BMCR 2007.10.45

Pindar’s Poetry, Patrons, and Festivals. From Archaic Greece to the Roman Empire

, , Pindar's poetry, patrons, and festivals : from archaic Greece to the Roman Empire. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2007. 1 online resource (xiv, 473 pages) : illustrations, maps, plans. ISBN 9780191537981 $175.00.

Table of Contents

The volume under review is a collection of 15 papers written by a team of distinguished, mostly British, scholars specializing in ancient history, archaeology, anthropology, and literature. All but three essays stem from the proceedings of the research seminar on Pindar held at the University of London in the fall of 2002. The papers by N. J. Lowe, C. Carey, and R. van Bremen were commissioned later to fill in some disciplinary and chronological gaps. The fields of expertise of individual contributors indicate the general methodological approach adopted in the book: it is an interdisciplinary project largely in the vein of New Historicism. Partly as a reaction against the extremes of formalism, often wrongly associated with Bundy, New Historicism has become quite dominant in the field of Pindaric studies in recent years, although its methods and results have been subject to a certain amount of criticism.1

The purpose of the collection is twofold: (a) to cut across the traditional disciplinary lines by combining and integrating the insights of various fields of study, and (b) to concentrate on the “particular circumstances of patrons and communities” from various regions throughout the Greek world (p. 2). The statement of purpose is accompanied by a familiar New Historicist disclaimer acknowledging the validity of Bundyan approach but at the same time endorsing the study of a broader historical context as beneficial for proper understanding of Pindar’s poetry, an idea which has rarely been questioned, even by committed formalists.

Pindar’s Poetry, Patrons, and Festivals is without a doubt one of the best interdisciplinary projects on Pindar that has appeared in recent years. Its flaws are characteristic of such collections in general and the New Historicist ones in particular. In what follows I will first register some general criticism and then summarize the arguments of individual contributions.

First of all, of the two objectives noted above the collection is far more successful in achieving the second than the first one. Some of the papers are better at integrating evidence from outside their subject areas than others. While there is certainly nothing wrong with the fact that articles in diverse disciplines should be gathered under one cover, the extent of interdisciplinary integration has its own limits. One may wonder just how useful the insights of archeology could be in trying to sort out the perplexities of Alexandrian eidography or the subtleties of lyric metaphors. It is a well known fact that volumes containing conference proceedings to some degree often remain a patchwork, no matter how hard the editors may strive to impose a certain idea of unity.

Second, as is typical of the New Historicist approach, the commission/fee model of poet/patron relationship is taken for granted throughout the book, despite a number of studies that convincingly demonstrated how unreliable the evidence of the ancient tradition regarding this model is,2 to say nothing of the fact that the supposed references to commodified exchange in Pindar’s poetry itself are not that clear at all.3 Most of the Pindarists subscribe to the traditional view, but it is mainly the New Historicist studies that use the commission/fee model as a foundation, shaky though it is, for many extremely far-reaching conclusions. The scope of a review does not allow for adequate treatment of the problem, but one may hope that forthcoming articles by E. L. Bowie and H. N. Pelliccia will reassess the evidence and stimulate further debate on this fundamental problem.4

Finally, the title of the book is bound to be somewhat misleading, because only a very small amount of its content is actually devoted to Pindar’s poetry proper. Those who are familiar with Simon Hornblower’s Thucydides and Pindar will perhaps remember his passing reference to the forthcoming publication of the proceedings of London research seminar. Back then he described its topics as “Athletics, Festivals, Sanctuaries, Elite Mobility, and Epinikian Poetry” (p. iv) and listed it in his bibliography as Pindar, Festivals, Patrons and Epinikian Poetry. Both, I think, could still be used as more accurately informative titles; the inclusion of additional literary papers did little to justify the shift of balance claimed in the new one.

Apart from an introduction and a conclusion, the total of 13 essays are divided into three parts. Part 1 includes 7 chapters dealing with the festivals and the media of commemoration, including epinician poetry. Part 2 consists of 4 chapters on patrons and communities. Part 3 contains 2 chapters on certain aspects of agonistic culture in Hellenistic and Imperial times.

