Authors: Pindar

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2018

Greek poet

c. 518 b.c.e.

Cynoscephalae, near Thebes, Boeotia, Greece

c. 438 b.c.e.

Argos, Greece


Pindar (PIHN-dur), also known as Pindaros or Pindarus, was born at Cynoscephalae, near Thebes, about 518 b.c.e. Through his parents, Daiphantus and Cleodice, who came from a family claiming descent from Cadmus, the founder of Thebes, Pindar could regard ancient Greek gods and heroes as part of his family. As training for his poetic career, Pindar began to study the flute, first in Thebes under his uncle Scopelinus, and later in Athens. He began writing odes at the age of twenty, losing in his first competition, to a poet named Corinna, because he had neglected to use mythology. He learned his lesson, and for the next fifty years he was highly regarded for his paeans to Apollo and Zeus and his hymns to Persephone and others. {$I[AN]9810000429} {$I[A]Pindar} {$I[geo]GREECE;Pindar} {$I[tim]0518 b.c.e.;Pindar}


(Library of Congress)

Pindar’s home was chiefly Thebes, but he frequently visited Athens, which was then gaining in literary reputation, and he spent several years at the court of Hieron of Syracuse. There he wrote what was to be called the Pindaric Ode, the epinicion or epinikion, a poem to welcome home the victors in the national games: the Pythian, the Isthmian, the Nemean, and the Olympic. Pindar’s formula was to select a myth and then in some way relate it to the victor and provide words for the chorus to use in the parade. From internal evidence many of the forty-five odes that survive intact can be dated by the games whose victors he celebrates.

High moral tone, patriotism, and religious fervor characterize the works of this outstanding Greek lyric poet. Though he wrote them to order, and was paid for them, the odes show no signs of cheapening art for cash. Not until they were imitated in England in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries did the form become debased. Only fragments of Pindar’s other poems survive.

Author Works Poetry: Epinikia, 498–446 B.C.E. (Odes, 1656; Pindar: The Complete Odes, 2007) Carminum Pindaricorum fragmenta, 1776 Bibliography Carne-Ross, D. S. Pindar. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1985. A brief work addressed to the general reader, with a short but useful bibliography. Crotty, Kevin. Song and Action: The Victory Odes of Pindar. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982. Devoted to individual examinations of the performances of the odes for which Pindar is most remembered. Includes notes, bibliography, and index. Finley, Moses I. The Ancient Greeks. New York: Penguin, 1991. Gives brief but interesting and useful information on Simonides, Bacchylides, and Pindar. Grant, Mary A. Folktale and Hero-Tale Motifs in the Odes of Pindar. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1967. Straightforward account of the subject, with an index of motifs and an index of mythological characters. Hamilton, Edith. The Greek Way. New York: W. W. Norton, 1993. An excellent short book on the Greek way of life; devotes a chapter to Pindar. Bridges scholarship and general readership. Includes seven pages of references, especially to works of ancient Greek writers. Highet, Gilbert. The Classical Tradition: Greek and Roman Influences on Western Literature. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985. The best work available on the Greco-Roman influences on Western literature. Lengthy discussion—perhaps the most accessible anywhere for general readers—on Pindar’s poetical forms and on his direct influences on poetry. Extensive notes in lieu of a comprehensive bibliography. Kurke, Leslie. The Traffic in Praise: Pindar and the Politics of Social Economy. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1991. Kurke studies the poems in terms of their social dimensions: the influences of the society on the poetry. Pindar. Pindar. Edited and translated by William H. Race. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1997. Translation of all the surviving odes. Contains a preface on Pindar and his poetry. Nagy, Gregory. Pindar’s Homer: Lyric Possession of an Epic Past. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990. Pindar’s work is a centerpiece in this detailed study of allusion in form and content in late archaic lyric poetry. Newman, John K., and Frances Stickney Newman. Pindar’s Art: Its Tradition and Aims. Munich: Weidmann, 1984. After a review of major interpreters, the Newmans provide a close and technical study of the vocabulary and structure of Pindar’s poems, especially his use of repetition and elements of the comic. Race, William H. Pindar. Boston: Twayne, 1986. Comprehensive in biography, criticism, and bibliography. For both scholarly and general audiences. Race, William H. Style and Rhetoric in Pindar’s Odes. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1990. A technical study of the rhetorical aspects and elements of the odes, and the purposes for Pindar’s uses of them. Rutherford, Ian. Pindar’s Paeans: A Reading of the Fragments with a Survey of the Genre. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. The paean, or sacred hymn to Apollo, had a central place in the song-dance culture of classical Greece. The most celebrated examples of the genre in antiquity were Pindar’s paeans. Rutherford offers a comprehensive reevaluation of the poems.

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