Olympian 1 celebrates Hieron’s victory in the singlehorse race (keles) in 476 (confirmed by P. Oxy. 222). The more prestigious four-horse chariot race (tethrippon) was won by Theron of Acragas and celebrated by Pindar in Olympians 2 and 3. In the normal order established by the Alexandrian editors, it would have followed the odes to Theron, but the Vita Thomana reports (1.7 Dr.) that Aristophanes of Byzantium placed Olympian 1 first in the collection because it “contained praise of the Olympic games and told of Pelops, the first to compete in Elis.”
The ode opens with a priamel, in which water and gold, best in their respective realms, serve as foil for the greatest of games, the Olympics (1–7). Hieron is briefly praised for his wealth, hospitality, political power, achievements celebrated in song (8–17), and in particular for the Olympic victory of his horse Pherenicus (17–23).
The central portion of the poem contains Pindar’s refashioning of the story of Pelops. Little is known about this myth before Pindar, but a former version (cf. 36) seems to have been that Tantalus served his dismembered son Pelops at a banquet for the gods, who, upon discovering this, resurrected him from the cauldron, replaced part of his shoulder (supposedly eaten by Demeter) with ivory, and punished Tantalus in Hades. Pindar attributes the
appeal of such a tale to the charm of exaggerated story telling (28–32) and its details to the gossip of an envious neighbor (46–51). In Pindar’s version, Pelops was born with an ivory shoulder (26–27) and Tantalus gave a most proper feast (38), at which Poseidon fell in love with Pelops and took him to Olympus as Zeus later did with Ganymede (37–45). Tantalus’ punishment resulted from stealing nectar and ambrosia from the gods and sharing them with his human companions (55–64). As a consequence, Pelops was returned to earth (65–66). When he grew to young manhood, he desired to win Hippodameia in the contest contrived by her father Oenomaus, who killed all suitors unable to beat him in a chariot race. He called upon his former lover Poseidon for help and the god gave him a golden chariot and winged horses, with which he defeated Oenomaus, thereby winning Hippodameia, by whom he had six sons (67–89). Pelops’ tomb now stands beside the altar of Zeus at Olympia (90–93).
Pindar mentions the fame and satisfaction belonging to Olympic victors (93–99), praises Hieron as the most knowledgeable and powerful host of his time (100–108), and hopes that he will be able to celebrate a future chariot victory (108–111). In a brief priamel, he declares that kings occupy the apex of greatness, and concludes by praying that Hieron may enjoy his high status for the rest of his life and that he himself may celebrate victors as the foremost Panhellenic poet (111–116).