Pindar Pythian 4 Ode, Arkesilas Chariot Race 462BC



Pindar Pythian 4 Ode for Arkesilas of Cyrene, Chariot Race 426BC

Translated by Steven Willett




Pindar c. 518 (Cynoscephalae, Boiotia) ~ c. 438 (Argos)

Roman copy of Greek statue 15th century BC


Note: In this poetic translation I have used a form of meter, called colometry, that is not found in the standard Greek editions of Pindar you might consult. For the colometry here I followed Bruno Gentili's edition Pindaro le Pitiche (1995). I will try to give you a fairly simple explanation of it and why it's so uncommon. The Hellenistic Alexandrian philologists who originally edited papyrus manuscripts had far greater knowledge of the original rhythmical and music performances available to them than we do. The cola in the melic sections of drama and choral lyric were edited into dimeters with occasional trimeters and tetrameters, that is, into fairly short verses or lines. This division continued to be found in the printed tradition for the last two centuries, but then a new theory was advocated by August Böckh (1785~1867) at the beginning of the nineteenth century. His development of the "period" as it's called produces a large continuously articulated voice segment. M. L. West in Greek Metre (1982) described it this way: "…the compositional segments can no longer be called verses or lines, because they extend over many lines of the written text; the term 'period' is used" (p. 4). It's a continuous segment of language over a large extent as sung with musical accompaniment. The period became the codified standard with Paul Maas' Greek Metre in 1923. Although the period must be taken into account, it was largely forced into serious doubt by the 1st century BC or AC papyrus manuscript in uncials of Bacchylides. His Alexandrian editors used colometry, not the period. If you'd like to read the torturous attempt to force colometry into period, review H. Maehler's edition Bacchylides a Selection (2004). Among several scholars I've also contributed to our doubts about the period: S. J. Willett "Working Memory and its Constraints on Colometry," Quaderni Urbinati di Cultura Classica 71 n. 2, s.c. 100: 7~19.

The result is that the standard Greek edition of Pythian 4 has 299 'lines' while my English translation has 533 lines.



Today you must stand beside a man dear to me, Str. 1

by the king of horse-famed Cyrene,

and, joining with Archesilaus in his victory revels,

Muse, swell the breeze of songs

owed to Leto's Twins and to Pytho,

where once the priestess sitting in honor

beside the golden eagles of Zeus,

Apollo now in his land, proclaimed

by oracle that Battos would be founder

of fruitbearing Libya,

so that he'd finally leave the holy

island and plant

a city of fine chariots

on a chalky breast of earth,


and redeem in the seventeenth generation [15] Ant. 1

the word of Medea

which at Thera once Aeëtes' fierce daughter

breathed from immortal lips

as the Colchean queen.

Thus she spoke to the demigods

who sailed with spearman Jason:

"Hear me, you sons

of bold-hearted men and gods:

I say that from this wave-beaten land

the daughter of Epaphus will one day

be planted with the root of other cities,

cities renowned among men,

amid the foundations of Zeus Ammon. [28]


"And, changing short-finned dolphins Ep. 1

for swift horses,

they shall ply reins rather than oars

and drive chariots with stormfooted teams.

That Omen shall make Thera

metropolis of mighty cities, the Omen

which once amid the stream from lake Triton,

Euphemus, descending the prow,

received from a god in human form

who offered him

a guest-gift of earth

—for him father Zeus, son of Cronus,

rang out a peal of auspicious thunder—: [41]


"at the time he met us hoisting against ship Str. 2

the bronze-fluked anchor,

swift Argo’s bridle;

for twelve days before we'd been carrying

over desolate stretches of land,

that seagoing timber from Ocean

having drawn her up at my advice.

Then in that instant all alone

the god approached us,

assuming the glad countenance

of a solicitous man;

and he began with friendly words,

those the charitable host first uses

to offer newly-arrived strangers a meal. [55]


But the plea of our sweet homecoming Ant. 2

prevented our staying. He said he was

Eurypylus, son of the immortal

Holder and Shaker of earth;

he knew our haste; swiftly

scooping up a handful of soil

with his right hand, he sought to give us

a chance gift of hospitality;

nor did he refuse it, the hero, but leapt to shore

and, pressing hand with hand,

accepted the divine clod.

