Olympian Ode 1

by Pindar

Start Free Trial


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Water is best, and gold, like a blazing fire in the night, stands out supreme of all lordly wealth. But if, my heart, you wish to sing of contests, look no further for any star warmer than the sun, shining by day through the lonely sky, and let us not proclaim any contest greater than Olympia.
These lines begin the ode. They compose a priamel, which is a literary device that often occurs in ancient Greek poetry. In this device, the poet cites correlations or metaphors from other parts of life. These serve as foils or comparisons for the subject of the poem, which is the Olympics. Pindar begins speaking about how water and gold are the best elements in their respective realms, but they are nothing in comparison to the Olympics.
But when you disappeared, and people did not bring you back to your mother, for all their searching, right away some envious neighbor whispered that they cut you limb from limb with a knife into the water's rolling boil over the fire, and among the tables at the last course they divided and ate your flesh.
In the middle of the ode, Pindar speaks about the myth of Pelops, who was taken by the god Poseidon into the heavens. According to some accounts, Tantalus, Pelops's father, cut his son up and served him to the gods at a banquet. The gods all refrained from eating Pelops—save Demeter, who ate his shoulder. He therefore needed a new shoulder, which Demeter made out of ivory. Pindar, however, says that this myth is mere rumor. Earlier in the poem, Pindar speaks about "stories adorned with embroidered lies," comparing falsehoods to a cloth onto which lies are sewn. Pindar says that a jealous neighbor made up this lie when Pelops could not be found. Pindar states that a god could never be a glutton, or someone who would eat a mortal. Pindar believes that the gods could not carry out this type of savagery.
The fame of Pelops shines from afar in the races of the Olympic festivals, where there are contests for swiftness of foot, and the bold heights of toiling strength. A victor throughout the rest of his life enjoys honeyed calm, so far as contests can bestow it.
Pindar continues to tell the myth of Pelops. After Pelops returns to earth, he challenges King Oenomaus to a chariot race to win the king's daughter. The king had already killed thirteen of her suitors, but Pelops was able to defeat the king in a chariot race and win his bride. Pindar says that Pelops's victory and fame hang over the Olympics, in which there are races of speed and contests of strength. He writes that the victor of these contests will enjoy fame. He then speaks about Hieron, whom he praises for his leadership. Pindar writes that Hieron's leadership is watched over by a god, and Pindar hopes that Hieron will soon celebrate a victory in the chariot races. Pindar elevates Hieron by comparing him to the glorious Pelops of myth. Pindar says that both figures are attended by the gods and have achieved the greatest honors that mortals can hope to reach.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access