Korinna Laughed: Making Pindar Better

Plutarch, On the Fame of Athens 348 a

“Korinna warned Pindar when he was still young and puffed up over his proper use of diction that he was an uncharming writer [a-mousos] since he did not include myths—this happens to be the work of poetry. Instead, he based his work on odd words [glosses], stretched meanings, periphrases, melodies, and rhythms, all ornaments for the subject matter. Then Pindar, trusting the things she said, wrote this line: “Ismenos or gold-staved Melia or Kadmos, or the holy generation of sewn men, or the overwhelming strength of Herakles, or the joyful rite of Dionysus.”

After he showed this to Korinna, she laughed and said one should sow with one hand, not the whole bag. In truth, Pindar mixed up and threw together every seed of myth and poured it into his song.”

Ἡ δὲ Κόριννα τὸν Πίνδαρον, ὄντα νέον ἔτι καὶ τῇ λογιότητι σοβαρῶς χρώμενον, ἐνουθέτησεν ὡς ἄμουσον ὄντα καὶ μὴ ποιοῦντα μύθους, ὃ τῆς ποιητικῆς ἔργον εἶναι συμβέβηκε, γλώττας δὲ καὶ καταχρήσεις καὶ μεταφράσεις καὶ μέλη καὶ ῥυθμοὺς ἡδύσματα τοῖς πράγμασιν ὑποτιθέντα.σφόδρ᾿ οὖν ὁ Πίνδαρος ἐπιστήσας τοῖς λεγομένοις ἐποίησεν ἐκεῖνο τὸ μέλος.

Ἰσμηνὸν ἢ χρυσαλάκατον Μελίαν,

ἢ Κάδμον ἢ σπαρτῶν ἱερὸν γένος ἀνδρῶν,

ἢ τὸ πάνυ σθένος Ἡρακλέους

ἢ τὰν Διωνύσου πολυγαθέα τιμάν.

δειξαμένου δὲ τῇ Κορίννῃ γελάσασα ἐκείνη τῇ χειρὶ δεῖν ἔφη σπείρειν, ἀλλὰ μὴ ὅλῳ τῷ θυλάκῳ. τῷ γὰρ ὄντι συγκεράσας καὶ συμφορήσας πανσπερμίαν τινὰ μύθων ὁ Πίνδαρος εἰς τὸ μέλος ἐξέχεεν.

Here’s another anecdote:

Aelian, Varia Historia 13.25

“When Pindar was competing in Thebes he encountered unlearned audiences and was defeated by Korinna five times. When he was trying to refute his own lack of poetic ability [amousia], he used to call Korinna a pig.”

Πίνδαρος ὁ ποιητὴς ἀγωνιζόμενος ἐν Θήβαις ἀμαθέσι περιπεσὼν ἀκροαταῖς ἡττήθη Κορίννης πεντάκις. ἐλέγχων δὲ τὴν ἀμουσίαν αὐτῶν ὁ Πίνδαρος σῦν ἐκάλει τὴν Κόρινναν.

We don’t have much from Korinna, but we do have the following line, which I think is appropriate for this anecdote:

“I sing of the virtues of heroes and heroines.”

ἱώνει δ᾿ εἱρώων ἀρετὰς / χεἰρωάδων

Here is a longer piece. Those who know Pindar might sense some similarities:

Fr. 2 (P.Oxy.2370, prim.ed. Lobel)

“Terpsichorê calls me
To sing fine tales
To the white-robed Tanagrean women.
And the city delights much
In my clear-voiced song.
For whatever great tales
[others have shadowed with lies]
We will sing [anew]
[over] the broad-wayed earth.
From the time of our fathers
I begin the tale for
The maidens just as I have sung
Many times, dressing up Kephisos
Our founder with words.”

ἐπί με Τερψιχόρα [καλῖ
καλὰ Ϝεροῖ’ ἀισομ[έναν
Ταναγρίδεσσι λε[υκοπέπλυς
μέγα δ’ ἐμῆς γέγ[αθε πόλις
λιγουροκω[τί]λυ[ς ἐνοπῆς.
ὅττι γὰρ μεγαλ.[
ψευδ[.]σ̣.[.]αδομ̣ε[
.[.]..ω γῆαν εὐρού[χορον
λόγια δ’ ἐπ πατέρω[ν
κοσμείσασα Ϝιδιο[
παρθ[έ]νυσι κατά [ρχομη
πο]λλὰ μὲν Κα̣φ̣[ισὸν ἱών-
γ’ ἀρχ]αγὸν κόσμ[εισα λόγυ]ς,

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