Upon winning the chariot race at the Pythian games in 470, Hieron, ruler of Syracuse, was announced as a citizen of Aetna, thereby publicizing his founding of that city in 476/5 with 5,000 settlers from Syracuse and 5,000 from the Peloponnesus (Diod. Sic. 11.49). The ode celebrates that founding in a broader context of harmonious peace, achieved in the polis by good governance, maintained against foreign aggression by resolute warfare, and, on a cosmic scale, gained and held against the forces of disorder by Zeus’ power, exemplified by Typhos’ confinement under Mt. Aetna.
There has been much discussion concerning the campaign alluded to in lines 50–55, where Hieron is compared to Philoctetes. One scholion (99a) says that it is Hieron’s intervention on behalf ofWestern Locri against Anaxilas of Rhegium in 477 (cf. Pyth. 2.18–20), while many modern scholars have argued that it is Hieron’s defeat of Thrasydaeus of Acragas in 472. Most likely it is his victory at Cyme in 474, treated in lines 72–75.
The poem opens with a hymn to the Lyre, which has the power to pacify Zeus’ thunderbolt and eagle and calm the spirits of Ares and the other gods (1–12). The effect of the Muses’ song on Zeus’ enemies is one of terror, especially on Typhos, who, pinned down under Cyme (near Mt. Vesuvius) and Aetna, sends up eruptions of lava in his
tormented frustration (13–28). In the first of several prayers articulating the poem (cf. 39, 46, 58, 63, 68, and 71), the poet asks for Zeus’ favor and tells of Hieron’s victory in the Pythian chariot race, which he considers a promising sign of the city’s future success (29–38).
Using an analogy from javelin throwing, the poet expresses a hope that he will outdistance his rivals in praising Hieron (41–45), whose family has gained unsurpassed glory in warfare (46–50), while he himself, like Philoctetes, was summoned to campaign although ill (50–55).
An address to the Muse turns attention to Hieron’s son, Deinomenes, the titular king of Aetna (58–60). The city was founded in the political tradition established by the Dorian conquest of Greece (61–66); Zeus is asked to assist its rulers in maintaining peace (67–70).
The poet prays that the Carthaginians and Etruscans will remain peaceful (71–72), now that the latter have suffered defeat by Hieron at Cyme (72–75). A brief priamel cites the Athenian victory at Salamis and the Spartan victory at Plataea, and concludes with the Deinomenid victory at Himera against the Carthaginians (75–80).
The final triad turns to Hieron’s civic governance, prefaced by a concern that lengthy praise can cause tedium or resentment (81–84). Citing the proverb “envy (for success) is better than pity (for failure), ”the poet couches his praise in a series of exhortations to Hieron recommending justice, truthfulness, accountability, and generosity (85–94). Two rulers from the previous century are cited as positive and negative examples: Croesus is well remembered for his generosity, whereas Phalaris’ cruelty is abominated (94–98). Best of all is success combined with fame (99– 100).