The Myth Reading Group meets on ‘Zoom’ on Tuesday 1 June, 5:30-6:30 pm (UK time). The link to join will be posted in the comments for this post. All are welcome.
Pindar’s Pythian Odes celebrate victors in the funeral games sacred to Apollo, held at Delphi. Pythian XII, composed in 490 BCE, honours Midas of Acragas, winner of the flute-playing competition. In the ode, Athene is acknowledged as the inventrix of the flute and of the tune, “The Many-Headed”, which Midas played. The association of the goddess with contests and crafts, discussed in previous sessions, is once more in evidence.
Two short works by the twentieth-century Petersburg poet, Osip Mandelstam, drawing upon the same motif as Pindar, offer an example of the transformability of myth in the modern era.
- Pythian XII (Greek original and English translation, from Loeb Classical Library edition of Pindar, Olympian Odes. Pythian Odes; edited and translated by William H. Race (Harvard University Press: Cambridge, Mass., 1997)
- Osip Mandelstam, Petropolis Poems (trans. Bruce McClelland)
Alternative translations of Pindar:
- Pythian XII is included (pp. 93-94) in the Lattimore translation of 1947 (The Odes of Pindar).
- C. A. Wheelwright (nineteenth-century verse).
- Ernest Myers (nineteenth-century prose).
- Charles Segal (twentieth-century prose: partial in his commentary on lines 9-12).
“Competition [in the games] symbolized an idea of nobility which meant much to Pindar; and in the exaltation of victory he seems sometimes to see a kind of transfiguration, briefly making radiant a world which most of the time seemed, to him as to his contemporaries, dark and brutal.” Richmond Lattimore (1947).
Pindar’s Ode, like ancient Greek poetry generally, was recited or sung chorally to the accompaniment of instruments such as the aulos, the Greek flute. Recent musicological research has allowed for a recreation of the original performance of Pythian XII.
The sound of the Greek flute accompanying a solo rendition of the Pythian Ode may be heard on YouTube in “Recreating the Sounds of Ancient Greek Music” (from 6:52 to 11:22): https://youtu.be/lpIyMVpcSYY?t=411.
For a detailed discussion of ancient Greek music with an account of the aulos (from 3:45 to 5:50), see also” Rediscovering Ancient Greek music”:
Deborah Steiner, “The Gorgon’s Lament”, American Journal of Philology, Vol. 134, no. 2 (2013), pp. 163-208, examines the musicological context of Pindar’s poem.
Alison C. Traweek, The Gorgon’s Healing Song, discusses the relationship between women and lamentation: https://medium.com/@atraweek/the-gorgons-healing-song-9dc38ea10402.