A Many-Headed Song and Human Happiness

Pindar, Pythian 12.17-32

“Yet when the maiden [Athena] rescued that dear man [Perseus]
From his labors, she composed a song with every note of the pipes,
So she might recall the resounding wail elicited from *Euryale’s
Gasping cheeks with musical instruments.

The goddess created this, but she made it for mortal men to possess
And she named it the tune of many heads,
The well-famed reminder of the contests that attract people,
The sound that issues through fine bronze and reeds
That grow near to the city of beautiful dancing grounds,
The city of the Graces, in the precinct of Kephisos, trusty audiences for dancers.

If humankind has any happiness at all, it never shows up
Without hard work. But what is fated cannot be escaped–
A god will make it happen, maybe today, but
There will be a time that finds someone completely surprised
And give them one thing, but not yet another.”

… ἀλλ᾿ ἐπεὶ ἐκ τούτων φίλον ἄνδρα πόνων
ἐρρύσατο παρθένος αὐλῶν τεῦχε πάμφωνον μέλος,
ὄφρα τὸν εὐρυάλας ἐκ καρπαλιμᾶν γενύων
χριμφθέντα σὺν ἔντεσι μιμήσαιτ᾿ ἐρικλάγκταν γόον.
εὗρεν θεός· ἀλλά νιν εὑροῖσ᾿ ἀνδράσι θνατοῖς ἔχειν,
ὠνύμασεν κεφαλᾶν πολλᾶν νόμον,
εὐκλεᾶ λαοσσόων μναστῆρ᾿ ἀγώνων,

΄λεπτοῦ διανισόμενον χαλκοῦ θαμὰ καὶ δονάκων,
τοὶ παρὰ καλλίχορον ναίοισι πόλιν Χαρίτων
Καφισίδος ἐν τεμένει, πιστοὶ χορευτᾶν μάρτυρες.
εἰ δέ τις ὄλβος ἐν ἀνθρώποισιν, ἄνευ καμάτου
οὐ φαίνεται· ἐκ δὲ τελευτάσει νιν ἤτοι σάμερον
δαίμων—τὸ δὲ μόρσιμον οὐ παρφυκτόν—ἀλλ᾿ ἔσται χρόνος
οὗτος, ὃ καί τιν᾿ ἀελπτίᾳ βαλών
ἔμπαλιν γνώμας τὸ μὲν δώσει, τὸ δ᾿ οὔπω.

*One of Medusa’s sisters

Schol. In Pind. P 12. 39a

She invented an aulos melody and handed it over for humans and named it the “many headed song”. This is because there were many hissing heads of snakes around [Euryale’s] head.

Some people call this many-headed and explain that there were fifty men in the chose that performed the song as an aulete led them. Others claim that the heads are preludes. They claim that an ode is made up of many preludes and that Olympos was the first to invent them”

ἀλλά νιν εὑροῖσα: ἀλλ’ εὑροῦσα τὸ τοῦ αὐλοῦ μέλος μετέδωκε τοῖς ἀνθρώποις ἔχειν, καὶ ὠνόμασε τὸ μέλος πολυκέφαλον νόμον· ἐπεὶ καὶ αἱ τῶν δρακόντων πλείους ἦσαν κεφαλαὶ αἱ συρίξασαι· ὧν κατὰ μίμησιν συνέθηκε. τινὲς δὲ πολυκέφαλον, φασὶν, εἶπεν, ἐπειδὴ πεντήκοντα ἦσαν ἄνδρες, ἐξ ὧν ὁ χορὸς συνεστὼς προκαταρχομένου τοῦ αὐλητοῦ τὸ μέλος προεφέρετο. οἱ δὲ κεφαλὰς ἀκούουσι τὰ προοίμια. ᾠδὴ οὖν διὰ πολλῶν προοιμίων συνεστῶσα, ἣν λέγουσι τὸν ῎Ολυμπον πρῶτον εὑρηκέναι.

he frieze illustrates human desire for happiness in a suffering and tempestuous world in which one contends not only with external evil forces but also with internal weaknesses. The viewer follows this journey of discovery in a stunning visual and linear fashion. It begins gently with the floating female Genii searching the Earth but soon follows the dark, sinister-looking storm-wind giant, Typhoeus, his three Gorgon daughters and images representing sickness, madness, death, lust and wantonness above and to the right. Thence appears the knight in shining armour who offers hope due to his own ambition and sympathy for the pleading, suffering humans. The journey ends in the discovery of joy by means of the arts and contentment is represented in the close embrace of a kiss. Thus, the frieze expounds psychological human yearning, ultimately satisfied through individual and communal searching and the beauty of the arts coupled with love and companionship.
Gustav Klimt, “The Hostile Powers, the Titan Typhoeus, the Three Gorgons” 1901

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