“Dying is the Sweetest Thing”: The Gods Love Those Who Give The Most

This poem moves from praising the victory of Hiero’s horses at Olympos to the tale of Croesus’ reaction to the sacking of Sardis. In this version of the tale, he prepares to sacrifice his family on a pyre. The story is, well, a bit horrifying.

Bacchylides, Victory Odes 3.1-60

Kleio, sweetness-giver, sing of Demeter
Who rules rich-grained Sicily, and also
Her purple-crowned daughter, and the swift
Olympic-racing horses of Hiero.

For they rushed with overwhelming Victory
And Glory alongside the broad-eddying
Alpheos where they made the blessed son of Deinomenes
A master of the crowns.

And the people shouted out:
“Oh, thrice-blessed man
Who obtained from Zeus
The widest-ruling power of all the Greeks
And knows not to hide his towered health
With black-cloaked shadow.

The temples overflow with sacrificial feasts
And the streets overflow with hospitality.
And god shines too in glancing light
From the tall-wrought tripods which were set up

In front of the temple where the Delphians
Take care of the greatest grove of Apollo
Alongside the waters of Kastalia—let someone
Glory in god, in god—this is the best of the blessings.

For once there was a time when
Even though the Sardians were sacked by the Persian army
Because Zeus had brought to an end
The judgment which was fated,
The leader of the horse-taming
Lydians, Kroisos, golden-sworded

Apollo protected. For Kroisos,
When he had come to that lamentable, unhoped for day
Was not about to wait for slavery any more. But he
Had a pyre built up in front of his bronze-walled yard.

There he climbed up with his dear wife
And his well-tressed daughters who were
Mourning uncontrollably. Then he raised his hands
Up to the high sky above

And he shouted: “Powerful god
Where is divine gratitude now?
Where is Leto’s son the lord?
Alyattes’ halls are falling down.
[what of the] myriad [gifts I gave you?]
[What trust can mortals give to gods?]

[Look now, the enemy has sacked my] city,
And the gold-eddying Paktôlos runs red
With blood and women are shamefully dragged away
From the well-built halls.

What was hated before is now dear. Dying is the sweetest thing.”
So much he said, and he ordered his light-stepping attendant
To Set fire to the wooden home. Then the girls were crying out
And they were throwing their hands to their

Mother. For mortals most hateful death
Is the one we see coming.
But as the shining strength
Of the terrible fire was leaping forth
Zeus sent over a dark-covering cloud
To extinguish the yellow flame.

Nothing is unbelievable when divine care
Makes it. Then Delian-born Apollo
Carried the old man to the Hyperboreans
And settled him there with his thin-ankled daughters

Because of his piety, because he sent to sacred Pytho
Gifts greatest of all the mortals.

᾿Αριστο[κ]άρπου Σικελίας κρέουσαν
Δ[ά]ματρα ἰοστέφανόν τε Κούραν
ὕμνει, γλυκύδωρε Κλεοῖ, θοάς τ’ ᾿Ο-
[λυμ]πιοδρόμους ῾Ιέρωνος ἵππ[ο]υς.

[Σεύον]το γὰρ σὺν ὑπερόχῳ τε Νίκᾳ
[σὺν ᾿Αγ]λαΐᾳ τε παρ’ εὐρυδίναν
[᾿Αλφεόν, τόθι] Δεινομένεος ἔθηκαν
ὄλβιον τ[έκος στεφάνω]ν κυρῆσαι·

θρόησε δὲ λ[αὸς ]
[] ἆ τρισευδαίμ[ων ἀνὴρ]
ὃς παρὰ Ζηνὸς λαχὼν πλείστ-
αρχον ῾Ελλάνων γέρας
οἶδε πυργωθέντα πλοῦτον μὴ μελαμ-
φαρέϊ κρύπτειν σκότῳ.

Βρύει μὲν ἱερὰ βουθύτοις ἑορταῖς,
βρύουσι φιλοξενίας ἀγυιαί·
λάμπει δ’ ὑπὸ μαρμαρυγαῖς ὁ χρυσός,
ὑψιδαιδάλτων τριπόδων σταθέντων

πάροιθε ναοῦ, τόθι μέγι[στ]ον ἄλσος
Φοίβου παρὰ Κασταλίας [ῥ]εέθροις
Δελφοὶ διέπουσι. Θεόν, θ[εό]ν τις
ἀγλαϊζέθὠ γὰρ ἄριστος [ὄ]λβων·

