Bryn Mawr Classical Review 04.01.03


Patricia Bulman, Phthonos in Pindar. University of California Publications in Classical Studies 35. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992. Pp. 131. ISBN 0-520-09773-4.


Reviewed by M.W. Dickie, University of Illinois at Chicago Circle.

In most of the societies of Classical Antiquity of which we know anything there is an acute consciousness of the omnipresence of FQO/NOS/invidia. It was a presence that men both feared and loathed. Demosthenes in a passage much imitated in later antiquity says of FQO/NOS that it is evidence of an utterly wicked nature and that there is no excuse that can pardon its presence in a man (20.140). It is not to be pardoned, since those at whom it is directed have done nothing to deserve its malice. As such it is malice pure and simple, a feature of its character the Fathers of the Church were wont to emphasize when they inveighed against it. To suppose, however, that FQO/NOS and envy are one and the same thing would be a mistake. One of the considerable merits of the book under review is to make this clear and to bring out the complexity of FQO/NOS. It may usefully be thought of as a smallness of spirit -- hence its frequent association with MIKROYUXI/A -- that cannot, on the one hand, bear to give of the goods it itself possesses and, on the other, to see others enjoying any form of prosperity. Although ancient definitions of FQO/NOS dwell exclusively on the pain that this state of mind causes its possessor and ignore the malice that is inherent in it, it is important to bear in mind that, at least in its other-directed aspect, ill-will is at the heart of FQO/NOS. We should also not assume that what for us seem to be quite separate and distinct aspects of FQO/NOS were seen as such in antiquity. When, for example, Socrates in the Timaeus asserts that there is in a good man no FQO/NOS ever about anything at all (29e1-2), what is meant is that the good man will gladly and wholeheartedly give everything he himself possesses and will not resent but welcome others enjoying goods as great as he himself possesses.

For the epinician poet FQO/NOS in both of its facets is a central concern: as a man divinely-endowed with a poetic gift he has a great deal to give or withhold and his feelings about the successes of others will affect what he gives of himself. If he does respond without FQO/NOS to an athlete's victory in the games, giving all of himself and holding back nothing out of envy at the other's good fortune, he has then to contend with the envy that his wholehearted praise of the victorious athlete may arouse in others. Patricia Bulman has set herself the difficult and ambitious task, in what was originally a Berkeley dissertation, of describing the way in which Pindar, principally in his epinician odes, 1) exploits the notion of FQO/NOS to define his role as an encomiastic poet and 2) attempts to defuse the ill-will his praise may arouse in his hearers. In pursuit of this goal she has concentrated her attention on two odes, N. 4 and 8. The resulting work consists of an introduction in which she sets out the principles that will govern her work and gives an account of the moral and theological system of thought centered on FQO/NOS that she argues Pindar articulated. This is followed by an synopsis of all of the passages in which some part of the root FQON- occurs; there is no discussion of the several passages in which allusion is made to FQO/NOS, though not in as many words (e.g., O. 2.95-97, 4.5, 8.83-88, P. 8.94, N. 7.61-63). Two chapters on odes in which FQO/NOS plays a particularly important part, N. 8 and 4, make up the rest of the book.

In the introductory chapter B. acknowledges the influence of Bundy on her thinking, and, in particular, his conviction that everything in an epinician ode is designed to further its encomiastic purpose. Since the interpreters of Pindar who proclaim their adherence to this principle have such very different views of what would constitute an encomium, it is not altogether clear that the principle as formulated means much. B.'s interpretations of N. 8 and 4 are a case in point: if I were one of the athletes whose victories were celebrated and was expecting to hear praise of myself, my family and homeland, then I might have felt somewhat short-changed, since Pindar does rather go on about himself. Equally important for B. apparently are some suggestions made by W.J. Slater (CJ 72 [1979] 193-208) about analysing the progression of thought in the gnomic sections of Pindar's poems. In Slater's view there are commonplaces underlying this gnomic progression that are taken for granted by Pindar's audience, but which we need to identify, presumably by reading widely outside of Pindar, if we are to follow the run of sense. The use to which B. puts this suggestion, though fruitful, may not quite be what its author had in mind, since she is very much an Aristarchus in interpreting Pindar, preferring to explain Pindar through Pindar rather than looking to non-Pindaric texts for illumination. This explicatio Pindari per Pindarum has in some cases led to interpretations very different from those which someone versed in commonplaces about FQO/NOS not found in Pindar might have given. B. also expresses her belief in the usefulness of what she calls cross-referencing to the explanation of Pindar's train of thought. In practice this means B. is, in the manner of the New Critics, alert to verbal and other echoes. Finally, B. records her indebtedness to the work Adolf Köhnken has done in demonstrating that some Pindaric myths are paradigmatic and not merely decorative.