The introduction is an important contribution in its own right. Methodological preliminaries are followed by a number of sections dealing with a range of subjects not all of which resurface later in the volume. The editors start by tackling the definition of the term ‘elite’. Close involvement of western elites with Delphi and Olympia together with the prominence of colonial motives in the extant epinicians lead the editors to trace the origins of epinician poetry in the colonial milieu. The case of Cyrene, as demonstrated by a pair of odes ( P. 4 and P. 5) which seem to have a strong connection to the historical and political circumstances of the city, is used to illustrate the significance and complexity of interaction between various colonial themes. In subsequent sections the editors survey both conventional and non-conventional aspects of Greek religion in Pindar, and dispel some modern misconceptions about the institution of ‘sacred truce’. The epinician corpus, however, is not always the only source of valuable information. The case of Pagondas, son of Aioladas, appearing in a fragment of Pindar’s daphnephorikon (fr. 94b Sn.-M.), is subjected to a prosopographic exercise discovering how he might have been related to a homonymous boiotarch (Thuc. 4. 91). The chapter ends with a short discussion of Boiotian commissions and some general points concerning later developments in agonistic activity.

Part 1

In his paper, John Davies addresses the question of the origins of the four major athletic festivals with an emphasis on Delphi. What factors contributed to the incorporation of the festival into the classic periodos ? The reader is presented with two disparate strands of evidence: the antiquarian tradition and the physical evidence of the site. The former is of little value for the actual history of the festival. The latter, however, is also problematic because there is virtually no physical trace of large scale agonistic activities antedating the 4th century B.C. Comparing Delphi with other three Panhellenic sites, D. shows that it is unique in a number of ways. First, it was a settlement and not only a ritual site. Second, it has so far surrendered little physical evidence of “provisions for athletes and spectators,” which is plentiful at all other sites. Finally, athletic festivals at Delphi as well as those at Isthmos were not (at least originally) linked to a tomb-cult of a hero or any kind of “symbolic death” as Olympia and Nemea. In an attempt to reconstruct the generative model for the festivals D. considers various factors: the needs of the performers, the interests of the institutions running the festivals, and finally the needs of the spectators. Although D. recognizes that these influences could have all been operative in various interlocking ways, the last factor seems to have been the crucial one. Apart from featuring contests, the festivals functioned as “periodic markets” serving the needs of the population of their hinterland, and, although initially the festivals of the periodos could have had different formats, they all came to assume similar functions following the lead of Olympia.

Steven Instone follows up on the subject of origins of the festivals shifting the focus to Olympia. In a brief survey of the earlier scholarship on Greek athletics, I. hails as a progress the recent tendency to consider ancient Greek sport not in isolation but as an integral part of a broader social context. However, he rightly warns against the rigorous application of theories originating outside the field of Greek studies. The two main questions of his inquiry are straightforward: what factors turned Olympia from a local religious sanctuary into the venue of athletic games, and what factors contributed to the choice of the specific athletic events? Although I. himself is inclined to take the religious factor as crucial, pointing to a number of examples of running in the context of non-athletic festivals (e.g. grape-runners at Karneia), he recognizes the possibility of multiple influences, especially given the difficulty in separating religion from any other aspect of ancient Greek life. Addressing the second question, I. explains the various lengths of running events in terms of military combat techniques. He adduces Homeric parallels for every type of footrace. However, not all of the events fit so squarely into the military framework. This inevitably brings I. to a similar conclusion: the military factor is undoubtedly very strong, but there seem to be other factors at work.

R. R. R. Smith’s ‘Pindar, Athletes, and the Statue Habit’ gives an accessible overview of Greek athletic statuary and the significant changes that it underwent during the early part of the fifth century, a period which saw fundamental shifts in many aspects of Greek life. Having taken the reader through some of the preliminaries explaining the role and the function of statues in Greco-Roman culture in general and victory statues in particular, S. introduces in nuce the much debated phenomenon of the so called sculptural revolution. He shows how the changes in social habits, the new conception of visual representation and advancement in technology contributed to the emergence of the new idealized but extremely life-like statues which came to be perceived as a hallmark of ancient Greek art. The bulk of the paper dealing with victor statues from Olympia focuses on their style, body language and postures. Those with literary inclinations will find S.’s short section on body language in Pindar particularly interesting. The chapter ends with a discussion of the two specific monuments: Polyzalos monument at Delphi and the Motya charioteer. Attached in the appendix is the list of victors with statues at Olympia from mid 6th c. to 400 BC.

