Behind the Camera: Athletes and Spatial Dynamics in Pindar’s Olympian One

Chris Eckerman
As Ada Cohen remarks, “The selectivity of the Greek imagination—with its emphases as well as its exclusions—is one of its most interesting aspects, and it is relevant to the study of both mythological narrative and landscape description.” [1] Following Cohen, I address here Pindar’s geographic “selectivity,” considering why he includes and excludes certain places, spaces, and landscapes in Olympian 1. By arguing that geography plays a particularly meaningful role in Olympian 1, I refocus a well-worn line of inquiry in epinician criticism, which has considered how myths in individual odes relate to their respective victors but has not considered how mythical geographies relate to real world geographies nor how Pindar develops meaningful spatial connections throughout his odes in the interest of his patrons. I am interested in how Pindar links places in Olympian 1 and I suggest that Pindar articulates several spatial parallelisms between Pelops and Hieron, including in relation to their poleis (and the domestic life that occurs there), in relation to Olympia (and the contests that occur there), in relation to their colonial context (Pelops comes from the east, and Hieron comes from the west), and in relation to the space of the hereafter (both will become immortals).
Following Sergei Eisenstein, I suggest that it may be helpful to think of Olympian 1 as a film because it will allow us to see what images Pindar places before his audience. [2] Pindar develops shots that focus the mind’s eye on several symbolic places (Olympia, Syracuse, Sipylus, and “heaven”) that are important to both Hieron and Pelops. [3] Once we have identified various images, we will be able to recognize more clearly Pindar’s artistic power as well as his rhetorical skill in constructing an ode with a stark ideological agenda. [4] It is not a camera but Pindar himself who captures the film through the scriptwriting process (production). Thereafter, Pindar prepares his film for exhibition at the victor’s home polis, likely through the medium of a chorus (distribution). [5] The film’s images (exhibition) are viewed not only through the audience’s imagination, but possibly also through the bodies of the chorus. [6] Unfortunately, we know nothing of Olympian 1’s first audience, but we may speculate that it would have included a substantial popular element in addition to members of the elite, since Pindar reaffirms the tyranny of Hieron at Syracuse. [7] Pindar’s camera never provides an image that is not in some way spectacular and purposeful for his poetic agenda.
Before beginning a spatial analysis of the ode, we need to ask ourselves how we think the ode fits together conceptually so that we may then consider how its spatial dynamics relate to its thematic structure. In fact, although scholars have made fruitful observations regarding the relationship of Olympian 1’s Pelops myth to the ode’s historical context, the unifying theme of Olympian 1 has proven difficult to pin down (and there has been a substantial body of scholarly work devoted to stressing the importance of recognizing unity in the epinician odes [8] ). For example, Bowra writes on Olympian 1, “[Pindar’s] method and his conclusion are not easy to unravel.” [9] I would like to suggest, however, that one important theme in the ode is the recognition that there are setbacks in life that can be overcome with perseverance and with divine favor. As Shankman notes, “The great pitfall for the writer of an encomium is that the praise may easily shade into flattery, with the result that what is said will not be believedThe praise will be believed by an audience—a sense of verisimilitude, that is, will be lent to it—if it is placed within the broadest context of analogous experience.” [10] Pindar develops his theme of perseverance in the face of setbacks both at the historical level and at the mythological level to place Hieron within the prestigious frame of Pelops’ analogous experience.
Scholars have long recognized that Pelops and Hieron serve as analogues for one another in this poem, since Pindar develops numerous similarities between the two. [11] First, Pelops is blessed from birth, since he wins the affection of Poseidon at birth, and Pindar asserts that Hieron too has a patron divinity (θέος ἐπίτροπος, 106). [12] Second, after winning immortality among the gods, Pelops was sent back to earth due to the transgression of his father, Tantalos, and Pelops thereby suffered a lowering of ontological status (from being a dweller among the gods to being a dweller among men). Pindar stresses Pelops’ unfortunate situation when he says that the immortals “hurled” (προῆκαν, 65) Pelops back among the “shortlived” (ταχύποτμον, 66) race of men. Hieron too suffered a setback at the time that Pindar composed this ode: he did not win the four-horse chariot race of 476. [13] Rather, Hieron won the lower-status keles competition, which Pindar celebrates in this ode. [14] In response to this setback, Pindar reassures Hieron that “A god acting as guardian makes this his concern: to devise means, Hieron, for your aspirations (μερίμναισιν, 108).” If we follow the logic of the ode, these aspirations must include concerns for a future chariot victory, since Pindar explains in the next clause (108–111) that he hopes to celebrate a chariot victory for Hieron and since the audience knows that Hieron has just lost the chariot competition to Theron of Akragas. [15] Third, Pelops persevered and, after being returned to earth, he vanquished Oinomaos in the chariot competition, won Hippodameia as his bride, fathered six boys, and became a divinity worshipped at Olympia. Just as Pelops received hero cult in the Altis and was worshipped after his death, so too Hieron will be worshipped after his death (Pindar’s intended first audience knew that Hieron recently founded colonial Aetna, which would win him hero cult). [16] Both Hieron and Pelops suffer setbacks in life, but, thanks to the will of their patron divinity, they overcome them and ultimately get what they want out of both life and the afterlife. As Köhnken notes, “the Pelops story, like a mirror, shows both what Hieron has so far got and what he still hopes to get.” [17] With the themes of divine favor, irreversible setbacks, tenacious perseverance, and ultimate immortality in mind, I trace how the historical and mythical places, spaces, and landscapes relate to one another in this ode and how Pindar merges shots of places together into an aesthetically pleasing and ideologically purposeful film.
