Pindar and the Poetics of the Athlete
μῦθον δ’ ὡς ὅτ’ ἀοιδὸς ἐπισταμένως κατέλεξας,
πάντων Ἀργείων σέο τ’ αὐτοῦ κήδεα λυγρά.
Here, poet and the athletic hero become one, and it is this nexus of poet-athlete-hero as cultivated by Pindar that I wish to explore here. Homer, in his spectacular praise of the blind bard Demodokos, not only calls him θεῖος ‘divine’ (Odyssey 8.43–44, 539), but also ἥρως ‘hero’ (Odyssey 8.483). And Pindar continues the heroic aspirations of what it means to be a poet in yearning for κλέος for himself, and referring to the fame of his own songs (Pythian 3.111, 114–115). Amidst the complexities of Pindar’s imagery, a notable strand of ideas emerges uniting the figure of the poet and athlete. Pindar aligns his poetic art to an athletic event by invoking events from the pentathlon, such as javelin or discus throwing, as a metaphor for his song (Olympian 13.93–95, Nemean 9.55, Isthmian 2.35–37, etc.); elsewhere, he will use metaphors from the sprint (Nemean 8.19), wrestling (Nemean 4.91–96) and chariot racing (Olympian 6.22–27, 9.81).  Lefkowitz rightly saw in such imagery Pindar’s attempt to see the poet as a kind of athlete; but whether the poet does this in order to “express his friendship” with his patrons and “admiration” for their success, as she claims, is perhaps less clear in the light of Bundy’s pioneering insights into the generic nature of Pindaric epinikion. 
The Sophia & Ethics of the Athlete
ἀγκῶνος ὠκέα βέλη
ἔνδον ἐντὶ φαρέτρας
85 φωνάεντα συνετοῖσιν· ἐς δὲ τὸ πὰν ἑρμανέων
χατίζει.  σοφὸς ὁ πολλὰ εἰδὼς φυᾷ·
We see here the motion imagery, which the poet uses so often for his medium elsewhere, in the “arrows … that speak,” an image repeated a few lines later (89–90). But also important is the compliment to those who understand (συνετοῖσιν) the poet’s words. Pindar identifies these as Theron and his fellow citizens, who, as addressees of the poet, become the specific targets of his poetic arrows; for as Pindar tells us, he bends his bow at Akragas itself (ἐπί … Ἀκράγαντι 91). Bacchylides uses the same motif when addressing his patron Hieron: φρονέοντι συνετὰ γαρύω ‘I speak to one who thinks intelligent things’ (3.85, cf. 5.3–6). For Pindar, poet and ideal audience—above all his patrons—are σοφοί, and, importantly, are wise/skilled/intelligent by nature (φυᾷ). The conceit of the superiority of natural, as opposed to learnt, wisdom or skill is a widespread topos for Pindar (Olympian 9.100–102, Nemean 1.25–26, 1.40–42, 3.40–42, etc.), reflecting aristocratic prejudices;  the poet thus attempts some social climbing here as well. He continues the conceit in the famous contrast he draws between himself as a poetic eagle and the long-winded crows who cry in vain against the bird of Zeus (86–89). Whether or not these crows represent Simonides and Bacchylides, as assumed by the scholiast, the important point here is that these crows are for Pindar “blustering learners” (μαθόντες … λάβροι), lacking in the natural wisdom of the poet and his patrons. Pindar again unites himself and Theron on the basis of their shared magnanimity (Olympian 2.90–94): the poet announces he will launch his arrows that bestow kleos from his own kindly spirit (ἐκ μαλθακᾶς … φρενὸς); likewise he claims of Theron that no city of the past one hundred years has produced a man who was a greater benefactor of his friends (φίλοις ἄνδρα … εὐεργέταν πραπίσιν) or who was more generous (ἀφθονέσταρον).
οὗτος ἄγκειται. τὰ μὲν ἁμετέρα
γλῶσσα ποιμαίνειν ἐθέλει,
ἐκ θεοῦ δ’ ἀνὴρ σοφαῖς ἀνθεῖ πραπίδεσσιν ὁμοίως. 
