BMCR 2008.08.37

Pindar: Pythian Eleven. Cambridge Classical Texts and Commentaries, 45

, , Pythian eleven. Cambridge classical texts and commentaries ; 45. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. ix, 158 pages : illustrations ; 23 cm.. ISBN 9780521884815 $99.00.

Commentaries on a single poem of Pindar have the advantage of adhering to a well-established structure of introduction plus line by line notation, and the disadvantage of requiring the writer to express opinions derived from a close reading of all the other poems. Recent commentaries of this type have been Gerber’s Olympian One and Braswell’s three commentaries on Pythian 4, Nemean One and Nine.

The introduction proceeds in the traditional manner.

1. The victory is for the Theban boy Thrasydaios at the Pythian Games in the stadion; his family had won victories but not his father. This is uncontroversial.

2. Date: scholia give 474 and 454, both uncertain textually. Finglass describes the scholia problem carefully but makes no decision. He discusses the possible priority/influence of the Oresteia —on which far too much has already been written—but concludes that no proof is possible either way, also not controversial. Likewise historico-political allusions are ruled out, correctly. No other dating evidence is available. (Finglass inserts here a useful summary of the old problem of Pythian dating.)

3. In a section called “Performance Context” the notion that P. 11 is connected with daphnephoria in some way is rejected for want of solid evidence, as is a connection with [Corinna’s] Orestes —a “red herring” p. 34—on the basis that she is to be dated to the 3rd century. Finglass does not comment on the actual performance.

4. The relevance of the myth has been a central problem since antiquity. Finglass now considers its “structure (2 pages) and “function” (9 pages). Here the standard model of the commentary does not work so well, since these pages are not about the background of the myth (more on Stesichoros and the Odyssey variants would be welcome; and much material has drifted into the commentary, e.g., on l. 16) but rather its treatment and relevance. Too much time is spent on the silly historical and political explanations of Boeckh and his contemporaries, though it has to be said that modern milder versions are equally helpless (p. 43). Likewise, as Finglass maintains, Orestes cannot be just a “negative example”. Rightly p. 45 “we must therefore be more precise in our reference to the myth as a negative example,” but impossibly “Orestes [corresponds] to the Zeus who punishes them [= sinners like Ixion].” Finglass correctly dismisses Bernardini’s Theban Orestes or the analogy of a “nostos” of Orestes and Thrasydaios coming home. [I find myself “cf.”-ed for this but I too had dismissed the idea, so I suppose the note is meant to direct people to the unmentioned others I cited for it.] On a fundamental point of analogy Finglass writes correctly that “there is no mention of the hospitality shown to Thrasydaios at Delphi.” On this see below. In conclusion Finglass thinks that “Pindar uses elements of the myth to magnify Orestes’ achievements.” And “in doing so it lends a reflected glory to Thrasydaeus.” Orestes is (p. 44) “a remarkably effective mythological parallel for him [Thrasydaeus].” Altogether this discussion would have been better kept to a final conclusion on the “function of the myth” since it would be difficult for anyone not familiar with the complex problem as discussed in the individual notes to understand the introductory arguments.

5. Metre. Finglass with help from M. L. West makes a learned and convincing case against Gentili’s textual conservatism, and for acceptable emendations that introduce metrical consistency. This makes a difference primarily in the bad crux at line 54-7, where Finglass sticks to the Teubner anyway—though whether that is what Pindar wrote I doubt.

There follows a text with detailed apparatus and translation. The commentary on the 64 lines occupies 53 pages, followed by a large bibliography and inadequate index. The commentary is often rather too discursive on relatively trivial matters of philology, but the overall judgement on meaning and metre is usually within the bounds of normal scholarly disagreement. Generally there is too much reference to secondary bibliography, often not directly or even indirectly relevant, and too little focus on presentation of the telling parallels; there is especially little from epigraphy and the world of athletics. There is no mention of Louis Robert in the bibliography, who could have provided much illustrative and precise material for e.g. lines 13-14, on crowning one’s native land, particularly important because it shows the continuing realities of the epinician procedure and its verbal conservatism. There are perhaps too many aestheticisms for my taste, e.g., “Pindar appears to luxuriate in the slowness of his description” on 19-22, but such old-fashioned effusions are still common in Pindaric criticism. Judgements like p. 94: “The narrator is so horrified by Clytemnaestra’s crime that he struggles to find…” suggests that the authorial voice is not a familiar concept. Finglass is perhaps too ready to dismiss others’ views in favour of his own. E.g. p. 112, F. on the problematic misthoio says Krummen’s translation “you have agreed to provide your tongue as a reward…” is “most unlikely” because “such genitives are restricted to certain verbs”. But he does not discuss such genitives. In fact, it seems to me that Krummen is correct and the genitive is an early example of the ‘genitive of Sachbetreffs’ [L. Robert, OMS V.395] common with financial and legal matters. It would add to the overtones of financial dealing at this point. I note two points which have wider significance.

The gnome (l. 30) is translated: “For wealth incurs an envy no less than itself whereas the lowly man blusters unheard.” [His translation says “unheard” for aphanton but his commentary “unnoticed”.] Finglass is too ready to dismiss Miller’s interpretation of chamela pneon as “the man of low aspirations”, though LSJ and Pindar, despite his assertion, provide sufficient parallels. More important is his translation of bremei as “bluster”, or a similar loud noise. This runs contrary to Pindaric thinking and ruins the run of the passage. Those who do not aspire (to victory, e.g.) whisper and mutter, especially against those who do; they sit in the dark (not “unheard” but “unseen” i.e., anonymous), and possess no tolme, elpis, etc. and do not make loud noises, but grumble. They are the psithuroi and phthoneroi of this world. Bremo is onomatopoeic like German brummen and means making an indistinct noise, and, when it is a loud indistinct noise, adjectives or phrases are added to say so, as Finglass’s parallels precisely show. So: “Wealth wins equivalent envy; and the man of lowly aspiration mutters unseen.” Pindar was never going to say that the envy of the anonymous masses was not a potent force.

