Interesting theological elements in Pindar’s poems

In this post we present and analyze an excerpt from Pindar, the lyric poet.

Olympionikos VII, Verses 20-57

In ancient Greek: «εθελήσω τοίσιν εξ αρχάς από Τλαπολέμου ξυνόν αγγέλλων διορθώσαι λόγον, Ηρακλέος ευρυσθενεί γέννα. Το μεν γαρ πατρόθεν εκ Διός εύχονται. Το δ’ Αμυντορίδαι ματρόθεν Αστυδαμείας. Αμφί δ’ ανθρώπων φρασίν αμπλακίαι αναρίθμητοι κρέμανται. Τούτο δ’ αμάχανον ευρείν, ό, τι νύν εν και τελευτά φέρτατον ανδρί τυχείν. Και γαρ Αλμήνας κασίγνητον νόθον σκάπτω θενών σκληράς ελαίας έκτανεν Τίρυνθι Λικύμνιον ελθόντ’ εκ θαλάμων Μιδέας τάσδε ποτε χθονός οικιστήρ χολωθείς. Αι δε φρενών ταραχαί παρέπλαγξαν και σοφόν. Μαντεύσατο δ’ ες θεόν ελθών. Τώ μέν ο χρυσοκόμας ευώδεος εξ αδύτου ναών πλόον είπε Λερναίας απ’ ακτάς ευθύν ες αμφιθάλασσον νομόν, ένθα ποτέ βρέχε θεών βασιλεύς ο μέγας χρυσέαις νιφάδεσσι πόλιν, ανίχ’ Αφαίστου τέχναισιν χαλκελάτω πελέκει πατέρος Αθαναί α κορυφάν κατ’ άκραν ανορούσαι’ αλάλαξεν υπερμάκει βοά. Ουρανός δ’ έφριξε νιν και Γαία μάτηρ. Τότε και φαυσίμβροτος δαίμων Υπεριονίδας μέλλον έντειλεν φυλάξασθαι χρέος παισίν φίλοις, ως αν θεά πρώτοι κτίσαιεν βωμόν εναργέα, και σεμνάν θυσίαν θέμενοι πατρί τε θυμόν ιάναιεν κόρα τα’ εγχειβρόμω. Εν δ’ αρετάν έβαλεν και χάρματ’ ανθρώποισι προμαθέος αιδώς. Επί μάν βαίνει τι και λάθας ατέκμαρτα νέφος, και παρέλκει πραγμάτων ορθάν οδόν έξω φρενών. Και τοί γάρ αιθοίσας έχοντες σπέρμ’ ανέβαν φλογός ού. Τεύξαν δ’ απύροις ιεροίς άλσος εν ακροπόλει. Κείνοισι μέν ξανθάν αγαγών νεφέλαν (Ζεύς) πολύν ύσε χρυσόν. Αυτά δε σφισιν ώπασε τέχναν πάσαν επιχθονίων Γλαυκώπις αριστοπόνοις χερσί κρατείν. Έργα δε ζωοίσιν ερπόντεσσι θ’ όμοια κέλευθοι φέρον. Ήν δε κλέος βαθύ. Δαέντι δε και σοφία μείζων άδολος τελέθει. Φαντί δ’ ανθρώπων παλαιαί ρήσιες, ούπω, ότε χθόνα δατέοντο Ζεύς τε και αθάνατοι, φανεράν εν πελάγεϊ Ρόδον έμμεν ποντίω, αλμυροίς δ’ εν βένθεσιν νάσον κεκρύφθαι»

