The Value of A Poem

Pindar, Nemean 5.1-7

“I am not a sculptor to
Form delightful pieces that just stand
In the same place but instead
On every plank in every ship,
My sweet song,
Stride forth from Aegina to
Let everyone know that
Lampon’s powerful son Pytheas
Has received the Nemean victory crown
For the pankration
Even though his soft cheeks have yet to show
The soft bloom of grapes in summer.”

Οὐκ ἀνδριαντοποιός εἰμ᾿, ὥστ᾿ ἐλινύσοντα ἐργά-
ζεσθαι ἀγάλματ᾿ ἐπ᾿ αὐτᾶς βαθμίδος
ἑσταότ᾿· ἀλλ᾿ ἐπὶ πάσας
ὁλκάδος ἔν τ᾿ ἀκάτῳ, γλυκεῖ᾿ ἀοιδά,
στεῖχ᾿ ἀπ᾿ Αἰγίνας διαγγέλλοισ᾿, ὅτι
Λάμπωνος υἱὸς Πυθέας εὐρυσθενής
νίκη Νεμείοις παγκρατίου στέφανον,
οὔπω γένυσι φαίνων τερείνας
ματέρ᾿ οἰνάνθας ὀπώραν

Schol BD ad Pindar Nemean 5.1

“I am not a sculptor”: People say that the attendants of Pytheas cam to Pindar to ask him to write a victory poem for the man. When Pindar asked for three-thousand drachmas, they said that they would make a bronze statue worthy of more honor than a poem.

Some time later, once they understood their error, they returned and gave him exactly that much. Pindar begins the poem in this way to reproach them and he says that they should not secure a work that sits in one place, just as the sculptors prepare bronze sculptures, but poems which go everywhere, making the excellence of those who are praised clear to everyone.

BD Οὐκ ἀνδριαντοποιός εἰμι: φασὶν ὅτι οἱ τοῦ Πυθέου οἰκεῖοι προσῆλθον τῷ Πινδάρῳ παρακαλοῦντες ὅπως εἰς αὐτὸν γράψῃ ἐπίνικον· Πινδάρου δὲ αἰτήσαντος τρισχιλίας δραχμὰς ἔφασαν ἐκεῖνοι κάλλιον εἶναι χάλκεον ἀνδριάντα ποιῆσαι τῆς αὐτῆς τιμῆς ἢ τὸ ποίημα. χρόνῳ δὲ ὕστερον γνωσιμαχήσαντες ἐπανῆλθον τὸ αὐτὸ διδόντες· ὁ δὲ ἐξονειδίζων αὐτοὺς οὕτως ἤρξατο, καί φησι μὴ κατασκευάζειν ἔργατὴν αὐτὴν κατέχοντα χώραν, καθὼς οἱ ἀνδριαντουργοὶ τοὺς χαλκοῦς ἀνδριάντας, ἀλλὰ τὰ ποιήματα ἅπερ πανταχόσε διϊκνεῖται, ὥστε τὴν ἀρετὴν τῶν ἐπαινεθέντων πολλοῖς εἶναι δήλην.

Thanks to A.E. Stallings (and Nancy Felson) for pointing out this scholion to me. 3,000 sounds like a lot. But for luxury goods, it still pales in comparison to the alleged 10,000 charged for a night with the courtesan Lais. A drachma is purportedly one day’s labor for a skilled worker, estimated at $25.00 in 1990, perhaps at least 100.00 today.

a pile of ancient greek coins on a black background
From Izmir, From another hoard found at Clazomenae, with coins from the 4th century BC.

Leave a Reply