Pythian 1 was written to celebrate Hieron’s victory in the chariot race in the Pythia of 470 b.c.e. and as a hymn of praise on his military successes and his virtuous actions. It is addressed to Hieron of Aetna to mark his recent foundation of that new city on the eastern coastline of Sicily. By this stage, the island was under Hieron’s control, and he had defeated foreign enemies, including the Carthaginians and the Etruscans. In spite of Hieron’s harsh treatment of his political opponents within Sicily, Pindar presents him as almost the incarnation of the ideal ruler.
The ode commences with a standard address to the Muse and to Apollo’s lyre, which has the power to subdue all powers in the human and divine realms. The eagle of Zeus is imagined as sleeping to the sweet melodies of choral song, while Ares, the god of war, lays down his weapons and has soothing dreams. The mention of Zeus takes readers into the first mythological excursus, namely the story of Typhon, the fire-breathing monster who was buried under Mount Aetna after he attacked the king of the gods. Rather unusually for Pindar, the mythical elements in this ode are brief.
There follows a description of a volcanic eruption on Aetna, which must have been inspired by first-hand experience during Pindar’s period of residence on the island of Sicily. The vivid images of fire, smoke, and lava make for a dramatic scene. This leads Pindar back to the city of Aetna and Hieron’s victory at the Pythian games. He predicts that the city will...
(The entire section is 642 words.)