Everyone Dies; And Homer Lies

Pindar, Nemean 7. 17-26

“Wise people know the wind that is coming
On the third day and they suffer not for profit:
The rich and poor all make that journey
Along the tomb of death.

I think that the story of Odysseus
Has been exaggerated beyond his real suffering
Thanks to sweet-versed Homer—
There’s some beauty in his lies and flying design—
His skill tricks us as he distracts us with stories.

Most of us have a blind heart. For if we could see a single truth,
Then Ajax would not have driven that sharp sword
Into his chest in a fit over weapons.”

σοφοὶ δὲ μέλλοντα τριταῖον ἄνεμον
ἔμαθον, οὐδ᾿ ὑπὸ κέρδει βλάβεν·
ἀφνεὸς πενιχρός τε θανάτου παρά
σᾶμα νέονται. ἐγὼ δὲ πλέον᾿ ἔλπομαι
λόγον Ὀδυσσέος ἢ πάθαν
διὰ τὸν ἁδυεπῆ γενέσθ᾿ Ὅμηρον·

΄ἐπεὶ ψεύδεσί οἱ ποτανᾷ <τε> μαχανᾷ
σεμνὸν ἔπεστί τι· σοφία
δὲ κλέπτει παράγοισα μύθοις. τυφλὸν δ᾿ ἔχει
ἦτορ ὅμιλος ἀνδρῶν ὁ πλεῖστος. εἰ γὰρ ἦν
ἓν τὰν ἀλάθειαν ἰδέμεν, οὔ κεν ὅπλων χολωθείς
ὁ καρτερὸς Αἴας ἔπαξε διὰ φρενῶν
λευρὸν ξίφος

Schol. ad Pind. Nem 7.29a-33a

“I expect that the story  is greater”: He means I believe that Odysseus did not do so many things nor those kinds of things that Homer has announced about him. For because he found himself a good poet he possesses more reputable and larger deeds that he actually did. For poets are able to magnify and glorify the things that actually happen. For this reason, consider also the [praising of hymn].

ἐγὼ δὲ πλέον ἔλπομαι λόγον: ἐγὼ δέ, φησίν, ἐλπίζω αὐτὸν μὴ τοσαῦτα πεπραχέναι μηδὲ τοιαῦτα τὸν ᾿Οδυσσέα, οἷα ῞Ομηρος κεκήρυχε περὶ αὐτοῦ. ἀγαθοῦ γὰρ τυχὼν ποιητοῦ ἐνδοξότερα καὶ μείζονα ἔσχεν ἔργα ἢ κατώρθωσε· δυνατοὶ γάρ εἰσιν οἱ ποιηταὶ τὰ τυχόντα ἔργα μεγαλύνειν καὶ αὔξειν. διὸ καὶ σὺ φρόντιζε τοῦ ὑμνεῖσθαι.

“the thought”: I expect that because of Homer’s poetry the fame of Odysseus lived on greater than they were. For a certain sanctimony grows around the tales told of Odysseus. These poems have a winged device through which they approach the sublime and elevate the virtues of those who are praised. Or, the epic verses shared in common from Homer are winged or they are so designed as to fly and reach every part of the land. “His skill tricks by distracting us with stories”: Homer’s skill steals away our thought with the result that lies seem like they are the truth through his charm and elevated style.”

ὁ δὲ νοῦς· ἐγὼ δὲ μᾶλλον ἐλπίζω διὰ τὴν ῾Ομήρου ποίησιν ζῆν
ἐπιπλέον καὶ θρυλλεῖσθαι τὴν ᾿Οδυσσέως εὐδοξίαν. τοῖς γὰρ περὶ ᾿Οδυσσέως κεκηρυγμένοις σεμνότης τις ἐπήνθει. ποτανὴν δὲ μηχανὴν τὰ ποιήματα εἶπε, καθὸ ὑψοῖ καὶ μετεωρίζει τὰς ἀρετὰς τῶν ὑμνουμένων, ἢ καθὸ τὰ ἔπη κοινῶς λέγεται παρ’ ῾Ομήρῳ πτερόεντα, ἢ διὰ τὸ οὕτω μεμηχανῆσθαι ὥστε κατὰ πᾶσαν χώραν πέτεσθαι καὶ διϊκνεῖσθαι. σοφία δὲ κλέπτει παράγοισα μύθοις: ἡ τοῦ῾Ομήρου σοφία κλέπτει τὸν νοῦν ἡμῶν, ὥστε τὰ ψευδῆ δοκεῖν ἀληθῆ εἶναι διὰ χάριν καὶ σεμνότητα. ἡ ἀπότασις πρὸς τὰ ἑξῆς ἱστορούμενα περὶ τοῦ Αἴαντος.

Color photograph of marble sculpture of Odysseus' head
Odysseus. Group of Odysseus blinding Polyphemus. Marble, Greek work of the 2nd century BC.

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