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Lecture 6: Pindar

RESUMING our consideration of the poets, we have now to deal with Pindar. With the exception, perhaps, of Sophocles, it may be doubted whether there is any other Greek poet, the spirit of whose writings is more essentially religious. In part, no doubt, this distinctive peculiarity of Pindar's odes is due to the occasion which they celebrate. The great Panhellenic games of Olympia and Delphi were in their origin and nature festivals in honour of Zeus and Apollo; and a poem composed to celebrate a victory at the games was neccessarily in some sense a hymn of praise to the God who presided over the festival. But the religious sentiments of Pindar are not the merely conventional utterances of a professional writer of epinikian odes. They come straight from the heart; and there is a distinctively personal note about many of them which is absent from the odes of Bacchylides. That his birth coincided with a celebration of the Pythian games1 seemed to the poet a happy omen of the intimate relationship which was to subsist between him and the God whose chosen minister and prophet he always considered himself to be. The Delphic tradition continued to associate Pindar and Apollo, as may be inferred from more than one legend. Pausanias relates that Pindar used to visit Delphi and sing hymns to Apollo in an iron chair specially reserved for his use; and in the life of Pindar we read that Apollo so loved the poet that he allowed him to participate in the offerings made to himself, the officiating priest on the day of the sacrifice calling out in a loud voice, “Come, Pindar, and join the banquet of the God.”2

The keynote of Pindar's religious doctrine is struck in the opening verses of the sixth Nemean ode. “One is the race of men and Gods, and from one mother we both derive the breath of life; but in power we are altogether diverse; for the race of man is nought, whereas the brazen heaven abides, a dwelling-place unshaken for ever. Howbeit we bear some likeness to the immortals, in lofty mind, perchance, or in bodily nature, although we know not what course our master Fate hath mapped out for us to run, either by day or in the watches of the night.”3 We shall have to touch upon this passage again in dealing with the Pindaric doctrine of the celestial origin and nature of the soul; but at present it concerns us only to observe that Pindar still in the main adheres to the anthropomorphic conception of the Gods, which is everywhere characteristic of the national Greek religion. The Gods are immortal, and stronger than men; but, like us, they are children of Earth, the universal mother, and resemble us in body and in mind. The myths incorporated in the Pindaric odes freely represent the Gods as subject to those desires and necessities which are inseparable from bodily existence. They partake of food and drink, take pleasure in dance and song, and are by no means exempt even from the lower passions incident to human nature.

At the same time, Pindar is far from acquiescing in all the grosser features of the traditional anthropomorphism. Sometimes he pointedly ignores whatever portion of a myth he deems unworthy, true to his principle “that which is unpleasing to Zeus, I am fain to bury in oblivion.”4 At other times he openly protests against certain legends, on the ground that they are irreligious and profane. The current form of the myth of Tantalus made the hero slay his son Pelops and serve his flesh at a banquet given to the immortals. From this part of the story Pindar emphatically dissents. “It is meet for a man to speak honourable things about the Gods: for the reproach is less. And of thee, O son of Tantalus, I will speak otherwise than those that have gone before.…I dare not call any of the blessed Gods a cannibal.”5 The Pindaric correction of the myth need not detain us, the less so that from the modern point of view it is scarcely an improvement; all we need note is that when a legend appears to Pindar to reflect discredit on the Gods, he alters it into something more in harmony with his own religious feelings. Another illustration is provided by a famous passage in the ninth Olympian, where Pindar refuses to accept the Homeric and Hesiodic legends about the Gods. “O my tongue, fling this tale from thee: it is a hateful cleverness that slanders Gods, and untimely boasting chimes in unison with madness. Away with such foolish words! Keep far from the immortals war and battle” (ἔα πόλϵμ ον μάχαν τϵ πα̑σαν χωρὶς ἀ θανάτων).6

In such ways as these does Pindar seek to purify the traditional theology of Greece. On its positive side, his teaching brings into prominence the nobler and more ideal features of the Homeric pantheon. The Gods “know not disease nor age nor toil: they have escaped the loud-roaring gulf of Acheron.”7 They are “the blessed ones who live in Olympus”8—the symbols of eternity and calm in a transient and troubled world. In respect of power, they are omnipotent; and Nature knows no parallel to the speed with which they accomplish their design. “The power of the Gods,” says the poet, “lightly brings to pass that which exceeds oath and expectation.”9 “I judge no marvel incredible that is wrought by Gods.”10 “It is in the power of God out of black night to call forth the stainless light of day, and to shroud the day's pure gleam in cloudy darkness.”11 “Swift is the achievement, and short the ways of Gods when they are eager to achieve their end.”12 Perhaps the most famous of the poet's sentiments about the Godhead is in the second Pythian: “God accomplishes every end according to his expectation; God, who over-taketh even the winged eagle and outstrippeth the dolphin of the sea, and bringeth many a proud man low, vouchsafing to others renown that grows not old.”13

Pindar never wearies of reminding his readers that the Gods are the authors of whatsoever good or evil happens to mankind. “Zeus giveth this and that; Zeus the lord of all.”14 “It is God,” the poet says, “who accomplishes all things for mortal men.”15

“God's is the only armoury

Doth man's weak will with power for good supply.