In her chapter, Rosalind Thomas steers the discussion towards the origins of epinician poetry. Throughout her article, T. is mainly concerned with making a strong case against the reductionism of some recent theories attempting to present the rise of epinician poetry either as an aristocratic reaction against the challenges posed by the growing power of democratic regimes or as a new outlet for aristocratic ostentation following the restrictions imposed on funerary extravagance. Both theories seem to overemphasize the significance of Athenian practices at the cost of completely ignoring the rest of the Greek world. As a result the theories are quite conclusively shown to be unfounded. Instead, as already implied in Smith’s essay, T. suggests that it is more fruitful to consider the question of the development of epinician genre against the background of the development of other media of commemoration, such as victory statues and other monuments. The kind of comparison could suggest that epinician poetry closely followed the pattern of ever increasing individualization and grandiosity first observed in the statuary.

Nicholas Lowe gives a crisp and coherent account of the main problems of epinician eidography. The paper does not break new ground, but it can be recommended as an excellent introductory reading on the subject. While it is certainly true that in preparing their editions of lyric poets Alexandrian scholars operated with a host of generic labels inherited from the very tradition they sought to reduce to order, it must be remembered that the fifth century use of these terms was by no means systematic. For example, Pindar refers to his epinicians as ἐπινίκιοι ἀοιδαί only once throughout the whole corpus ( N. 4. 78), the more usual term being ἐγκώμιον or a rather vague ὕμνος. Both became associated with specific genres of poetry only fairly late. L. rightly maintains that although the Proclan scheme definitely goes back to the Alexandrian editors, it does not really do justice to the complexity and variety of classificatory techniques applied in the case of different lyric poets. The oeuvre of lyric poets was straitjacketed in accordance with what seemed to be the best way of filling the papyrus rolls of each individual author. Thus the poems of Sappho were organized by meter as well as by eidos; the longer poems of Stesichorus could easily fill the whole roll, while a relatively modest output of Bacchylidean epinicians allowed them to be classed as a single book. The sheer number of Pindar’s epinicians required a somewhat different approach. L. lists and briefly discusses seven classificatory criteria attaching a very handy diagram: (1) supergenre ( εἰς θεούς, εἰς ἀνθρώπους), (2) genre, (3) occasion, (4) event, (5) honorands (multiple, single), (6) victors, and (7) odes. L. concludes that the term ἐπινίκιος might have first been coined as a convenient book-title for all poems containing a reference to a victory. My only quibble is that L. does not deal with the classificatory principles applied to the odes celebrating or mentioning multiple victories. They seem to be pretty consistently classified by the first victory mentioned in the text.5

Michael Silk offers a literary commentary on O. 12. The choice of the ode is motivated by its size. The choice of the format of his chapter is motivated mainly by the lack of an adequate commentary on the poem; it has been twenty years now since the publication of the commentary by Verdenius, who is often excellent on the details of philology but seems to show little or no interest in literary matters. S. gives us the text and translation in which he attempts to “hint at the emphases, textures, and (if possible) powers that are operative in the poem” (p. 178). The meter is glossed over in a few sentences, the major part of the introduction being concerned with the ” elevated (Silk’s italics) tone of Pindaric language” (p.179). A page long account of the occasion of the ode and its historical circumstances brings us to the main section of the chapter occupied by the commentary itself. Although S. is clearly interested in the metaphors and in the way various meanings of the words resonate and interact in their immediate context, it is somewhat of a surprise to discover that there is little that is different from what one would expect from a typical commentary (e.g. considerable space is devoted to recording attestations and presenting data otherwise recoverable from lexica). In general though the notes are quite good, although one could express some minor criticisms:

5. αἱ … ἐλπίδες : with regard to hyperbaton Dornseiff still offers a valuable treatment, but the reader is now better off with W. Race, ‘Framing Hyperbata in Pindar’s Odes, CJ (2002) 21-33. S’s statement that the “phraseology is drawn out like the perilous hope” is as difficult to prove as it is difficult to disprove.

