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(c. 518—446 bc) Greek lyric poet

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Greek lyric poet, native of Cynoscephalae in Boeotia, b. probably in 518 bc. His last datable composition belongs in or shortly after 446. He achieved panhellenic recognition early; at the age of 20 he was commissioned by the ruling family of Thessaly to celebrate the athletic victory of a favourite youth. His commissions covered most of the Greek world, from Macedonia and Abdera in the north to Cyrene in the south, from Italy and Sicily in the west to the seaboard of Asia Minor in the east. He probably travelled widely. He is already a classic for Herodotus, and was regarded by many in antiquity as the greatest of the nine poets of the lyric canon.

The Alexandrian editors divided Pindar's works into seventeen books: hymns, paeans, dithyrambs (2 books), processional songs (2), maiden‐songs (3), dance songs (2), encomia, dirges, and victory songs (4). Of these, the only books to survive intact are the choral victory songs composed for the formal celebration of victories in the four panhellenic athletic festivals (see agones). His patrons were the great aristocratic houses of the day, and the ruling families of Cyrene, Syracuse and Acragas. The scale of this section of the corpus indicates the value which Pindar, like other Greeks, placed on athletics as a testing ground for the highest human qualities. The victory song was normally performed either at the athletic festival shortly after the victory or after the victor's return to his native city. Since time for composition and choir training was limited, the former type tends to be brief. Odes composed for performance after the victor's return are usually longer and more elaborate. The longer odes usually have three sections, with the opening and closing sections devoted to the victor and his success and the central section usually containing a mythic narrative. The opening is always striking, often elaborate, consisting either of an abrupt announcement of victory or a focusing process which sets the victory against a general background, usually through a hymnal invocation or a preparatory list of objects, experiences, or achievements (priamel). In the sections devoted to the victor conventional elements recur. The god of the games is honoured. Place of victory and event are announced, with details often surrendered slowly in order to maintain a forward tension (description of victory is rare, however). Earlier victories by the patron or other members of his family are listed; such lists are carefully crafted to avoid monotony. The city is praised, and in the case of boy victors the father and usually the trainer. Self‐praise by the poet is also common. More sombre notes are struck. The poet often reminds the victor of his mortality or offers prayers to avert misfortune; these elements reflect the Archaic fear of divine envy and awareness of the psychological dangers of success; they function both to warn and to emphasize the extent of the achievement. Maxims (see gnōmē) are frequent. Recurrent themes are the impossibility of achievement without toil, the need for divine aid for success, the duty to praise victory, the vulnerability of achievement without praise in song, the importance of inborn excellence and the inadequacy of mere learning. The effect of this moralizing is to give the ode a pronounced didactic as well as celebratory quality.


Subjects: Classical studies

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