Pindar Isthmian 7 for Strepsiadas, Winner of Pancratium

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

and Amphiaraos,

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.


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3 Responses to Pindar Isthmian 7 for Strepsiadas, Winner of Pancratium

  1. Avatar mcohen says:

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