6. τάμνοισαι“Doric = Attic τέμνοισαι” is probably a misprint.

7. κυλίνδωνται : in discussion of nautical imagery one could also point out the often noticed contrast with κυβερνῶνται in line 3.

8. πράξιος ἐσσομένας : S. says that this is an unusual idiom for εἶναι and suggests Hes. Op. 56 ἀνδράσιν ἐσσομένοισιν as a possible model. Why this Hesiodic phrase specifically, and what is wrong with the Homeric ἐσσομένοισι ἀνθρώποισι ?

13. καὶ : “‘even your…’: in Bundyan terms, ‘encomiastic'”. The comment is too vague to have any meaning.

16. ἀντιάνειρα : the pun on Philanoros in line 13 is ignored. Why?

18. Ἰσθμοῖ : S. is not sure whether δίς also refers to ἐκ Πυθίᾳ. He is inclined to think that it does. The problem may not be only that of syntax, and it would be good to inform the reader about some detailed treatments of this kind of Pindaric ambiguity; e.g. T. Cole, ‘1 + 1 = 3: Studies in Pindar’s Arithmetic’, AJP (1987) 553-68.

And yet there is also much that is interesting, new — if not always convincing — and instructive (e.g. the function of sigmatism in line 16, discussion of the compound ἀντιάνειρα, and an excellent note on βαστάζεις, to mention but some).

S. concludes with a discussion of the ‘architectonics’ of the poem and a few speculative observations on the genre as a whole, where the work of “influential interpreters (from Elroy Bundy to Leslie Kurke)” is somewhat lightly dismissed as “loose and tendentious talk of ‘praise'” (p. 196). The commentary will definitely not supplant Verdenius but will have to be consulted by those seriously engaged with the poem.

The first part of the volume is concluded by Christopher Carey’s balanced discussion of the possible performance scenarios of epinician poetry. Given almost complete lack of external evidence regarding the subject, modern scholars often find themselves following the footsteps of Alexandrians in an attempt to extract whatever valuable data they can from a handful of tantalizing references that are found in the odes themselves. However, it seems that modern scholars managed to do much better without resorting to fanciful ad hoc explanations of the kind scattered throughout the scholia. C. deftly summarizes the main issues at stake. The very fact that the poems are so reticent about the details of their performance is most likely suggestive of the possibility of multiple subsequent performances considered by the poet from the very outset. Even in those cases where some references to the immediate context of the initial performance are present, they are often kept vague enough not to pose any problem in the future. Although there certainly are a few odes which seem to refer to their performance in the context of very specific public events, one of the most likely settings for a large number of epinicians is the symposium. Just how informal these parties were is difficult to say, but C. is inclined to think of many of them as grand occasions which the poet cloaked “in the homespun cloak of the simple symposium” (p. 205). Even though not everyone will agree with C. that a poem like O. 1 could not be “squandered” on a banquet of the dimensions of Plato’s Symposium, his argument merits a careful consideration. The size and the status of the chorus has also been a subject of much discussion, but C. manages to guide the reader through the main aspects of the problem in a very straightforward way. The overall value of C’s contribution is that it provides an excellent overview of the problem without encumbering the reader by references to the huge amount of earlier scholarship on the subject.

