From the time of its founding, the Pythian festival included musical contests. In 490 Midas of Acragas won the competition for the aulos, which I have translated by “pipe,” but was in fact more like a modern clarinet or oboe and consisted of a bronze mouthpiece and reed body. Traditionally the invention of Athena, it was known for its expressive range (cf. πάμφωνον at 19 and Ol. 7.12) and especially for the “many headed tune,” whose invention Pindar also attributes to Athena.
The story of Danaë, merely sketched by Pindar in ring composition, is as follows. King Acrisius of Argos, fearing that the child born to his daughter Danaë would supplant him, locked her up in a tower. Zeus came to her in a shower of gold and sired Perseus. When the king learned of it, he shut the mother and her baby in a chest and put them out to sea. They came ashore on the island of Seriphus, where King Polydectes kept them for many years, making Danaë his mistress. When he invited the leaders of Seriphus to come to a feast and bring him gifts, the young Perseus went off to acquire the head of the Gorgon Medusa as his present. By stealing the one eye belonging to the Graeae, Phorcus’ daughters, he forced them to reveal the location of their three sisters, the Gorgons. With the help of
Athena, Perseus cut off Medusa’s head, brought it to the banquet, and turned his enemies to stone.
The poem opens with an invocation of Acragas (as nymph and city) to accept this celebration of Midas for his victorious pipe playing at Pytho (1–6). Athena invented the art of pipe playing when she reproduced in music the Gorgons’ dirge for their sister, Medusa, after Perseus carried off her head, with which he turned the people of Seriphus to stone (6–12). He blinded the Graeae and punished Polydectes for his enslavement of Danaë (13–18), after which Athena composed the “many-headed tune” in imitation of Euryale’s lament for her sister, and gave it to mortals (18–23). It still serves to summon people to the games and to lead dances (24–27).
The ode closes with a series of gnomes stressing the hard work necessary for success and the unpredictability of divine gifts (28–32).