Wisdom from His completeness,

And strength of arm and fleetness

He gives, and speech's sweetness.”16

A Pindaric fragment preserved by Clement identifies God with “the all”: τί θϵός; ὅ τι τὸ πα̑ν17 If the words are genuine, it is hardly likely that they were intended to suggest the kind of poetical pantheism which they would have expressed in the mouth of Euripides. To Pindar they probably meant no more than that God is the universal cause.18

The philosophical question of the relationship between Fate and the Deity does not perplex the poet. The “law” of which he says in one of the fragments that it is “king of all, mortals and immortals alike,”19 has been by some interpreted as a Power to which the Gods themselves must yield; but it is only a certain rule of conduct universally observed—so Pindar here suggests—by Gods and men. Pindar often insists on the inevitability of Fate, so far as human creatures are concerned. “The decrees of destiny (τὸ μόρσιμον) none can escape”: “destiny (μοι͆ρα) leads the race of mortal men”: “as for me, whatsoever excellence our master Fate (πότμος) hath given, well I know that the march of time will bring it to fulfilment.”20 But Pindar seldom, I think, implies that Fate can override the will of Zeus;21 and there are passages in which the will of Zeus is itself conceived as Fate. We read of “the fated decree of Zeus,” the “fate ordained of God,”22 and so on. It is also in keeping with the religious interpretation of Destiny when the poet prays to Clotho, Lachesis, and Fortune (Τύχη) as unto benignant and not unyielding Goddesses. “I call upon high-throned Clotho and her sister Fates to hearken unto the instant prayers of my friend.”23 Or again: “I beseech thee, daughter of Zeus the deliverer, keep watch over Himera's broad domain, O saviour Fortune: for by thee swift ships are piloted upon the sea, and upon land thou art the guide of impetuous wars and meetings of councillors.”24 A German scholar has justly remarked on the difference between this conception of the Goddess Fortune and that which prevailed in later times, when she was represented as a wholly arbitrary and irresponsible power, dispensing her gifts blindfold.25 The θϵίη τύχη or “divine chance” of which Herodotus sometimes speaks, is a parallel conception to that of Pindar.26

We may take it, then, that according to Pindar the supreme control of the universe and man belongs not to a blind or implacable fate, but to certain personal beings whom he calls by the name of Gods. Let us now inquire what attributes, other than that of power, of which we have already spoken, he ascribes to these beings. In the first place, they are omniscient as well as omnipotent. On this point Pindar is especially emphatic. “If a man thinks to elude the eye of God when he doeth aught, he is mistaken.”27 The “all-knowing mind” of Apollo, we read in another place, “neither God nor mortal can deceive in act or in design.”28 Apollo is addressed in these words: “Thou that knowest the appointed end of all things, and all the paths thereto: all the leaves that earth puts forth in spring, and the number of grains of sand whirled to and fro by waves and roaring winds: and discernest well the future and whence it shall be.”29 Although Homer also attributes omniscience to the Gods, some of the episodes in the Iliad are wholly inconsistent with such a view.30 In this respect, as in many others, the theology of Pindar marks a distinct advance.

Secondly, the Gods are just, and manifest their justice by rewarding virtue and punishing vice, both here and hereafter. I will touch on this subject presently; but in the meantime it may be noted that the justice of God, when shown in the recompense of virtue, sometimes appears as a kind of Providence watching over the righteous. According to Pindar, the just are the objects of God's especial care:31 “surely the great mind of Zeus pilots (κυβϵρνᾳ̑) the destiny of those whom he loves.”32 The same metaphor is elsewhere employed by the poet to express the guidance of communities or states by God. “It is an easy thing even for the weak to shake a city; but to stablish it in its place again, is difficult indeed, unless God suddenly take the helm (κυβϵρνατὴρ γϵ́ νηται) and aid the rulers.”33 We shall afterwards find that Heraclitus had already described the operation of the divine intelligence by means of this figure: “There is but one wisdom,” he says, “to know the intelligence by which all things are piloted (κυβϵρνα̑ται) through all.”34 In both cases the idea in the mind of the writers is akin to what we call Providence; but whereas Heraclitus conceives of Providence as a philosophical principle, embracing in its jurisdiction the realm of nature as well as of mankind, to the poet it is a narrower, more personal, and for that very reason, perhaps, more religious conception, to be compared with the view of the Platonic Socrates, that “for the good man there is no evil either in life or after death; nor are his interests neglected by the gods” (οὐδϵ̀ ἀμϵλϵι̑ται ὑπὸ θϵω̑ν τὰ τόυτου πράγματα)35

Pindar lays stress, in the third place, upon the truthfulness of the Godhead. Truth is the daughter of Zeus:θυγάτηρ̕Αλάλϵια Διός36 “Faithful is the race of the Gods.”37 Of Apollo, in particular, we read that “he has no part in lies.”38 It was the more natural for Pindar to ascribe this quality to the Gods, since there is none which he more highly values in men. One of the fragments makes Truth the foundation of virtue:ἀρχὰ μϵγάλας ἀρϵτα̑ς, ὤνασσ̓̕Αλάθϵια:39 and the duty of truthfulness is enjoined by Pindar in public as well as in private life. “In every commonwealth he that is straight of speech is best; in a despotism, or when the impetuous multitude hold sway, or when wise men guard a city.”40 In refusing to believe that God is capable of deception, Pindar parts company with Homer, and approximates to the theology of Plato.