Part II

The subject of Catherine Morgan’s nuanced discussion is “the circumstances of, and motivation for, patronage of epinikian poets, and of Pindar in particular, in relation both to other forms of elite status expression and to the various charges upon local elites in the provision of athletic festivals” (p. 213). A close study of the particular circumstances of Corinth and Argos, two poleis rather underrepresented in the corpus of epinician poetry, form the backbone of her chapter. M., to put it very simply, examines the commission of the odes addressed to Corinthian and Argive patrons in the context of internal and external politics of the two cities in the 5th c. The result is an extremely dense and insightful study using a mass of archeological evidence. However, it will not be an easy read for a non-specialist. The argument is sometimes very difficult to follow, partly of course given the complex nature of the evidence involved. One would wish that M.’s diagrams were accompanied by brief explanations since it may take quite some time to work out what the data provided in them actually mean. For example, the numbers given in diagram 1 may in fact be wrong if the vertical scale is indeed supposed to represent the number of epinician odes by Pindar and Bacchylides, as it seems to be suggested by M.’s text on p. 216. If so the validity of diagram 2 is somewhat compromised.

The inquiry by Carla M. Antonaccio concentrates on the involvement of western, and more specifically Sicilian, elites in the sanctuaries of Olympia and Delphi. Starting by reviewing the basic facts about the Deinomenids and briefly summarizing the occasions of the odes addressed to Sicilian victors, A. reminds the reader of the significance of material evidence in dealing with the subject. Pointing out the factors that could have prevented the emergence of the regional South Italian Panhellenic centers on par with those of mainland Greece, A. argues that the early pre-colonial dedications of armor of Italian provenance at Olympia and Delphi need not be always taken to represent Greeks commemorating their military triumphs over the barbarians. In fact, they might have been dedications by the non-Greek Italian elites. In this case the growth of post-colonial investment of the westerners in these two centers becomes also explicable as a natural continuation of the earlier pre-colonial trends.

The central question that Simon Hornblower seeks to answer in his chapter is “why did Pindar (and Bacchylides) write so many odes for Aeginetans” (p. 293). It seems to be a reworked version of his chapter on Aegina from Thucydides and Pindar.6 Those who read it will find little that is new. H.’s article covers a lot of ground, and a number of possible answers are carefully considered. None of them, however, appears to be satisfactory. The final answer that H. gives us is quite straightforward. H. collects and cites all references to ξενία in epinicians of Pindar and Bacchylides, and, given a notable preponderance of these references in Aeginetan odes compared to those of other patrons, he concludes that Aeginetans must have been particularly hospitable and friendly, something that Pindar may have found very appealing. H.’s short section on Aeginetan prosopography is especially useful. Even though the direction of H.’s argument is clear from the very first pages of the article, the journey itself may be worth taking. However, I personally find the tentative answer offered by N. J. Lowe in this volume more attractive.7

Maria Stamatopoulou’s article ‘Thessaly in the Age of Epinikian’ starts from P. 10. Having skimmed through the ode highlighting its most important themes, the author attempts “to trace the mobility of the Thessalian elites by discussing their patronage of the arts in Thessaly, their presence at the great Panhellenic sanctuaries through participation in the crown games and dedication, and their relationship with other states/elite groups via alliances/ xenia relationships” (p. 313). S.’s careful assessment of the relevant literary and archeological evidence brings her to two important conclusions: (a) contrary to the traditional approach, it seems that Thessalian elites were similar to their southern counterparts in their patronage of arts, pursuit of athletic success, and desire to form xenia relationships with aristocrats from other communities; (b) there is a striking difference though in that for some reason Thessalian aristocrats chose to invest in dedications in Thessaly rather than at the sites of Panhellenic festivals. S. is perfectly aware of the fact that the archeological evidence that we have is inadequate, and her statements are often cautiously qualified. The contribution is well illustrated and provides copious references to secondary literature. No serious student of the region will be able to ignore this article. However, it can also be recommended as a useful complementary reading for P. 10.

Part III

The chapter of Riet van Bremen gives an excellent account of the tradition and innovation in the agonistic culture of the Hellenistic world. More specifically, however, it focuses on the Hellenistic Nachleben of a familiar epinician topos evoking the name of the victor, his father and his patris. It is argued in a very clear and persuasive way that, although the elements of the triad have a strong connection to the civic and political fabric of Archaic and Classical poleis, the topos continued to be used in Hellenistic praise poetry and inscriptions, but its constituent elements had come to acquire additional dimensions of meaning in the new political realities of the Hellenistic world. For example, the traditional reference to victor’s family is consciously reminiscent of its fifth century epinician models, but it also strikes a different note if considered in the context of the royal lineage of the new patrons. The mention of ethnic origins of royal victors could now also be manipulated in ways which are not familiar in the fifth century epinicians. Thus the favorite ethnic of the Ptolemies, Μακεδόνες, both represented their actual patris, and could also be used to challenge the authority of the Antigonids in mainland Greece. At the same time they could easily choose to flag a different affiliation (e.g. their ‘Athenian-ness’), when circumstances so demanded.

