BMCR 2000.06.09

Three Aeginetan Odes of Pindar. A Commentary on Nemean V, Nemean III, and Pythian VIII

, Three Aeginetan odes of Pindar : a commentary on Nemean V, Nemean III & Pythian VIII. Mnemosyne, bibliotheca classica Batava. Supplementum, 197. Leiden: Brill, 1999. xii, 721 pages ; 25 cm.. ISBN 9004113819. DM 64.

A good commentary on Pindar’s odes will give due weight to a number of elements: rhetoric, historical background, sport, mythology, metre, grammar and syntax. P.’s massive commentaries, each prefaced by 40+ pages of ‘interpretation’, cover all these elements with thoroughness and imagination. They will need to be consulted by anyone considering these three odes. Sadly, however, the text has not been sufficiently edited and revised before publication: it is repetitive, too long, and full of mistakes which the editors of these Mnemosyne Supplements should never have allowed to appear.

The general introduction, and the commentaries themselves, take their starting point from the assumption that ‘Because of the occasional nature of the genre [= every ode is a response to a specific event], every single Pindaric victory ode is firmly rooted in its own historical setting’ (3). No one will argue with that, but P. then goes further: his work goes beyond that of other Pindarists ‘in that it does not only seek to reconstruct the historical setting of individual odes but also attempts to explain how the individual odes functioned as epinicia within the context of their historical setting, and how they did so as coherent wholes’ (12). Here we are on dangerous ground, as rarely is it possible to reconstruct anything that one could plausibly call ‘the historical setting’. But P. is a bold interpreter: N. 3.17-18 καματωδέων δὲ πλαγᾶν ἄκος ὑγιηρὸντὸ καλλίνικον φέρει‘gives rise to the hypothesis that the victor was severely injured’ (20) and ‘We may take it that Aristoclidas was badly hurt’ (202), and, coupled with the following reference to not going beyond the Pillars of Hercules, ‘suggests he had to put an end to his athletic career because of that’ (20), ‘was forced to put an end to his fighting career because of his injuries’ (226). It is worth noting, however, that Pindar does not say that the victor ‘has reached his limit’ (225), but that he has reached very great heights and it is not easy for him to go further.

On N. 5.11-16 (Peleus, Telamon and Phocus praying together at the altar of Zeus Hellenius on Aegina that the island be noble in men and renowned in ships), ‘The association of the solidarity of the three Aeacids with the prosperity of Aegina as a whole suggests the passage is meant to have a relevance to the [sic] Aeginetan society. It can be understood as an illustration of the thought that concord is preferable to internal conflict and thus as a recommendation to the Aeginetan audience not to turn against one another’ (65-6). And in the light of the internal Aeginetan unrest and bloodshed which P. thinks took place about the time the ode was performed (487 BC) and which in his view is implied in the allusion to in the murder of Phocus by his half-brothers Peleus and Telemon, P. concludes that Pindar’s presentation ‘makes sense if his objective were to reconcile the dmow with the aristocratic rulers’ (67). If P. were right about this, it would give to this ode a political purpose rather different from that entertained by most Pindarists hitherto.

P.’s historicising is more persuasive when applied to P. 8 with its overtly political opening address to φιλόφρον Ἡσυχία, Δίκας ὦ μεγιστόπολι θύγατερ, ‘Pindar gives voice to the hope that the momentary tranquility caused by the celebrations of Aristomenes’ victory prefigures a permanent restoration of political tranquility’ (432), though he perhaps goes too far when suggesting that the success of the Epigonoi after the ill-fated expedition of the Seven, recounted in the myth in the ode, and the success of Aristomenes after a hypothesised misfortune suffered by his father, are relevant to ‘the traditional Aeginetan elite having regained favourable perspectives [sic] after ten years of Athenian domination’ (439). Despite such speculative reconstructions, it is good to have a commentary that realises that many factors contribute to the ‘meaning’ of Pindar’s odes, and that there is more to a commentator’s job than merely the elucidation of the literal meaning of the Greek, and to this end P. exploits work by Grice on speech acts.

P. disagrees with Snell-Maehler’s Teubner (8th edition) text in 25 places, including five where he prefers not to ‘normalise’ μιν to νιν where mss. unanimously have μιν, on the grounds that Pindar himself, given that his Greek is an amalgam of Doric, epic, Aeolic and other forms, may have varied his practice. He makes out a plausible case for retaining mss. φέρειν ( φέρε S-M) at N. 5.54, and a possible case for repunctuating χαῖρε· φίλος at N. 3.76 ( χαῖρε, φίλος S-M). However, his defence of γ’ ἑάν N. 3.9 ( τεάν mss.) is unconvincing: the point, reiterated in the last two lines of the ode, is that it is thanks to the Muse (i.e. Pindar’s poetry) that the victor’s efforts have been recompensed by glory; his interpretation of ματέρ’ at N. 5.6 as dative = ματέρι will not do, as the final iota of 3rd decension dative singulars is not elided in Pindar; and, extraordinarily, at N. 3.34 reading καὶ Ἰαολκόν he thinks the Ι can be consonantal.

However, he gives a persuasive interpretation of what is perhaps the most problematic passage in all of the three odes, the ‘epiphany’ of Alcmaeon at P. 8.56-60 (pp. 436-8 and 540-5): what Pindar says about Alcmaeon is tailored to bring out the role of inherited qualities, a point of relevance to the victor (35-7); and there is a careful discussion of the difficult N. 5.43.

But 238 lines of text did not require a book of more than 700 pages; it should have been reduced to less than half that length. Several times whole chunks are repeated word for word (e.g. p.74 n.23 = p.155 n.139, 81 n.38 is on pp.176-7, 200 n.6 is in 241 n.5); there is overlap between the substantial ‘interpretations’ to each ode and the commentaries and the 61-page appendix. Some comments are plain silly and self-indulgent: N. 5.49 χρὴ δ’ Ἀθανᾶν τέκτον’ ἀεθληταῖσιν ἔμμεν, χρὴ δ’ gets the comment, ‘As nowadays everyone in Europe acknowledges that a good football coach must come from Holland’ (179 n.190); N. 3.43-53, “He [Achilles] brought their panting bodies to Cronus’ son, the centaur” (47/8) illustrates the strength of the young Achilles, ‘as it is no picnic for a toddler to drag dead lions and boars to caves’ (211) — and Achilles was, according to Pindar, at least six years old, so not a toddler. Often the English needs correcting: e.g. 94 jambic, 152 maximalizing, 180 dubble, 300 it send, 305 occurance, 396 challange, 400 discernable, 562 an other, 566 imperishing, 617 constitient, 633 adequaltely. Why was this book not properly proof-read?