled your mind with sweetest considerations, when he sped beside the Alpheos, giving his limbs ungoaded in the race and joined to victorious power his master, Syracuse's horse-loving king. Fame shines for him in the colony of brave men founded by Lydian Pelops." Pindar then does this again at line 93, "And far shines that fame of the Olympic festivals gained in the racecourses of Pelops, where competition is held for swiftness of feet and boldly labouring feats of strength." These lines not only enhance Hieron's glory by associating it with the well known mythical victory of Pelops, but also imply the same closeness that he enjoyed with the gods, especially Poseidon. He explicitly states this later in line 105 when he says Hieron's guardian god will devise means for him to achieve his further athletic aspirations. His purpose in doing this is to link Hieron to a man who, for a short time, lived among the immortal gods and then became immortalised by his famous chariot victory, said to be the inspiration for the whole Olympic games; putting his praise for Hieron in these terms justifies his statement that, "I am confident that there is no other host both more expert in noble pursuits and more lordly in power alive today to embellish in famous folds of hymns." The Pelops story, particularly the version that Pindar gives, shows both what Hieron has already got by winning the single horse race but also what he could still hope to achieve by winning the far more prestigious four horse chariot race at the Olympic games. This encomiastic function of the myth is one of the reasons why Pindar modifies it in the way he does and in order to make it fit his needs he moves away from the traditional story of Pelops.

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