ἐπεί ποτε καὶ δαμασίπ-
[π]ου Λυδίας ἀρχαγέταν,
εὖτε τὰν πεπ[ρωμέναν] Ζη-
νὸς τελέ[σσαντος κρί]σιν
Σάρδιες Περσᾶ[ν ἁλίσκοντο στρ]ατῷ,
Κροῖσον ὁ χρυσά[ορος]

φύλαξ’ ᾿Απόλλων. [῾Ο δ’ ἐς] ἄελπτον ἆμαρ
μ[ο]λὼν πολυδ[άκρυο]ν οὐκ ἔμελλε
μίμνειν ἔτι δ[ουλοσύ]ναν, πυρὰν δὲ
χαλκ[ο]τειχέος π[ροπάροι]θεν αὐ[λᾶς]
ναήσατ’, ἔνθα σὺ[ν ἀλόχῳ] τε κεδ[νᾷ]
σὺν εὐπλοκάμοι[ς τ’] ἐπέβαιν’ ἄλα[στον]
[θ]υ[γ]ατράσι δυρομέναις· χέρας δ’ [ἐς]
[αἰ]πὺν αἰθέρα σ[φ]ετέρας ἀείρας

[γέ]γ[ω]νεν· «῾Υπέρ[βι]ε δαῖ-
μον, [πο]ῦ θεῶν ἐστι[ν] χάρις;
[πο]ῦ δὲ Λατοίδ[ας] ἄναξ; [ἔρ-]
[ρουσ]ιν ᾿Αλυά[τ]τα δόμοι

[] μυρίων
[]ν.
[]ν ἄστυ,
[ἐρεύθεται αἵματι χρυσο]δίνας
Πακτωλός, ἀ[ε]ικελίως γυνα[ῖ]κες
ἐξ ἐϋκτίτων μεγάρων ἄγονται·

τὰ πρόσθεν [ἐχ]θρὰ φίλα· θανεῖν γλύκιστον.»
Τόσ’ εἶπε, καὶ ἁβ[ρο]βάταν κ[έλε]υσεν
ἅπτειν ξύλινον δόμον. ῎Εκ[λα]γον δὲ
παρθένοι, φίλας τ’ ἀνὰ ματρὶ χεῖρας

ἔβαλλον· ὁ γὰρ προφανὴς
θνατοῖσιν ἔχθιστος φόνων·
ἀλλ’ ἐπεὶ δεινο[ῦ π]υρὸς λαμ-
πρὸν διάϊ[σσεν μέ]νος,
Ζεὺς ἐπιστάσας [μελαγκευ]θὲς νέφος
σβέννυεν ξανθὰ[ν φλόγα.]

῎Απιστον οὐδὲν ὅ τι θ[εῶν μέ]ριμνα
τεύχει· τότε Δαλογενὴ[ς ᾿Από]λλων
φέρων ἐς ῾Υπερβορέο[υς γ]έροντα
σὺν τανισφύροις κατ[έν]ασσε κούραις

δι’ εὐσέβειαν, ὅτι μέ[γιστα] θνατῶν
ἐς ἀγαθέαν <ἀν>έπεμψε Π[υθ]ώ.

Image result for Croesus king of lydia

 

The Nature of a Kind

Pindar, Olympian 11: For Hagêsidamos, Winner of Boy’s Boxing, 476BCE

“There is a season when people have the greatest need
For winds and there is a season for water from the sky,
The pouring offspring of clouds.
But if someone should ever find success through toil,
Then honey-sweet hymns form the foundation
For future tales and offer certain promise for great accomplishments.

The praise for Olympic victors is not limited
By envy. My tongue is ready to shepherd
These words. A man similarly prospers through wise thoughts
thanks to divine assistance.
Know this now, son of Arkhestratos,
Hagêsidamos: thanks to your boxing
I will sing a sweet-songed adornment
For your crown of golden olive,
Without neglecting the race of Western Lokrians.

Join us in the revel there—Muses, I pledge
That you will visit no country who rejects a guest
a people who are ignorant of noble things,
But you will find wise spearmen there.
For not even the fire-red fox nor the roaring lions
Could change the nature of their kind.”

Ἔστιν ἀνθρώποις ἀνέμων ὅτε πλείστα
χρῆσις· ἔστιν δ᾿ οὐρανίων ὑδάτων,
ὀμβρίων παίδων νεφέλας·
εἰ δὲ σὺν πόνῳ τις εὖ πράσσοι,
μελιγάρυες ὕμνοι
ὑστέρων ἀρχὰ λόγων
τέλλεται καὶ πιστὸν ὅρκιον μεγάλαις ἀρεταῖς.