But I hear it was washed

overboard one evening

to wander seaward with the salt [69]


waves, following the sinuous waters Ep. 2

of the deep. Often indeed I urged

the attendants, who ease our labor,

to guard it; but they forgot,

and now the imperishable seed

of spacious Libya

is shed on this island before its time.

For had he cast the seed down at home

by Hades’ earthy mouth,

after returning to sacred Tanaeus, Euphemus,

horse-ruling Poseidon's lordly son,

whom Europa, daughter of Tityus,

once bore by the banks of Cephesus, [82]


his blood in the fourth generation after him Str. 3

would have seized that vast continent

together with the Danaans;

for later they will depart from great Sparta,

from the gulf of Arogs and from Mycenae.

Now, however, in the beds of alien women

he shall discover a chosen race

who, by favor of the gods,

will come to this island

and beget a man to be

lord over plains

cloaked in cloudshadow;

and one day Apollo, in his gold-filled house,

will admonish him by oracle, [96]


when at length he enters the Pythian shrine, Ant. 3

to lead a host of men in ships

to the rich precinct of Zeus Ammon by the Nile."

So spoke Medea's rows of rhythmic words,

and they crouched stockstill, in silence,

the godlike heroes

listening to her shrewd counsel.

O fortunate son of Polymnestus,

you it was whom, as this speech foretold,

the oracle of the Delphic Bee

exalted with her spontaneous shout,

she who thrice crying "Hail"

revealed you as the predestined

king of Cyrene, [110]


when you were asking what release might come Ep. 3

from the gods for a stammering voice.

After long time, even now, as at the peak

of crimson-flowered spring,

eighth in line from these children blossoms

Archesilaus: to whom Apollo and Pytho

granted glory in the chariot race

from the hands of the Amphictyons.

I shall offer to the Muses

him and the golden fleece of the ram:

for when the Minyans sailed after it,

heaven-sent honors

were planted for them. [123]


What then was the beginning of their voyage, Str. 4

what danger shackled them with strong spikes of adamant?

It was destined that Pelias die

by the hands of Aeolus' noble sons

or by their relentless designs.

And a prophecy came to him

chilling his crafty heart,

spoken beside the navel-stone

in the middle of treeteeming mother earth:

to mount close guard all round

against the man with one sandal

when he descends from mountain lairs

into the clear-seen land

of famous Iolkos, [137]


whether stranger or citizen. And so in time Ant. 4

he came, a man with two spears, stupendous;

a double garment covered him,

the Magnesians' native dress

closely fitting his marvelous limbs,

and round about it a leopard skin

kept off the shivering rain;

the lustrous locks of his hair

had not been cut and lost,

but cascaded down his entire back.

Swiftly he went straight on,

trying the mettle of his unshaken will,

and in the middle of the square

stood among the thronging crowd. [151]


No one knew him; but awestruck Ep. 4

as they were, someone spoke thus:

"Surely this isn't Apollo,

nor is it bronze-charioted Ares,

lord of Aphrodite; and they say

that on gleaming Naxos died

Iphimedeia's sons,

Otos and you, daring lord Ephialtes.

Then too Tityus fell

hunted down by Artemis' swift arrow

springing from her invincible quiver,

to make a man crave only

possession of possible loves." [164]


Such things they spoke in turn Str. 5

to one another; and on his polished

mule-cart came Pelias rushing in

pell-mell: he was at once astonished

as he glanced uneasily at the single sandal

conspicuous on its right foot.

But hiding the fear in his heart

he accosted him:

"What country, stranger,

do you declare your fatherland?

And who among earth-born mortals

brought you forth from her venerable womb?

Without defiling it through hateful lies,

tell me your race." [178]


With gentle words, all unperturbed, Ant. 5

he answered him thus: "I say

that I am he who bears the teaching of Chiron.

