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Pindar

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Bust of Pindar at the Capitoline Museums

Bust of Pindar at the Capitoline Museums

Marie-Lan Nguyen/Wikimedia Commons.
Definition:

Name: Pindar
Dates: 522/518 - c.433 B.C.
Occupation: Poet


Birthplace: Boeotia

Biographical Data

Pindar, although difficult for many of us today to read or appreciate, was considered one of, if not the greatest Greek lyric poet.

He was born at the time of the Pythian festival at Delphi in either the 65th Olympiad (518) according to the Suda, or in the 64th Olympiad, 4 years earlier, at Cynoscephalae, near Thebes, in Boeotia.

A contemporary of Aeschylus, Pindar was around 40 years of age during the Persian War of 481-479 B.C. He probably died in 443 B.C. at Argos, at around the age of 80. His daughters, Protomache and Eumetis [Pindar: The Olympian and Pythian Odes. Basil L. Gildersleeve. Anne Mahoney. edited for Perseus. New York. Harper and Brothers. 1885.], brought his ashes back to Thebes where a tomb was built and mentioned centuries later by the travel writer Pausanias [Loeb edition of the Odes of Pindar, edited by Sandys].

Use of Mythology

Because Pindar was so valued in antiquity, much of his poetry survives at least in quotations. He is now valued for information contained in his poetry on the ancient games and Greek mythology. Much of his material may seem obscure and there is a repetitious nature to the biographical detail he provides on those men he celebrates. As a result, students often resist working on him. [The Extant Odes of Pindar, by Ernest Myers; 1884].

Pindar had a problem at the start of his career with the amount of mythological detail he used. His rival, the female poet Corinna faulted him, according to Sandys, for failing to use mythological material in his lyric, so he went the other way and used it too liberally. He was then chided for his heavy-handedness.

Training

It is possible that Pindar's family was Spartan, but he was Boeotian, home also of the epic poet Hesiod. Boeotia was considered somewhat backwards. This influence may explain Pindar's conservatism, although he studied music (stringed instruments and the aulos 'flute') at the center of Greek culture, in Athens, where he studied lyric composition under Agathocles, Apollodorus, and Lasus of Hermione, following his initial instruction at home under Scopelinus, who may have been his father or uncle. Sandys says his parents were Daiaphantus and Cleodice. He returned to his homeland of Thebes at about age 20 when he started his career as a lyric poet. [Source: Selected Odes of Pindar, by Thomas D. Seymour, 1882.]

Pindar's Lyric Poetry

He is said to have been a contemporary of the poet Corinna, who beat him in poetic competition. Pindar, however, won first place in the dithyrambic competition at the Great Dionysia in c. 497/6.

Pindar's 44 epinicia (victory odes) are divided into Olympic, Pythian (the time of Pindar's birth, noted above)), Isthmian, and Nemean, for the names of the panhellenic games.

For details on the transmission of the text of Pindar, see "The Pindar Scholia," by Mary R. Lefkowitz. The American Journal of Philology, Vol. 106, No. 3 (Autumn, 1985), pp. 269-282.

Also see: "Autobiographical Fiction in Pindar", by Mary Lefkowitz. Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, Vol. 84, (1980), pp. 29-49

and

"An Early Fifth-Century Athenian Revolution in Aulos Music," by Robert W. Wallace. Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, Vol. 101, (2003), pp. 73-92.

Pindar is on the list of Most Important People to Know in Ancient History.

Examples:
When Alexander the Great devastated Thebes in 335 B.C., he deliberately spared the house of Pindar.

Pindar's work is associated with that of the Greek poets Simonides of Ceos and his nephew Bacchylides, all three canonical lyric poets.

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