Born of the Same Mother

Pindar. Nemean Ode 6. 1-7.

Men and gods are kin–we draw breath
From one mother, men and gods.
Yet, a critical property separates us:
Men are nothing, but gods have bronze heaven
As their ever-secure seat.

Still, we do somewhat resemble immortals,
Whether in our vast mind or our form,
Although neither by day nor by night
Do we know what course
Destiny has set down for us to run.

In Pindar’s Greek, it is δύναμις, a word most commonly translated as “power,” which separates gods and men. I was unsure what “power” he had in mind, but the scholia’s interpretation was clarifying.

The scholia points out that “unchangeability” (ἀμετάβλητος) is the gods’ defining characteristic. It then goes on to state:

“The critical δύναμις of the gods separates us from one another . . . The consequence is that the race of men is easily destroyed, but the race of gods is inalterable, secure, and immortal.”

In light of the scholia, I think a better translation of δύναμις, in this instance, is “property.” Hence my translation, “a critical property separates us . . .”


ἓν ἀνδρῶν, ἓν θεῶν γένος: ἐκ μιᾶς δὲ πνέομεν
ματρὸς ἀμφότεροι: διείργει δὲ πᾶσα κεκριμένα
δύναμις, ὡς τὸ μὲν οὐδέν, ὁ δὲ χάλκεος ἀσφαλὲς αἰὲν ἕδος
μένει οὐρανός. ἀλλά τι προσφέρομεν ἔμπαν ἢ μέγαν
νόον ἤτοι φύσιν ἀθανάτοις,
καίπερ ἐφαμερίαν οὐκ εἰδότες οὐδὲ μετὰ νύκτας
ἄμμε πότμος
αντιν᾽ ἔγραψε δραμεῖν ποτὶ στάθμαν.


διαχωρίζει δὲ ἀπ ἀλλήλων ἡμᾶς ἡ ὡρισμένη δύναμις τῶν θεῶν . . . ὥστε τὸ μὲν τῶν ἀνθρώπων εὐδιάφθορον εἶναι γένος, τὸ δὲ τῶν θεῶν ἐν ἀσφαλεῖ καὶ βεβαίῳ καὶ ἀφθαρσίᾳ τυγχάνειν.

Oil painting of woman nude from chest down, lying on a bed or couch
Gustave Courbet. L’Origin du Monde. 1866.
Musee d’Orsay.

Larry Benn has 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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