The divine nature is consequently possessed of the attributes of omnipotence, omniscience, justice, and truth. It is the Gods who are the arbiters of human destiny, exercising a providential care over the lives and fortunes of the righteous, and punishing the wicked for their sins. Are there any suggestions of monotheism in Pindar? It is urged by some that his frequent use of the singular θϵός, δαίμων and so on, when speaking of the supernatural, though it does not imply a belief in one God, is at all events a step in the direction of monotheism. We may admit that such an idiom involuntarily recognises the existence of certain common attributes by which the divine is always distinguished from the human; but it in no way implies that the Godhead is numerically one, in the sense in which Xenophanes, for example, seems to have asserted the unity of God; and Pindar's polytheism is not less candid and sincere than that of Homer. “Nearly every ode,” as Gildersleeve remarks,41 “is full of gods.” Pindar, of course, knows nothing of the philosophical tendency to construe the inferior Gods as particular names or aspects of the one supreme Being. At the same time, that which Plato regarded as a necessary consequence of polytheism, the diversity of interests and the clash of contending wills among the different Gods,42 is scarcely to be found in Pindar. I have already pointed out that he definitely rejects the traditional legends of theomachies as derogatory to the divine dignity. He clearly holds that there is but one divine purpose shaping the course of events, the purpose of Zeus. “With thee, Father Zeus, is the fulfilment of all deeds”: πα̑ν δϵ̀λος ϵ̓ν τὶν ἔργων43 It is accordingly to the “deep-mouthed lord of lightnings and of thunders” that we are bidden to pay highest honour:44 and Pindar's aspiration is to find favour in his sight—ϵἴη Ζϵυ̑, τὶν ϵἵη ἁνδάνϵιν45

What is the attitude of Pindar towards the doctrine of the envy of the Gods? Before attempting to answer this question, it is necessary to explain a little more precisely the traditional form of that doctrine, as we find it, above all other writers, in Herodotus. The locus classicus upon the subject is the speech which the historian puts into the mouth of Artabanus, when seeking to dissuade his nephew Xerxes from invading Greece. “Thou seest how the God smites with his thunderbolts the tallest animals, and does not allow them to exalt themselves, whereas the smaller animals in no way stir his wrath: thou seest how he ever hurls his shafts at the highest buildings and trees, for the God is wont to cut down whatever exceeds in point of greatness (ϕιλϵ́ϵιγὰρ ὁ θϵὸς τὰ ὑπϵρϵ́χοντα πάντακολούϵιν). Thus a mighty host may be destroyed by a small one, when the God, becoming envious, smites them with panic or with lightning, so that they perish in a manner unworthily of themselves: for the God will not suffer any but himself to think high thoughts.”46 The idea of Herodotus is not that excessive prosperity engenders sin, and sin provokes the Gods to anger: it is simply that God is jealous, as though his own position were endangered. Exactly the same conception underlies the story of Polycrates. In the warning letter addressed to him by Amasis occur these words: “Your great successes do not please me, knowing as I do that the divine nature is jealous. I would prefer that I myself and those I care for should be successful in some things and unsuccessful in others, experiencing through life alternate good and evil fortune, rather than that they should invariably succeed. For I have never yet heard of any one who was successful in everything, without perishing miserably, root and branch, at the last. Therefore hearken to me, and in view of the successes you have gained, act thus. Consider on what object you set the highest value, what it will grieve you most to lose, and take and throw it away, so that it shall never return among men.”47 In the sequel, of course, the remedy failed; but it is clear from the nature of the remedy proposed that Amasis attributes no moral obliquity to his friend. He instinctively feels that so much prosperity exceeds the proper limit or measure prescribed by the Gods for human kind: it is a violation of the μηδϵ̀ν ἄγαν: and the way to correct the error is for Polycrates to bring himself again within the limits by a voluntary sacrifice of what he holds most dear.48

Such would seem to be the doctrine of the ϕθόνος θϵω̑ν as it was popularly believed among the Greeks. We shall find that Aeschylus sometimes gives an ethical meaning to the superstition, by representing the “envy” of the Gods as their just resentment at the violation of the moral law by man; and the question which suggests itself is whether the Pindaric form of the doctrine is more allied to the ordinary view or to that of Aeschylus. The passages in which Pindar expressly touches on this subject are three in number.49 In the thirteenth Olympian, after praising the city of Corinth, he appeals to the “sovereign lord of Olympia” not to let his “envy” be awakened by such laudatory words—ὕπατ' ϵὐρυανάσσων' Ολυμπίας, ἀϕθόνητος ἔπσσιν γϵ́νοιο χρόνϟν ἅπαντα, Ζϵυ̑ πάτϵρ50 To much the same effect he prays in the tenth Pythian that the family of the Aleuadae may continue to prosper without incurring the divine displeasure. “Of the joyous things of Hellas they have received no scanty portion: I pray that they meet with no reverses from the envious Gods.”51 And finally, in a remarkable passage of the seventh Isthmian, the poet thus writes of himself: “I will set flowers upon my hair and sing; but let not the envy of the immortals bring on me confusion—ὁ δ' ἀθανάτων μὴ θρασσϵ́τω εθόνος. Whatsoever joy is offered day by day, serenely I will follow and o'ertake, till old age come, and the appointed term of life. For we all alike die, although our lot in life is different (δαίμων δ' ἄϊσος); howbeit, if any lift a covetous eye to that which is afar, yet is he too weak to attain unto the bronze-paved seat of Gods. Thus winged Pegasus threw his lord Bellerophon, when he was fain to come to the habitations of heaven and join the company of Zeus. Bitter is the end that awaits unrighteous joy.”52 In the first of these three passages there is nothing that goes beyond the ordinary version of the envy of the Gods as we find it in Herodotus; and the same is true of the second, unless, which is perhaps the case, the prayer of the poet conveys a covert warning to the Aleuadae against insolence and pride. But with the third passage it is otherwise. The sequence of ideas in the poet's mind is plainly this: let me escape the “envy of the Gods” by avoiding presumptuous sin, for unrighteous joys are doomed to end in sorrow. In just this way Aeschylus for his part tries to reinterpret the belief.

