Oedipus’ Wisdom and Healing’s Soft Touch

Pindar, Pythian 4.262-275

“Now recognize the wisdom of Oedipus:
If someone could cleave the branches from
A giant oak tree with a sharp-edged axe
And wreck its eye-catching beauty,
It would still weigh in about itself even though
It could no longer bear fruit
If it came face to face with a winter’s fire in the end
Or if set upon columns for some master,
It provides the labor for someone else’s walls,
Leaving its place deserted.

But you are the most timely healer and Paian
Honors your light.
You need a soft touch to work on
An open wound.

It is easy for cowards to shake up a state,
But it is hard indeed to make it stable again,
Unless the leaders suddenly have a god
For a pilot.”

γνῶθι νῦν τὰν Οἰδιπόδα σοφίαν· εἰ
γάρ τις ὄζους ὀξυτόμῳ πελέκει
ἐξερείψειεν μεγάλας δρυός, αἰσχύ-
νοι δέ οἱ θαητὸν εἶδος,
καὶ φθινόκαρπος ἐοῖσα διδοῖ ψᾶφον περ᾿ αὐτᾶς,
εἴ ποτε χειμέριον πῦρ ἐξίκηται λοίσθιον,
ἢ σὺν ὀρθαῖς κιόνεσσιν
δεσποσύναισιν ἐρειδομένα
μόχθον ἄλλοις ἀμφέπει δύστανον ἐν τείχεσιν,
ἑὸν ἐρημώσαισα χῶρον.
ἐσσὶ δ᾿ ἰατὴρ ἐπικαιρότατος, Παι-
άν τέ σοι τιμᾷ φάος.
χρὴ μαλακὰν χέρα προσβάλ-
λοντα τρώμαν ἕλκεος ἀμφιπολεῖν.
ῥᾴδιον μὲν γὰρ πόλιν σεῖσαι καὶ ἀφαυροτέροις·
ἀλλ᾿ ἐπὶ χώρας αὖτις ἕσσαι δυσπαλὲς
δὴ γίνεται, ἐξαπίνας
εἰ μὴ θεὸς ἁγεμόνεσσι κυβερνατὴρ γένηται.

Schol. Ad Pin. Pyth. 3.467

“Now recognize the wisdom of Oedipus”: Pindar encourages Arkesilaos to examine his own riddle. For he wants him to consider the wisdom of Oedipus because he solved the riddle of the Sphinx. And he is riddling here, and he means this kind of thing. Some people were in revolt in Kyrene during Arkesilaos’ reign because they wanted to expel him from power. But because he was stronger than them, he sent them into exile from the country. Demophilos was among the rebels because he was an insurrectionist himself. He also went as exile into Thebes. Some people thought—since others claim that he gave money to Pindar for the victory ode—that Pindar was using the poem to reconcile him to Arkesilaos

γνῶθι νῦν τὰν Οἰδιπόδα σοφίαν: προτρέπεται τὸν ᾿Αρκεσίλαον ὁ Πίνδαρος συνορᾶν αὐτοῦ τὸ αἴνιγμα. τὸ γὰρ Οἰδιπόδα σοφίαν τοῦτο βούλεται, ὅτι κἀκεῖνος τὸ τῆς Σφιγγὸς αἴνιγμα ἔλυσεν. ὃ δὲ αἰνίττεται, ἔστι τοιοῦτον. ἐστασίασάν τινες ἐν τῇ Κυρήνῃ κατὰ τοῦ ᾿Αρκεσιλάου, βουλόμενοι αὐτὸν μεταστῆσαι τῆς ἀρχῆς· ὁ δὲ ἐπικρατέστερος αὐτῶν γενόμενος ἐφυγάδευσεν αὐτοὺς τῆς πατρίδος. ἐν τοῖς οὖν στασιώταις ἦν καὶ ὁ Δημόφιλος, ὃς καὶ αὐτὸς ἀνάστατος γέγονε τῆς πατρίδος, καὶ φυγαδευθεὶς ἔρχεται εἰς Θήβας καὶ ἀξιοῖ τὸν Πίνδαρον (τινὲς δὲ, ὅτι καὶ τὸν μισθὸν τοῦ ἐπινίκου δίδωσι τῷ Πινδάρῳ αὐτός), ὥστε τῇ τοῦ ἐπινίκου γραφῇ διαλλάξαι αὐτὸν πρὸς τὸν ᾿Αρκεσίλαον.

Oil painting of Oedipus and the Sphinx. Oedipus is mostly nude, knee raised on a stone, staff on his shoulder. He is pointing his hand at the Sphinx on the left hand margin in conversation
Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres, Oedipus and the Sphinx (1808–27). Oil on canvas, 189 x 144 cm. Louvre, Paris

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