Shining Fame and Deceptive Tales: Pindar’s First Olympian

N. B. This is a guest post from Larry Benn, who has a fine site already and offers translations and other posts.

Pindar, Olympian  1 (go here for original post)

water is best,
although gold is like fire blazing in the night:
it stands out, the most eye-catching of great-man wealth.
but if you wish to sing of the athletic games,
my dear heart, look no further than the sun for a more warming star
shining in the day through the lonely aether,

and let us not proclaim a contest greater than Olympia.
it is from there comes the famous ode encircling
the thoughts of the skillful artists
who have come to praise the son of Kronos
at the rich blessed hearth of Hieron,
the man who wields the scepter of law in sheep-rich Sicily,
plucking the best of every excellent thing,
and as such he delights in the best of music,
such as we men often play
around his welcoming table.

take the Dorian lyre from the peg
if the beauty of Pisa and Pherenicus
placed your mind under the sweetest musings
when his horse rushed along the Alpheus
giving itself to the race without need of the spur,
and it wedded victory to its master,
the horse-loving king of Syracuse!

fame shines for him in the populous colony of Lydian Pelops,
he for whom mighty Earth-bearer Poseidon lusted
when Klotho lifted him from the immaculate cauldron,
his shoulder, fitted with ivory, gleaming.
true, there are many wonders;
yet it cannot be doubted
what men say is also,
to some degree,
beyond the factual account.

stories embroidered with intricately woven falsehoods deceive.
but grace, which presents all things to mortals as pleasant,
by bestowing honor oftentimes makes even the unreliable become the trusted thing.
but, the days to come are the wisest witnesses.

it is proper for a man to speak well of the gods
as it lessens their negative judgment.
but son of Tantalus, contrary to my predecessors, I will tell you:
when your father summoned to that well-ordered feast and to dear Sipylus,
offering the gods a meal in return for theirs,
it was then that Radiant-Trident grabbed you,
overwhelmed by his soul’s desire
to carry you off on golden horses
up to the loftiest home of widely honored Zeus.
there, at a later time,
Ganymede also went to Zeus
for the same purpose.
but when you disappeared,
and the men searching hard did not fetch you to your mother,
one of the envious neighbors at once whispered
that with a knife they cut you limb from limb
into water at boil on the fire,
and around the tables,
for the last course,
they divided and ate your flesh.
impossible—for me to call any of the blessed ones gluttonous!
I will stay away from that.
privation often makes off with slanderous men.

if indeed the keepers of Olympus
honored any mortal man, it was this Tantalus.
but as he was unable to stomach his great good fortune,
for his insolence a punishment seized on the overweening man
in the form of a huge stone which his father hung over him.
always needing to swat it away from his head,
he was banished from joy.
he bore this unmanageable, ever-distressing life with its three labors—
and a fourth: for stealing from the immortals nectar and ambrosia
with which they had made him deathless,
and which he gave to his drinking companions.
if any man supposes he conceals what he’s doing from the gods,
he’s mistaken.

this is why the immortals sent his son back
among the short-lived race of men again.
when nearing the age of youth’s blossoming,
the first showings of a beard covering his chin with black,
he, the son, pondered how to win marriage–
already planned by her Pisan father–
to famous Hippodameia.
drawing near the grey sea,
alone in the dark of night,
he called out to the loud-roaring Trident-Bearing One,
who then appeared, right by his foot.
he said to him: “if the beloved gifts of Cypris
end in any gratitude, Poseidon, come!
stay Oinomaos’s bronze spear;
carry me into Elis in the swiftest chariots;
and draw me close to victory.
seeing that he’s killed thirteen men (the suitors),
he’s putting off his daughter’s marriage.
the great undertaking does not possess a weak man.
but since to die is destiny for men,
why would one nurse an undistinguished old age,
idling in the shadow lacking purpose,
having no share in all that is noble?
no, this struggle will be my future.
bestow on me a pleasing success!”
thus he spoke and had not fixed on fruitless words.
indeed, honoring him,
the god bestowed a golden chariot
and untiring winged horses as well.

