Pindar Nemean 8 on the Ajax Tragedy Revoking Homer

Pindar Nemean 8 for Deinias of Aigina, Winner Diaulos

Translated by Steven J. Willett

A red-figure vase that shows Tecmessa covering Ajax’ corpse.

Note: Pindar recounts the tragedy of Ajax far closer to the Sophocles tragedy Ajax and starkly revokes Homer’s presentation.

Word explanations: Kypris, Aphrodite; a son was born, Aiakos (Ajax); Oinona, ancient name of Aigina; the trustworthy, celebratory poetry that serves as a faithful pledge of noble deeds; the famous feet/of two men, the two running victories of Deinias and Megas; Kadmeians, encomia existed before the Nemean games were founded by Adrastos and his army on the march to Thebes.

Queen Hora, herald of Aphrodite’s 1 Str. 1

ambrosian divine embraces,

on the eyes of unwed girls

and boys settling,

you carry one person with gentle hands of necessity,

but another differently.

Desirable it is not to wander from due measure

in each endeavor

but have the ability to win more noble loves.

Such loves on the bed of Zeus and Aigina 6 Ant. 1

attended the shepherds

of Kypris’ gifts; a son was born

as king of Oinona,

finest in hand strength and mind. Many men

prayed to see him;

for unsummoned the foremost

of heroes dwelling around him

wanted to submit willingly to his commands,

those who marshaled the host in rocky Athens, 11 Ep. 1

and dependents of Pelops in Sparta.

As a suppliant of Aiakos I clasp

his sacred knees and on behalf of his beloved city

and of these citizens I am bringing

a Lydian garland embroidered with resounding song

for the double foot races of Deinias

and his father Megas as a Nemenean glory.

For planted by God’s blessing

happiness abides longer for men;

Such happiness once weighed down Kinyras with wealth 18 Str. 2

on sea-washed Cyprus.

But here I stand on very light feet

catching breath before I say anything.

For much has been said in many ways, but discovering

new ways to place them on the touchstone

for a test is sheer danger; dainty fare

are words to the envious,

and envy always clings to noblemen, never wrangles with lesser men.

That devoured the son of Telamon 23 Ant. 2

rolling him on his own sword.

Truly, a speechless man whose heart

is brave, oblivion seizes

in deadly strife; with a shifty lie

the greatest prize of honor has been offered.

For with secret votes

the Danaans indulged Odysseus;

but Aias, stripped of his golden armor, wrestled with gore.

Surely in the warm flesh of their enemies they tore 28 Ep. 2

unequal wounds as they were falling back

under man-protecting

spears, both over newly-slain Achilles

and during other toils in murderous

days. Hateful deceit existed even in the distant past,

a fellow traveler

of flattering tales, wily minded, a malignant disgrace,

which overpowers the illustrious

but holds up the rotten glory of obscure men.

May I never have such a character, 35 Str. 3

father Zeus, but on straightforward

paths of life let me travel, and when I die, fame to my children

may I leave without slander. Some pray for gold,

others for land

boundless, but I for pleasing my townsmen

until I cover my limbs with earth,

praising the praiseworthy, but sowing blame on wrongdoers.

Virtue grows, like a tree 40 Ant. 3

that springs up with glistening dew,

when lifted among men wise

and just to the moist

heavens. There are diverse needs

for friends; and while among toils

they are greatest, joy also seeks

to set before our eyes

the trustworthy. O Megas, to bring back your soul again

is impossible for me; that is the vain goal of empty hopes; 45 Ep. 3

for your homeland and the Chariadai, a loud-sounding

stone I erect

of the Muses in honoring the famous feet

of two men. I rejoice in casting

a worthy vaunt for your achievement, and a man with incantations

even under hard toil has made himself

painless; truly the song of victory

existed long ago and before arose

the strife of Adrastos and the Kadmeians.

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8 Responses to Pindar Nemean 8 on the Ajax Tragedy Revoking Homer

  1. Ishmael Zechariah says:

    Professor Willett,
    Thanks for yet another excellent poem.
    Would it be presumptuous to request an ode more overtly expounding “honor” or “virtue” ethics?

    Ishmael Zechariah

  2. Deap says:

    ….. envy always clings to noblemen, never wrangles with lesser men. ….

    The line reminds me of the very current spat between Bezos WaPo and Elon Musk. The roar of contemporary “gods”.

  3. Steven J. Willett says:

    Virtue is clearly stated toward the end of Nemean 8:

    Virtue grows, like a tree 40 Ant. 3

    that springs up with glistening dew,

    when lifted among men wise

    and just to the moist

    heavens. There are diverse needs

    for friends; and while among toils

    they are greatest, joy also seeks

    to set before our eyes

    the trustworthy.

    Here’s the Greek with original lineation:

    40αὔξεται δ᾽ ἀρετά, χλωραῖς ἐέρσαις
    ὡς ὅτε δένδρεον ᾁσσει,
    [70] ἐν σοφοῖς ἀνδρῶν ἀερθεῖσ᾽
    ἐν δικαίοις τε πρὸς ὑγρὸν
    αἰθέρα. χρεῖαι δὲ παντοῖαι φίλων ἀνδρῶν:
    τὰ μὲν ἀμφὶ πόνοις
    ὑπερώτατα: μαστεύει δὲ καὶ τέρψις ἐν ὄμμασι θέσθαι

  4. English Outsider says:

    Well, after reading it about ten times and grubbing around on the internet a bit it seems that placing this superb translation on Colonel Lang’s site at this time shows Professor Willet at his most heavily political.

    The poem is of course intended as a companion piece to Larry Johnson’s article above, “Debunking the False Insurrection Lie by the Democrats”. Good blokes get lied about and deprived of their just victory and the bad men yet again win and falsify history.

    Pindar, as Mr Johnson above, tries to put the record straight. But naturally, most of us choose the narrative we prefer rather than the facts.

    There may I suppose be other readings.

  5. Barbara Ann says:

    Very enjoyable. As English Outsider perceptively says, Ajax cheated of his prize via “secret votes” and “a shifty lie” is a good parable for contemporary events – though I doubt Trump is the kind of man to fall on his sword. Historians may look back on the events of November 3rd 2020 and indeed see rotten glory in the obscure man now ensconced in the WH.

    The same sentence Deap picked up on intrigues me, specifically the word “envy” as used in this context. Modern connotations of the word are negative and even sinful. Here the sense appears to be of a quality associated with grave injustice done as a result of rightful honor awarded elsewhere. Death before dishonor is a code few of we “lesser men” live by today and Ajax’ heroic self destruction is an important example in our culture. Pindar is very clearly seeking to set the record straight and leaving the reader in no doubt that Ajax’ actions were derived from the highest of motivations. I was motivated to re-read passages of Ajax’ glories from the Illiad that I have not read in perhaps 40 years and I thank you for that.

    As another reader has been cheeky enough to submit a request, I shall do likewise. I am entirely ignorant of the cultural roots of martial virtue and honor in Bushido. If you think it appropriate to publish an example illustrating such in an Ajax or Achilles equivalent from Japanese antiquity, I should be very interested to read it.

    • Deap says:

      I too am slowly picking my way randomly through the IIiad (ed. Fagles) and remain stunned at the gorgeousness of language, and especially the verbal simplicity when tossing out profound psychological truisms in between battle accounts. Each paragraph is a stand alone that needs to roll around slowly on both tongue and brain.

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