Olympian 1 does not open with a scene, but rather with a series of shots: immediate flashes of water (hudor), gold (khrusos) [which blazes like fire (pur) at night], and the sun (aelios) appear on screen. Pindar opens the poem, then, with multiple images that grab the audience’s attention immediately due to their preeminent brilliance. We envision the sparkle of water, the shine of gold, the flash of fire, and the eye-searing brilliance of the sun shining down from a cloudless sky. Scholars have long recognized that these opening phenomena serve as preeminent things in various categories, [18] but a filmic approach to the opening encourages us to see Pindar playing with ever more brilliant phenomena as he edits the opening, moving along a visual spectrum in his priamel. Using Das Gesetz der wachsenden Glieder, Pindar creates cola of increasing length, and, in terms of film, each shot is made up of more frames than the preceding one. The temporal crescendo adds grandeur, and, in terms of mise en scène, lighting becomes ever more brilliant through the proem.
The ode’s famed opening concludes with Olympia, whence song travels to Hieron’s hearth at Syracuse. As Athanassaki remarks, Olympian 1 has an “interplay of localizations” between Olympia and Syracuse. [19] This interplay is articulated immediately at the ode’s beginning and will play itself out throughout the ode, while Pindar connects the place where Hieron won his competition and the place where Hieron lives. After the individual shots of brilliant phenomena in the priamel, the film has its first scene:
μηδ’ Ὀλυμπίας ἀγῶνα φέρτερον αὐδάσομεν·
ὅθεν ὁ πολύφατος ὕμνος ἀμφιβάλλεται
σοφῶν μητίεσσι, κελαδεῖν
10 Κρόνου παῖδ’ ἐς ἀφνεὰν ἱκομένους
μάκαιραν Ἱέρωνος ἑστίαν
And let us not praise a contest greater than Olympia. From there comes the famous hymn that encompasses the thoughts of wise men, who have come in celebration of Kronos’ son to the rich and blessed hearth of Hieron. [20]
We see “wise men” (σοφῶν) travelling to Syracuse and arriving at the “rich” (ἀφνεὰν) hearth of Hieron. Unfortunately, we do not know who these wise men are. The image of them travelling to the hearth of Hieron, however, suggests that they are not Syracusans. Might they be elites from Magna Graecia who are aristocratic “peers” of Hieron? [21] Might they, like the hymn, come from Olympia? And, if they have come from Olympia, should we presume that Pindar would be one of the wise men, having come to Syracuse to celebrate Hieron in song? The ambiguity as to the origins of the men seems purposeful. By not clarifying whence the men come, Pindar creates an image of wise men coming from all over the known world to celebrate Hieron, since that is simply what wise men do.
The image of the hymn coming from Olympia (ὅθεν) is striking. [22] Pindar encourages the audience to imagine a hymn that comes to life at the site of victory, and Pindar asserts also that the hymn surrounds the thoughts of men. Importantly, there is no mention of the creator of the hymn; this animates the hymn and gives it agency since the hymn moves from Olympia to Syracuse. Pindar uses the trope also at the beginning of Nemean 1, “Hallowed upbreath of Alpheus … from you a sweetly-worded hymn issues forth to render mighty praise for storm-footed horses in honor of Zeus of Aetna.” As Calame notes on that passage, “From the start, the impression formed by the initial lines is that the ‘sweetly-worded hymn’ (ἁδυεπὴς ὕμνος, 4–5) is itself the voice which performs the opening address to the Arethusa spring in Syracuse. But the song is animated by a dynamism (ὁρμᾶται, 5) that carries it in its diffusion away from Ortygia, the ‘sister of Delos.’ Through this metaphorical movement, which leads to the fusion of melic praise-song and winner’s chariot, the poem has become entirely autonomous both with respect to its creator and to the singers who perform it.” [23] Pindar does not say when or where the wise men hear the hymn that preoccupies their minds, but we may presume that they have heard it at Syracuse. Pindar, then, speaks of men who are preoccupied with a song derived from Olympia and sung at Syracuse in honor of Hieron. We realize, somewhat belatedly, that Pindar thereby alludes to Olympian 1, which is co-terminously being performed.
