Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2015.03.24 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2015.03.24

Eveline Krummen, Cult, Myth, and Occasion in Pindar’s Victory Odes: A Study of Isthmian 4, Pythian 5, Olympian 1, and Olympian 3. (English translation by J.G. Howie; first published in German 1990). Arca: classical and medieval texts, papers and monographs.   Prenton:  Francis Cairns, 2014.  Pp. x, 346.  ISBN 9780905205564.  $150.00.  

Reviewed by Chris Eckerman, University of Oregon (

How does one write a review of an academic book that was published nearly 25 years ago? Presumably the field in which this book was written would have moved forward to such an extent that it would be uncharitable to judge the book by the methodologies of, and trends in, scholarship that are active in the respective field today. This is the predicament that reviewing E. Krummen’s book (Pyrsos Hymnon: festliche Gegenwart und mythisch-rituelle Tradition als Voraussetzung einer Pindarinterpretation), through J.G. Howie’s recent translation, affords me. In what follows, then, I shall largely be responding to the arguments that Krummen made some time ago, reflecting on how the book holds up both on its own and in light of recent research.

Krummen is interested in various possible cultic and festive occasions that may occur at the same time as the performance of Isthmian 4 and Pythian 5, and she is interested in whether Pindar’s audience, accustomed to particular versions of myths, could comprehend particular mythical innovations in Olympians 1 and 3. These concerns lead her to begin her monograph by considering the occasional nature of epinician poetry. She stresses that the competent reader needs to reconstruct as much of the original contexts of the odes as possible. This is admirable. Readers aware of developments in epinician scholarship within the last quarter century will note that Krummen’s preoccupations were typical of the time at which she was writing and that such methodology still structures the research-agenda of many critics today. The book is a revised dissertation; accordingly, it will come as little surprise that the introduction concludes with a review of trends in scholarship on Pindaric poetry. This remains insightful, even though Glenn Patten, in Pindar’s Metaphors (Heidelberg, 2009), has now covered largely overlapping terrain in a more sophisticated manner.

Her first case study is Isthmian 4, and focusing on lines 61-72b, she argues that the ode was performed during a festival held in honor of Herakles at Thebes, the Herakleia.1 Of particular interest to her are the contested lines 61-3: τῷ μὲν Ἀλεκτρᾶν ὕπερθεν δαῖτα πορσύνοντες ἀστοί/ καὶ νεόδματα στεφανώματα βωμῶν αὔξομεν ἔμπυρα χαλκοαρᾶν ὀκτω θανόντων. In short, she suggests that αὔξομεν means “honor” and that στεφανώματα are “the burnt offerings (ἔμπυρα), the sacrificial animals whose blood ran into the altar hollow along with the libations. They were the massive πυραὶ advertising the generosity of the sacrifice. They were all the paraphernalia of the sacrifice. They were, in short, everything that was customarily offered to the dead as a mark of honour” (57). I do not think that this is correct. In Krummen’s favor, I should note that I do not believe that we have previously understood these lines, but I would like to offer here an interpretation that, I believe, makes good sense of στεφανώματα and αὔξομεν. At line 44, Pindar refers to this ode as a stephanoma, a crown, and there is no doubt that Pindar uses stephanoma there as a metaphor for his ode, because the phrase is in apposition to a reference to Pindar’s song as a pursos hymnon “fire brand of hymns.” By using stephanoma as a reference to song in line 44, Pindar has clarified, I suggest, how he wants this word to be understood when he uses it at line 62. I infer, then, that νεόδματα στεφανώματα βωμῶν means ‘new-built crowns (i.e. songs) for altars’; βωμῶν here is an objective genitive. Accordingly, an acceptable translation for lines 61-63 would be: we citizens provide feast for him [i.e. Herakles] above the Elektran Gates and we multiply/increase new-built crowns (i.e. songs) for the altars, burnt offerings for the eight bronze-clad warriors.2 Feasting and song are standard at Greek festivals, and it is not surprising to find Pindar here referring to the provision of feasting and songs (through the metaphor of crowns) at a festival. This passage, then, provides one example of the crown-as-ode metaphor, which Pindar uses regularly.3