In the second part of the introduction B. presents a Pindar who has more than a passing resemblance to Plato. B.'s Pindar is a systematic thinker who has a "consistent world-view (p.8)." This Pindar views FQO/NOS as a kind of bad E)/RWS or passion that is misdirected and not under the control of reason or intellect. The individual who succumbs to this form of E)/RWS when it manifests itself in FQO/NOS is self-indulgent and has no regard for the common good. His intellectual failure lies in his inability to take account of the limitations of his mortal lot. In marked contrast to this irrational, selfish and misguided character is the good man (O( A)GAQO/S) whose E)/RWS because it is guided by a firm understanding of his mortal limitations, directs him to the pursuit of A)RETA/ and to public-spirited actions. The intellectual virtue which he possesses and in which the FQONERO/S is so woefully lacking is PROMA/QEIA.

The main building block in this structure is a contrast that B. detects in N. 8 between FQO/NOS and a bad form of E)/RWS. The rest of the edifice is made up of Pindar's assertion at P. 2.88-96 that E)/RWS kick against the divine dispensation, on his assertion at P. 11.54 that he strains after the common excellences while FQONEROI/ are punished, and on the gnomic utterance at I. 1.40 that one who has undergone PO/NOS wins PROMA/QEIA. The notion that A)GAQOI/ are free of FQO/NOS comes mainly from P. 2.

It is very much a matter of temperament whether an interpreter of Pindar is inclined to seek in his poetry a consistent and well-thought-out world-view or whether he is content to believe that Pindar is neither a systematic theologian nor a philosopher and that, like most men, he draws on a stock of common, though frequently incommensurable, beliefs, to make sense of the world. Those who incline to the latter point of view will not be troubled by Pindar's holding apparently completely contradictory views on, to take an example, the nature of the divine: on the one hand, abhorring those who speak ill of it and crediting it with punishing wrongdoers and rewarding the virtuous and, on the other, praying that his praise of the victor may not arouse the gods' FQO/NOS. Those who, like B., do not care for contradiction will resolve the dilemma by explaining away divine FQO/NOS as not really envy or jealousy at all, on the ground that "it is unthinkable that Pindar, who views envy among men as something contemptible, should attribute it to the gods (p.31)."

Whether Pindar was a systems-builder or not, the system that B. attributes to him needs examination. I happen to agree wholeheartedly with her conviction that in Pindar's eyes FQO/NOS in a man makes him KAKO/S and that A)GAQOI/ are free of that vice. There will, nonetheless, be those who will remain unpersuaded of this, since A.W.H. Adkins' influence still lingers. I am less happy about the equation of FQO/NOS with a bad form of E)/RWS 1) because FQO/NOS is not generally an appetitive passion like greed, 2) because in B.'s key-text, N. 8, mention of the E)/RWTES (5) is widely separated from mention of FQO/NOS (21-23) and 3) because there is no evidence known to me from the rest of Greek literature that the two notions are ever connected. The idea that FQO/NOS can be seen as a failure to come to terms with our mortal lot is not to be gainsaid and there are ample parallels for it. The contrast that B. sees in Pindar between PROMA/QEIA and FQO/NOS presents problems. Again there is no close verbal connection, either in Pindar or in the wider body of Greek literature, between the two notions. Finally, the CUNAI\ A)RETAI/ after which Pindar strains and which are B.'s warrant for supposing that Pindar "commends a life of public service, a life that proves more enduringly happy than that of FQONEROI/ (p.27)" may not be virtues exercised for the common good, but excellences open to all, and not just tyrants, and not therefore so susceptible to the assaults of FQO/NOS. If so, Pindar is at P. 11.50-58 voicing the same wish as that found at Aesch. Ag. 471-474 and Eur. Med. 123-130.