At lines 8–18, Pindar skillfully edits three scenes together that redound to the glory of Hieron. First, as mentioned, wise men travel to the hearth of Hieron. Second, Pindar provides a shot of Hieron, with his rightful scepter, in flock-rich Sicily (‘[Hieron] wields the rightful scepter in flock-rich Sicily,’ 12–13). Third, Pindar mentions that Hieron is glorified in song such as the song that “we men often play around the dear table.” Given the context, the audience is encouraged to assume that the “dear table” that Pindar has in mind is the table of Hieron’s home in Sicily. Pindar lets his camera linger on this scene:
ἀγλαίζεται δὲ καί
15 μοουσικᾶς ἐν ἀώτῳ,
οἷα παίζομεν φίλαν
ἄνδρες ἀμφὶ θαμὰ τράπεζαν.
And he is also glorified in the finest songs, such as those we men often perform in play about the friendly table.
We watch a continuous shot of men playing at table, as they sing the sort of songs (hoia) that celebrate achievements such as Hieron’s. The table serves as an important prop in the scene, since, accompanied by song, it denotes hospitality and domestic accord. [24] Through cuts, then, Pindar edits one brief shot of Hieron with his scepter, and positions it between scenes of longer duration, one emphasizing Hieron’s accomplishment at Olympia, and one emphasizing Hieron’s connection to preeminent music. In terms of the pictorial qualities that develop through Pindar’s editing technique, there is an attractive juxtaposition of idealized outdoor space with idealized indoor space, while Hieron is preeminent in all three scenes. Perhaps most significantly, however, we develop an image of control in various realms. Hieron has control in Panhellenic space, in his local geopolitical realm, as well as in his domestic space.
It is important to note the difference in the way that Pindar introduces Olympia and Syracuse. In the beginning of the ode, Pindar neither develops Olympia as a populated place nor develops the ritual activities that occur there. He simply says that Olympia is the greatest contest, whence song arises. In terms of film, there may be a generic shot of Olympia on the screen. Pindar describes wise men travelling to Hieron’s hearth at Syracuse to celebrate Hieron’s victory, however, and the audience is encouraged to assume that the image of domestic accord and song at table that follows thereafter occur at Syracuse also. Pindar, then, embodies Syracuse in a way that he does not embody Olympia, and this choice seems purposeful, since the ode thereby celebrates Hieron’s domestic realm.
After the scene of domestic accord (with men singing and playing at their table), Pindar refigures our mind’s eye to focus on Pherenikos’ victory at Olympia, rupturing the previous scene with ἀλλὰ (17) to mark transition. Pindar uses a tableau vivant and narrates Pherenikos’ victory in the keles competition.
ἀλλὰ Δωρίαν ἀπὸ φόρμιγγα παϲϲάλου
λάμβαν’, ἔι τί τοι Πίϲαϲ τε καὶ Φερενίκου χάριϲ
νόον ὑπὸ γλυκυτάταιϲ ἔθηκε φροντίϲιν,
20ὅτε παρ’ Ἀλφεῷ ϲύτο δέμαϲ
ἀκέντητον ἐν δρόμοιϲι παρέχων,
κράτει δὲ προϲέμειξε δεϲπόταν,

Συρακόϲιον ἱπποχάρμαν βαϲιλῆα·
Well, take the Dorian lyre from its peg, if in any way requital for Pisa and Pherenikos placed your mind under very sweet thoughts [i.e. how to requite Hieron in song for his accomplishment at Olympia], when [Pherenikos] sped beside Alpheios, giving his limbs ungoaded in the race, and joined to victorious power his master, Syracuse’s horse-loving king.
