Olympian odes: Pythian odes,

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Harvard University Press, 1997 - History - 446 pages
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Of the Greek lyric poets, Pindar (ca. 518-438 BCE) was "by far the greatest for the magnificence of his inspiration" in Quintilian's view; Horace judged him "sure to win Apollo's laurels." The esteem of the ancients may help explain why a good portion of his work was carefully preserved. Most of the Greek lyric poets come down to us only in bits and pieces, but nearly a quarter of Pindar's poems survive complete. William H. Race now brings us, in two volumes, a new edition and translation of the four books of victory odes, along with surviving fragments of Pindar's other poems.

Like Simonides and Bacchylides, Pindar wrote elaborate odes in honor of prize-winning athletes for public performance by singers, dancers, and musicians. His forty-five victory odes celebrate triumphs in athletic contests at the four great Panhellenic festivals: the Olympic, Pythian (at Delphi), Nemean, and Isthmian games. In these complex poems, Pindar commemorates the achievement of athletes and powerful rulers against the backdrop of divine favor, human failure, heroic legend, and the moral ideals of aristocratic Greek society. Readers have long savored them for their rich poetic language and imagery, moral maxims, and vivid portrayals of sacred myths.

Race provides brief introductions to each ode and full explanatory footnotes, offering the reader invaluable guidance to these often difficult poems. His new Loeb Pindar also contains a helpfully annotated edition and translation of significant fragments, including hymns, paeans, dithyrambs, maiden songs, and dirges.

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About the author (1997)

The Greek poet Pindar, a Boeotian aristocrat who wrote for aristocrats, lived at Thebes, studied at Athens, and stayed in Sicily at the court of Hieron at Syracuse. His epinicians, choral odes in honor of victors at athletic games, survive almost complete and are divided into four groups, depending upon whether they celebrate victory at the Olympian, Pythian, Nemean, or Isthmian games. Scholars surmise that these are representative of his other poetry, such as hymns, processional songs, and dirges, extant in fragments. The 44 surviving odes joyfully praise beautiful, brilliant athletes who are like the gods in their moment of triumph. Bold mythological metaphor, dazzling intricacy of language, and metrical complexity together create sublimity of thought and of style. Pindar was famous in his lifetime and later throughout the Hellenistic world, as is attested by the story that Alexander the Great in 335 B.C. ordered the poet's house spared when his army sacked Thebes. The "Pindaric ode" form used in England in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries was based on an incorrect understanding of Pindar's metrical schemes and was characterized by grandiose diction. Pindar is considered to be the greatest of the Greek lyric poets.

William Race is Professor of Classics at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.