I have to answer many questions about this reading that I was assigned for school, but I have a few questions that I just cannot seem to find the answer to?  What does this poem tell us about the...

I have to answer many questions about this reading that I was assigned for school, but I have a few questions that I just cannot seem to find the answer to? 

What does this poem tell us about the relationship that exists between heroes and gods? 

Considering the established myth of a family curse and child abuse, why does the poet consider this myth a suitable topic for honouring a victor in a chariot race at the Olympics?

What is the heroic quest, or contest, of Pelops? According to the poet, what motivates Pelops

I understand that you are not here to do my homework, but if you could explain the answers to these questions to me, that would be a huge help. Thank you!

Expert Answers
teachsuccess eNotes educator| Certified Educator

These are some interesting questions about the poem Olympian Ode 1 by Pindar! As you might know, the poem was written in homage of Pindar's patron, Hieron.

 

1)What does this poem tell us about the relationship that exists between heroes and gods? 

In the poem, the relationship between heroes and gods is highlighted through the possibly pederastic relationship between Poseidon and Pelops. A pederastic relationship often involves a sexual dalliance between an older male and his younger lover. Bolded words below are mine.

...in return for the meals he had enjoyed, [40] then it was that the god of the splendid trident (this would be Poseidon) seized you (Pelops), his mind overcome with desire, and carried you away on his team of golden horses to the highest home of widely-honored Zeus...

This little excerpt tells us that gods sometimes harbor erotic tendencies towards heroically-inclined humans, and they are not above using their divine powers to gratify their lusts openly. In this case, Pelops, the object of Poseidon's lust, is the victor of a horse race; he is young, strong, and nubile. Yet, Pindar hints that the gods should not be judged by human standards; his next lines try to refute what he considers a sacrilegious tale of the gods' supposed depravity.

Accordingly, the story is that the gods enjoyed a lavish feast where Pelops' flesh was served as a main course; this cannibalistic portrayal of the gods disgusts Pindar, and he can't imagine calling 'the blessed gods a glutton;' this would be an insult of the worst kind.

...cut you limb from limb with a knife into the water's rolling boil over the fire, [50] and among the tables at the last course they divided and ate your flesh.

So, in Pindar's eyes, the gods can do no wrong; they will satisfy their lusts as they see fit (sexual unions between humans and gods are not uncommon), and they will also confer honor (and punishment) upon those they deem necessary to receive such. So it is that they can honor Tantalus with great rewards when his actions please them, and later, punish him when they feel that he has insulted them and broken divine laws. In all, the gods are presented as divine beings who are deeply interested in human affairs.

If indeed the watchers of Olympus ever honored a mortal man, [55] that man was Tantalus. But he was not able to digest his great prosperity, and for his greed he gained overpowering ruin,... He has this helpless life of never-ending labor, [60] a fourth toil after three others, because he stole from the gods nectar and ambrosia, with which they had made him immortal, and gave them to his drinking companions. If any man expects that what he does escapes the notice of a god, he is wrong.

 

2)Considering the established myth of a family curse and child abuse, why does the poet consider this myth a suitable topic for honoring a victor in a chariot race at the Olympics? 3)What is the heroic quest, or contest, of Pelops? According to the poet, what motivates Pelops?

First, Pindar introduces the myth (of Tantalus cooking and serving Pelops to the gods) in order to debunk it. He wants to defend the good reputation of the gods; to do this, he claims that the debauched tale of the gods' supposed cannibalism was spread by a vicious rumor. He argues that Tantalus' real crime was to steal the ambrosia and nectar (the food of the gods) he, as a human, was forbidden to consume. Accordingly, Tantalus receives just punishment for his nefarious actions.

Yet, Pindar tells of how the gods can be merciful if men and heroes honor them. He delineates how Pelops enlists the help of Poseidon, in order to win the hand of the beauteous Hippodameia, daughter of Oenomaus, the lord of Pisa. This is Pelop's heroic quest.

Accordingly, Oenomaus has killed thirteen of his daughter's suitors already; Pelop aims to avoid being the fourteenth. In answer to his prayers, Poseidon gives him 'a golden chariot, and horses with untiring wings.' With this gift, Pelop is able to overcome 'the might of Oenomaus' to take the 'girl as his bride.' During their marriage, Hippodameia bears Pelops 'six sons, leaders of the people eager for excellence.'

So, Pindar brings up the myth, first to debunk it (to prove that the gods would never resort to such atrocious behavior), and then to establish the fact that the gods are wise enough to punish man's hubris and honorable enough to reward righteous conduct. Basically, whatever one may say about the gods' sexual appetites and predilections, one can at least trust them to do right by humans. By relating the honors the gods lavish on Pelops, Pindar hints that the gods have also bestowed the same glories on Hieron, his patron. Pindar links the amazing physical feats of the first Olympian hero (Pelops) with that of his patron's. Smart move! This makes what he says next much easier to hear.

In relating the punishment Pelop's father, Tantalus, suffers, it looks like Pindar hopes to gently warn his patron that any violent, mercenary ambitions will be punished accordingly by the gods.

A god is set over your ambitions as a guardian, Hieron, and he devises with this as his concern...Some men are great in one thing, others in another; but the peak of the farthest limit is for kings. Do not look beyond that! [115] May it be yours to walk on high throughout your life, and mine to associate with victors as long as I live,...

Hope this helps!

 

Read the study guide:
Olympian Ode 1

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