For I come from his cave, from Chariclo and Philyra,

where the Centaur's spotless daughters

raised me. After completing twenty years

without a single crooked act

or uttering one such word to them,

I have returned home to reclaim

my father's ancient right of rule

—now exercised improperly—

which Zeus once granted

to Aeolus, leader of the people,

and to his sons. [192]


For I hear that lawless Pelias, Ep. 5

following his cold, manipulative wits,

stripped it by force from my parents,

the legitimate sovereigns;

when first I saw the light,

they, fearing the violence

of that insolent leader, darkened the house

in mourning mixed with women's wailing,

as if I'd died, and then secretly

sent me away in purple swaddling-clothes,

entrusting night with the journey,

and gave me to Chiron,

Cronus' son, to raise. [205]


Now you know the highlights of my story; Str. 6

point out plainly, my fellow citizens, the house

of my parents, masters of white horses;

for I am one of you, the son of Aeson,

and come no stranger to an alien land.

The godlike beast, whenever he addressed me,

called me Jason."

Thus he spoke, and as he entered

his father's eyes recognized him;

and from his aged eyelids

burst the welling tears,

for he rejoiced in his soul

when he saw his child, the matchless,

the fairest of men. [219]


And both his brothers came to them Ant. 6

at news of his arrival:

from nearby, Pheres, who left the fountain Hypereia,

and from Messene Amythaon;

and quickly came Admetus and Melampus,

well-wishers, to their cousin.

Amid the feasting

Jason welcomed them

with honey-sweet words,

providing them fit hospitality,

and stretched their reveling out to plenty,

as he reaped for five full nights

and five days

the holy flower of intense life. [233]


But, on the sixth day, telling the whole Ep. 6

story soberly from the start,

he confided it to his kinsmen,

and they assented. Instantly he leaped

from the couches along with them;

and then they went to the hall of Pelias;

bursting inside they took their stand;

when the king heard them, he himself,

the son of fair-haired Tyro, came to greet them;

and Jason, distilling

gentle discourse with a genial voice,

laid the basis of wise words:

"Son of Poseidon of the Rock, [246]


the minds of men are all too quick to praise Str. 7

deceitful gain above the right,

though they are moving to a bitter morning after;

but you and I ought rule

our passions with justice

and weave the web of future wealth.

I speak to one who knows.

One dam was mother to Cretheus

and to daring-minded Salmoneus;

and we, sprung in the third generation from them,

look on the golden strength of the sun.

The Fates withdraw

if any malice comes on kinsmen

to shroud their shame. [260]


It is unfitting for us two to sever Ant. 7

with bronze-biting swords or spears

the great birthright of our forefathers.

For I give to you the flocks and tawny herds

of cattle and all the fields,

which you extorted from my parents

and now exploit to fatten up your wealth;

it does not trouble me that these

glut your house;

but that monarchial scepter and throne

on which, presiding once, the son of Cretheus

guided his judgments straight

to a race of horsemen;

all these without our mutual strife [274]


surrender to me, lest from them arise Ep. 7

some newer evil."

So he spoke, and Pelias too

responded softly: "I shall be such as you wish,

but already the sere span of life envelops me,

whereas your flower of youth

is just now swelling to its crest:

you can appease the wrath of the dead.

For Phrixus orders us,

proceeding to Aeëtes' palace halls,

to bring his soul back home

and carry off the deep-fleeced hide of the ram,

on which he once escaped from the sea [287]


and from the godless weapons of his stepmother. Str. 8

A wondrous dream came speaking this to me.

I've asked the oracle at Castalia

if such a quest should be pursued: and it urges me

to instantly dispatch an expedition by ship.

Accomplish, voluntarily, this task

and I swear that I will yield you back

to wield sole power and to rule.

And as a mighty pledge,

let Zeus be witness,

the father of both our families."

Approving this arrangement,

they parted company. But Jason was already

in hot haste inciting the heralds [301]


to announce everywhere Ant. 8

that a voyage was under way.

Quickly came the three sons, indomitable in war,

of Cronian Zeus

born to round-eyed Alcmene and Leda,

and from Pylos and Taenarus' promontory

the two top-knotted warriors

sprung from the Earthshaker,

respecting their own might with awe;

whose noble glory found fulfillment,

that of Euphemus and yours, mighty Periclymenus.

And from Apollo came

the master lyrist, father of songs,

renowned Orpheus. [315]


Hermes goldenwand Ep. 8

sent his twin sons

to unceasing labor on the quest,

Echion and Erytus, flushed with youth.