B.'s second chapter is a useful commentary on passages in Pindar in which words derived from the root FQON- appear. There is much here to be applauded. I would single out for particular commendation B.'s treatment of I. 1.41-45, 5.24-5 and O. 6.8. Not everybody will be persuaded that A)FQO/NHTOS at O. 11.7 "implies that the gods' envy has not blighted (p.30)" the poet's songs. There are interpretations here and there in which the emphasis might be changed or which might be modified. There is the rather intellectualist interpretation of P. 2.88-97 in which B. emphasizes the failure of understanding that FQONEROI/ display in not accepting their apportioned lot but has nothing to say about their not being assuaged by the knowledge that no one has uninterrupted good fortune, a variation on the theme found in moralists that FQO/NOS may be alleviated by comparing our own fortune with that of those worse off than ourselves (cf. Democr. DK 68 B 191; Favor. De. exil. XXVI.1-2 Barigazzi; Sen Dial. 9.31.1-3). Paean 2.55-6 (H)/DH FQO/NOS OI)/XETAI / TW=N PA/LAI PROQANO/NTWN) would at first sight appear to be an instance of the commonplace that envy fastens only on the living and leaves the dead alone (cf. Thuc. 2.45.1, 64.4-5, 6.16.5, Isoc. 9.5-7; Pl. Legg. 801e; Dem. 18.317), but B. follows Hubbard (The Pindaric Mind [Leiden 1985] 87-8) in translating it as "Envy ... disappeared long ago thanks to the men who died before (p.25)." How the genitive TW=N PROQANO/NTWN is to be explained on this rendering is a puzzle.

Chapter 3 is devoted to a detailed exposition of N. 8, in which B. argues that the poem is about the contrast between the good E)/RWS that leads the poet to bestow well-merited praise on excellence and the bad E)/RWS that manifests itself in FQO/NOS and the denigration of brilliance. How convincing all of this will be very much depends on whether the reader accepts the identification of FQO/NOS with a form of bad E)/RWS, a thesis which rests on our believing that Pindar intends a contrast between the good E)/RWTES that attend the birth of Aeacus (5-8) and FQO/NOS (21-2). If the identification is not accepted, the echoes and contrasts detected by B., such as that between A)MFEPO/LHSAN (7), used of the good E)/RWTES attending the accouchement of the nymph Aegina, and QERA/PEUSAN (26), of the envious Danaans looking after Odysseus, will fall on deaf ears. Whatever the reader's verdict may be, B. displays boldness and verve in arguing for her thesis. There are a number of transitions in Pindar's argument that remain unexplored. Why, for instance, does the invention of the new (NEARA\ D' E)CEURO/NTA 21) expose the poet to danger and to FQO/NOS? Is it because the new and unwonted arouses FQO/NOS, while that to which we are used does not (cf. Anon. Iambl. DK 89 2.1-8 = Iambl. Protrep. 20 Pisitelli; Polyb. 1.36.2-3; Plut. An seni resp. gerend. 787c, 804d, fr. 154 Sandbach; Themist. Charist. 205d-206c; Lib. Decl. 30.49)?