The audience envisions the hippodrome at Olympia skirted to its south by Alpheios. As I note elsewhere, the topography of Olympia motivated the image of Pherenikos running beside Alpheios. [25] The hippodrome was located immediately north of east-to-west flowing Alpheios, and Pherenikos, accordingly, literally won the competition beside Alpheios. And, just as the audience envisions Pherenikos moving east to west toward the victory pole, so too they envision Alpheios moving east to west as he wanders past Olympia, from Arkadia to the Ionian sea, on his way to Hieron’s Sicily, being eager to mix with Arethusa. The audience imagines Pherenikos as a miraculous creature: he is darting along and he has so much zeal that he is able to win the competition without being goaded. Pindar refers to Hieron as a “horse-loving king,” and we realize that Hieron is particularly a “Pherenikos-loving king,” given that Pherenikos has recently increased Hieron’s glory. Just as in the priamel, Hieron wins his prestige here through his association with Olympia, and we witness another scene that has temporal duration as we watch Pherenikos in motion. In terms of editing, the scene of Pherenikos follows after the scene of dining, and Pindar, accordingly, displays two near contiguous scenes with notable temporal duration that redound to the glory of Hieron. Through spatial ring-composition, then, Pindar, at the beginning of the ode, moves from Olympia to Syracuse and from Syracuse back to Olympia in his narrative triptych devoted to Hieron.
Hieron’s victory at Olympia with Pherenikos motivates the story of Pelops’ birth, rape, plea to Poseidon, victory against Oinomaos, and deification in the Altis. The ode’s plot duration is near infinite as Pindar takes us into the timeless past with Pelops’ victory and as the ode takes us into the timeless future (both Pelops and Hieron will be immortalized). Pindar moves the poem from historical to mythological time, then, but spatially he keeps his camera focused on the Peloponnese. Pindar asserts that he was the first to develop the myth of Poseidon raping Pelops (36), and he replaces the myth of the cannibalistic Demeter. The expurgation of Demeter from the myth and the replacement of Demeter with Poseidon as the key divinity in the myth of Pelops derives, at least partially, from Pindar wishing to position both Pelops and his analogue, Hieron, closely with the god of horses, which are paradigmatically important to Pelops winning Hippodameia and to Hieron winning equestrian victories at Panhellenic competitions. [26] But the revision derives also from Pindar wishing to remove a myth that would be unseemly to Hieron, since Hieron was a priest of Demeter and Kore. [27] The claims, then, of earlier critics who saw a purely religious motivation for Pindar’s mythological revision are not tenable, [28] but we should, nevertheless, not discount the importance of Pindar’s religious sentiment for the construction of the narrative voice of the ode.
The image of men playing at table, mentioned above, resonates meaningfully with the ode’s next domestic dining scene, the feast that Tantalus held for the gods at Pelops’ Sipylus. The structural parallelism in the dining scenes adds attractive thematic unity to the ode, and Pindar encourages us to compare the two dining scenes by his use of “dear” (φίλαν) as a prominent adjective in both scenes:
υἱὲ Ταντάλου, σὲ δ᾽, ἀντία προτέρων, φθέγξομαι,
ὁπότ᾽ ἐκάλεσε πατὴρ τὸν εὐνομώτατον
ἐς ἔρανον φίλαν τε Σίπυλον,
ἀμοιβαῖα θεοῖσι δεῖπνα παρέχων,
40 τότ᾽ Ἀγλαοτρίαιναν ἁρπάσαι
Son of Tantalus, of you I shall say, contrary to my predecessors, that when your father invited the gods to his most orderly feast and to his friendly Sipylos, giving them a banquet in return for theirs, then it was that the Lord of the Splendid Trident seized you.
Pindar stresses that the banquet is “most orderly” (εὐνομώτατον, 37) and occurring in “friendly/dear” (φίλαν, 38) Sipylus. The audience imagines a spectacular scene with the gods assembled around the table of the mortal Tantalus. The near impossibility of the banquet of the gods on earth makes the scene all the more powerful. This second banquet ends in rapture (ἁρπάσαι, 40), and the audience watches Poseidon take Pelops to Olympus to enter upon his blessed new state. Poseidon’s “golden steeds” carry Pelops into heaven, and the choice of golden steeds adds visual splendor to the screen. [29]
Pindar focuses his camera for some time on the punishment of Tantalus and on the aftermath of Tantalus’ sin. We see Tantalus tortured with a rock (poised above his head) that causes him constant anxiety, [30] and we see Pelops hurled back among the race of men. Pindar does not offer a shot of Pelops’ blessed life among the immortals. This would be superfluous, and Pindar, accordingly, edits it out. Again, as Cohen notes, the exclusions of myth are as interesting as the emphases, and there is no need for Pindar to linger on Pelops’ blessed state among the immortals. As I suggest, an important theme in the ode is the importance of overcoming setbacks, and Pindar, therefore, shows us Pelops hurled back among men and ready to overcome his tribulation.
