Bryn Mawr Classical Review 97.7.29


William H. Race, Pindar: Nemean Odes, Isthmian Odes, Fragments. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997. Pp. 450. ISBN 0-674-99534-1.


Reviewed by Thomas K. Hubbard, tkh@mail.utexas.edu, Department of Classics, University of Texas, Austin.

The two volumes of Professor Race's new Loeb edition of Pindar are intended to replace Sir John Sandys' earlier edition, first published in 1915, as part of an ongoing program to update the Loeb editions of major classical authors. I must admit at the outset a certain sentimental attachment to Sandys: it is in the sonorous cadences and quaint diction of this Victorian prose translation that I first encountered Pindar, and won the sense that there was in this poet a sublimity and elevation of tone which merited closer scrutiny in the original. The rest is, as they say, history. In lieu of the unforgettable music of Sandys' King James English, Race has given us a Revised Standard Version: a translation which is modern, accurate, streamlined, and comprehensible, by most quantifiable and objective standards superior to its predecessor, but somehow lacking the incantatory magic and power which distinguished Sandys' translation as a work of art in its own right.

To be sure, it is not necessarily the purpose of Loeb translations to be works of art; in their contemporary incarnation, they are meant to be reasonably literal guides to the meaning of the original, designed for use by students (or even scholars) with some, perhaps imperfect knowledge of the original language, or by those (such as myself sometimes) who may need to read through a text very quickly in search of something specific. For all its beauty, the register of Sandys' diction long ago ceased to be familiar to the ear of the average student, and nowadays is quite as foreign to most of them as Pindar's Greek. Much as I may treasure in my memory lines like "no false loon is the witness that presideth over doughty deeds" (Nemean 7.49), most readers today do not. Race's translation will certainly be more accessible to this audience.

Still, I suspect that this translation will persuade few completely Greek-less readers that Pindar was as great a poet as we know him to be. A few examples, chosen more or less at random, illustrate the point. Speaking of the Sicilians' many Olympic victories, Pindar proclaims (in Sandys' translation): "and the son of Cronus granted that the host of armed horsemen, that awaketh the memory of bronze-clad war, would full oft be wedded with the golden leaves of Olympia's olive" (Nemean 1.16-18). Race renders the same lines: "and Kronos' son granted to her (footnote: 'Persephone, or perhaps Sicily') a people of cavalrymen enamored of bronze-armored war/and often indeed crowned with golden olive leaves/from Olympic festivals (second footnote)." While more painstakingly literal in its observance of every pronoun (Sandys omitted the OI() and the exact sense of *O)LUMPIA/DWN E)LAIA=N, Race's translation sounds a bit flat in comparison. And where it really matters, Sandys was right on target, preserving Pindaric metaphors (MIXQE/NTA rendered as "wedded," as implied by the verb's frequent sexual connotation) and etymological figures (MNASTH=RA being connected with "memory"); both figures are lost in Race.

One may compare the famous opening of Nemean 5. Sandys gave us: "No sculptor am I, that I should carve statues doomed to linger only on the pedestal where they stand. No! I would bid my sweet song speed from Aegina, in every argosy, and in every skiff, spreading abroad the tidings that..." And Race: "I am not a sculptor, so as to fashion stationary statues that stand on their same base./Rather, on board every ship and in every boat, sweet song,/go forth from Aigina and spread the news that..."

To be sure, Sandys added some embroidery not in the Greek ("doomed," "No!," the indirect discourse construction "I would bid..."). But there is far more poetry and rhythm in his prose than in the three lines of Race's verse translation. Or consider Nemean 3.23-25, of Heracles. Sandys translated: "He quelled the monstrous beasts amid the seas, and tracked to the very end the streams of the shallows, there where he reached the bourne that sped him home again." Race give us: "He subdued monstrous beasts/in the sea, and on his own explored the streams of the shallows,/where he reached the limit that sent him back home." Syntactically the two translations are almost identical, but rhythm and word-choice give Sandys a poetic majesty which the updated version lacks.