ἀφθόνητος δ᾿ αἶνος Ὀλυμπιονίκαις
οὗτος ἄγκειται. τὰ μὲν ἁμετέρα
γλῶσσα ποιμαίνειν ἐθέλει,
ἐκ θεοῦ δ᾿ ἀνὴρ σοφαῖς ἀνθεῖ
πραπίδεσσιν ὁμοίως.
ἵσθι νῦν, Ἀρχεστράτου
παῖ, τεᾶς, Ἁγησίδαμε, πυγμαχίας ἕνεκεν
κόσμον ἐπὶ στεφάνῳ χρυσέας ἐλαίας
ἁδυμελῆ κελαδήσω,
Ζεφυρίων Λοκρῶν γενεὰν ἀλέγων.
ἔνθα συγκωμάξατ᾿· ἐγγυάσομαι
μή μιν, ὦ Μοῖσαι, φυγόξεινον στρατόν
μηδ᾿ ἀπείρατον καλῶν
ἀκρόσοφόν τε καὶ αἰχματὰν ἀφίξε-
σθαι. τὸ γὰρ ἐμφυὲς οὔτ᾿ αἴθων ἀλώπηξ
οὔτ᾿ ἐρίβρομοι λέοντες διαλλάξαιντο ἦθος.

Bodleian Library, MS. Ashmole 1462, Folio 50v

“A Test Proves the Worth of a Man”: Pindar, Olympian 4.17-27

Last week I mentioned the tale of Erginos, the legendary king of the Minyans from Orchomenos in Boiotia. Pindar uses him as an example (he is the “child of Klumenos” below)

“I will not stain my story
With a lie. A test proves the worth of a man.
This rescued the child of Klumenos
from the dishonor of the Lemnian women.
He won the race in bronze armor
And said to Hypsipyle as he left with the crown:
“This is my speed:
My hands and heart are its equal. Sometimes gray hair
grows even on young men
thick, before the appointed time.

οὐ ψεύδεϊ τέγξω
λόγον· διάπειρά τοι βροτῶν ἔλεγχος·
ἅπερ Κλυμένοιο παῖδα
Λαμνιάδων γυναικῶν ἔλυσεν ἐξ ἀτιμίας.
χαλκέοισι δ’ ἐν ἔντεσι νικῶν δρόμον
ἔειπεν ῾Υψιπυλείᾳ μετὰ στέφανον ἰών·
‘οὗτος ἐγὼ ταχυτᾶτι·
χεῖρες δὲ καὶ ἦτορ ἴσον. φύονται δὲ καὶ νέοις
ἐν ἀνδράσιν πολιαί
θαμάκι παρὰ τὸν ἁλικίας ἐοικότα χρόνον.’

Hypsipyle is the queen of the Lemnian women who are part of the tradition of Jason and the Argonauts.

Aiakos, Aegina and the Building and Destruction of Troy: Pindar,Olympian 8

According to some authors Aiakos, who ends up as a judge of the dead in the underworld, was the son of Zeus and Europa. According to others (Pindar, Corinna) he was son of Zeus and Aegina (Or Poseidon and Aegina). When Poseidon and Apollo went to build the walls of Troy, they took Aiakos along to help them. A scholiast reports that it had to happen this way: since a mortal helped build the walls, they were not wholly invincible.
Pindar’s account of this emphasizes an omen that appeared at the completion of the walls. In his telling, Apollo interprets the omen as indicating that the descendants of Aiakos will be instrumental in the destruction of the city. Who are his descendants? Ajax, Achilles. Oh, Neoptolemos and Epeius the builder of the Trojan horse too!
(go here for the full Ode and a good commentary).

Pindar, Ol. 8.24-54

“For whatever weighs a great deal is hard
To judge with a fair mind at the right time.
But some law of the gods established this sea-protected land [Aegina]
As a sacred pillar
For every kind of stranger.
May rising time never tire
Of making this true
for this land tended by the Dorian people since Aiakos’ time.
It was Aiakos that Leto’s son and wide-ruling Apollo took
When they were going to build a wall around Troy. They summoned him
As a coworker for the wall. For it was fated that
When wars arose in the city-sacking battles,
That the wall would breathe out twisting smoke.
When the wall was just built, three dark serpents
Leapt up at it: two fell against it
and, stunned, lost their lives.
One rose up with cries of mourning.
Apollo interpreted this sign immediately and said:
“Pergamos will be sacked, hero, by your hands’ deeds:
So this sacred vision says to me
Sent by loud-thundering Zeus.
And it won’t be done without your sons: the city will be slaughtered by the first
And the third generations.*” So the god spoke clearly
And he rode Xanthus to the well-horsed Amazons and to the Danube.
The trident-bearer directed his swift-chariot.
To the sea by the Isthmus
Bearing Aiakos here
With golden horses,
Gazing upon the ridge of Corinth, famous for its feasts.
But nothing is equally pleasing among men.”

