The Story of Pindar

Pindar was born in the 65th Olympiad in Cynoscephalae, a village outside Thebes. His mother’s name was Cleodice and no-one can seem to decide if his father’s name was Daiphantus, Pagondas or Scopelinus. Unlike Hesiod, he seems to be from the ancient Boeotian equivalent of a bourgeoisie background, and clearly this is one of those things that hasn’t changed about Western Society, as unlike Hesiod, he included practically none of his family’s dirty laundry in his own work. Pindar’s got class, so there’s not much I can goof on (affectionately, of course). There’s a legend that his gift for “honey-like verse” came from having his mouth stung by a bee as a youth, and that’s seriously all anybody really knows about ol’ high-falutin’ Pindar until he was maybe twenty — of course, if you think about it, it’s far more impressive that Hesiod, being from a lower class tier, made it past that age, this was a time when the mathematically-average lifespan was 40-ish, but if one could make it past the age of 15-ish, when the typical life expectancy was around 55-ish and the higher your class, the more likely you were to live into your seventies1 — and making it past the age of twenty at a time prior to even 18th Century medicine is a far more impressive feat when you’re a toiler than when you’re from “elegant learning”. In poetry, Pindar was tutored by Corinna of Tanagra (a fellow Boeotian) and also relocated to Athens to be further instructed by Lasos of Hermione. By the age of twenty, he was commissioned for his first Victory Ode by a wealthy family from Thessaly. At about the age of thirty, Pindar was at the Pythian games where he met chariot winner and Sicilian prince Thrasybulus, nephew of Theron of Acragas, and they became lifelong friends thereafter — it’s unfortunate that this seems to be one of the less slashtastic ancient Hellenic male-male friendships, but maybe I’m just letting my perversion show with that comment.

Er… *ahem!* Carry on!

So, it seems Pindar was a triple-threat lyric poet; he wrote the lyrics, he wrote the instrumental accompaniment, and he choreographed. In modern terms: Pindar was one melodramatic script away from being The Ultimate Theatre Geek™. Sometimes he’d train performers at his hime in Thebes, but he’d also get commissioned by patrons of the arts and would travel all over the ancient Hellenic world to put on shows. He was practically a celebrity, and like modern celebrities, there was sometimes rivalry for jobs, but Pindar’s got class — sure, some of his poetry reflects these rivalries, but only in vague metaphors, like with ravens and apes and shit like that. Even today, people speculate who this was really all about, but like I said, Pindar’s got class.

Still, Pindar got mixed up in politics. Once, after writing praise of Athens, the rival city of his home city of Thebes, fined him 5000 drachmae, and rumour has it that Athens responded with a gift of twice that. Other hometown drama llamas were ridden in on by the fact that he was a friend of Sicilian tyrant Hieron, the subject of one of Pindar’s first Pythian ode, and it was probably all this bullshit that later led him to write another ode denouncing all tyrants. It’s also been suggested all over the place (and at times seems rather apparent) that Pindar used his fame and his odes as a vehicle for advancing both personal interests and those of his friends. Alright, maybe Pindar’s class is limited, but still, man’s got it; after all, of his personal life, we have very little: his wife was Megacleia, and his son was named Daiphantus, and he had two daughtrers, Eumetis and Protomache. He lived in Thebes near the shrine of the oracle Alkmáon.

Pindar died at about the age of eighty2, and his daughters took home his ashes to Thebes, and the Thebans, despite visiting much drama upon the man in life, regarded his house as one of the city’s landmarks, a practical tourist attraction, and it is said that Alexander the Great so revered Pindar (possibly in no small part to the favourable writings he made of Alexandros I of Makedon) that when he had the city burned in the name of “building Hellenic unity”, Pindar’s house was the only one in the area left intact. Delphi’s Temple of Apollon displayed Pindar’s iron chair that he sat upon during the Theoxenia festival, and one of his daughters claimed to have inscribed a posthumous verse of Pindar’s honouring Persephone.

1: Seriously, in nearly 3000 years, we’ve only really gained about twenty years in life expectancy for the average person, and a statistically insignificant increase in life expectancy for higher classes, and the important factor hasn’t been in prolonging the lives of the elderly, but in all but eradicating paediatric mortality. Remember maths class: “average” figures for ancient life span account all the millions of people dying before the age of eighteen, which skews averages making it look like hardly anybody would see the age of thirty-five, when this is clearly bull.
2: Seriously, octogenarians don’t seem like that big a deal now, do they?
[Also, apologies for dragging this “week” out so long — it’s mainly been allergies, which have been bad enough this last couple weeks that I’ve been feeling muscle weakness and will wake up practically choking on my own snot. Wasn’t nearly so bad this morning. ☺]

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2 thoughts on “The Story of Pindar

    • It’s not bad for so little biographical information.  There’s a little more on Hesiod, but admittedly, it needs a grain of salt cos it’s either completely self-generated or written at least two centuries after he died.

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