The paradox which any translator of Pindar faces is that to make him comprehensible to the ear of the average student, one must in a certain sense make him cease to be Pindar. One is entitled to wonder whether all of Pindar's or Aeschylus' choral lyric would have been immediately transparent to their average contemporary, any more than much of Mallarm or Wallace Stevens would be. The translator's task is nevertheless to reformulate the poet's words into a language that the contemporary audience can understand, but at the same time to strive for a flavor of the original style, however strange it may have been. Sandys attempted to preserve Pindar's remoteness by rendering him into a diction and periodic prose style that sounded archaizing even in Sandys' own day. Race's strategy is different: the diction is updated and rhythmic cadences nowhere to be heard, but what Race does try to preserve from the original, with a surprising degree of success, is a sense of Pindar's artful word order.

Of course, Pindar's word order cannot be preserved in English with full consistency, but where it is possible, Race does attempt a line-for-line translation, which renders his text much more readily useful for those readers with a smidgen of Greek who may be attempting to compare both sides of the page. It is perhaps inevitable that this strategy at times produces some rather choppy and tortuous English. Note, for instance, Race's rendition of Nemean 2.6-10: "But Timonoos' son is still indebted -- if indeed his life,/while guiding him straight on the path of his fathers,/has given him as an adornment for great Athens --/ to pluck again and again the fairest prize of the Isthmian festivals and to be victorious/in the Pythian games." This nesting of parentheses may work in an inflected language, but sounds quite unnatural to us; contrast Sandys' translation here, which is perhaps less faithful to the Greek word order, but a model of rhetorical clarity. In Isthmian 6.35, Race attempts to preserve Pindar's artful enjambment of the identifying name "Heracles" to the end of a five-line sentence, overlapping as the first word of the next strophe: but where this sounds like a rhetorical climax in Greek, it comes off in English as a mere afterthought ("Herakles, that is"). There are other cases where Race's desire to adhere to the Greek word order leaves him indifferent to the sound of the English: in translating A)/GAN FILOTIMI/AN MNW/MENOI E)N PO/LESIN A)/NDRES (fr. 210.1) as "men in cities too eager for ambition," Race preserves the collocation of men and cities, but unfortunately makes it sound as if the cities are too eager for ambition, whereas grammatically it is of course the men. Similarly, the translation of Isthmian 4.43-45 ("to light such a beacon-fire of hymns/for Melissos too, Telesiadas' offspring,/a crown worthy of the pancratium") makes it sound as if the crown is in apposition to Melissus, whereas grammatically it refers to the beacon-fire.

One of the distinguishing qualities of Sandys' translation was a fine ear for Pindaric metaphor and connotation. In Race we find these expressions often watered down for the sake of clarity. For instance, Race translates A)FQONI/AN in Nemean 3.9 as "abundance" -- technically correct, but without the connotative/etymological associations of Sandys' "no grudging share." Race translates PEIRA=TO PRW=TON MA/XAS (Nemean 1.43, of the infant Heracles) as "engaged in his first battle," but Sandys' "made his first essay of battle" captures the verb's connotative overtones a bit more precisely. The phrase O)/RGAN KNI/ZON (Nemean 5.32) is rendered as "provoked his anger," but this loses the verb's original sense of abrasion or puncture, better preserved with Sandys' "stung him to wrath." The verb is similarly watered down in Isthmian 5.58. Race renders MHKE/TI R(I/GEI (Nemean 5.50) as "hold back no longer," but the verb literally means "shudder," particularly in response to fear or cold; the sense is conveyed somewhat more forcefully, although still imperfectly, by Sandys' "away with cold reserve." One wonders whether "elegant" is adequate as a translation of the adjective A(BRA/ (of Hippolyta in Nemean 5.26); L. Kurke, "The Politics of A(BROSU/NH in Archaic Greece," CA 11 (1992) 91-120, studies the semantic range of this term, whose moral overtones seem rather more strongly marked, in the sense of "extravagantly soft" or "luxuriant." DONEI=N QUMO/N in Nemean 6.56 is translated merely as "disturb the heart," an acceptable enough definition of the infinitive, but in this context the reference is to a great wave at sea, suggesting that the verb's more literal sense of "shake" is entirely appropriate here. Race translates A)RGURWQE/NTES SU\N OI)NHRAI=S FIA/LAIS (Nemean 10.43) as "laden with silver wine bowls," a good explanation of Pindar's metaphor, but one which obscures the fact that Pindar had indeed used a bold and striking metaphor, literally "besilvered with wine bowls."