and so he defeated strong Oinomaos
and took the maiden as his consort.
he fathered sons striving for glory;
first in rank among men.
and now he is included in the splendid blood rites
as he reclines by the stream of the Alpheus.
his well-attended tomb is beside the altar most often visited by strangers.
the glory of Pelops shine from afar
in the racecourses of the Olympic festivals
where there are contests in swiftness of foot
and grueling efforts of strength.

for the remainder of his life the winner of the contests has sweet tranquility,
as far as games can provide.
in contrast, the highest blessing comes to all men,
all of the time in the daily course of things.
still, I’m obliged to crown that man
with the equine tune in Aeolian song.
I’m sure there isn’t some other host
experienced in noble things
and more distinguished in power (today at any rate)
to embroider in the splendid folds of hymns.
a god, being a guardian,
attends to your ambitions, Hieron.
this he has as a concern.
if, as I hope, he does not depart in a rush,
I expect to celebrate your even sweeter ambition with the swift chariot,
finding the road an ally of words as I come to the sunny hill of Kronos.
although the Muse jealously guards a most potent dart for me,
and different people are great at different things,
it is with kings the peak caps itself!
look no further.
may you walk your time on high
and may I consort with victors just as long,
far-famed for wisdom among the Hellenes everywhere.

File:Vatican G 23 Group - Black-figure Pseudo-Panathenaic Amphora - Walters 482105 - Detail B.jpg
Black-figure Pseudo-Panathenaic Amphora


ἄριστον μὲν ὕδωρ, ὁ δὲ χρυσὸς αἰθόμενον πῦρ
ἅτε διαπρέπει νυκτὶ μεγάνορος ἔξοχα πλούτου:
εἰ δ᾽ ἄεθλα γαρύεν
ἔλδεαι, φίλον ἦτορ,
5μηκέθ᾽ ἁλίου σκόπει
[10] ἄλλο θαλπνότερον ἐν ἁμέρᾳ φαεννὸν ἄστρον ἐρήμας δι᾽ αἰθέρος,
μηδ᾽ Ὀλυμπίας ἀγῶνα φέρτερον αὐδάσομεν:
ὅθεν ὁ πολύφατος ὕμνος ἀμφιβάλλεται
σοφῶν μητίεσσι, κελαδεῖν
10Κρόνου παῖδ᾽ ἐς ἀφνεὰν ἱκομένους
μάκαιραν Ἱέρωνος ἑστίαν,
θεμιστεῖον ὃς ἀμφέπει σκᾶπτον ἐν πολυμάλῳ
[20] Σικελίᾳ, δρέπων μὲν κορυφὰς ἀρετᾶν ἄπο πασᾶν,
ἀγλαΐζεται δὲ καὶ
15μουσικᾶς ἐν ἀώτῳ,
οἷα παίζομεν φίλαν
ἄνδρες ἀμφὶ θαμὰ τράπεζαν. ἀλλὰ Δωρίαν ἀπὸ φόρμιγγα πασσάλου
λάμβαν᾽, εἴ τί τοι Πίσας τε καὶ Φερενίκου χάρις
[30] νόον ὑπὸ γλυκυτάταις ἔθηκε φροντίσιν,
20ὅτε παρ᾽ Ἀλφεῷ σύτο, δέμας
ἀκέντητον ἐν δρόμοισι παρέχων,
κράτει δὲ προσέμιξε δεσπόταν,
Συρακόσιον ἱπποχάρμαν βασιλῆα. λάμπει δέ οἱ κλέος

