Born: 517 BC
Died At Age: 79
Born Country: Greece
Born in: Cynoscephalae, Boiotia
Famous as: Poet
children: Eumetis, Protomache
Died on: 438 BC
Pindar was an Ancient Greek lyric poet, regarded as the greatest lyric poet among the nine famous lyric poets of ancient Greece. He mastered choral odes rejoicing victories achieved in the Olympic, Isthmian, Pythian, and Nemean games. Like other poets, Pindar had a deep sense of the variations in life. He often wrote about his passionate faith in what men can accomplish by God’s grace, most famously expressed in his victory odes. Born to a noble Spartan family in circa 518 BC, he grew up in the village of Cynoscephalae in Boeotia. At the age of 20, Pindar composed his first victory ode. He studied lyric poetry in Athens under Lasos of Hermione. The rich exuberance of his language, eloquence, and the beauty of his thoughts made him a great lyric poet in a matter of time. His fame as a poet also drew him into Greek politics. In his writing career, the legendary poet also wrote two odes for Arcesilas, King of Cyrene. Pindar lived for about 80 years and died in 438 BC while attending a festival in Argos.
Childhood & Early Life
Pindar was born in 518 BC in the village of Cynoscephalae. His mother's name was Cleodice. His father's name is variously given as Pagondas, Scopelinus, or Daiphantus.
At the age of 20, he composed his first victory ode, titled ‘Pythian 10’. In 490 BC, he attended the Pythian Games where he met the Sicilian Prince Thrasybulus. The two developed a lasting friendship.
His early career coincided with the Persian invasions of Greece during the reigns of Xerxes and Darius.
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In 480/479 BC when Pindar was about 40 years old, Thebes was conquered by Xerxes' general, Mardonius, who was eventually defeated at the Battle of Plataea. During this period, Pindar spent most of his time at Aegina.
During 476–75 BC, he visited Sicilian tyrant Hieron’s court. Shortly after the visit, he composed an ode, titled ‘Pythian 11.’ Pindar’s association with Hieron became a subject of annoyance at his native land.
In an ode composed in honor of Hieron, the lyric poet celebrated a series of Greek victories against foreign invaders, including victories led by Theron of Acragas and Hieron against the Etruscans and Carthaginians at Himera and Cumae.
In 462 BC, Pindar composed two odes to honor the King of Cyrene, Arcesilas. Through these odes, he pleaded for his friend Demophilus’ return from exile.
During his lifetime, he stood against the Athenians, who were rivals of his hometown, and criticized them in his odes. In one of his works, he celebrated the defeat of his rivals by Thebes at the Battle of Coronea that was fought in 447 BC.
Although Pindar probably spoke Greek, he made his compositions in a literary language that relied more on the Doric dialect than his contemporary Bacchylides.
Scholars at the Library of Alexandria have categorized his compositions according to genre in 17 books. Out of these, only the “epinikia” – odes that commemorate athletic victories have survived in complete form.
The poet mostly composed victory odes which celebrate triumphs gained in various sports events, including the Olympian, Pythian, Nemean, and Isthmian games. The establishment of these athletic festivals was one of the greatest accomplishments of the Greek aristocracies.
In 498 BC, he composed ‘Pythian 10’ which depicted victory of Hippocles of Thessaly in a boy’s long foot-race. This was followed by the monostrophic odes, namely ‘Pythian 6’ and ‘Pythian 12,’ which he composed in 490 BC.
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In around 488 BC, Pindar composed ‘Olympian 14’ which reflects the victory of Asopichus of Orchomenus in the Olympian foot-race. His next works were ‘Nemean 2’ and ‘Nemean 7’ that account for the victories in Nemean games.
His victory odes in 480 and 478 BC were composed in honor of Phylacides of Aegina who won in the event Pancration. These odes are named ‘Isthmian 6’ and ‘Isthmian 5,’ respectively.
This was followed by the monostrophic ode ‘Isthmian 8’ which celebrated victory of Cleandrus of Aegina.
In 476 BC, Pindar composed ‘Olympian 1’ about Hieron of Syracuse who won in the horse race at the Olympian Games. Hieron was the son of Deinomenes, a brother of Gelon.
Also in 476 BC, the poet wrote ‘Olympians 2 & 3’ to celebrate Theron of Acragas’ victory in a chariot race. Theron was a Greek tyrant of Acragas in Sicily. That year, he wrote the ode ‘Olympian 11’ as well; it depicted the success of Agesidamus of Epizephyrian Locris in a boxing match.
His next ode ‘Pythian 2,’ created in honor of the Sicilian tyrant Hieron, refers to “ravens and an ape,” apparently indicating opponents who were involved in a smear campaign against Pindar.
In 474 BC, the poet composed ‘Pythian 3’ that mentions a victory Hieron of Syracuse enjoyed at the Pythian Games. It was actually intended to console Hieron who was suffering from a chronic illness.
His odes in 474 BC also included ‘Pythian 9,’ ‘Pythian 11,’ and ‘Nemean 9.’ Pindar next wrote ‘Pythian 1,’ once again for celebrating Hieron of Aetna’s victory.
Many Olympian odes followed after this, including ‘Olympian 6,’ cherishing the victory of Agesias of Syracuse and ‘Olympian 12’ for Ergoteles of Himera’s victory.
His last odes were ‘Nemean 11’ and ‘Nemean 10,’ composed to honor the victories of Aristagoras of Tenedos and Theaius of Argos, respectively.
Death & Legacy
Pindar died around 438 BC in Argos. He lived for about eighty years. His ashes were brought to his hometown by his musically-gifted daughters, Protomache and Eumetis.
Oxford scholar George Stuart Robinson composed a 'Pindaric Ode' for the revived 1896 Olympic Games in Athens. Similar compositions were made by classicist Armand D'Angour for the Athens Olympics in 2004 and the London Olympics in 2012.
The Latin poet Quintus Horatius Flaccus, who was an admirer of Pindar's style, wrote poems to honor him.