Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Pindar (ca 522-443 BC)

Pindar was born around 522 BC near Thebes into a wealthy family that traced its roots back to Cadmus. His permanent address always remained Thebes even though he traveled widely.

As a young adult he lived in Athens for awhile to study poetry. In 500, and for the rest of Pindar’s life and beyond, Athens was by far the most important center of culture in all Hellenia. Pindar loved Athens and never spoke a bad word about it. This was difficult because, during his lifetime, leaders in Athens and Thebes were often bitter political enemies. Once leaders of his hometown of Thebes fined him 5000 drachmas for praising Athens in a poem. Athenians countered with a gift of 10,000 drachmas.

Pindar is thought of as a poet but really he was a songwriter. His poems were all meant to be sung by choruses and accompanied by instruments and dance. He himself wrote not only the lyrics but acted as composer and choreographer as well. He would have been right at home making music videos today.

Pindar was a devout Olympian. In his poems he celebrates political rulers (including tyrants), military victors (especially Hellenians against Persians), and athletic champions (as at the Olympics). By doing so he also beautifully expresses his devotion, and Hellenia’s, to Jupiter, Mars, and Vulcan respectively.

He composed his first victory song in 498. We have 45 complete songs written by him from then all the way to 444. His songs were written to praise wealthy patrons, used to educate their sons, and performed at largely upper and upper-middle class Panhellenic festivals such as the Olympics.

Pindar combined words beautifully but, unlike Shakespeare, he was not particularly insightful. He wrote, “To speak evil of the gods is a hateful skill, and untimely boasting is in harmony with madness” (Olympian 9:38-40). Good points but not particularly profound.

During his life, Pindar wrote a song celebrating an ancestor of Alexander 3rd (“the Great”) of Macedon. In 335 Pindar’s hometown of Thebes made the dreadful mistake of rebelling against Alexander’s control. In retaliation, Alexander’s army completely destroyed the city but, in honor of that song, Alexander ordered Pindar’s house to be left undisturbed.

Copyright © 2013 by Steven Farsaci.
All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.