Isthmian 1 opens with an apology to Delos for the paean Pindar has postponed to complete the present ode: in line 4 Race translates KE/XUMAI as "I have been toiling" (for Delos), but this verb does not mean "toil." It is a metaphor, perhaps evoking the image of a libation for Delian Apollo: "I have poured myself out." Sandys comes a bit closer to the mark with "I have been fully spent." Race's rendition of XARI/TWN two line later as "poems" is again more an interpretation than a translation of the word. Race translates KW/MAZ' (Isthmian 7.20) merely as "celebrate," innocuous enough, but the vivid image of the komos which the word properly conveys was much better captured by Sandys' "begin the festal triumph-song." A few lines later, W(=| PO/TMON *A)/RHS E)/MEICEN comes out as "whom Ares brought to his fated end." Sandys translated more metaphorically as "for whom Ares mingled the draught of death," preserving the fundamental Pindaric image of mixture (on the importance of which, see T. Hoey, "Fusion in Pindar," HSCP 70 [1965] 235-62). In none of these cases of word choice is Race really wrong, but his translation does tend to follow a pattern of explaining, rather than translating Pindaric metaphor. This approach is consistent with his overall strategy of pursuing clarity and accessibility to the modern reader. But in many of these instances Sandys' translation was paradoxically both more literal and more poetic.

Like Sandys, Race prefaces each ode with a two-page introduction, including one paragraph of general comment and a fairly detailed paraphrase. Some of the major fragments are also given brief introductions. Race is not so inclined as Sandys to speculate about date, and his summaries are for the most part very impartial and accurate. However, I believe he goes astray in the introduction to Nemean 2, when interpreting the simile of Orion following the Pleiades as an implied prediction of future Olympic victory; I have argued against this view at some length in ICS 20 (1995) 51-55.

As necessitated by the format of the Loeb series, footnotes are spare, but useful. In addition to explaining the usual mythological and topical allusions, Race devotes footnotes to athletic details (e.g. the structure of the pentathlum) and even sound plays in the Greek (e.g. athletes and Athens in Nemean 5.49). One feature which I particularly appreciate, and wish were adopted by more scholarly translations, is the use of footnotes to give variant translations of disputed passages. Race adopts this practice not only in cases of disputed textual readings, but also in more than a score of cases where there is genuine scholarly dispute over the meaning of the received text. Needless to say, there are many such cruces in Pindar and even the most experienced Pindarist must often admit that he simply is not sure which solution is the right one. Indeed my only complaint is that we do not have twice as many footnotes explaining alternative constructions.