And quickly came those

who dwelt at the base of Mount Pangaeus:

for willingly with joyful heart

the King of Winds, their father Boreas,

more swiftly urged on Zetes and Calais,

mortal men whose backs were beating

with purple wings.

Hera kindled in these demigods

allsuasive sweet desire [328]


for the ship Argo, that none be left behind Str. 9

lingering by his mother's side

to coddle long a life devoid of danger,

but to discover with his agemates,

even at the price of death,

the fairest way to achieve his own exploits.

And when the flower of sailors

came down to Iolkos, Jason

counted and praised them all.

And then the prophet Mopsus,

divining by birds and sacred sortilege,

embarked the army readily.

When they had slung

the anchors high above the beak, [342]


taking a golden bowl in his hands Ant. 9

the captain, from the stern, called on

the father of the Uranidae, Zeus the lightning-speared,

for the wavesurge and the winds

to be swift running, for the nights and sea

paths and days to be serene,

and for their homecoming to be fortunate;

and from the clouds Zeus answered him

with an auspicious clap of thunder;

and bright bolts of lighting

broke from the sky.

The heroes caught their breath

trusting the signs of the god;

the portent-seer summoned them [356]


to fall to oars, announcing Ep. 9

his sweet hopes;

and the rowing ran out

from under their swift hands insatiably.

Conducted by the breezes of the South Wind

they came to the mouth

of the Inhospitable Sea,

where they established a sacred precinct

for Poseidon of the Sea:

there was at hand a ruddy herd of Thracian cattle

and, newly built of stones, a hollow altar.

Rushing now into deep danger

they implored the Lord of Ships [369]


to escape the irresistible movement Str. 10

of the Clashing Rocks. For both were alive,

and rolled more rapidly

than battle ranks of deep-roaring winds;

but that voyage of demigods

finally brought their end.

To Phasis then they came,

where they set their might

against the crushing Colchians

in presence of Aeëtes himself.

But the sovereign of swiftest darts,

Cyprogeneia, binding

the dappled wryneck

four-spoked upon an indissoluble wheel [383]


first brought that maddening bird Ant. 10

to human kind and thus taught Aeson's son

skill in invocations and incantations,

that he might strip Medea of all reverence

for her parents and that Hellas, fiercely desired,

might set her whirling, as she blazed in spirit,

with the scourge of Persuasion.

And she at once revealed

the outcome of her father's trials:

preparing then the sap of roots with oil

for remedy against remorseless pain,

she gave it him to anoint his limbs.

They thus agreed by mutual consent

to join with one another in sweet union. [397]


But when Aeëtes had planted in their midst Ep. 10

the adamantine plow and the oxen,

who were panting from tawny jaws

a flame of searing fire

and with their brazen hooves

kept gouging up the earth in turn,

alone he led and brought them to the yoke.

Straight were the furrows he traced

as he drove them up and down the ploughland,

and cut the span of earth a fathom deep.

Then spoke thus: "Let the king, whoever rules the ship,

complete this task for me

and carry off the imperishable bedding, [410]


the fleece gleaming with golden fringe." Str. 11

At these words, Jason threw off his saffron robe,

and trusting to god, he set to work:

the fire never daunted him, thanks to the orders

of the gracious woman, all-powerful in remedies,

but drawing out the plough,

he bound the necks of the oxen

in a harness of necessity,

and thrusting into their sturdy sides

an unwearied goad,

the burly man completed

his allotted span of labor. Aeëtes

howled with inarticulate anguish

marveling at his strength. [424]


Toward the mighty man his comrades Ant. 11

were stretching out their hands and casting

crowns of leaves over him

as they greeted him with kindly words.

And straightaway the wondrous son of Helios

told them where Phrixos' sacrificial knife

had spread the resplendent pelt,

but hoped he would at least fail

to accomplish that task. For it lay

within a thicket near

the ravenous jaws of a dragon

which, in length and breadth, exceeded

a fifty-oared ship

wrought by iron-nailing blows. [438]


Returning home by the highway is too long; Ep. 11

for time is pressing me

and I know a short path:

for many others I lead the way in skill.

The glaring-eyed snake with speckled back,

O Archesilaus, he slew by cunning,

and stole with her own help Medea,

the assassin of Pelias.

