Pindar, Olympian Odes

LCL 56: 60-61

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Pindar

OLYMPIAN 2

Olympians 2 and 3 celebrate the victory of Theron of Acragas with the tethrippon in 476. The city of Acragas (modern Agrigento), a colony of Gela, flourished under Theron and his brother Xenocrates (also celebrated in Pyth. 6 and Isth. 2), who belonged to the clan of the Emmenidae and claimed a Theban hero Thersandrus as an ancestor. Theron became tyrant of Acragas around 488 and conquered Himera in 482. In 480 he and Gelon of Syracuse defeated the Carthaginians at the battle of Himera, spoils from which helped make Acragas one of the most splendid cities in Western Greece.

The ode opens with a priamel (imitated by Horace, Odes 1.12), which culminates in Theron’s Olympic victory (1–6). He is praised for his hospitality to foreigners and for his civic-mindedness, as the most recent in a distinguished family of benefactors who have labored on behalf of Acragas. The poet seals his praise with a prayer to Zeus as god of Olympia that their progeny may inherit the land (6–15).

Gnomic reflections follow: time cannot change what has happened in the past, but good fortune can bring forgetfulness and quell the pain (15–22). Two Theban examples are cited: Semele, who, slain by Zeus’ thunderbolt, is beloved on Olympus and Ino, who enjoys immortality in

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Pindar

the sea among the Nereids (22–30). Humans, however, do not know when they will die, or if a day will end well, because they are subject to alternations of happiness and suffering (30–34). So it was with Theron’s ancestors: Oedipus slew his father Laius and the Fury of vengeance (Erinys) caused his sons to kill each other, but Polyneices’ son Thersandrus survived to win glory in athletics and war and to continue the line of Adrastus, king of Argos (35–45).

As a descendant of Thersandrus, Theron deserves to be celebrated, because he has won an Olympic victory, as his brother has won chariot victories at Delphi and at the Isthmus (46–51). Several gnomic reflections follow on the proper use of wealth for virtuous ends and on the punishment that awaits the spirits of evildoers after death (51– 58), in the midst of which Pindar gives an account of the afterlife, the most extensive in his extant poetry, which envisions the transmigration of souls and their reward and punishment. The passage culminates in a description of the Isle of the Blessed, inhabited by those who have lived just lives through three cycles: Peleus, Cadmus, and Achilles (58–83).

Appearing in the guise of an archer, the poet declares that he has many things to say, but declines to do so, further comparing himself to an eagle who is wise by nature in contrast to mere learners who are like crows (83–88). Taking aim with his arrows at Acragas, he declares that no city in a century has produced a man more generous and kind than Theron. He then stops short of enumerating Theron’s benefactions because, like grains of sand, they cannot be counted (89–100).

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DOI: 10.4159/DLCL.pindar-olympian_odes.1997