Pindar's conception of sin is in general agreement with the views we have already met with in Greek poetry. Sin is egoism, self-seeking, πλϵονϵξία—the overstepping of the limits appointed for the individual in his relations both to his fellow-men and to the Gods. The duty of self-repression and the dangers of arrogance and pride are themes upon which the poet continually dilates. In nearly all his eulogies there is heard a note of warning. “Seek not to become Zeus; if these high honours fall to thee, thou hast already all. Mortal things befit a mortal”—θνατά θνατοι̑σιν πρϵ́πϵι.53 Remember that thou art mortal; seek not to be as God—this is the perpetual refrain of Pindar's exhortations.54 “But if any one shall possess wealth, and excel others in beauty, and have won distinction by display of strength in games, let him not forget that his raiment is on mortal limbs, and that the earth shall be his garment at the last.”55 And so on through a great variety of formulae, sometimes of a half-oracular or prophetic kind, such as the oft-repeated warning not to sail beyond the pillars of Heracles. “By their manly prowess they have touched the pillars of Heracles, at the limits of the world. Beyond that I bid them seek for no further excellence.”56 Pindar is thoroughly Greek in his advocacy of the μηδϵ̀ν ἄγαν. He praises Lampon as one who “with his mind pursues the mean, and cleaves thereto in act”—μϵ́τρα μϵ̀ν γνώμᾳδιώκων, μϵ́τρα δϵ̀ καὶ κατϵ́χων57

The question as to the ultimate responsibility for sin is not directly raised by Pindar; but he generally seems to lay the blame upon the transgressor himself, and not upon Zeus or Fate. Thus in his account of Ixion it is said that “when he gat a pleasant life in the house of Cronus' gracious children, he could not endure his great prosperity (ὄλβος)…but Pride (ὕβρις) drave him into exceeding folly (blindness, infatuation, ῎Ατη); howbeit soon he suffered his deserts, finding a misery unique.”58 Here there is nothing to suggest that the fons et origo mali is a malignant power from outside, although a deeper analysis might perhaps make Zeus responsible for the prosperity whence sin is born. In Pindar, ὄλβος is the mother of ὕβρις, ὕβρις of κόρος,59 and κόρος of destruction; but he clearly implies that we have it in our power to resist the temptations of wealth and affluence. “If any man to whom Fortune has given glorious prizes or might of wealth represses in his heart dire insolence (αἰανη̑ κόρον), worthy is he to receive the praises of his fellow-citizens.”60 Occasionally, however, we find a suggestion of the popular belief that man is beguiled into sin by a supernatural power or daemon.61 According to Buchholz,62 Pindar may have conceived of the whole matter in some such way as this. Man is a free moral agent, with the power of building up his own character. Of his own free will he commits an act of ὕβρις, and in so doing exposes himself to the divine vengeance. After the initial transgression, the Gods intervene and smite the offender with blindness or infatuation (ἄτη), in consequence of which he plunges more and more deeply into sin, until at last he is destroyed. This, as we shall afterwards see, is the theory of Aeschylus; but the evidence is hardly enough to justify the conclusion that Pindar entertained so definite and precise a view.

I have already said that the justice or righteousness of the Gods is manifested, according to Pindar, both in the punishment of evil-doers and in the rewards bestowed upon the virtuous. On the subject of punishment for sin, Pindar's views are in harmony with the teaching of Greek elegy, except that he speaks of punishment hereafter as well as here. That the innocent sometimes suffer with the guilty in this world, he recognises as a truth attested by experience, without touching on the problem as to how our belief in the divine justice can be reconciled with such a dispensation. Coronis had sinned against Apollo, and the God sent his sister “in the fury of invincible wrath” to take vengeance. “Many of the neighbours shared her doom, and were destroyed together with her, as a fire that from one seed has leapt upon a mountain lays waste an ample tract of wood.”63 You will remember that Theognis in a somewhat similar case impugns the moral government of the universe, on the ground that the sins of the fathers cannot justly be visited upon their innocent children; but to Pindar such protests would have seemed to savour of impiety. In general, I think, the poet contemplates with more satisfaction the rewards of virtue than the punishments of vice: we are told that God hearkens to the prayers of the pious,64 and that lasting prosperity is theirs who reverence Zeus.65