The scholiast (10c), followed by most commentators, takes these lines to mean that poet and athlete similarly (ὁμοίως) rely on a god’s help for success. Whatever the textual uncertainties, it is clear that what applies to the athlete also applies to the poet whether we choose to read ὁμοίως here or not, since the adverb simply emphasises the point being made: that success comes from a god (ἐκ θεοῦ). Apart from divine assistance, in this instance it is “wisdom/skill of mind” σοφαῖς … πραπίδεσσιν (7.10), which the poet and athlete also need to “flourish” (ἀνθεῖ); the datives σοφαῖς … πραπίδεσσιν could be instrumental, locative or both. The language recalls Homer’s praise of the artisan god Hephaistos and the skill with which he produces his works, including the great shield of Achilles, which are made “with his cunning mind” ἰδυίῃσι πραπίδεσσιν (e.g. Iliad 1.608, 18.380, 482). That the poet appears as a skilled craftsman of sorts has long been recognized as an important topos in Archaic and Classical poetics;  here, however, we can now see that Pindar underscores the link between himself and his patron by presenting the athlete as a kind of craftsman by virtue of his σοφαῖς … πραπίδεσσιν.
Ζεῦ πάτερ, νώτοισιν Ἀταβυρίου
μεδέων, τίμα μὲν ὕμνου τεθμὸν Ὀλυμπιονίκαν,
ἄνδρα τε πὺξ ἀρετὰν εὑ-
ρόντα. δίδοι τέ οἱ αἰδοίαν χάριν
90 καὶ ποτ’ ἀστῶν καὶ ποτὶ ξεί-
νων. ἐπεὶ ὕβˈριος ἐχθρὰν ὁδόν
εὐθυπορεῖ, σάφα δαεὶς ἅ τε οἱ πατέρων
ὀρθαὶ φρένες ἐξ ἀγαθῶν
Scholars have rightly seen that Pindar makes Diagoras a figure of moral virtue who has achieved success/excellence (ἀρετὰν) thereby spurning hubris or arrogance/insolence and who is now deserving of αἰδοίαν χάριν ‘gracious respect’.  But the poet also tells us literally that Diagoras “walks straight” (εὐθυπορεῖ) along road hateful to hubris. Here is an echo of the athlete described earlier in the poem as εὐθυμάχαν … πελώριον ἄνδρα. It is possible, of course, to take “straight-fighting” in a strictly literal sense referring to the hard, direct style of punching, but the metaphorical nuance behind εὐθυπορεῖ suggests that Pindar is telling us that Diagoras fights in a fair, metaphorically “straight” fashion as well. Just as it would be banal to see εὐθυπορεῖ as referring to Diagoras as simply walking in a straight line, it is equally so to deny an ethical concept behind Pindar’s earlier use of εὐθυμάχαν for Diagoras.  Athletes, Pausanias tells us, were compelled to swear an oath of fair play in the Bouleuterion at the ancient Olympics (5.21.2); and the importance of honest competition was brought home to them as they entered the Olympic stadium confronted by the Zanes—statues of Zeus wielding a thunderbolt paid for by fines imposed on cheats and which, according to Pausanias, struck the most fear into dishonest athletes (5.24.9–10). Pindar, then, makes explicit in the final epode what is implicit in the earlier appearance of εὐθυμάχαν. The final conceit also draws on the aristocratic notion of inborn excellence; Diagoras understands what his ancestors’ ethically sound minds or thoughts (ὀρθαὶ φρένες) have ordained for him. Again, the athlete is praised not only for his good bloodline—as elsewhere in Pindar  —but for his intelligence and ethics, and his fighting which could be described as “hard but fair.”
53 … μείζων ἄδολος τελέθει.
Typically, these lines have invited a range of translations and interpretations; but one plausible reading is that Pindar, for all his praise of these life-like statues, is suggesting that his own art (σοφία) is ultimately superior (μείζων) for not being deceptive (ἄδολος) and this is recognized by the cognoscenti (δαέντι).  We have seen above that Pindar unites himself and his audience on the basis of their shared σοφία, and the pithy sentence at Olympian 7.53 can be seen to reassert this idea.