They came amid the immensity of Ocean,

and the Red Sea,

and the race of manslaughtering Lemnian women:

there in contests of their limbs

they showed their strength for a prize cloak, [451]


and slept with them. In foreign Str. 12

furrows then the destined days or nights

prosperously received the seed

of your family's splendor:

for there Euphemus' race was planted

to tower up forever;

and after sharing Spartan homes and ways

they settled in time on the island

once called "Fairest;"

from there the son of Leto granted

you the plain of Libya to enrich

by favor of the gods

and the holy city of golden-throned

Cyrene to govern, [465]


you who contrived a craft of right counsel. Ant. 12

Know now the wisdom of Oedipus:

if someone with a sharp-bladed axe

lops off the branches of a mighty oak

and mars its marvelous form,

though desolate of fruit,

it still gives testimony of itself,

if ever it comes at last

to feed the winter fire,

or if, laid as lintel

for a master's upright columns,

it carries on despairing toil

within an alien city wall,

having left its own place empty. [479]


But you're the most appropriate physician Ep. 12

and Paeans honor you with healing light.

One must apply a soothing hand

to tend an ulcerous wound.

It's easy for the almost impotent

to shake a city;

to set it back in place again

is grinding conflict,

unless a god will suddenly

become a steersman for its leaders.

For you is woven out this web of favors.

Take heart to lavish full devotion

on divinely blessed Cyrene. [492]


Of all Homer’s sayings this one Str. 13

lay to mind and heed:

a noble messenger, he said,

bestows the greatest honor to each office;

even the Muse grows strong by true report.

Cyrene and the most illustrious house of Battus

have come to know the upright mind

of Damophilus. For that man—

a youth among boys,

but in counsels an elder

who's gained a hundred years of life—

bereaves an evil tongue

of lucid voice,

but has learned to hate the violent, [506]


not clashing with the noble Ant. 13

or drawing out the end of any action.

Brief is the span, for men,

of opportunity. He knows it well;

like an attendant, not a drudge, he follows it.

They say this is the sharpest pain:

to recognize the good

but stand outside it by compulsion.

Truly, that man is even now,

like Atlas, wrestling with the sky

apart from fatherland apart from property.

But Zeus eternal freed the Titans;

in passing time,

as winds subside, comes change [520]


of sails. But he prays, Ep. 13

when he's exhausted this accursed affliction,

to see his home one day,

and by the fountain of Apollo,

joining the symposia,

to throw his heart into the joys of youth,

and clasping the richly ornate lyre

among his songwise citizens, to grasp peace,

working harm to none nor suffering it

from his countrymen;

and he could tell, Archesilaus,

what fountain of ambrosial verse he found

when recently a guest at Thebes. [533]


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3 Responses to Pindar Pythian 4 Ode, Arkesilas Chariot Race 462BC

  1. mcohen says:

    Good stuff this.thanks for posting
    “so that he’d finally leave the holy
    island and plant
    a city of fine chariots
    on a chalky breast of earth,”

  2. Barbara Ann says:

    “Hera kindled in these demigods
    allsuasive sweet desire
    for the ship Argo, that none be left behind
    lingering by his mother’s side
    to coddle long a life devoid of danger,
    but to discover with his agemates,
    even at the price of death,
    the fairest way to achieve his own exploits”
    Fabulous. Hera would have her work cut out making Argonauts out of today’s demigods I think.
    A difficult read overall, but my unfamiliarity with the details of the story are solely to blame for that. Great to see more of your work posted here Mr Willett.

  3. mcohen says:

    a parable from ancient times
    a parable written on cloth
    lay before me on the table
    an ancient token of troth
    for those wise and able
    there was a light between the lines
    that shone brightly through
    with this rod one divines
    what is false and what is true
    in a desert land far away
    a man came upon a stream
    in the heat of the day
    of this did I dream
    in the night as i rest
    under a starry sky
    this gift of sight
    is the reason why
    with closed eyes one sees
    when all is still
    a man falling to his knees
    to drink his fill.
    the next day i arose early
    the desert air was cool
    continued on my journey
    to solomon’s pool
    There before me stood a man
    in clothes dusty and worn
    where a stream once ran
    from times before I was born.
    He greeted me with a smile
    like an old friend
    this final mile
    at journey’s end

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