The religious standpoint of a writer may be supposed to be reflected not only in his sentiments about God and the dealings of God with man, but also in his general outlook upon life. If we consider the poems of Pindar from this point of view, we are struck by the prominence given to the sad and sombre aspects of man's lot. The uncertainty of the future, the fickleness of Fortune, and the inevitability of death—these are the familiar notes of what is called Greek melancholy; and Pindar is always sounding them in our ears. We know not, says the poet, whether we shall bring a single day peacefully to its close with uncorroded bliss: “this way and that run currents bringing joy or sorrow unto men.”66 “Around the minds of men hang follies innumerable; and it is impossible to discover what is best for a man to win both now and at the last.”67 “The hopes of men are tossed up and down upon the waves of vain deceit; and never hath any one of men upon the earth received from God a sure token of that which shall be hereafter: but the revelations of the future are blind”—τω̑ν μϵλλόντων τϵτύϕλωνται ϕραδαί.68 And there is much besides to the same effect, reflections on the frailty of man, the contrast between aspiration and attainment, the brevity of life, and so on. Even the old Homeric formula—“two evils to one good”—finds a place in Pindar. “Thou knowest,” he says, addressing his patron Hiero,—“thou knowest, taught by men of old, that for one blessing the immortals divide to mortal men two sorrows.”69 The whole matter is summed up in the famous and often-quoted words, “Man's happiness grows up quickly, and quickly falls to the ground, shaken by a doom adverse. Creatures of a day! what is man, what not? Man is the phantom of a shade—σκια̑ς ὄναρ ἄνθρωπς.”70 “We are but of yesterday, and know nothing, because our days upon earth are a shadow.”71

If we should confine our attention to these and similar passages, we might be led to suppose that the tone of Pindar is predominantly melancholy, or even pessimistic. But in reality the opposite is the case. No Greek poet is more keenly alive to the joyous things in life: the praises of youth and manly prowess, of wealth, good fortune, and fame, of all that is sublime and beautiful in nature and in art, are continually on his lips. And even where his reflections are pitched in a minor key, the poet often strikes a happier note before the end Man is but the phantom of a shade; “howbeit,” Pindar adds, “when a glory cometh from the Gods, we are crowned with the bright halo of a life serene.”72 Above all, the Pindaric odes of victory are full of the joy which is born of difficulties faced and overcome. “If toil there was, so much the greater is the joy that follows after: ϵἰ πόνος η̑ν, τὸ τϵρπνὸν π λϵ́ονπϵδϵ́ρχϵται.”73 As in Homer, the certainty of death becomes itself an inspiration. “Forasmuch as we must die, why should one sit idly in the dark, nursing an old age unknown to fame, without part or lot in noble deeds?”74 The man who has done great deeds forgets death.75

There is, indeed, nothing more characteristic of Pindar, despite the warnings against presumption which are so frequent in his poetry, than the conviction that we are impelled by the very constitution of our nature to wrestle and strive towards perfection. “From Zeus there is vouchsafed no sure sign to mortals; but none the less we embark on deeds of high emprise, and meditate many achievements: for our bodies are enthralled by insatiable hope, although the tides of life are hidden from our foreknowledge.”76 It is tempting to connect this distinctive feature of Pindar's poetry with his belief in the divine origin and affinity of man. “One is the race of men and Gods, and from one mother we both derive the breath of life.” If human nature is essentially divine, we shall best attain the end and purpose of our existence by striving to realise the heritage which is ours by birth. There is, however, no authority for attributing such a train of thought to Pindar. The descent of the soul from God, as we have seen, was a cardinal point of the Orpbic creed; and Pindar, in all probability, derived the doctrine from that source. But whereas among the Orphics the ultimate goal is reunion with the divine, Pindar's oft-repeated warning is, “Seek not to be as Zeus,” “Seek not to become a God.” If he borrows the Orphic belief about man's celestial origin, he stops short of the conclusions to which it led. θνατά θνατοι̑σιν πρϵ́πϵι: “mortal thou art; cherish only mortal aspirations.” “Desire not thou immortal life, my soul.”77 His counsel is that we should let our thoughts aspire, but only within the limits prescribed by the ordinances of Heaven; and in this respect he is true to the fundamental principles of ordinary Greek ethics.

I pass now to an examination of what is by far the most remarkable and distinctive portion of Pindar's religious doctrine. His conception of immortality is altogether different from that of earlier Greek poets. Let us first inquire what grounds he alleges for the belief in a future existence. We are here concerned with a fragment of exceptional interest, which may be thus translated:

“The bodies of all men Death the all-conquering follow and die:

But alive there remaineth Life's image: for that is alone from on high.