The argument of Chapter 4 is even more complex than that of 3 and my simplified account of it will hardly do it justice. For B. the structure of N. 4 is like that of N. 8 governed by the distinction between good and bad E)/RWS, but in this case good E)/RWS gives rise in the poet not only to "enthusiastic, perhaps even digressive, poetry that inevitably arouses Envy (p.76)," but also to an aggressiveness of spirit that will "blame and eliminate FQONEROI/, so that the poem and Virtue it self can come to fulfillment in time (p.76)." The poet in his fighting spirit is like the heroes of the poem's myths, Hercules, Telamon and Peleus, while his opponents are like the figures these heroes have to fight. There is, in short, here as in N. 8, a determined attempt to make the poet's moral rôle the focus of the whole poem and its myths. B. adds a further complexity to this picture in maintaining that in being a harsh opponent to the malign (TRAXU\S DE\ PALIGKO/TOIS E)/FEDROS 96) the poet displays towards the wicked the same corrective FQO/NOS that the gods direct against wrongdoers.

Unless one is persuaded that the love-charm by which Pindar is drawn (I)/UGGI D' E(/LKOMAI 35) to pursue a certain topic constitutes a reference to B.'s good E)/RWS, it requires some considerable faith to believe that this notion governs the poem's argument. It is perhaps more profitable to concentrate on what Pindar does say in the poem about FQO/NOS and what B. makes of it. She takes the man who looks an envious look and who rolls in the dark an empty opinion that has fallen to the ground (39-41) to be a rival "eulogist, whose stinting manner of praise identifies him as the antithesis of the encomiast whose chief dilemma is choosing 'how,' not 'how much' to praise (p.65)," and "a mere technician who, out of excessive allegiance to the letter of the encomiastic law, disrespects its spirit (p.66)." The idea of a mechanical stinter comes from Bundy (Studia Pindarica I 3 n.11 and II 42) and A. Miller (CJ 78 [1983] 202-220). It may be that Pindar has an envious rival of his own in mind here , but he could equally well be fusing his own identity into that of the man he praises and be thinking of those who envy the victor. Richard Stoneman's discussion of this point (CQ n.s. 26 [1976] 192-3) should have been taken into account. It is unfortunate that Bundy's belief (Studia Pindarica I 16-19, 29-32) in an opposition in Pindar between the divinely-inspired poet who has a sense of proportion and the mere mechanic who has learned his art by rote continues to be influential. There is in the Greek of N. 4.39-41 nothing to encourage the supposition that "a mere technician" is at issue or that the technician stints his praise. FQONERA\ BLE/PWN has much more sinister overtones than stinting that suggest the Evil Eye of Envy. As for rolling in the dark an empty or vacuous opinion that has fallen to the ground, it is very far from evident that this refers to the technical incompetence of another poet and not to the folly of asserting something out of envy that is manifestly false and will not be believed (cf. P. 2.58-61 on the man who asserts that there is anyone in Hellas superior in wealth and honor to Hieron: XAU/NA| PRAPI/DI PALAIMONEI= KENEA/). Reliance on Bundy (Studia Pindarica II 42) has also led B. to identify the E)PIBOULI/AI (37) that Pindar encourages himself to resist with the pressures of time and propriety that keep him from saying more about the Aeacids (33-4). The enormous number of passages which link E)PIBOULH/ with FQO/NOS suggests the reference is forward-looking to the FQO/NOS that he will encounter and not backward-looking (cf. Pl. Prt. 31d; Aeschin. Fals. leg. 22, 54; Plut. Pyrrh. 12.4, Arat. 9.5; Luc. Cal. 5). It is in any case difficult to see why the pressures of time and poetic propriety should be characterized by the very strong word E)PIBOULI/AI.

There is much still to be written about FQO/NOS in Pindar. Excessive concentration in the present work on two odes has given a somewhat unbalanced picture. There is very little here about what freedom from FQO/NOS means in the encomiastic poet, nor is there anything on the theme of the FQO/NOS of one's fellow-citizens and Pindar's freedom from it because he is a CEI=NOS, nor again is the relationship between FQO/NOS and truth and justice considered, a vital one in the definition of the poet's moral stance. The list could be lengthened. It would have been a considerable boon to the reader had B. given a summary of what she takes to be the argument of N. 8 and 4. There is also one other point that needs to be made: B.' s work will undoubtedly be read with great interest by non-English speakers, but her somewhat artistic prose style will not make their task an easy one.