Pythian 2 is one of the most difficult Pindaric odes to interpret. The venue of the chariot victory is not specified, and none of the possibilities proposed by the scholia (Delphi, Nemea, Athens, and Olympia) or by modern scholars (Thebes and Syracuse) is compelling. Furthermore, if the poem’s one historical allusion in 18–20 refers (as the scholia claim) to Hieron’s protection of Western Locri against Anaxilas of Rhegium in 477, then it merely provides a terminus post quem for the poem’s composition. Another difficulty is that the extensive narrative of Ixion’s ingratitude and punishment seems excessively negative for a celebratory ode; in contrast, in Ol. 1 Tantalus’ malfeasance is counterbalanced by Pelops’ heroic achievement. The meaning of the allusions to this poem as “Phoenician merchandise” (67) and a “Castor song” (69) remains unclear. Finally, the unparalleled concluding section beginning at 69 warns against the dangers posed by slanderers, flatterers, and envious men in a series of rapidly shifting images that contain many obscure details.
The poet says that he comes from Thebes to Syracuse, bringing news of Hieron’s chariot victory, in which he was assisted by Artemis, Hermes, and Poseidon (1–12). In a summary priamel Pindar notes that many kings have been
praised for their achievements and gives two examples: Cinyras of Cyprus and Hieron (13–20).
Ixion, as he turns on his wheel, advises mortals to repay benefactors (21–24), a lesson he learned when, despite his happy life with the immortals, he tried to rape Hera. Zeus deceived him by fashioning a cloud that looked like Hera, and for his punishment bound him to a four-spoke wheel (25–41). Meanwhile, the cloud bore Centaurus, who mated with Magnesian mares and sired the Centaurs (42–48). The narrative concludes with the observation that the gods fulfill all their designs (49–52).
The poet states that he must avoid being a censurer like Archilochus; instead, he takes god-given wealth as his theme (52–56). Hieron provides him a clear example, whom no Greek has ever surpassed in wealth or honor (57–61). He is extolled for his glorious military campaigns and for his mature wisdom (62–67).
After bidding Hieron farewell in the style of hymns, the poet compares his poem thus far to Phoenician merchandise (perhaps because it is of high quality and was paid for) and asks Hieron to look favorably upon the forthcoming Castor song (67–71). He urges Hieron to imitate Rhadamanthys and not be deceived by slanderers (72–78). The poet declares himself above such behavior (79–80), and abjures deceitful flattery, being instead a straightforward friend or foe of a sort that excels under every form of government (81–88). Envious men are not satisfied with god-given success and injure themselves by their own schemes (88–92). We must accept the constraints of our situation, for resisting is futile; the poet hopes to enjoy the company of good men (93–96).