Bryn Mawr Classical Review 02.06.17


William H. Race, Style and Rhetoric in Pindar's Odes. American Philological Association, American Classical Studies no.24. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1990. Pp. ix, 217. ISBN 1-55540-490-1.


Reviewed by Douglas E. Gerber, University of Western Ontario.

Since 1980 over 50 books have been published on Pindar, and his popularity shows no sign of waning. Given the notorious difficulty of his Greek and certain characteristics of modern literary criticism, it is hardly surprising that some of these books reveal more about the author's imagination than they do about Pindar's poetry. Race's study, however, does not belong in this category, for it is firmly grounded in the text, substantiates the conclusions reached with an almost clinical precision, and is written in an English that is refreshingly clear and straightforward. The end result is that we have not mere compilation of parallels, but a thorough analysis and elucidation of a variety of stylistic features which, once delineated, contribute significantly to a proper understanding of Pindar's poetry. I am not suggesting, nor is Race, that style and rhetoric are all there is to Pindar, but they are aspects of his poetry which, through ignorance of their format and purpose, have caused Pindar to appear more difficult than he is and have been the source of unjustified assumptions of irrelevance, haste of composition, and historical or biographical allusions.

Since I have no substantial criticism to offer, I shall concentrate on what it is that the book contains, portions of which have already appeared in article form. After a brief account of previous treatments of Pindar's style, there follow six chapters, three appendices, a bibliography, an index locorum and a general index. The first chapter is on "Climactic Elements in Pindar's Verse," sub-divided into sections on the priamel, on hymnal invocations and requests, catalogues, and a discussion of Pyth. 3.61-76; the second on "Elements of Style in Break-Offs"; the third on "Negative Expressions," sub-divided into sections on achievement and its celebration (further broken down into visual, spatial and auditory display), praise and blame, kindness and envy, expressions denoting association, litotes in vaunts, negative expressions in prayers, and a discussion of Pyth. 9.70-103; the fourth on "Style and Rhetoric in Opening Hymns" (both cultic and rhapsodic), sub-divided into several sections and with special reference to Olym. 3.1-5, 4.1-16, 10.1-12, 12, 14, Nem. 3.1-17, 7.1-8 and Isth. 7.1-21; the fifth on "Forms and Functions of Prayers," sub-divided into sections on concluding and medical prayers and a discussion of Pyth. 1; and the sixth "applies the principles of style and rhetoric discussed on the previous pages to an entire ode" (Olym. 8). Of the three appendices the first is on "Climactic Pairs," the second on "Bakchylides' Opening Hymns," and the third on "Variations on Two Topics." The latter deals with eight passages where Pindar describes "the relationship between an individual's physical appearance and his performance."

In all instances the Greek is accompanied by an English translation, thereby rendering the book easily accessible to those not thoroughly familiar with Pindar. Passages where the text or the precise significance of the Greek is disputed are discussed in notes (thankfully at the bottom of the page), through seldom is a new interpretation offered. In addition to the appendix on Bacchylides, comparisons between the Cean and the Theban poet are occasionally drawn elsewhere. In one instance (p. 183) I think Race is too harsh on Bacchylides, when he says that "to a great extent because of the profusion of epithets, Bakchylides' hymns tend to glitter on the surface and rarely reveal any deeper significance," although this criticism is perhaps somewhat more valid for his epinicians than for his dithyrambs.

I conclude on a note of bemusement. Race appropriately justifies Pindar's addressing Poseidon as "rule of the sea" in Olym. 6.103, but then he goes on to account for the subsequent reference to Poseidon as the husband of Amphitrite by saying: "No one, to my knowledge, has noticed that Poseidon is here being invoked under two different aspects. As lord of the waves, he would have little concern with poetry, but as a husband he would be at leisure to enjoy it." Does Race know something about marriage that I do not know?