The film moves, thereafter, in a new and heroic direction as Pelops moves to the sea, eager to pray to Poseidon in order to win Hippodameia as his bride. Pindar’s depiction of Pelops at this point is noteworthy: Pelops is at the age of “youthful bloom,” downy hair covers his chin, and he thinks of a glorious marriage (67–71). The description of Pelops provides a depth cue for the audience, since the youthful bloom and the hair on Pelops’ chin encourage the audience to construct a close-up shot of Pelops, so that we can appreciate his attractive physical appearance. We imagine the hero at the edge of the sea, bursting with heroic potential, yet consumed with anxieties. The setting by the sea emphasizes Pelops’ solitude, and the audience cannot help but think of a similarly young and helpless Achilles praying to his mother Thetis beside the sea for aid. [31] In terms of mise en scène, the “grey” sea reverberates with the ominous atmosphere that Pindar develops by setting the scene at night (71).
At this climactic moment, Pindar constructs striking visual and aural phenomena. First, a miracle occurs when Poseidon appears. Second, we hear Pelops utter his prayer to Poseidon. Until now, no characters have spoken in the film, only the narrator (Pindar as voiced through his chorus) has spoken. The direct address adds variation to the narrative and thereby adds satisfying formal complexity to the film.
75 ‘φίλια δῶρα Κυπρίας ἄγ᾽ εἴ τι, Ποσείδαον, ἐς χάριν
τέλλεται, πέδασον ἔγχος Οἰνομάου χάλκεον,
ἐμὲ δ᾽ ἐπὶ ταχυτάτων πόρευσον ἁρμάτων
ἐς Ἆλιν, κράτει δὲ πέλασον.
ἐπεὶ τρεῖς τε καὶ δέκ᾽ ἄνδρας ὀλέσαις
80 μναστῆρας ἀναβάλλεται γάμον
θυγατρός. ὁ μέγας δὲ κίνδυνος ἄναλκιν οὐ φῶτα λαμβάνει.
θανεῖν δ᾽ οἷσιν ἀνάγκα, τί κέ τις ἀνώνυμον
γῆρας ἐν σκότῳ καθήμενος ἕψοι μάταν,
ἁπάντων καλῶν ἄμμορος; ἀλλ᾽ ἐμοὶ μὲν οὗτος ἄεθλος
85 ὑποκείσεται: τὺ δὲ πρᾶξιν φίλαν δίδοι.’
If the dear gifts of Kypris find their telos in requital, Poseidon, come! Hold back the bronze spear of Oinomaos and speed me in the swiftest of chariots to Elis and bring me to victorious power, for having killed thirteen suitors he puts off the marriage of his daughter. Great risk does not take hold of a cowardly man. But since men must die, why would anyone sit in darkness and coddle a nameless old age to no use, deprived of all noble deeds? No! that contest shall be mine to undertake; you grant the success I desire.
The scene with Pelops praying at the sea has the longest screen duration in the film, since elsewhere we see only momentary glimpses and brief tableaux vivants. The voice of the omniscient narrator moves aside, and here we hear the direct address of Pelops. We know that Pelops’ prayer will be fulfilled, but Pelops does not, and the passage, accordingly, is the scene with the greatest psychological depth, as we eagerly watch Pelops pray to be able to do something that will win him renown. Viewing the direct address from Pelops’ point of view, we, the audience, feel sympathy as we objectify Pelops’ subjective needs. This is the only inserted subjective moment within the overall objective frame that Pindar constructs throughout the poem. Just as films regularly do, Olympian 1’s narrative moves around a protagonist’s desire to attain a goal and thereby to surmount an antagonist (in this case, Oinomaos) who stands in the way. [32]
The direct address to Poseidon is the passage of this poem that has the most emotional power. We see the young man in need, and he prays for requital for the sexual gifts that he gave Poseidon in the past, knowing that Poseidon is required to fulfill the obligations of reciprocity. [33] Poseidon fulfills Pelops’ prayer, and Pelops’ accomplishment occurs so quickly that Pindar does not even provide a shot of Pelops competing against Oinomaos. All we see are a single image of a golden chariot and winged horses that never tire (86–87). With these gifts, it is a done deal: Pelops has won. With his chariot victory, with his wife, and with his sons (no daughters!), Pelops was an extraordinary success after his setback, just as Hieron shall be, even after his recent loss to Theron of Akragas in the tethrippon competition.