… ὅ τι γὰρ πολὺ καὶ πολλᾷ ῥέπῃ,
ὀρθᾷ διακρίνειν φρενὶ μὴ παρὰ καιρόν,
δυσπαλές: τεθμὸς δέ τις ἀθανάτων καὶ τάνδ᾽ ἁλιερκέα χώραν
παντοδαποῖσιν ὑπέστασε ξένοις
κίονα δαιμονίαν
ὁ δ᾽ ἐπαντέλλων χρόνος
τοῦτο πράσσων μὴ κάμοι
Δωριεῖ λαῷ ταμιευομέναν ἐξ Αἰακοῦ:
τὸν παῖς ὁ Λατοῦς εὐρυμέδων τε Ποσειδᾶν,
Ἰλίῳ μέλλοντες ἐπὶ στέφανον τεῦξαι, καλέσαντο συνεργὸν
τείχεος, ἦν ὅτι νιν πεπρωμένον
ὀρνυμένων πολέμων
πτολιπόρθοις ἐν μάχαις
λάβρον ἀμπνεῦσαι καπνόν.
γλαυκοὶ δὲ δράκοντες, ἐπεὶ κτίσθη νέον,
πύργον ἐσαλλόμενοι τρεῖς, οἱ δύο μὲν κάπετον,
αὖθι δ᾽ ἀτυζομένω ψυχὰς βάλον:
εἷς δ᾽ ἀνόρουσε βοάσαις.
ἔννεπε δ᾽ ἀντίον ὁρμαίνων τέρας εὐθὺς, Ἀπόλλων:
‘ Πέργαμος ἀμφὶ τεαῖς, ἥρως, χερὸς ἐργασίαι ἁλίσκεται:
ὣς ἐμοὶ φάσμα λέγει Κρονίδα
πεμφθὲν βαρυγδούπου Διός:
οὐκ ἄτερ παίδων σέθεν, ἀλλ᾽ ἅμα πρώτοις ῥάζεται
καὶ τερτάτοις.’ ὣς ἆρα θεὸς σάφα εἴπαις
Ξάνθον ἤπειγεν καὶ Ἀμαζόνας εὐίππους καὶ ἐς Ἴστρον ἐλαύνων.
Ὀρσοτρίαινα δ᾽ ἐπ᾽ Ἰσθμῷ ποντίᾳ
ἅρμα θοὸν τανύεν,
ἀποπέμπων Αἰακὸν
δεῦρ᾽ ἀν᾽ ἵπποις χρυσέαις,
καὶ Κορίνθου δειράδ᾽ ἐποψόμενος δαιτικλυτάν.
τερπνὸν δ᾽ ἐν ἀνθρώποις ἴσον ἔσσεται οὐδέν.

*First and Third generation: Aiakos had two sons (Telemon and Peleus) with Endeis and one with another woman (Phocus). Telemon and Peleus killed their half-brother; but the three sons fathered Ajax, Achilles and Panopeus (Phocus). The latter two grandsons fathered Neoptolemus and Epeios. Achilles’ son Neoptolemus helped take Troy; Epeios built the wooden horse.

Zeus – Aegina
|
Endeis – Aiakos – Psamathe
|                 |
Telamon Peleus                  Phocus
|                |                        |
Ajax       Achilles                  Panopeus
|               |                                  |
Neoptolemus                 Epeios

Pindar, Pythian 4. 247-8

 

“I have a long road to travel—but when the time comes I know a shortcut.”

 

μακρά μοι νεῖσθαι κατ’ ἀμαξιτόν· ὥρα

γὰρ συνάπτει καί τινα

οἶμον ἴσαμι βραχύν·

 

(Sort of changes “…and miles to go before I sleep….”)

Pindar, Nemean 8. 37-38

 

“Some men pray for gold, others for a field with no boundary, but I pray to be pleasing to my countrymen until the earth covers my limbs.”

χρυσὸν εὔχοται, πεδίον δ’ ἕτεροι

ἀπέραντον, ἐγὼ δ’ ἀστοῖς ἁδὼν καὶ χθονὶ γυῖα καλύψαι,

 

And Pindar was pleasing much longer than that--even Alexander wouldn’t destroy his house!

(There may not be that much nobility in this statement: pleasing singers get meat, wine and gold!)