The main argument of Tony Spawforth’s concise and very focused discussion is that the extent of Roman imperial involvement in Greek athletic festivals was a way of promoting Roman political agendas. To put it simply, the expansion and popularity of athletic games in the East is perhaps not to be understood as a response of the Roman imperial power to the demands of the local Greek elites, but, quite the opposite, as a sign of recognition and imitation by the local elites of the Roman fascination with this particular aspect of Greek culture. It was “an expression of subject loyalty no less than its more instantly recognizable manifestations such as the imperial cult, declarations of pistis on Greek local coins, pursuit of Roman office, and so on” (p. 389).

Mary Douglas sums up the volume with some general reflections on the themes touched by the contributors giving them an anthropological spin.

In conclusion, although I personally doubt that someone will actually read the whole collection from cover to cover, overall this is a rather stimulating book. The quality of the contributions is up to the highest standards of scholarship, and although experts in individual disciplines will certainly find plenty of room for nit-picking — nam quid fere undique placet? — the volume may be of much interest and use not only for Pindarists but (perhaps even more so) historians and archaeologists of the Greek ἀγῶνες. The book is beautifully produced and amply illustrated. Typographical errors are few and insignificant (see below). However, given its dizzying price, it will probably end up confined to the shelves of research libraries.

Typos and errata:

p. 60n.52: more or less extensive quotations in Greek do not seem to be transliterated elsewhere in the volume.

p. 103n.65: read Kurke (1993) instead of Kurke (1998).

p. 196: ‘epinician’ instead of otherwise consistently used ‘epinkian’.

p. 202: missing breathing and accent in Αιαν.

p. 207: “it is a reasonable (if unprovable) hypothesis that the second ode ( I. 4) uses the same form as the earlier ( I. 3) in order to facilitate performance without retraining the chorus”. The other way round, i.e. I. 3 is the later and I. 4 is the earlier ode.

p. 267: inter alii – presumably a typo.

p. 306: second sentence of the paragraph ‘alternatives methods’.

p. 353: in the last sentence of the paragraph read ‘But it is…’ instead of ‘But is is…’

p. 393: missing period after (2001).


1. E.g. I. L. Pfeijffer, Three Aeginetan Odes of Pindar (Leiden, 1999), 11-12.

2. E.g. J. M. Bell, ‘Kimbix kai sophos: Simonides in the Anecdotal Tradition’, QUCC 28 (1978), 29-86.

3. One must do justice to Christopher Carey, the only contributor who expresses his awareness of the complexity of the problem: “the seeming frankness of Pindar’s references to his financial relationship with the victor at P. 11. 41-2 and I. 2. 6-8 (as so often with Pindar’s statements about his poetry) conceals as much as it reveals.”

4. E. L. Bowie’s article will be based on his talk delivered in July 2006 at a conference on epinician poetry, held at University College London. H. N. Pelliccia’s article is currently in preparation, but he briefly addresses the question in his chapter ‘Simonides, Pindar, and Bacchylides’ in The Cambridge Companion to Greek Lyric, edited by F. Budelmann (Cambridge, forthcoming 2008).

5. For example, this is why I. 3 is not classified as Nemean. See further W. S. Barrett, ‘Two Studies in Pindaric Meter’, Greek Lyric, Tragedy, and Textual Criticism: Collected Papers (2007) 165n.140.

6. ‘Why Aigina?’, pp. 208-235.

7. “One possible explanation of the Aeginetan question … is that Aeginetan odes were better preserved locally for subsequent collection — perhaps as a paradoxical result of the Athenian ethnic cleansing of 431, at a time when Pindar was still a symposium favourite” (176n.31).