When the limbs are astir, it is sleeping; but in many a dream of the night

It reveals to the sleeper a judgment, bringing visions of pain and delight.”78

A curious and characteristic fusion of Homeric and Orphic ideas is observable in these lines. By “Life's image,” the image of the living man, Pindar means the soul; and thus far he is in agreement with Homer. But the rest of the passage is totally un-Homeric. We are told that the soul is asleep when the body is awake; and conversely, when the body is asleep, the soul awakes, and, by reason of her affinity with the divine, foresees the judgment that shall be hereafter. To the same effect Aristotle, in one of his fragments, asserts that “when the soul is alone and by herself in sleep, she recovers her proper nature,” that is, of course, her heavenly nature, “and divines and prophesies the future.”79 It is obvious that the body is here regarded as to a certain extent the sepulchre of the soul, from which Sleep, Death's twin brother, brings a kind of semi-resurrection: so that we are clearly on Orpbic ground. But what concerns us more particularly now is to observe that the soul is said to be immortal because of her divine origin (τὸ γὰρ ἔστι μόνον ϵ̓κ θϵω̑ν). In Pindar, therefore, as sometimes in Plato, immortality rests on the Orphic conception of man's relationship with God 80

What, then, is the kind of immortality foretold by Pindar? I will take as my text the famous picture in the second Olympian of the destinies reserved for the good and for the evil in the world to come. “The guilty souls of the dead,” says Pindar, “straightway pay the penalty here on earth; and the sins committed in this kingdom of Zeus are judged by One beneath the ground, hateful Necessity enforcing the doom he speaks. But ever through nights and ever through days the same, the good receive an unlaborious life beneath the sunshine. They vex not with might of hand the earth or the waters of the sea for food that satisfieth not, but among the honoured Gods, such as had pleasure in keeping of oaths enjoy a tearless life; but the others have pain too fearful to behold. Howbeit they who thrice on either side of death have stood fast and wholly refrained their souls from deeds unjust, journey on the road of Zeus to the tower of Cronus, where the ocean-breezes blow around the island of the blest, and flowers gleam bright with gold, some on trees of glory on the land, while others the water feeds; with wreaths whereof they entwine their arms and crown their heads.”81

From whatever source or sources Pindar draws the materials for this picture, there is no mistaking the fact that it is altogether unlike the ordinary Greek conception of the other world. If we endeavour to reconstruct the kind of eschatological background of the poet's description, we may say perhaps that there are three leading ideas in his mind. The first is metempsychosis, or rather, let us say, rebirth (παλ ιγγϵνϵσία); the second, retribution and reward; and the third would seem to be the prospect of ultimate deliverance from the circle of incarnation by removal to the islands of the blest. I will conclude this lecture by some remarks upon each of these three doctrines as they appear in Pindar.

First, then, with regard to παλ ιγγϵνϵσία This doctrine is most clearly expressed in a fragment preserved by Plato.82 “The souls of them from whom Persephone has accepted atonement for an ancient woe, she restores in the ninth year to the light of the sun above the earth. And from these souls come glorious kings and such as are strong and swift and excel in wisdom; and throughout all future time they are called holy heroes by mankind.” It should be noted that the reward consists not in restoration to the upper earth from the darkness of the underworld, but in the kind of life which is assigned to the purified souls when they return again into the body. They become kings and princes in the land. It has already been pointed out that, according to Empedocles, the souls about to be freed from the circle of generation become “prophets and singers and physicians and princes among men upon the earth.” The similarity between the two passages makes it highly probable that Pindar is here dependent on Orphic and Pythagorean traditions.83 Pindar's conception of metempsychosis presents at least one interesting and apparently novel feature. In common, perhaps, with Empedocles, and certainly with Plato,84 he regards the human soul as continually traversing the circumference of a circle, one half of which is life and the other death; and the evil we do in the semicircle representing life is expiated in the other semicircle. But in Pindar the converse holds good also: the evil done by the soul when separate from the body is expiated during her life on earth. This is Mezger's explanation of the words, “the guilty souls of the dead straightway pay the penalty here on earth”; and no other explanation that I know of does equal justice to the Greek.85 In this way, to quote the phrase of Gildersleeve, Earth and Hades become “mutual Hells”; or rather, perhaps, mutual Hells and mutual Heavens: for if our present miseries are the punishment of sins committed in the intermediate state, we may equally suppose that our present happiness is the reward of ante-natal merit. According to the Orphics, the soul, before her expulsion from heaven, left the paths of virtue and was punished by incarceration in the flesh.86 This Orphic belief would seem to have suggested the Pindaric idea that in each successive incarnation we suffer for sins committed in the other world.

During the interval between two incarnations the soul makes atonement for the evil she has wrought above the ground.87 Nowhere, in his extant works, does Pindar describe the punishment as purgatorial: but he probably conceived of it in this way. We find, however, clear traces of an Inferno in some of the poems of Pindar. The languid rivers of black night belching forth infinite darkness88 seem to belong to the Inferno. As examples of the incurable class of sinners,89 the poet, in agreement with the Odyssey,90 refers to Tantalus, Ixion, Sisyphus, and Tityos, all of whom endure a “hopeless life of never-ending woe” in recompense for their egregious crimes.91 For these, and possibly also for some others,92 there is no hope; but they perform a useful service as πα ραδϵίγματα, or warning examples to those whose condition is less hopeless than their own. Of Ixion we read: “By command of the Gods, men say, Ixion proclaims this message to mortals as round and round he spins upon his winged wheel: Him that is thy benefactor, visit and requite with gracious recompense.”93 The idea that the incurably wicked suffer eternal punishment in order to provide a warning for the rank and file, occurs also in the myths of Plato and in Virgil.94 We may with probability ascribe it in all three cases to the influence of early Orphic eschatologies.