There are several cases where I take the Greek somewhat differently from Race. After rendering the controversial sentence in Nemean 1.24-25 in a manner which I find altogether correct, Race takes the next line (XRH\ D' E)N EU)QEI/AIS O(DOI=S STEI/XONTA MA/RNASQAI FUA=|) as "but one must travel in straight paths and strive by means of natural talent." But surely Pindar's point is not that everyone should do it by inborn talent; not everyone has inborn talent. Rather, it is specifically the man who wishes to travel in straight paths who must do so; such a differentiation is also implied by the preceding summary priamel, "different are the arts of different men." Hence I would translate, "but one who travels in straight paths must do battle (emphasizing the metaphor of MA/RNASQAI) by means of natural talent." I would also differ somewhat in translating KOINAI\ E)/RXONT' E)LPI/DES POLUPO/NWN A)NDRW=N a few lines later (Nemean 1.32): Race takes the phrase as "to all alike come the hopes of much-toiling men," in the sense that such hopes, whether positive or negative, characterize all mankind. But again, I think Pindar is referring to a more selective group, not only as designated by the genitive "much-toiling men," but also as implied by the preceding lines on the usefulness of friends. I would thus translate the adjective KOINAI/ as "shared" (i.e. among friends). This construction also provides a better transition to the following myth, which concerns the "shared" fortunes of Heracles and Iphicles.

I have argued elsewhere (Phoenix 41 [1987] 1-9) that the datives of Nemean 3.11-12 and Paean 9.39 should be construed as instrumental, rather than as indirect objects; in these cases, Race merely echoes communis opinio. In Nemean 7.58, Race translates KAIRO\N O)/LBOU as "measure of prosperity." I would rather translate as "opportunity for prosperity," which is properly what Fate (the subject of the sentence) gives; as always in Pindar, human achievement is not merely a gift of god, but something actualized by man's effort on the basis of opportunities afforded by divine favor. Race translates PROCENI/A| in Nemean 7.66 as "my host's hospitality," which merely repeats what Pindar had already asserted five lines earlier (Nemean 7.61 CEINOS EI)MI), with less obvious relevance to its immediate context here. It may be better to take the term proxenia in its more technical sense of "consulship" or "ambassadorship," as have many previous commentators and translators; the same holds true at Isthmian 4.8. In Nemean 11.11, it is easier to construe A)/NDRA as the direct object of MAKARI/ZW (so Mezger), rather than PATE/R'; although the double accusative construction with this verb is less common than accusative plus genitive, it seems inevitable in virtue of the two accusatives in the following line, which are otherwise left dangling as an awkward zeugma.

We have a couple of mythographic problems in Isthmian 1. P.135 n.3, on Geryon's dog, seems to miss the point, which is that Pindar uses the plural "dogs" (Isthmian 1.13) because Orthrus had multiple heads, not because Geryon had other pets. At line 30, referring to Iolaus, Race translates O(MO/DAMOS E)W\N *SPARTW=N GE/NEI as "belonging to the race of Spartoi." After spending much time checking the matter in Roscher and other sources, I can assert with some degree of confidence that Iolaus had no bloodline going back to the Spartoi: he was a Pelopid on his mother's side and, like Heracles, a Perseid on his father's side. What O(MO/DAMOS clearly means is that he was of the same demos as the race of the Spartoi, i.e. Theban, but not himself of the genos of the Spartoi.

I think it may not be quite right to translate the verb E)NARMO/CAI in Isthmian 1.16 as "include him (sc. Herodotus) in a hymn to Kastor or Iolaos." If anything, it is rather the praise of Castor and Iolaus that is included in the epinician for Herodotus, at least if we see the statement as a transitional self-reference to this section of the poem (lines 16-32). We would do much better to translate E)NARMO/CAI with its original sense of "joining," which leaves the matter neutral as to who is being included in whose song. Race translates Isthmian 5.44-45 (TETEI/XISTAI ... PU/RGOS U(YHLAI=S A)RETAI=S A)NABAI/NEIN) as "she (sc. Aegina) has been built as a bastion for men to scale with lofty achievement"; this construction has good authority behind it, but at least as good a case can be made for taking the instrumental dative with TETEI/XISTAI, and construing the infinitive as epexegetic after U(YHLAIS, as did many nineteenth-century commentators (and more recently Privitera). Isthmian 7.47-48 (TO\ PA\R DI/KAN GLUKU/) is translated as "that sweetness which is unjust," but might be better rendered as "what is sweet beyond due measure"; excess of prosperity is the issue here. I have argued elsewhere (GRBS 28 [1987] 6-16) that the phrase KAI\ DAIMO/NESSI DI/KAS E)PEI/RAINE (Isthmian 8.24) does not mean Aeacus "settled disputes even for the gods" in the sense of meting out judgment (as implied by Race's footnote), but rather "brought disputes to an end even for the gods" (i.e. through his son Peleus, who provided a resolution of Zeus' and Poseidon's rivalry for Thetis, described in the ensuing myth). Paean 9.6 (of the eclipse) is a case where Race renders a euphemistically vague expression in Pindar (E)LAU/NEIS TI NEW/TERON H)\ PA/ROS;) as something very specific: "Are you bringing some unprecedented disaster?" This may be what Pindar ultimately means, but it is not what he says.