But what about Krummen’s primary thesis, namely that, in lines 61-72b, Pindar describes a festival that occurs at the same time that this ode is performed? At line 55 Pindar begins telling us about Herakles, his travels, and his marriage to Hebe. When we get to line 61, then, we would not, I think, be surprised to hear about generic festive ritual that is offered to Herakles and his sons (since Pindar is mentioning truisms that revolve around Herakles), and, as the passage continues, we learn that after the day of feasting at Herakles’ festival there occur the games, in which Melissos, on multiple occasions in the past, was victorious. Accordingly, I think that this passage describes a movement from generic (description of activities involved in the festival) to particular (Melissos won at this festival); at any rate, the passage does not provide evidence in support of the argument that this ode was performed at the Herakleia, as Krummen would have it. That is to say, there is no textual evidence in favor of interpreting 61-72b as a reference to the specific moment rather than as a reference to iterative festive behavior. Moreover, the plural, στεφανώματα, used with the present αὔξομεν, ‘multiply/increase’, may have been chosen to describe the provision of multiple songs at multiple festivals. Moreover, Pindar, when introducing the festival, says entha (l.69), and this corroborates a claim that the ode is not being performed at the Herakleia. 4 From lines 3 and 44, moreover, we learn that this ode celebrates a victory won in the pankration at the Isthmos. It seems strange, to me at least, that Melissos would be celebrating a victory won at the Isthmos in honor of Poseidon while being (?) at a Theban festival held in honor of Herakles, and such a performative context is not recognized elsewhere in Pindar’s odes. Krummen, then, does not offer textual or extra-textual evidence that makes her argument compelling.

The next ode is P. 5, and Krummen’s primary argument is that this ode was performed during the Karneia at Cyrene. Much as in the previous chapter, the argumentation in this chapter is not persuasive. Let me give an example of how Krummen links together a paragraph on page 133, without providing evidence to support her assertions. I add ‘Why?’ in brackets to point out how her argument moves forward without being supported, although it should be supported in those places:

If the Carnea celebrates the foundation of the city, the lines on Battus’ actions as founder (87-98) have to be seen as continuing the theme of the Carnea [Why?]. The places mentioned in this passage are not simply being mentioned as fine achievements of King Battus [Why?]. They are the completion of the topography of the foundation [Why?]; and this account of them continues both the story of the foundation and the story of the Carnea [Why?]. Earlier controversy as to whether the phrase Apolloniais…pompais in lines 90-91 refers to the Carnea can now be considered as settled [Why?]. Battus’ street is presented as specially laid for these processions [Why?]. Calling what was the procession route “paved” (skyrôta) serves as a vivid and succinct evocation of the festival [Why?].

Krummen here offers an extensive chain of assertions without providing evidence to support them. Let me give a couple of other examples of weak argumentation from this chapter. First, as with her interpretation of αὔξομεν in I. 4 (pp. 42, 67), Krummen tendentiously concludes that σεβίζομεν (l. 80) refers to the immediate performance of the ode at the Karneia, although the verb may be used to express iterative behavior.5 Secondly, given that there are accurate topographic references in P. 5, Krummen deduces that Pindar was present in Cyrene (pp. 153, 178); this argumentation is unsound both because one man’s topographical accuracy is another man’s topographical hazyness and because a handful of accurate geographic references need not derive from autopsy. Pindar, of course, may very well have visited Cyrene, but we cannot draw that conclusion from P. 5. In conclusion, Krummen does not provide compelling textual or extra-textual evidence in favor of her thesis that the ode was performed at the Karneia. Thus, I am largely in agreement with Franco Ferrari, who has recently argued that P5 was not performed at the Karneia.6