ἐν εὐάνορι Λυδοῦ Πέλοπος ἀποικίᾳ:
25τοῦ μεγασθενὴς ἐράσσατο γαιάοχος
[40] Ποσειδᾶν, ἐπεί νιν καθαροῦ λέβητος ἔξελε Κλωθὼ
ἐλέφαντι φαίδιμον ὦμον κεκαδμένον.
ἦ θαυματὰ πολλά, καί πού τι καὶ βροτῶν φάτις ὑπὲρ τὸν ἀλαθῆ λόγον
δεδαιδαλμένοι ψεύδεσι ποικίλοις ἐξαπατῶντι μῦθοι
30Χάρις δ᾽, ἅπερ ἅπαντα τεύχει τὰ μείλιχα θνατοῖς,
[50] ἐπιφέροισα τιμὰν καὶ ἄπιστον ἐμήσατο πιστὸν
ἔμμεναι τὸ πολλάκις:
ἁμέραι δ᾽ ἐπίλοιποι
μάρτυρες σοφώτατοι.
ἔστι δ᾽ ἀνδρὶ φάμεν ἐοικὸς ἀμφὶ δαιμόνων καλά: μείων γὰρ αἰτία.
υἱὲ Ταντάλου, σὲ δ᾽, ἀντία προτέρων, φθέγξομαι,
[60] ὁπότ᾽ ἐκάλεσε πατὴρ τὸν εὐνομώτατον
ἐς ἔρανον φίλαν τε Σίπυλον,
ἀμοιβαῖα θεοῖσι δεῖπνα παρέχων,
40τότ᾽ Ἀγλαοτρίαιναν ἁρπάσαι
δαμέντα φρένας ἱμέρῳ χρυσέαισί τ᾽ ἀν᾽ ἵπποις
ὕπατον εὐρυτίμου ποτὶ δῶμα Διὸς μεταβᾶσαι,
ἔνθα δευτέρῳ χρόνῳ
[70] ἦλθε καὶ Γανυμήδης
45Ζηνὶ τωὔτ᾽ ἐπὶ χρέος.
ὡς δ᾽ ἄφαντος ἔπελες, οὐδὲ ματρὶ πολλὰ μαιόμενοι φῶτες ἄγαγον,
ἔννεπε κρυφᾶ τις αὐτίκα φθονερῶν γειτόνων,
ὕδατος ὅτι σε πυρὶ ζέοισαν εἰς ἀκμὰν
μαχαίρᾳ τάμον κάτα μέλη,
50[80] τραπέζαισί τ᾽, ἀμφὶ δεύτατα, κρεῶν
σέθεν διεδάσαντο καὶ φάγον.

ἐμοὶ δ᾽ ἄπορα γαστρίμαργον μακάρων τιν᾽ εἰπεῖν. ἀφίσταμαι.
ἀκέρδεια λέλογχεν θαμινὰ κακαγόρους.
εἰ δὲ δή τιν᾽ ἄνδρα θνατὸν Ὀλύμπου σκοποὶ
55ἐτίμασαν, ἦν Τάνταλος οὗτος: ἀλλὰ γὰρ καταπέψαι
μέγαν ὄλβον οὐκ ἐδυνάσθη, κόρῳ δ᾽ ἕλεν
[90] ἄταν ὑπέροπλον, ἅν οἱ πατὴρ ὑπερκρέμασε καρτερὸν αὐτῷ λίθον,
τὸν αἰεὶ μενοινῶν κεφαλᾶς βαλεῖν εὐφροσύνας ἀλᾶται.

ἔχει δ᾽ ἀπάλαμον βίον τοῦτον ἐμπεδόμοχθον,
60μετὰ τριῶν τέταρτον πόνον, ἀθανάτων ὅτι κλέψαις
ἁλίκεσσι συμπόταις
[100] νέκταρ ἀμβροσίαν τε
δῶκεν, οἷσιν ἄφθιτον
θῆκαν. εἰ δὲ θεὸν ἀνήρ τις ἔλπεταί τι λαθέμεν ἔρδων, ἁμαρτάνει.

τοὔνεκα προῆκαν υἱὸν ἀθάνατοί οἱ πάλιν
μετὰ τὸ ταχύποτμον αὖτις ἀνέρων ἔθνος.
πρὸς εὐάνθεμον δ᾽ ὅτε φυὰν
[110] λάχναι νιν μέλαν γένειον ἔρεφον.
ἑτοῖμον ἀνεφρόντισεν γάμον
70Πισάτα παρὰ πατρὸς εὔδοξον Ἱπποδάμειαν
σχεθέμεν. ἐγγὺς ἐλθὼν πολιᾶς ἁλὸς οἶος ἐν ὄρφνᾳ
ἄπυεν βαρύκτυπον
Εὐτρίαιναν: ὁ δ᾽ αὐτῷ
πὰρ ποδὶ σχεδὸν φάνη.

