One of Pindar’s grandest odes, the First Pythian celebrates Hieron of Syracuse’s chariot victory of 470 and his founding of the city of Aetna in 476/5 within a broader context of Pan-Hellenic peace, thanks to strong leadership within and victory over barbarian invaders. Just as, after the defeat of the forces of Chaos, order reigns supreme among gods and men, so too in music and verse: the poet opens with a hymn to the civilizing potency of the lyre, and proceeds to put his world in order, with Zeus at the top and the Giants at the bottom.
χρυσέα φόρμιγξ, Ἀπόλλωνος καὶ ἰοπλοκάμων
σύνδικον Μοισᾶν κτέανον: τᾶς ἀκούει μὲν βάσις, ἀγλαΐας ἀρχά,
πείθονται δ᾽ ἀοιδοὶ σάμασιν,
ἁγησιχόρων ὁπόταν προοιμίων ἀμβολὰς τεύχῃς ἐλελιζομένα.
καὶ τὸν αἰχματὰν κεραυνὸν σβεννύεις 5
ἀενάου πυρός. εὕδει δ᾽ ἀνὰ σκάπτῳ Διὸς αἰετός, ὠκεῖαν πτέρυγ᾽ ἀμφοτέρωθεν χαλάξαις,
ἀρχὸς οἰωνῶν, κελαινῶπιν δ᾽ ἐπί οἱ νεφέλαν
ἀγκύλῳ κρατί, γλεφάρων ἁδὺ κλαΐστρον, κατέχευας: ὁ δὲ κνώσσων
ὑγρὸν νῶτον αἰωρεῖ, τεαῖς
ῥιπαῖσι κατασχόμενος. καὶ γὰρ βιατὰς Ἄρης, τραχεῖαν ἄνευθε λιπὼν 10
ἐγχέων ἀκμάν, ἰαίνει καρδίαν
κώματι, κῆλα δὲ καὶ δαιμόνων θέλγει φρένας, ἀμφί τε Λατοίδα σοφίᾳ βαθυκόλπων τε Μοισᾶν.
Gold lyre! Just possession of Apollo Str. 1
and the violet-wreathed Muses,
you give the order which the footsteps follow
when your prelude suffuses
the victory dance,
as, hanging on each trembling string,
the singers hear their cue and sing;
you douse the lance
of Zeus’s thunderbolt, whose fires sluice
forever, while, perched on his rod, 10
the lordly eagle starts to nod,
letting the swift wings at his side hang loose,
for you have poured over the raptor king Ant. 1
a black hood like a cloud,
sealing his eyelids sweetly. Slumbering,
he flexes his back, bowed
under your onslaught
of volleyed notes. Yes, even violent
Ares, struck by you, falls silent;
without a thought 20
of spears he’s put aside, he warms his heart
in dreaming, while your arrows blind
with rapture each immortal mind,
through Leto’s son and the deep-zoned Muses’ art.
Translation by Chris Childers. Chris teaches at St. Andrew’s School in Delaware. He is currently at work on a verse translation of Greek and Latin Lyric Poetry from Archilochus to Martial for Penguin Classics. His full versions of Olympian 1 and Pythian 8 are forthcoming next week from Arion (on the web at www.bu.edu/arion or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ArionBU).
The above text is provided by the Perseus Digital Library.
Thomas Gray produced a notable imitation of this hymn in the opening triad of his poem, “The Progress of Poesy. A Pindaric Ode.”