If the scholiastic headnote is correct, the date of Aristomenes’ victory is 446, making this the latest ode in the collection. There has been much speculation on the ode’s historical circumstances, especially the troubled relations between Aegina and Athens, but it must remain mere speculation, since the poem contains no overt reference to Athens.
A puzzling feature is the poet’s statement that Alcman was his neighbor, the guardian of his possessions, and had prophesied to him as he traveled to Delphi (58–60). From the time of the scholia questions have arisen about the content of the prophecy (was it a prediction of Aristomenes’ victory?) and, more importantly, whether the poet is speaking in his own person or for the chorus. Either choice involves difficulties; on balance a slightly stronger case can be made for the poet as speaker.
A recurrent theme in the ode is the alternation of failure and success, evident in the narrative, in which the disaster of Adrastus’ first expedition against Thebes is followed by the success ten years later of a second, though at the cost of his son’s life; in the description of the four defeated athletes’ homecoming; and in the famous concluding lines on the fragility of the human condition (“a dream of a shadow”). The address, ὦ παῖ (33), and the reference
to “mother” (85) point to Aristomenes’ youthfulness, but there is no clear indication that his victory was in the boys’ division.
The ode opens with a hymn to Hesychia (Peace, Concord) (1–5). She fosters gentleness, but when provoked, she is a formidable adversary, as Porphyrion and Typhos discovered (6–20).
The island of Aegina is celebrated for its heroes, the Aeacidae, and for its men (21–28), but the poet declines to go into detail about them (29–32). Instead, he praises Aristomenes, who, by imitating his uncles’ success in athletics, merits what Amphiaraus prophesied as the Epigoni were fighting before Thebes (32–42). After noting that sons inherit their fathers’ determination, as in the case of his own son Alcman, Amphiaraus predicted that Adrastus would be victorious, but would lose his son (43– 55). Alcman is praised for prophesying to the poet on his way to Delphi (56–60).
Pindar mentions victories granted to Aristomenes by Apollo in his festivals at Pytho and on Aegina, and asks for the gods’ continued favor (61–72). If men are successful without great effort, many think them wise, but in fact the gods determine who prevails (73–77).
After listing Aristomenes’ victories at Megara, Marathon, and Aegina, the poet depicts the unhappy homecoming of the four opponents he defeated at Delphi (78–87). Unlike them, the victor is soaring because of his recent accomplishment and has high aspirations (88–92). But joy is transitory, and man’s existence is insubstantial; nevertheless, when the gods grant success, life is gentle (93– 97). The poem concludes with a prayer for Zeus and the Aeacidae to preserve Aegina’s freedom (98–100).