Pindar Isthmian 7 for Strepsiadas of Thebes, winner pancratium
Translated by Steven J. Willett
This is a c.500BC black-figure vase that depicts a pancratium bout with the umpire on the right.
Note 1: Isthmian 7 is a widely admired ode that offers sharp, vigorous expression with an unusual but not complex structure. Here is a breakdown of the structure to help in reading.
Triad 1: Mythological glories of Thebes
Triad 2: Transitional gnome followed by Strepsiadas the victor and his uncle of the same name
Triad 3: Pindar’s gnomic comments ending with prayer to Apollo
Pindar’s conventional gnomic thought doesn’t permit us to conclude anything about his personal opinions. Although he speaks in the first-person singular, it is not the voice of the private Pindar, but rather the poetic skill of Pindar who serves the Muses in public encomia. This is the standard scholarly position. You are free to accept or reject it.
Note 2: The pancratium (παγκράτιον) was introduced in 648BC with very few rules. Boxing, kicking, wrestling, choking and many other technics make it the most violent of all contests. Submission came only from an open hand of the defeated. It was something like our Mixed Martial Arts. The name of the contest shows what it was: “The term comes from the Greek παγκράτιον, meaning ‘all of power’ from πᾶν (pan) ‘all’ and κράτος (kratos) ‘strength, might, power’” (Wikipedia).
Names by triad: str 1 Dionysus was a common companion with Demeter, but it was Kybele worshipped with cymbals; greatest of gods = Zeus; ant 1 for the Spartoi (sown men) see Pyth. 9.82 and Ol. 7.34; ep. 1 Pythian oracles refer to the Dorian conquest of Amyklai a few miles south of Sparta; the Spartans became allies of the Algeidai in their war against Amyklai after going to Thebes by oracle and obtaining their alliance; str. 3 the Earthholder = Poseidon, tutelary god of the Isthmian games; ep. 3 Loxias = cult title of Apollo.
In which of the past, O blessed Thebes, Str. 1
were the land’s former glories your heart most
delighted? Was it when, as companion to bronze-clashing
Demeter, you raised the sleek-haired
Dionysus, or during a midnight in gold
snow showers you received the greatest of gods,
when in Amphitryon’s doorway Ant. 1
he stood and sought his wife to beget Haerakles?
Or due to Teiresias’ densely shrewd counsels?
Or due to Iolaos’ horseman skills?
Or for Spartoi of the unwearied spears? Or when from fierce
battlecries you sent Adrastos back deprived
of countless compansions to horserich Argos? Ep. 1
Or because you established
on firm stance the Dorian colony
of the Lakedaimonians, and the Aigeidai
your offspring captured Amyklai on Pythian oracles?
But the ancient
splendor sleeps, and mortals are forgetful
of what doesn’t reach poetic wisdom’s choice peak Str. 2
yoked with the glorious streams of words;
then celebrate with a sweet-singing hymn
Strepsiadas too, for he bears at the Isthumos
victory in pancratium, awesome in strenth, handsome
to view and treats courage no less nobly than stature.
He blazes forth by the violet-haired Muses, Ant. 2
and has given a shared crown to his namesake uncle,
whom bronze shield Ares brought to a fated end;
but honor lies in recompense to brave men.
For let him know clearly, whoever in that war cloud
defends his country from a hailstorm of blood,
bearing havoc directly to the opposite army, Ep. 2
fosters the greatest glory for his townsmen’s generation,
both living and after dying.
You, son of Diodatus, emulating
warrior Meleagros, emulating also Hektor
breathed forth your blossoming youth
in the throng of foremost fighters, where the bravest Str. 3
endured the strife with their uttermost hopes.
I bore unspeakable grief; but now to me
the Earthholder has granted fair weather
after the storm. I shall sing with my hair in garlands
fitting—may the envy of immortals not throw disorder.
Whatever day to day pleasures pursuing Ant. 3
I shall at ease approach old age and the destined
lifetime. For we all equally die,
but our fate is unequal; if someone glares
at remote things, he’s scanty to reach the bronze-paved
seat of the gods; the winged Pegasus surely cast
his master, Bellerophon, desiring heaven’s dwellings Ep. 3
to enter and the assembly
of Zeus. An anti-justice
sweetness awaits the bitterest end.
But to us, O abounding with golden hair, Loxias, grant
in your contests of strength
a crown in full bloom and at Pytho as well.