Pindar Pythian 11 for Thrasydaios of Thebes,
Winner of Boys’ Stadion
Translated by Steven J. Willett
This superb vase shows Aegisthus killing Agamemnon with Clytemnestra driving him from behind and Orestes gesturing against the murder.
Note 1: The central drama of this ode, sometimes called a “little Oresteia,” is a narrative of Clytemnestra’s murder of Agamemnon. The story is recounted with almost Aeschylean power in ring composition that sharply contrasts with the renowned success of the victor and his family. This explains why Pindar in Antistrophe 3 questions his reasons for veering from the straight road of encomium into the Atreus family tragedy. The explanation, in the end, comes down to economics.
Note 2: I used the Alexandrian metrical scansion from Pindaro Le Pitiche, ed. Bruno Gentili (Fondazione Lorenzo Valla, 1998). This scans the strophe and antistrophe in 6 lines (opposed to 5 lines in the standard version) and the epode in 6 lines (with 6 lines in the standard version). The analysis of the metrical cola also differs from the standard analysis. Reading the first ring triad may be somewhat difficult because it runs continuously from beginning to the end without a full syntactical break. I’ve tried to make it as readable and fluid as possible.
Note 3: The stadion was a running event in the Ancient Olympic Games and the other Panhellenic Games. Its main event was gymnikos agon (γυμνικὸς ἀγών “nude competition”).
Name explanations by ring strophe: str. 1 Semele and Ino are the daughters of Kadmos and Harmonia; the mother of Herakles is Alkmene; Melia is the mother of Teneros and Ismenos by Apollo; Loxias is the cult name of Apollo in his prophetic guise. ant. 1 Ismenion is the temple of Apollo named for his son Ismenos, famous for prophesy; Themis occupied the Delphic throne before Apollo; the third garland is probably the third Pythian victory of his family; Pindar places Agamemnon’s palace at Amyklai in Laconia. str. 2 his father was slain = Agamemnon. ant. 2 Euripos is the strait between Attika and Euboia; an offense most hateful is adultery. str. 3 the prophetic maiden is Kassandra; Strophios is Pylades’ father, king of Phokis, and Pylades was a friend of Orestes. ep. 3 Puthonikos may be an epithet of a Pythian victor.
Daughters of Kadmos, Semele, neighbor of Olympians, Str. 1
and Ino Leukothea,
sharing the chamber of the Neread sea nymphs,
go with Herakles’ most nobly-born
mother to join Melia at the sanctuary of golden tripods,
the treasury that Loxias honored above all
and named the Ismenion, the true seat of prophets, Ant. 1
O daughters of Harmonia,
there even now he calls the native host
of heroines to gather together
so you may loudly sing holy Themis, Pytho and greatest
true-judging center of earth on the edge of evening
in honor of seven-gated Thebes Ep. 1
and the struggle at Kirrha,
where Thrasydaios enfamed the hearth
of his fathers casting on it the third garland,
having won in the bountiful fields of Pylades,
the guest-friend of Laconian Orestes.
Whom, indeed, as his father was slain by Klutaimestra’s Str. 2
mighty hands, nurse Arsinoa
carried away from her direful treachery
when with hoary bronze she drove Kassandra,
Dardanian Priam’s daughter, along with Agamemnon’s
soul, to the shadowy bank of Acheron–
that ruthless woman. Was it then Iphigeneia’s Ant. 2
sacrifice at Euripos, far from homeland,
that grated her to incite her heavy-handed wrath?
Or overcome by another bed
nightly sleeping together debauched her? For young wives
an offense most hateful and impossible to hide
from others’ tongues; Ep. 2
citizens are scandalmongers.
For wealth sustains envy matching it;
he who breathes meekly rumbles unnoticed.
Atreus’ heroic son himself died
coming at last to famous Amyklai,
and slew the prophetic maiden, when for Helen’s sake Str. 3
Trojan houses, visited with fire, he ravaged
of their affluence. The young boy, though, reached
at distance his aged friend, Strophios,
who dwelt at the foot of Parnassos; but at last with Ares
he slew his mother and laid Aigithos low in gore.
Was I, O friends, whirled offtrack by a forking road, Ant. 3
having travelled down a straight path
before then, or did some wind throw me
off my sailing course, like a skiff at sea?
Muse, it’s your task, if you agreed on payment to hire
your voice for silver, to stir it up this way or that,
either to his father Puthonikos Ep. 3
or now to Thrasydaios,
for their joyfulness and renown are ablaze.
They were victorious of old with their chariots
and from the famous contests at Olympia
captured swift radiance with their horses,
and at Pytho entering the foot race put to shame Str. 4
the Hellenic host
with their speed. May I long for blessings from god,
seeking what’s possible at my age.
For finding that in a city the middle estate has flourished
with longer prosperity, I censure the lot of tyrranies.
I strain for shared excellence; envious men are rebuffed. Ant. 4
But if a man winning the peak
and dwelling in peace has escaped
dreadful insolence, he would reach a shore
nobler than black death, to his sweetest offspring
giving best of possessions, the grace of a good name.
That grace makes Iphikles’ son Ep. 4
Iolaos known widely
for praise in hymns, and mighty Kastor,
and you, lord Polydeukes, sons of the gods:
one day dwelling at your homes in Therapna,
and the next day in Olympus.
That’s heavy and you know it.
Fascinating but highly complex it is, Greek Mythology. 😉
Poetic complexity comes in many forms, but not always heavy. How about Paul Celan in Todesfuge or one of my favorites, the simple Psalm:
Niemand knetet uns wieder aus Erde und Lehm,
niemand bespricht unsern Staub.
Gelobt seist du, Niemand.
Dir zulieb wollen
waren wir, sind wir, werden
wir bleiben, blühend:
die Nichts-, die
Dem Griffel seelenhell,
Dem Staubfaden himmelswüst,
der Krone rot
vom Purpurwort, das wir sangen
über, o über
Celan’s Todesfuge was always important for me. As his suicide …
Du liegst im großen Gelausche,
Geh du zur Spree, geh zur Havel,
geh zu den Fleischerhaken,
zu den roten Äppelstaken
aus Schweden –
To be quite honest, the first thing on my mind while reading your latest post, nitwit that I am, more on the surface was a minor felt theme on SST, deeper more personally privately haunting the suicide of a prof … The profs original thesis was on Greek theater.
That is an interesting take on Clytemnestra. A hatchet job? I had heard that she did the murder herself when Agamemnon was in the bathtub. A la Charlotte Corday and Marat. Or vice-versa, as I read somewhere that Charlotte got the idea from one of the Greek tragedies.