A Pindaric Hierarchy of Needs

Pindar, Olympian 3. 42-45

“If water is best, but gold is
The most respected of possessions,
Then now indeed has Theron reached
The farthest point of excellence and he
Grasps the pillars of Herakles from his own home.

Whatever is beyond that point is closed to
Wise people and fools. I wouldn’t be that guy, I won’t pursue it.”

εἰ δ᾿ ἀριστεύει μὲν ὕδωρ, κτεάνων δὲ
χρυσὸς αἰδοιέστατος,
νῦν δὲ πρὸς ἐσχατιὰν
Θήρων ἀρεταῖσιν ἱκάνων ἅπτεται
οἴκοθεν Ἡρακλέος
σταλᾶν. τὸ πόρσω δ᾿ ἐστὶ σοφοῖς ἄβατον
κἀσόφοις. οὔ νιν διώξω· κεινὸς εἴην.

This passage recalls the famous beginning of Olympian 1

“Water is best, but gold, just like a fire aflame in the night
shines brightest amid man-ennobling wealth.”

Ἄριστον μὲν ὕδωρ, ὁ δὲ χρυσὸς αἰθόμενον πῦρ
ἅτε διαπρέπει νυκτὶ μεγάνορος ἔξοχα πλούτου·

Yet, elsewhere, Pindar claims that something else exceeds water too:

Pindar,  Nemean Ode 4.1-8

“The best doctor for sufferings when they’re done
Is celebration—and the Muses’ talented daughters,
Songs to distract when they touch us,
Not even warm water can make limbs as soft
As the praise that takes the lyre as its partner.

An utterance lives longer than deeds,
Any word the tongue chances upon
With the Graces, drawn from a deep mind.”

ἄριστος εὐφροσύνα πόνων κεκριμένων
ἰατρός: αἱ δὲ σοφαὶ
Μοισᾶν θύγατρες ἀοιδαὶ θέλξαν νιν ἁπτόμεναι.
οὐδὲ θερμὸν ὕδωρ τόσον γε μαλθακὰ τέγγει
5γυῖα, τόσσον εὐλογία φόρμιγγι συνάορος.
ῥῆμα δ᾽ ἑργμάτων χρονιώτερον βιοτεύει,
ὅ τι κε σὺν Χαρίτων τύχᾳ
γλῶσσα φρενὸς ἐξέλοι βαθείας.

A Scholion to Olympian 1 helps us to understand:

Schol. Ad Pin. Ol. 1

“Water is best. Well, Pindar says that three things are best among people. Water is best for living, for life is impossible without it. Then gold is best of a possessions, standing out like fire in the night. Third, is reputation from a victory at the Olympian games.”

ἄριστον μὲν ὕδωρ: τρία ἐν ἀνθρώποις ὁ Πίνδαρος ἄριστα εἶναι λέγει· ἄριστον μὲν ὕδωρ εἰς τὸ ζῆν, οὗ  ἄνευ βιοτεύειν ἀδύνατον· εἶτα χρυσὸν ἐν πλούτῳ τῶν ἄλλων χρημάτων ἐκπρέποντα καθάπερ ἐν νυκτὶ πῦρ· πρὸς δὲ δόξαν τὴν ᾿Ολυμπίασι νίκην.

Image of the strait of gibraltor from the back of a container ship. the sky and sea meet with the shores barely visible on either side. The box containers of the ship are clear in the foreground
Gregor Rom, traße von gibraltar vom mittelmeer gesehen: rechts der felsen von gibraltar, links der dschebel musa, 2014

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