Olympia’s pelopion plays a prominent role in the ode. [34] First, Pindar develops an image of Pelops reclining (κλιθείς, 92) beside Alpheios in the Altis. The image of Pelops “reclining” may have been chosen to add a further similarity between Pelops and Hieron because, as an aristocrat, Hieron would have reclined regularly on couches at symposia and other gatherings. [35] Pelops and Hieron are alike, then, even in relation to their bodily practice. Pindar further develops the similarities between Pelops and Hieron by mentioning the hero cult that Pelops receives at the Altis:
90 νῦν δ’ ἐν αἱμακουρίαις
ἀγλααῖσι μέμικται,
Ἀλφεοῦ πόρῳ κλιθείς,
τύμβον ἀμφίπολον ἔχων πολυξενω-
τάτῳ παρὰ βωμῷ·
And now [Pelops] partakes of splendid blood sacrifices as he reclines by the course of Alpheios, having his much-attended tomb beside the altar thronged by visiting strangers.
Pindar encourages the audience to envision blood-sacrifices being performed for Pelops in the Altis, and he constructs a dynamic scene of numerous foreigners (xenoi) thronging around Zeus’ altar. The audience envisions the nocturnal sacrifices to Pelops that occurred during the Olympian festival on the night before the large sacrifice to Zeus. [36] The screen shows, then, a night scene lit by a great fire with a black boar being sacrificed to Pelops. The reference to Alpheios too nicely links Pelops and Hieron once again, since, as noted above, Pindar already developed the image of Hieron’s Pherenikos conquering beside Alpheios.
This image of Pelops reclining beside Alpheios and receiving blood sacrifice as a deity is the climax of the movie: Pelops has overcome his misfortune, has won Hippodameia as bride, and has become an immortal. Using analogic thinking, we know that Hieron too will overcome his own misfortune thanks to his own patron divinity and, given the historical context of this poem, we know that Hieron will receive cult. The “concerns” of both Pelops and Hieron have been quenched.
At this point in the narrative, any further accomplishments for Hieron will be unnecessary, and Pindar, accordingly, introduces Hieron’s possible accomplishments with this in mind. The phrase “unless he should suddenly depart” (εἰ δὲ μὴ ταχὺ λίποι, 108) has caused previous scholars consternation because we have not recognized that Pindar inserts the phrase here in order to ward off what we may refer to as the evil eye; Pindar does not want to jinx Hieron’s future successes by assuming that they are a given. [37] Since Hieron has already been immortalized, however, there is nothing at stake when Pindar raises the possibility that Hieron may not win a tethrippon competition in the future, although such a victory is desirable.
After describing the hero cult for Pelops at the Altis, Pindar redirects the camera, but the scene remains Olympia, as Pindar turns to the Hill of Kronos.
εἰ δὲ μὴ ταχὺ λίποι,
ἔτι γλυκυτέραν κεν ἔλπομαι
110 σὺν ἅρματι θοῷ κλεΐ-
ξειν ἐπίκουρον εὑρὼν ὁδὸν λόγων
παρ’ εὐδείελον ἐλθὼν Κρόνιον. ἐμοὶ μὲν ὦν
Μοῖσα καρτερώτατον βέλος ἀλκᾷ τρέφει·
ἐν ἄλλοισι δ’ἄλλοι μεγάλοι· τὸ δ’ ἔ-
σχατον κορυφοῦται
And unless [the god] should suddenly depart, I hope to celebrate an even sweeter success with a speeding chariot, having found a helpful road of words when coming to Kronos’ easily-visible hill. And now for me the Muse tends the strongest weapon in defense: others are great in various ways, but the summit is crowned by kings.
We can imagine purposeful camera movement in this scene through a mobile frame. First we see Hieron’s chariot speeding along the hippodrome, then the camera pulls back with a crane shot to allow us also to view the Hill of Kronos, protruding immediately north of the Altis: the Hill of Kronos adds an image of the geographic sublime to Olympia and to Pindar’s ode. [38] Perhaps the audience members envision the scene from the south, watching the chariot of Hieron competing in the foreground, while the majestic Hill of Kronos fills in the background. The audience may construct a deep-space composition, in which notable spaces separate the camera, the chariot, and the Hill of Kronos from one another. Via spatial ring-composition, then, the ode ends where it begins, Olympia. Olympian 1, the movie, comes to an end with the image of Hieron succeeding in a possible future endeavor.