In English: «I want to speak for them, beginning from Tlepolemos, and correct their common history which relates to the powerful bloodline (genus) of Hercules. They boast that they are related to Zeus from the part of their father. From their mother’s part from Astydamea and they are Amyntorides*. But, in both sides of the brains of men hang many sins/mistakes/fallacies and it is difficult to find, now and at death, what is the best to happen. Because Lekymneos, Alkmene’s illegitimate brother, when he once arrived to Tiryntha from the palaces of Midea, was killed by the enraged settler of this land, beaten with a stick of hard olive (olive tree wood). Agitations of the brains mislead even the wise man. He went to the oracle to receive divinations/prophecies of its god. And from the fragrant sanctuary of the temple, the golden-hair god told him to travel from the coasts of Lerna straight to the county that is washed by sea from both its sides, where once the great king of the gods threw golden flakes at the city, when, with the bronze axe made by Hepheastus, the head of the father was cleaved open and the jumping/emerging Athena yelled with terrifying voice. Uranus and mother Earth (Gaia) were horrified. Then, the light-giver god of the mortals, the son of Hyperion, ordered to the beloved children to guard their future debt and first before anyone else to build a bright altar and by doing a pure sacrifice to soften the anger of the father and of the daughter with the thunderous pole. Pudency, which looks ahead, grants virtue and joy to men. But there comes some uncertain cloud of oblivion and leads the brains astray from the right/proper road of things. Because they ascended to the acropolis without having sparks of ready fire and set there a sacred ground for the fire-free sacrifices. To them, Zeus threw a lot of gold by gathering/conducting a golden cloud. And to them gave Glaukopis (Athena) herself to hold in their hands every craft/art of men. There were works (creations) on the streets similar to living and walking creatures. Their glory was great. Guileless wisdom tends to grow for anyone who continues learning (who doesn’t stop learning). The old stories of men say that when Earth was distributed/shared between Zeus and the immortals, Rhodes (the island of Rhodes) could not be yet seen at the spaciousness of the sea, but it was hidden in the salty depths»

*name of a House, of a Family

Pindar

NovoScriptorium: The text was written for Diagoras from Rhodes, great boxer and winner at the Olympics. It refers to the history of the island of Rhodes. He tells us that the Rhodians are related to the bloodline (genus) of Hercules. They believed that, from their father, they originate from Zeus. As we have already discussed in several of our previous analyses, there existed various people with the name “Zeus“. This reference has hardly anything to do with Theology; it has to do though with History and Genealogies of existing people who bore the same name. The same is valid for the rest of the “gods”. Quite often such names interpolate in a historical narration to describe religious/theological or even scientific (mainly Cosmology) beliefs. This is not some comfortable fabrication of ours but indisputable information received straight from the ancient writers.

In the text we examine, Pindar interpolates theological and philosophical views. He says “But, in both sides of the brains (mind) of men hang many sins/mistakes/fallacies and it is difficult to find, now and at death, what is the best to happen

What he describes is a Human nature that is very prone to evilness and its various branches/expressions. He believes that everything starts from the brains, our mind. We consider this to be an indirect urge for all those who want to avoid sins/mistakes/fallacies in their lives, to start the fight/struggle from their brains-their mind. If the mind is cultivated properly (that is, in the way of the Άριστοι, in the way of Excellence and all that this notion contains), then it may be/will eventually become adequately controlled by Man, and as a result, the evil products, of the individual who struggles in this direction, will be reduced. It is apparent that Pindar belonged to the class of men who considered the cleansing of the mind (nous) and its simultaneous paedagogy towards Good/Virtue only, as a top priority. He characterizes the procedure required to achieve this goal as “difficult”. And its importance does not lie only with the Life of a Man but, also, with his Death.

Then we read the description of a murder.

And thereafter he offers us the phrase “Agitations of the brains mislead even the wise man”

This strengthens the proposition we made above. It is very important for the brains/mind to be found in balance, and not in agitation. So, here we learn of one more goal, on top of the ones we already examined: the calmness of the mind. Pindar stresses that the disturbance of the mind can lead a man to fallacy even if he belongs already to the “wise”. There are many historical examples about how true this proposition is. And this underlines how important is for Man to remain/keep himself  in a permanent state of noetic/spiritual vigilance/guard.

Apollo is called “the light-giver god of the mortals” but also as “son of Hyperion”. As the reader notes, the word spoken here is for some other “Apollo” and not for the “son of Zeus“. As for the “light-giver” epithet, it must have been given -as explained by various ancient authors- to a person who bore the name “Apollo”, for his beneficial contributions to the Society/Community of his time.

