Pindar, Pythian 8.88-100 (Contributed by Chris Childers)

Written for Aristomenes of Aegina, victor in the wrestling competition in 446 BC, this is the latest of Pindar’s datable odes. It is also widely considered his darkest: the aging poet, so the theory goes, depressed by thoughts of his own mortality, just couldn’t summon up an appropriately triumphal celebration–think of Mozart in the valley of the shadow of death, furiously scribbling his own Requiem. But Mozart was a much younger man, while this ode, it seems to me, is full of the clear-eyed wisdom of age. It perceives that defeat and victory, darkness and light, death and life are as interdependent and intertwined as eight limbs locked in a wrestling match; with Heraclitus, it affirms us “mortal immortals, immortal mortals, living our death and dying our life.” Pindar finds the source of the splendour of triumph in its very transience. The eighth Pythian ode is one of his most profound and powerful productions; here are the last two strophes:

Chris Childers



ὁ δὲ καλόν τι νέον λαχὼν

ἁβρότατος ἔπι μεγάλας

ἐξ ἐλπίδος πέταται           90

ὑποπτέροις ἀνορέαις, ἔχων

κρέσσονα πλούτου μέριμναν. ἐν δ᾽ ὀλίγῳ βροτῶν

τὸ τερπνὸν αὔξεται: οὕτω δὲ καὶ πίτνει χαμαί,

ἀποτρόπῳ γνώμᾳ σεσεισμένον.

ἐπάμεροι: τί δέ τις; τί δ᾽ οὔ τις; σκιᾶς ὄναρ           95

ἄνθρωπος. ἀλλ᾽ ὅταν αἴγλα διόσδοτος ἔλθῃ,

λαμπρὸν φέγγος ἔπεστιν ἀνδρῶν καὶ μείλιχος αἰών:

Αἴγινα φίλα μᾶτερ, ἐλευθέρῳ στόλῳ

πόλιν τάνδε κόμιζε Δὶ καὶ κρέοντι σὺν Αἰακῷ

Πηλεῖ τε κἀγαθῷ Τελαμῶνι σύν τ᾽ Ἀχιλλεῖ.           100

But one who gains some new success                           Ant. 5

                  on wings of soaring manliness

                          and splendid hope takes flight                              90

                  toward future deeds, for he has caught

      a passion beyond wealth. In no time man’s delight

bursts into bloom, but just

                                       as fast collapses in the dust,

            shaken by a breeze, a shift in thought. 


One day we live. What is someone? What is no one? A dream            Ep. 5

of a shadow is all we are. But when the heavens shed their gleam,

our life grows sweet and light shines over us.

Dear mother Aegina, safeguard this city’s

      voyage of freedom, with Zeus and with King Aeacus,

and Peleus, and noble Telamon, and with Achilles.

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 or on Facebook at above text is provided by the Perseus Digital Library.

Read more of this text at the Perseus site.




Chris’ full versions of Olympian 1 and Pythian 8 are available from Arion

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