Pindar (PIHN-dur) composed elaborate and complex odes sung to musical accompaniment of lyres and pipes (reed instruments) and danced by choruses. Of his seventeen books of poems collected in the Hellenistic period, only four books containing forty-five epinician (victory) odes have been preserved in manuscript. These books, however, have established Pindar’s fame as the greatest Greek lyric poet. In these poems, Pindar praises athletic victors throughout Greece, from powerful rulers such as Hieron I of Syracuse, Theron of Acragas, and Arcesilas of Cyrene to boys just beginning their athletic careers.
Varying in length from nineteen to nearly three hundred verses, the odes contain aphoristic reflections on life, brief mythological narratives, advice, prayers to gods, and praise of hard-won achievement. The odes are composed of stanzas called strophes, antistrophes, and epodes. These three stanzas make up triads, each of which is metrically identical in its poem. Pindar’s style is grand, with abundant use of metaphor; his language is extremely complex and notoriously difficult to translate.
The Roman authors Horace and Quintilian acknowledged Pindar’s greatness. After the Renaissance, the “Pindaric” ode became synonymous with any grand-style, serious poem. Imitators include French poet Pierre de Ronsard, English playwright Ben Jonson, English poet and playwright Abraham Cowley, French poet Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux, and English poet Thomas Gray.
Carne-Ross, D. S. Pindar. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1985. A brief work addressed to the general reader, with a...
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