Race's text is very conservative. For the most part, it is fairly close to the standard Teubner edition of Snell-Maehler. Apart from small changes in punctuation, I count about 35 places where this volume departs from Snell-Maehler: most of these are cases where Race maintains a manuscript reading against an emendation accepted by Snell, or prefers a more conservative emendation to a more radical solution. There are, in addition, several cases where Snell-Maehler have been content merely to leave the text in daggers, where Race adopts a plausible emendation. As required by the Loeb series, the apparatus is minimal, largely limited to cases where Race's text either departs from a majority of the MSS, or differs from Snell or Sandys. Once or twice he will note a recently proposed emendation not yet registered in Snell-Maehler (e.g. Janko's suggestion MURI/AN at Nemean 7.51). There are a couple of places in Race's text where I find emendation necessary: the manuscripts' infinitive NIKA=SAI in Nemean 10.48 strikes me as difficult, as does XRUSA/NION in fr. 37, especially if, like Race, we translate it as vocative along with *PO/TNIA QESMOFO/RE. And on analogy with Olympian 13.36, I think that Maas' A)/GKEITAI (accepted by Snell) is likely to be right at Isthmian 5.18; KEI=TAI by itself does not have the meaning Race translates it with. But for the most part Race's judgment is quite sound in these matters, and for those who prefer a conservatively edited text, he may well have produced the best text available. His text is certainly better than Sandys'.

The edition of the fragments is another area where Race marks a major advance over Sandys. He includes some 77 fragments not in the older Loeb, and fills out the papyrus fragments of some major poems such as the Nomos fragment (fr. 169), as well as some of the paeans and dithyrambs; we are also given far more of the Hymn to Zeus than Sandys afforded us. In many respects Race's edition of the fragments will be even more useful than Snell-Maehler, since he quotes and translates lengthy chunks of surrounding material from the texts preserving our fragments; the Teubner usually gives us no more than a citation in the apparatus. Whatever my criticism of Race's translation style in the epinicia as too prosaic and lacking panache, it is altogether appropriate for fragmentary material, where careful, sober, literal translation is exactly what is called for.

The only misprints I have noted are "throughly" on p.181 and "chlidren" on p.259.

It is in the nature of reviews like this one that they seem to focus on areas of disagreement more than on the many controverted passages where one finds oneself in complete accord. There are probably no two Pindarists alive (or dead) who will agree with each other completely on how to translate every line of this difficult and demanding poet, and it is often my preferences that are the heterodox ones. I offer my observations in the hope that they may be of some help should a second edition ever be planned. There is no question but that this new edition represents a landmark contribution by a scholar who can with justice be regarded as the current Dean of American Pindaric Studies. Particularly with regard to text, fragments, footnotes, and accessibility for the modern student, it is a decided advance over the former Loeb edition, and will be a valuable tool welcome to all. If I retain some nostalgia for Sandys' more old-fashioned style of translation, and express the hope that libraries and scholars will not discard his edition, I do not wish my admittedly antiquarian enthusiasm to detract from the praise which is owed the present laudandus. For me to say more would be like repeating *DIO\S KO/RINQOS.