This book still deserves a careful reading, and there are parts of it that are very good, but, as noted above, there are also several sections of the book where the argumentation is not strong, and Krummen has not provided compelling evidence in favor of her primary thesis, namely that the four odes addressed in this book were composed for the four specific contexts that she suggests. I have chosen to focus attention on the early chapters of this book to address some of the problems that this book exhibits. The length of this review does not allow me to address her chapters on O. 1 and 3, but similar reservations regarding her argumentation could be raised (e.g. the presence of a banqueting scene in O. 1 does not allow us to deduce either that O. 1 was performed at a symposium (p.241) or that the audience was specifically “the men in the court of Hieron in Syracuse” (p.244)).

One may wonder why Krummen felt compelled to argue categorically in favor of these specific performance contexts, since the evidence in support of her hypothesis is meager. She could have written the book, for example, in a manner that would have allowed her to address the important role that depictions of particular celebrations play in the odes without asserting that depictions of particular celebrations must be read as depictions of the realia of first performances, and I suggest that readers coming to this book today approach it from that perspective. In light of recent research on deixis, moreover, we realize that, even if particular passages did appear to offer substantial evidence for the performance of these four odes within the specific contexts that Krummen suggests (which I do not believe that they do), this would not mean that these passages should be taken literally. In relation to P. 6, for instance, there is no good reason to think that the ode was performed at Delphi, although its proem depicts a procession at Delphi.7 In relation to our study of all epinician odes, we need to keep in mind that Pindar regularly uses deixis am Phantasma (fictional deixis) and that he may be integrating deictic elements for the sake of ‘vicarious transport,’ to use Nancy Felson’s helpful phrase, rather than to clarify the realia of the first performance context. Krummen, of course, could not avail herself of the literature on deixis that has developed since she wrote her monograph, but our increased sensitivity to depictions of space, place, and landscape (thanks, at least partially, to our study of deixis) should be activated when we work through Krummen’s monograph today.8


In my recent review of Krummen’s Cult, Myth, and Occasion in Pindar’s Victory Odes, I offer a new interpretation of the contested lines 61-3 of Isthmian 4. I think that I only got the passage half right as I describe it in that review.

I suggest here that we should translate the passage as: we citizens, above the Elektran gates, providing for him (i.e. Herakles) feast and new-built crowns (i.e. songs) for altars, add to the burnt offerings for the eight bronze-clad men who died.

The citizens are constructed as adding to the burnt offerings because by providing feast and song for Herakles, they are adding to the burnt offerings for the eight bronze-clad men who died.

In footnote two, I encouraged the reader to see the discussion that Krummen offers at pages 51-3 on the contested kai in line 42. The kai is now sensible and that footnote is no longer relevant, given the revision, provided here, to the interpretation and translation that I offered in my review of Krummen’s monograph.

Christopher Eckerman, March 18, 2015


1.   I follow the line-numeration of W. Race in his Loeb edition of Pindar (Cambridge, MA, 1997) rather than that of Krummen.
2.   The kai in line 42 deserves consideration; see the interpretation offered by Krummen, 51-3.
3.   See e.g. O. 1.100, P. 9.4, I. 4.44, N. 7.77.
4.   See W. Slater, Lexicon to Pindar (Berlin, 1969) s.v. ἔνθα and ἐνθάδε.
5.   Contrast her interpretation here with her comments (p.264) on ἐποίχονται at O. 3.40.
6.   “Representations of Cult in Epinician Poetry” in Reading the Victory Ode edd. P. Agócs, C. Carey, and R. Rawles (Cambridge, 2012) 158-172, at 170-2.
7.   See, e.g., C. Eckerman, “Pindar’s Pythian6: On the Place of Performance and an Interpretive Crux,” Rheinisches Museum für Philologie 153 (2011) 1-8.
8.   See, e.g., N. Felson (ed.) The Poetics of Deixis in Alcman, Pindar, and Other Lyric. Arethusa 37 2004. ​

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