There is a lot of non-diegetic text in Pindar’s odes, and thinking of Olympian 1 as film raises the question of how to image non-diegetic text. Above, I suggested that, in the non-diegetic priamel (1–7), we imagine the various material phenomena that Pindar mentions as individual shots with increasing temporal duration on screen. But what do we do with, say, a non-visual gnome? For example, after mentioning the story of Pelops and his famed ivory shoulder, Pindar says, “Yes, wonders are many, but then too, I think, in men’s talk stories are embellished beyond the true account and deceive by means of elaborate lies.” [39] The myth of Pelops’ shoulder provides adequate motivation for the gnome (and this is characteristic of Pindar’s practice), but do we simply continue to envision Klotho taking Pelops out of the cauldron with his shining shoulder (the previous scene) while we listen to the gnome or do we envision something else? Burnett conjectures that Pindar’s gnomai were “probably delivered in a conventional wise-speaking manner.” [40] The chorus very well may have done something to address the substantive change in narrative that the gnomai cause. If I were to direct the film version of Olympian 1, I would choose to do something formally notable to offset the gnomai from the surrounding diegetic text. [41] In his film Strike, for example, Sergei Eisenstein uses a non-diegetic insert of a massacred bull, encouraging the viewer to relate the image of the massacred bull to the massacre of workers that is the primary theme of the narrative. In relation to the gnome on the deceptiveness of muthoi, the director might wish to show an image of a man seemingly dumbfounded, with his hands over his cheeks and his mouth wide open. Alternatively, Olympian 1’s screen could fade to black, and we could hear Pindar, as the omniscient narrator, make his gnomic statement through a voice-over. The gnome could appear on screen, too, and there could be no voice-over, as we are left to read the words and internalize the lesson of the gnome in relation to the ode. Such non-diegetic inserts encourage the audience to work out the relationships between the narrative and non-narrative sections of the respective artwork.
Olympian 1 has a great degree of unity (recognizable in the depiction of causality, space, and time in the narrative), and it thereby provides great aesthetic satisfaction. As we watched the film unfold, we saw various shots go back and forth between Olympia and Syracuse as Pindar constructed a tight bond between the two spaces. [42] Sipylus and “heaven” also played important roles in the film both for Pelops and Hieron. In addition to having a complex and meaningful spatial organization, Pindar’s film has a complex and meaningful temporal organization with multiple flashforwards and multiple flashbacks. The poem begins with timeless truths, and, thereafter, we are in the present as wise men travel to Hieron’s Syracuse to celebrate his accomplishment. From the present, we go back to the past to imagine the victory of Pherenikos at Olympia and even further into the past as we hear the story of Pelops’ birth, apotheosis, downfall, accomplishment, and ultimate deification at Olympia (which space brings us back to Hieron and his recent accomplishment). Thence, we flash forward to Hieron’s possible victory in the future and his ability to “tread on high” (115). The viewer interprets an intricate temporal collage while watching Pindar’s film. Despite its spatial and temporal complexity, the ode maintains continuity and provides satisfying closure, since there are no unresolved loose ends in the narrative. The ode’s argument has been well motivated throughout, scene by scene. [43]

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[ back ] 1. 2007:310.
[ back ] 2. For the employment of cinematic metaphors in relation to the interpretation of Olympian 3, see Krummen 2014: 277.
[ back ] 3. On Eisenstein’s recognition that it is helpful to think through literature as film due to shared sequentiality and montage, see Bois 1989:112.
[ back ] 4. On visualization of Pindaric poetry due to its “sensual detail,” see too Burnett 2008:26–32, 165–166.
[ back ] 5. On the first performance of epinician poetry in the home polis of the victor, see Eckerman 2012.
[ back ] 6. On the choral performance of epinician poetry, see, with reference to previous bibliography, Eckerman 2011.
[ back ] 7. Note, for example, that Pindar asserts that Hieron wields a themisteion scepter (1.12). See too Kurke 1991:218–220 on Pindar’s depiction of a tyrant before an audience.
[ back ] 8. See, for instance, Rose 1992:167, Race 1990, Heath 1986 (on the debate), Bundy 1986 [1962], Köhnken 1971, Thummer 1968/1969.
[ back ] 9. 1964:56.
[ back ] 10. 1994:86.
[ back ] 11. See, e.g., Steiner 2002:309, Burgess 1993:41, Köhnken 1974:200.
[ back ] 12. Although Pindar does not clarify who Hieron’s theos eptiropos is, given the importance of Poseidon in the role of Pelops’ life, and given the analogous relationship that Pindar develops between Hieron and Pelops in this ode, some audience members will assume that Pindar refers to Poseidon as Hieron’s theos epitropos. See Gerber 1982:160 for various suggestions regarding the divinity.
