Olympian 1, which opens the collection of Pindar’s forty-five victory odes, sets the template for all of his subsequent poems in this genre. It was produced to celebrate the victory in the horse race at the Olympia of Hieron of Syracuse in 476 b.c.e. At this time, Hieron was master of most of the Greek settlements on the island of Sicily and was establishing himself as a patron of the arts, especially poetry. Pindar, who was invited to Syracuse in 476, was an eyewitness to the magnificence of Hieron’s court and to his benevolent, if autocratic, rule. Olympian 1 is a response to what he saw and contains a mixture of praise and advice to the victor.
The ode opens with the famously impenetrable phrase “Best of all is water” and celebratory remarks on the Olympic festival and its patron deity, Zeus. Then Pindar moves to praise of Hieron and his city of Syracuse as worthy subjects for poetic song, along with the horse who was ridden to victory, Pherenikos (“Victory-bringer”). By interweaving references to Olympia and Sicily and deploying a connected series of metaphors and images, Pindar is able to link Hieron and his present-day actions with a long tradition of historical and mythical events.
After the introduction, the central part of the poem consists of the myth of Tantalus and Pelops, which Pindar retells in his own unique fashion. His purpose is to sanitize the story of its most...
(The entire section is 555 words.)