Hitherto in Greek literature, as we have seen, the “islands of the blest” are appropriated to certain favourites of the Gods, on whom the hand of death has not fallen. In Pindar all this is changed. “They who thrice on either side of death”—that is, during three successive incarnations together with the corresponding periods in the other world—“have refrained their souls from wickedness, travel on the road of Zeus95 to the tower of Cronus,96 where the ocean breezes blow around the island of the blest.” There, presumably, like the souls who have “purified themselves by philosophy” in Plato's Phaedo, they dwell “without bodies for all future time,”97 delivered at last from the “wheel of generation.” Besides the second Olympian, we have another exquisite picture of the life of the blessed in a fragment preserved by Plutarch in his Consolation to Apollonius:98 “For them shineth below the strength of the sun while in our world it is night, and the space of crimson-flowered meadows before their city is full of the shade of frankincense-trees, and of fruits of gold. And some in horses, and in bodily feats, and some in dice, and some in harp-playing have delight; and among them thriveth all fair-flowering bliss; and fragrance streameth ever through the lovely land, as they mingle incense of every kind upon the altars of the gods.”99 It is the same kind of picture as appears in the pseudo-Platonic Axiochus, a dialogue admittedly full of Orphic ideas100 For the rest, it need only be remarked that Pindar, in agreement with what we know from Aristotle to have been a widely diffused belief in Greece,101 attributes to the departed souls some interest, slight though it be, in the fortunes of their descendants upon earth. “Even the dead,” says Pindar, “have part in sacrifices duly offered; and the dust hides not from them the goodly glories of their kindred.” “Perchance, with such intelligence as there is beneath the ground, they hear of his mighty prowess sprinkled with song's soft dew beneath the outpoured hymn of praise, wherefore they rejoice in common with their son Arcesilas at the triumph he hath justly won.”102

Much of what this poet-prophet sings about the Gods and their relation to mankind is only a purer and more spiritual version of the teaching of his predecessors; but his conception of immortality is almost unique in literature until we come to Plato. For it is Plato who is in this respect the true successor of the poet we have been considering. We must turn to the Platonic myths—to the supra-celestial world of the Phaedrus, and the earthly paradise of the Phaedo—in order to find a parallel to Pindar's representation of the happiness in store for virtue in the life to come. We ought not to insist upon the details; like other religious teachers, Pindar uses sensuous imagery to awaken “transcendental feeling.” No one will ever determine exactly how much of what he says the poet himself believed, and how much is only poetic fancy. For us the relevant consideration is that these ideas, from whatever source they were taken—Homeric, Orphic, or Eleusinian,103 and however incompatible with one another they may be, are present in the poetry of Pindar, and exercised an influence on Greek thought. In a fragment preserved by Plato, the poet tells how “sweet hope cherishes the soul of him who has lived in piety and justice, the nurse of his declining years and the companion of his life.”104 The poetry of Pindar is full of this “sweet hope “; and one of its sources is the hope of immortality.

  • 1.

    fr. 193 Bergk.

  • 2.

    Paus. x. 24. 5; vit Pind. p. xv Christ.

  • 3.

    Nem. 6. 1–7.

  • 4.

    fr. 81.

  • 5.

    Ol. i. 35 ff.

  • 6.

    35 ff.

  • 7.

    fr. 143.

  • 8.

    fr. 87.

  • 9.

    Ol. 13. 83.

  • 10.

    Pyth. 10. 49.

  • 11.

    fr. 142.

  • 12.

    Pyth. 9. 67.

  • 13.

    49 ff.

  • 14.

    Isthm. 5. 52 f. αά αϵ καὶ αά= “good and evil.”

  • 15.

    fr. 141.

  • 16.

    Pyth. 1. 41 f., tr. W. R. Paton; cf. fr. 108.

  • 17.

    fr. 140.

  • 18.

    They may, however, be inspired by Orphic pantheism; see above, p. 96.

  • 19.

    fr. 169. See Plato, Grog. 484 B.

  • 20.

    Pyth. 12. 30; Nem. 11. 42, 4. 41 ff.

  • 21.

    One such instance in Isthm. 8. 33 ff.; cf. Hesiod, Theog. 886 ff.

  • 22.

    αὸ μόρσσμον Δσόθϵν πϵπρωμϵ́νον, Nem. 4. 61; θϵου̑ μοσ̑ρα, Ol. 2. 21; cf. Pyth. 5. 76; Ol. 9. 26, 28.

  • 23.

    Isthm. 6. 16 ff.

  • 24.

    Ol. 12. 1 ff.

  • 25.

    Buchholz, Sittliche Weltanschauung d. pind. und Aesch. p. 15.

  • 26.

    e.g. i. 126. See Stein on i. 62.

  • 27.

    Ol. 1. 64.

  • 28.

    Pyth. 3. 29. f.

  • 29.

    ib. 9. 44 ff.

  • 30.

    See above, p. 33.

  • 31.

    δάλα μϵ̀ν ἀνδρω̑ν δσκαίων πϵρσκαδόμϵνοσ, nem. 10. 54.

