Don’t Gossip About the Gods!

Pindar, Olympian 9.21-42

“But when I set that dear city ablaze
With my burning songs,
Faster than a proud horse
Or a flying ship in every direction,
I will send my message–
If with some fate-allotted talent,
I tend the select garden of the Graces,
Because they are the ones who grant pleasure.

Men become good or wise by divine lot.
Is there any other way that Herakles
Could have swung the club in his hands
Against the trident when Poseidon faced him
Before Pylos and backed him down,

Or when Apollo pushed him back with
His silver bow, or could he have held Hades’ staff unmoved,
The one he uses to lead the bodies of those who die
Along a shallow passage?

Ah! Banish that tale from my mouth!
Mocking the gods is hateful wisdom–
Boasting at the wrong time sounds like insanity:
Don’t gossip about such things now,
But keep war and all battle away from the gods.”

ἐγὼ δέ τοι φίλαν πόλιν
μαλεραῖς ἐπιφλέγων ἀοιδαῖς,
καὶ ἀγάνορος ἵππου
θᾶσσον καὶ ναὸς ὑποπτέρου παντᾷ
ἀγγελίαν πέμψω ταύταν,
εἰ σύν τινι μοιριδίῳ παλάμᾳ
ἐξαίρετον Χαρίτων νέμομαι κᾶπον·
κεῖναι γὰρ ὤπασαν τὰ τέπρν᾿· ἀγαθοὶ
δὲ καὶ σοφοὶ κατὰ δαίμον᾿ ἄνδρες
ἐγένοντ᾿· ἐπεὶ ἀντίον
πῶς ἂν τριόδοντος Ἡ-
ρακλέης σκύταλον τίναξε χερσίν,
ἁνίκ᾿ ἀμφὶ Πύλον σταθεὶς ἤρειδε Ποσειδάν,
ἤρειδεν δέ νιν ἀργυρέῳ τόξῳ πολεμίζων
Φοῖβος, οὐδ᾿ Ἀίδας ἀκινήταν ἔχε ῥάβδον,
βρότεα σώμαθ᾿ ᾇ κατάγει κοίλαν πρὸς ἄγυιαν
θνᾳσκόντων; ἀπό μοι λόγον
τοῦτον, στόμα, ῥῖψον·
ἐπεὶ τό γε λοιδορῆσαι θεούς
ἐχθρὰ σοφία, καὶ τὸ καυχᾶσθαι παρὰ καιρόν
μανίαισιν ὑποκρέκει.
μὴ νῦν λαλάγει τὰ τοι-
αῦτ᾿· ἔα πόλεμον μάχαν τε πᾶσαν
χωρὶς ἀθανάτων·

Schol. Ad Pindar, Olympian 9. 50a

“And couldn’t have held Hades’ staff unmoved.” He used his staff just as a tool, applying no force, as with a trident or sword or spear, but he relied on its power to bewitch and ensnare the mind. For this reason people say that he also guides spirits downward. Hades was able to do nothing with the staff against Herakles thanks to its power being blunted by Zeus.

And this [goes with] the common saying, that men become good through god, ‘[since?] not even Hades could hold his staff while fighting Herakles feebly and without moving, with the very same staff he makes the bodies of men weak in the same way and leads them down into the hollow place then they’re dead.”

οὐδ’ ᾿Αίδας ἀκινήταν ἔχε ῥάβδον: τῇ ῥάβδῳ κέχρηται καθάπερ ὅπλῳ τινὶ, βίαν μὲν οὐδεμίαν παρεχομένῃ, καθάπερ ἢ τριόδους ἢ ξίφος ἢ δόρυ, ἀλλὰ δυνάμει συνεχρῆτο θελκτικῇ καὶ μαλακτικῇ τῆς ψυχῆς· ταύτῃ γοῦν φησι καὶ τὰς ψυχὰς αὐτὸν κατάγειν. ἐπὶ τοῦ ῾Ηρακλέους οὖν ὁ ῞Αιδης ἐργωδίᾳ τῆς ῥάβδου ταύτης οὐδὲν ἠδύνατο δρᾶσαι διὰ τὸ τὴν δύναμιν αὐτῆς ὑπὸ τοῦ Διὸς ἀμβλύνεσθαι. ἀπὸ κοινοῦ δὲ τὸ εἰ μὴ κατὰ δαίμονα ἄνδρες ἐγένοντο, οὐκ ἂν οὐδὲ ὁ ῞Αιδης ἀσθενῆ καὶ ἀκίνητον διαμαχόμενος ῾Ηρακλεῖ εἶχε τὴν ῥάβδον, ἐν ᾗ ῥάβδῳ τὰ τῶν CEQ ἀνδρῶν σώματα ἀσθενῆ ποιῶν οὕτως εἰς τὸν κοῖλον τόπον[τοῦ ῞Αιδου] κατάγει τῶν τελευτώντων.

Color photograph of a mall bronze tatue of middling quality. The figure has a raised club in his right hand and a lion skin in the lowered left.
Bronze Statue of Herakles, Italian, c. 2nd century BCE, MET

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