[ back ] 13. Won by Theron of Akragas and celebrated by Pindar in Olympians 2 and 3.
[ back ] 14. Despite the bonds of fidelity developed between the Deinomenids and the Emmenids (cf. Antonaccio 2007:265–266), a victory for Theron still meant a loss for Hieron, and, given the agonistic nature of Greek society, the loss was notable. Bell (1995) suggests that the tyrants rigged the equestrian competitions between 480 and 470, but the clear recognition of loss that Pindar develops for Hieron in Olympian 1 suggests otherwise.
[ back ] 15. Cf. Gerber 1982:160.
[ back ] 16. With the mention of hero cult, Pindar programmatically aligns Pelops and Hieron. Hieron’s brother, Gelon, received hero cult upon his death in 478, two years before the victory celebrated in Olympian 1, and it was in the same year as Hieron’s Olympic victory, 476, that Hieron expelled the populations of Katane and Naxos and refounded the region as Aitna. Hieron’s refoundation of Aitna led to Hieron receiving hero-cult at Aitna after his death. For further discussion and reference to bibliography on this topic, see Eckerman 2013:25-7.
[ back ] 17. 1974:205.
[ back ] 18. See, e.g., Race 1990:9–11.
[ back ] 19. 2004:336.
[ back ] 20. For text and translation (with occasional changes), I follow Race 1997.
[ back ] 21. As a preeminent tyrant, Hieron would have few literal peers, though he would have fellow aristocratic elites.
[ back ] 22. We might have expected Pindar to say that the hymn comes from Thebes, for example, where Pindar may have composed it.
[ back ] 23. Calame 2012:305–6.
[ back ] 24. At Isthmian 2.40, Pindar similarly uses the τράπεζα as a symbol of hospitality and domestic accord. For some audience members, the domestic “table” may also recall the “prize table” used to display the victor’s crown at Olympia. On the prize table, see Mingazzini 1962.
[ back ] 25. For further discussion, see Eckerman 2013:6-8.
[ back ] 26. On the integration of Poseidon into the myth for thematic purposes, see Köhnken 1974.
[ back ] 27. Cf. Olympian 6.94–95. On the importance of Demeter and Kore for Hieron and Sicily, see Griffith 1989.
[ back ] 28. For the religious argument, see Bowra 1964:56, Wilamowitz 1922:235, Fränkel 1962:547.
[ back ] 29. As Silk remarks, the construction of positive value is a notable characteristic of Pindar’s poetics (2012:360–362), and the choice of golden steeds here is a good example of this.
[ back ] 30. The image of Tantalus suffering from constant anxiety and thereby being banished from joy serves as foil to the ideal afterlives of Pelops and Hieron.
[ back ] 31. On Pindar’s modeling of Pelops’ call for aid to Poseidon on Achilles’ call for aid to Thetis, see Krischer 1981.
[ back ] 32. Cf. Bordwell and Thompson 2008:95.
[ back ] 33. On reciprocity in Greek literary and cultural studies, see Gill et al. 1998.
[ back ] 34. On the pelopion in epinician poetry, see Eckerman 2013:25-7.
[ back ] 35. See too Slater 1989:485–487.
[ back ] 36. See Pausanias 5.13; Burkert 1982:97.
[ back ] 37. Pindar uses a similar apotropaic phrase at Olympian 13.104–105. See Gerber 1982:163–164 and Instone 1996:114 for previous suggestions.
[ back ] 38. As I argue elsewhere, the gnome in 113–114, ‘the summit is crowned by kings’ (τὸ δ’ ἔσχατον κορυφοῦται/ βασιλεῦσι), develops out of the reference to the Hill of Kronos in the immediately preceding lines. For further discussion, see Eckerman 2013:19.
[ back ] 39. For similar gnomic, non-diegetic statements in the ode, see too, e.g., 30–5, 52–53, 64, 111–116.
[ back ] 40. 2008:32.
[ back ] 41. Note, for example, how Stanley Lombardo prints similes in italics in his translations of Homer (Iliad, Hackett, 1997, Odyssey, Hackett, 2000) to help his readers recognize that something formally different is happening in these places in the narrative.
[ back ] 42. On scene changes in Homer, see, for comparative purposes, Edwards 2002:38–61.
[ back ] 43. For productive comments on a previous version of this essay, I would like to thank the editor of the volume, Thomas Scanlon.