  • 32.

    Pyth 5. 122 f.

  • 33.

    Pyth. 4. 272 ff.

  • 34.

    fr. 19 Bywater.

  • 35.

    Ap. 41 D.

  • 36.

    Ol. 10. 3 f.

  • 37.

    Nem. 10. 54.

  • 38.

    ψϵυδϵ́ων δ' οὐχ ἅπαϵαασ, Pyth. 3. 29.

  • 39.


  • 40.

    Pyth. 2. 86 ff.

  • 41.

    p. xxix.

  • 42.

    Euthyphro 7 A ff.

  • 43.

    Nem. 10. 29 f.

  • 44.

    Pyth. 6. 23 ff.

  • 45.

    ib. 1. 29.

  • 46.

    vii. 10.

  • 47.

    iii. 40.

  • 48.

    See also Hdt. i. 31, 32l vii. 46 ad fin.

  • 49.

    Cf. also Ol 1. 60–64.

  • 50.

    24 ff.

  • 51.

    19 ff.

  • 52.

    39 ff.

  • 53.

    Isthm 5. 14 ff.

  • 54.

    Ol. 5. 24; Pyth. 3. 61 f. al.

  • 55.

    Nem. 11. 13 ff.

  • 56.

    Isthm. 4. 11 ff.; cf. Ol. 3. 43 f.; Nem. 3. 20 f.

  • 57.

    Isthm. 6. 71.

  • 58.

    Pyth. 2. 25 ff. It is possible however, that αὐάταν here means no more than calamity, as elsewhere in Pindar, e.g. Nem. 9. 21; Ol. 1. 56; fr. 42.

  • 59.

    Ol. 13. 10. So also in an oracle quoted by Hdt. 8. 77 (Buchholz, l.c. p. 93). Contrast the doctrine of Greek elegy (supra, p. 88).

  • 60.

    Isthm. 3. 1 ff.

  • 61.

    Pyth. 3. 43 f.; cf. Ol. 7. 30 f., 45 ff.

  • 62.

    l.c. p. 92.

  • 63.

    Pyth 3. 32 ff.

  • 64.

    ol. 8. 8.

  • 65.

    Isthm. 3. 5 f.

  • 66.

    Ol. 2. 32 ff.

  • 67.

    Ol. 7. 24 ff.

  • 68.

    Ol. 12. 5 ff.; cf. fr. 61, “It is impossible with mortal mind to discover the purposes of the Gods.”

  • 69.

    Pyth. 3. 80 ff.

  • 70.

    Pyth. 8. 92 ff.

  • 71.

    Job viii. 9.

  • 72.

    Pyth. 8. 96 ff. Cf. Ol. 2. 19 ff.

  • 73.

    Nem. 7. 74.

  • 74.

    Ol. 1. 82 ff.; cf. p. 64 supra.

  • 75.

    Ol. 8. 72.

  • 76.

    Nem. 11. 43 ff.

  • 77.

    Pyth. 3. 61.

  • 78.

    fr. 131.

  • 79.

    fr. 12. Cf. Plato, Rep. ix. 571 D ff.

  • 80.

    I have discussed and illustrated the Pindaric fragment at greater length in Cambridge Praelections, 1906, pp. 29–67.

  • 81.

    Ol. 2. 57 ff.

  • 82.

    Meno 81 B f.; fr. 133 Bergk.

  • 83.

    See p. 106.

  • 84.

    Phaed. 72 A ff.

  • 85.

    A different view is taken by Rodhe, Psyche2 ii. p. 208, n. 3. But ϵ̓στὶς ϵ̓κατϵ́ρωθι in Ol. 2. 68 favours Mezger's interpretation.

  • 86.

    See p. 97 f.

  • 87.

    fr. 133.

  • 88.

    fr. 130 ad fin.

  • 89.

    οἱ ἀνιάτως ἔχοντϵς, Plato, Phaed. 113 E.

  • 90.

    See p. 60.

  • 91.

    Ol. 1. 55 ff.; Pyth. 2. 21 ff.

  • 92.

    ὑπὸ ζϵύγλαις ἀϕύκτοις κακω̑ν, fr. 132; but the fragment is probably spurious. See Rodhe, Psyche2 ii. p. 213, n. 3.

  • 93.

    Pyth. 2. 21 ff.

  • 94.

    Plato, Rep. x. 616 A, Grog. 525 A ff.; Virg. Aen. 6. 618 ff.

  • 95.

    Ol. 2. 68 ff.; cf. Plato, Phaedr. 246 E.

  • 96.

    Cf. Hesiod, O.D. 169, τοι̑σινΚρόνος ϵ̓μβασιλϵύι.

  • 97.

    114 C.

  • 98.

    c. 35; fr. 129 Bergk.

  • 99.

    tr. Myers.

  • 100.

    See p. 108.

  • 101.

    Eth. Nic. i. c. 11.

  • 102.

    Ol. 8. 77 ff.; Pyth. 5. 98 ff.

  • 103.

    fr. 137, “Blessed is he who having seen those rites shall pass beneath the ground. He knoweth the end of life, yea, and its celestial origin (διόσδοτον ἀρχάν).”

  • 104.

    Rep. i. 331 A; fr. 214.