[120] τῷ μὲν εἶπε: ‘φίλια δῶρα Κυπρίας ἄγ᾽ εἴ τι, Ποσείδαον, ἐς χάριν
τέλλεται, πέδασον ἔγχος Οἰνομάου χάλκεον,
ἐμὲ δ᾽ ἐπὶ ταχυτάτων πόρευσον ἁρμάτων
ἐς Ἆλιν, κράτει δὲ πέλασον.
ἐπεὶ τρεῖς τε καὶ δέκ᾽ ἄνδρας ὀλέσαις
80ἐρῶντας ἀναβάλλεται γάμον
[130] θυγατρός. ὁ μέγας δὲ κίνδυνος ἄναλκιν οὐ φῶτα λαμβάνει.
θανεῖν δ᾽ οἷσιν ἀνάγκα, τί κέ τις ἀνώνυμον
γῆρας ἐν σκότῳ καθήμενος ἕψοι μάταν,
ἁπάντων καλῶν ἄμμορος; ἀλλ᾽ ἐμοὶ μὲν οὗτος ἄεθλος
85ὑποκείσεται: τὺ δὲ πρᾶξιν φίλαν δίδοι.’

ὣς ἔννεπεν: οὐδ᾽ ἀκράντοις ἐφάψατ᾽ ὦν ἔπεσι. τὸν μὲν ἀγάλλων θεὸς
[140] ἔδωκεν δίφρον τε χρύσεον πτεροῖσίν τ᾽ ἀκάμαντας ἵππους.
ἕλεν δ᾽ Οἰνομάου βίαν παρθένον τε σύνευνον:
τέκε τε λαγέτας ἓξ ἀρεταῖσι μεμαότας υἱούς.
90νῦν δ᾽ ἐν αἱμακουρίαις
ἀγλααῖσι μέμικται,
Ἀλφεοῦ πόρῳ κλιθείς,
[150] τύμβον ἀμφίπολον ἔχων πολυξενωτάτῳ παρὰ βωμῷ. τὸ δὲ κλέος
τηλόθεν δέδορκε τᾶν Ὀλυμπιάδων ἐν δρόμοις
95Πέλοπος, ἵνα ταχυτὰς ποδῶν ἐρίζεται
ἀκμαί τ᾽ ἰσχύος θρασύπονοι:

ὁ νικῶν δὲ λοιπὸν ἀμφὶ βίοτον
ἔχει μελιτόεσσαν εὐδίαν
[160] ἀέθλων γ᾽ ἕνεκεν. τὸ δ᾽ αἰεὶ παράμερον ἐσλὸν
100ὕπατον ἔρχεται παντὶ βροτῶν. ἐμὲ δὲ στεφανῶσαι
κεῖνον ἱππίῳ νόμῳ
Αἰοληΐδι μολπᾷ
χρή: πέποιθα δὲ ξένον

μή τιν᾽, ἀμφότερα καλῶν τε ἴδριν ἁμᾷ καὶ δύναμιν κυριώτερον,
105τῶν γε νῦν κλυταῖσι δαιδαλωσέμεν ὕμνων πτυχαῖς.
[170] θεὸς ἐπίτροπος ἐὼν τεαῖσι μήδεται
ἔχων τοῦτο κᾶδος, Ἱέρων,
μερίμναισιν: εἰ δὲ μὴ ταχὺ λίποι,
ἔτι γλυκυτέραν κεν ἔλπομαι
110σὺν ἅρματι θοῷ κλεΐξειν, ἐπίκουρον εὑρὼν ὁδὸν λόγων
[180] παρ᾽ εὐδείελον ἐλθὼν Κρόνιον. ἐμοὶ μὲν ὦν
Μοῖσα καρτερώτατον βέλος ἀλκᾷ τρέφει:
ἐπ᾽ ἄλλοισι δ᾽ ἄλλοι μεγάλοι. τὸ δ᾽ ἔσχατον
κορυφοῦται βασιλεῦσι. μηκέτι πάπταινε πόρσιον.
115εἴη σέ τε τοῦτον ὑψοῦ χρόνον πατεῖν, ἐμέ τε τοσσάδε νικαφόροις
ὁμιλεῖν, πρόφαντον σοφίᾳ καθ᾽ Ἕλλανας ἐόντα παντᾷ.

Larry Benn as a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at

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