Finglass (p. 97) opines of the gnomic musings at 25-30: “Far from ‘having practically nothing to do with the rest of the myth’, they rather correspond to West’s description of ‘Pindar’s passing into and out of a myth by means of a generalization…’ (on Hesiod Theog. 94-7).” The ordinary reader will not realize that this reviewer is responsible not only for the first rejected opinion but also for the second approved reference to West. That is because the two statements are not antithetic, as Finglass supposes, but perfectly compatible. The gnomic musings on envy have nothing directly to do with the death of Agamemnon as subsequently related, and Finglass does not explain why they should. They are, however, structurally significant, not because of the irrelevant sentence that Finglass quotes from West’s discussion (Pindar is not moving in or out of a myth, and this is not a single gnome) but in West’s fine observation that multiple gnomai can lack a coherent sequence. The issue is about multiple gnomai, on which Finglass has nothing to say. Here was a chance to deal in detail with the oft-discussed concept of “bridging gnomai” in Pindar, but Finglass shows little interest in structural problems. Instead we are repeatedly told “Pindar often” does this or that, without any real concern about where he does it and when, as if all myths are essentially the same.

This takes one to the myth and its infamous relevance. Finglass’s supposition that Orestes is simply a positive example in some general sense is as untenable as the opinion that he is a negative example. It would require more space than I am allotted to deal with this much debated question. It is not possible to tell the story of the Oresteia in all its blood and gore just to illustrate the heroism of a young man’s victory at Delphi. I know of no parallel for such a comparison, and Finglass’s reasoning is incoherent. Of course there are many good and cogent remarks, as would be expected when so many have written on this issue, but they are not integrated into his treatment of the structure of the myth. He observes the temporal ring composition (p. 106) of the myth, but makes nothing of it. He does not observe the verbal ring composition of xenos (16~34). He accepts (p. 84) that the myth gives a clear positive (Orestes) and negative (Cassandra) example of xenia. When faced with the parallel that victory at Delphi is equated with xenia (P. 5.31; p. 46), he replies with a rhetorical question. “But if the theme (of xenia) was so important, why did Pindar fail to use a similar phrase of Thrasydaeus in this ode?” This is an illegitimate demand. Aristotle tells us that matters that are obvious to an audience do not need to be set out. Finglass apparently does not agree, and does not seem to grasp the dangers of the interpretive jungle he is entering. On p. 74 he produces a similar enthumema on P. 3 “But if the darker side of the history of Semele and Ino were relevant here, Pindar would have included it…” This is exactly the kind of criticism that can be made of his own interpretation of Orestes in P. 11. Why should Pindar dwell on the miseries of matricide, if he is praising Orestes as a positive example? Finglass fortunately does not believe in his own principles, for he “deduces” that Thasydaeus is young, something Pindar does not tell us, just as Pindar does not tell us many essential things that his audience knew and we have now to deduce. Everything necessary for an understanding, let alone our understanding, of a Pindaric occasional poem is not in the poem, and arguments based on such an assumption will not work. If Pindar guides us to his meaning, then we can look for such signals in this and other poems. We may well fail.

Pindar’s audience of Thebans knew what victory in Delphi meant and we do not. I have no doubt they were aware of stories of Orestes at Delphi, of which we are ignorant. We do not even know the role of the Amphiktyons versus the Delphians in awards to Pindar’s Pythian victors. Certain the award of xenia to distinguished visitors was an issue that preoccupied Delphi until the time of Hadrian, more than in any other ancient city. (Finglass can merely produce “cf. Hubbard” for xenia in Pindar, which is likely to confuse rather than illuminate.) One misses an awareness of the ancient reality.

It is not clear to me1 whether Finglass has any deeper interest in the issues of the structure of myth in relation to analogy, which is the only sure way for us to advance. Finglass speaks of those who create a “one to one” analogy in reading exemplary myth and refers to such views as simplistic; but no one has done any such thing for many years, and the discussions have emphasised rather tangential analogy, while also allowing for other varied employment of myth in Pindar’s poems. On the other hand the time is past when a Verdenius could dismiss out of hand the analogies of the exemplary myths in Olympian 1,2 and we should note that it took the learned world to its shame thirty years to accept the point of the Meleager myth in Homer’s Iliad. With Pythian 11 Finglass had a chance and even a duty to set out clearly the larger issues regarding exemplary myth, and has failed to do so, preferring to solve a problem by essentially claiming it does not exist.

Perhaps his book with its emphasis on metre and philology is a reaction against the speculative excesses of Pindaric interpretation; but, though one can be sympathetic, this is not the way to do it. Still, there are many good observations in this commentary, which will repay study.


1. He does not list my effort in Class Ant. 2 (1983) 117ff. but since he does refer to Probert (2006) in his text p. 106 without a corresponding bibliographic entry, one cannot know if the bibliography is complete. There is of course much more now to be said.

2. On V.’s extraordinary failure to comprehend mythic temporal structure see e.g. Carey, Eranos 78 (1980) 144 n.6.