Unclear Outcomes and Shining Songs

Friend and blog contributor Larry Benn is running the Philadelphia Marathon today. Here’s some Pindar in his honor.

Pindar, Isthmian 4.32-43

“The outcome is unclear when people start to compete,
Right up until the end.
It could give some of this or some of that
Sometimes the skill of weaker men
Helps them beat the stronger.

You must know about the bloody valor
Of Ajax, how he cut it up in the night
With his own sword and left plenty of blame
For the sons of the Greeks who went to Troy.

I guess Homer has made him honored among people
The singer who made every accomplishment clear with his beat
Of divine verses left for the future hear.

If someone says something well,
It goes into the world with a divine voice,
And the inexhaustible light of noble deeds
Shines over the fertile earth and across the sea.”

ἔστιν δ᾿ ἀφάνεια τύχας καὶ μαρναμένων,
πρὶν τέλος ἄκρον ἱκέσθαι·
τῶν τε γὰρ καὶ τῶν διδοῖ·

καὶ κρέσσον᾿ ἀνδρῶν χειρόνων
ἔσφαλε τέχνα καταμάρψαισ᾿· ἴστε μάν
Αἴαντος ἀλκὰν φοίνιον, τὰν ὀψίᾳ
ἐν νυκτὶ ταμὼν περὶ ᾧ φασγάνῳ μομφὰν ἔχει
παίδεσσιν Ἑλλάνων ὅσοι Τροίανδ᾿ ἔβαν.

ἀλλ᾿ Ὅμηρός τοι τετίμα-
κεν δι᾿ ἀνθρώπων, ὃς αὐτοῦ
πᾶσαν ὀρθώσαις ἀρετὰν κατὰ ῥάβδον ἔφρασεν
θεσπεσίων ἐπέων λοιποῖς ἀθύρειν.

τοῦτο γὰρ ἀθάνατον φωνᾶεν ἕρπει,
εἴ τις εὖ εἴπῃ τι· καὶ πάγ-
καρπον ἐπὶ χθόνα καὶ διὰ πόντον βέβακεν
ἐργμάτων ἀκτὶς καλῶν ἄσβεστος αἰεί.

Achilles (on the left) and Ajax the Great (on the right) playing dice, identified by inscriptions. Detail of a white-figure Attic lekythos.
Louvre MNB 911, Workshop of the Diosphos Painter, c. 500 BCE

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