 This person, the “son of Hyperion”, calls “the beloved children” to do their “debt” and to perform a “pure sacrifice” on a “bright altar” to “soften the anger” of Zeus and Athena. What we learn here is that honoring the Divine is considered as a “debt, and must take place at “bright altars”. The reference to “pure sacrifice”, as it is explained in the text slightly afterwards, is a “sacrificewithout fire. So, Apollo exhorts them to do a “sacrifice” which, most likely, was a bloodless one, as it required no burning. For these “sacrifices” they receive reciprocation from Zeus, who is “raining gold” for them. The whole description suggests that the supreme god/the Divine welcomes such sacrifices. We believe that in this place a theological view on how the Divine should be honoured is presented.

Then this phrase interpolates: “Pudency, which looks ahead, grants virtue and joy to men. But there comes some uncertain cloud of oblivion and leads the brains astray from the right/proper road of things.”

This of course constitutes notional continuity of the first philosophical-theological phrase we analyzed. Here he informs us that “pudency”, as long as it exists in Man, helps him to look ahead and it is his constant assistant in the process of achieving Virtue. All this process ends up in joy. Pudency in Man can be considered as a sleepless guard against Sin; such is its importance.

Pindar also adds that the mind may be led astray from the proper road of things (which is the road of pudency, as it is understood from the text) when “oblivion” clouds it.

Essentially, he tells us that “the lasting memory of Good is what keeps the mind on the right path. An interesting parallel: In Orthodox Christianity memory of God” (God is the ultimate Good) is what keeps the mind focused at thinking of Good and always doing it. It is known from the Patristic Tradition that Oblivion (Λήθη/Lethe) is one of the main causes that lead Man to Sin. The “keeping of the nous (mind)” is a fundamental practice/aim in the Spiritual Struggle.

Then Pindar says that “Glaukopis”, i.e. Athena, gave those people ‘to hold in their hands every craft/art of men’. In previous analyses we have shown that Athena constitutes personification of the Wisdom of God. So, what we are taught here is that to the people who struggle to walk the “right path“, God/the Divine grants, as a gift, the ability for “every craft/art of men”.

The text continues with a historical reference and says that those people have constructed ‘works (creations) on the streets similar to living and walking creatures’. This refers to a very ancient Myth which suggests that inhabitants of Rhodes were the first to manufacture statues (e.g. look at Diodorus Siculus‘ “Library of History”)

The text appears to have double meaning, apart from the theological interpretation we gave above. Athena gave to those people the knowledge to construct statues. Which Athena though? The various ‘gods’, as we are probably tiresome to repeat every now and then, from the ancient writers themselves were considered as distinguished people who have lived many generations ago, who received great honors for their great deeds and benefactions. What we learn from here is that in Rhodes, some very old technical/artistic tradition had been continued, whose beginnings dated back to the so-called “era of the gods“, i.e. at a very old era – before the “Cataclysm”, as all ancient authors agree.

Then another philosophical-theological phrase interpolates: “Guileless wisdom tends to grow for anyone who continues learning (who doesn’t stop learning)”

Only if the wisdom we seek is “guileless” it can increase all the time/unstoppably. And we need continuous learning to support this. The important thing that we are taught here is that no guile should exist in our quest for Wisdom. Guileless is only and surely, the Divine Wisdom. Any other learning procedure which does not take God/the Divine as the base, as its starting point, as its stable reference, and the development of a personal relationship with the Divine as the main goal, is considered to be guile, and will never lead to Good in the end.. And sometimes, this without-God-quest for practical knowledge ends up with terrible side-effects for Man, such as confusion, madness, paranoia, and self-destruction. Many ancient texts include similar teachings. Our aim is to present the majority of them in future posts.

The text ends with some geological/historical information which we have presented/analyzed in a previous post.

Research-Analysis for NovoScriptorium: Isidoros Aggelos

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