From Sophia to Ponos and Back Again
κινδύνῳ κεκαλυμμένον· εὖ δὲ τυχόν-
τες σοφοὶ καὶ πολίταις ἔδοξαν ἔμμεν.
That the poet and his audience are σοφοί has been already been noted (Olympian 2.86); Pindar also sees successful athletes as εὖ … τυχόντες, and considered σοφοί. Nagy has shown that the concept of πόνος is both a heroic and athletic attribute,  and here we may also see that it goes hand-in-hand with the idea of successful athletes as σοφοί. Scholars have seen that δαπάνα (expense) or πλοῦτος (wealth) is another essential quality for athletic success, along with divine favour (Olympian 11.10, Isthmian 4.19–23, 6.10–13, etc.) and natural ability (e.g. Olympian 2.86–87 above).  It is all the more interesting, then, that Pindar should praise expense and natural ability when the mule-cart race had a rather dubious status in the ancient games. Aristotle (Rhetoric 1405b) tells us that Simonides felt it beneath his dignity to celebrate victories in this event, but changed his mind when offered a higher payment; according to Pausanias (5.9.1), the mule-cart race ceased to be an event at the Olympic games by 440 BC, having been introduced only sixty years earlier. In any case, Pindar’s gnomic utterance at Olympian 5.15–16 can be seen to apply to himself as well, since πόνος is necessary for his own art, as for the athlete (Olympian 6.9–11, Isthmian 6.10, 8.8, etc.); in his third dithyramb Pindar refers to the πόνοι χορῶν ‘toils of the dances’ (3.16).
μὴ τέρμα προβαὶς ἄκονθ’ ὥτε χαλκοπάραον ὄρσαι
θοὰν γλῶσσαν, ὃς ἐξέπεμψεν παλαισμάτων
αὐχένα καὶ σθένος ἀδίαν-
τον, αἴθωνι πρὶν ἁλίῳ γυῖον ἐμπεσεῖν.
εἰ πόνος ἦν, τὸ τερπνὸν πλέον πεδέρχεται.
It was possible to win the pentathlon if an athlete had won three of the earlier events, obviating the need to compete in the wrestling, evidently the final event.  While the successful athlete could legitimately avoid the most demanding event in the pentathlon, Pindar says he will not metaphorically do the equivalent, as poet. In a move that both implicitly praises the athlete for his outstanding success—in not needing to compete in all events to win—and points to the task ahead of him as poet, Pindar claims that he will endure even more πόνος than did the athlete to celebrate him accordingly. The πόνος of the poet here, in other words, outdoes the πόνος of even the athlete.
συγγενὴς εὐαμερίας. ὁ πονή-
40 σαις δὲ νόῳ καὶ προμάθειαν φέρει·
εἰ δ’ ἀρετᾷ κατάκειται πᾶσαν ὀργάν,
ἀμφότερον δαπάναις τε καὶ πόνοις,
χρή νιν εὑρόντεσσιν ἀγάνορα κόμπον
μὴ φθονεραῖσι φέρειν
45 γνώμαις. ἐπεὶ κούφα δόσις ἀνδρὶ σοφῷ
ἀντὶ μόχθων παντοδαπῶν ἔπος εἰ-
πόντ’ ἀγαθὸν ξυνὸν ὀρθῶσαι καλόν.
Pindar attributes Herodotus’ success in part at least to his bloodline: it is his family’s natural prerogative to succeed. But, like Pindar the poet and heroes elsewhere, the athlete must labour for his success as well, so that it comes by way of expense and toil (ἀμφότερον δαπάναις τε καὶ πόνοις). There is no contradiction here between natural prowess and the need for effort. Homer again provides a precedent in the figure of Phemios, the bard compelled to sing for the suitors in the Odyssey; the bard describes himself as inspired by the Muses and self-taught (Odyssey 22.347). Closer in time to Pindar, the sophist Protagoras sees successful education as a result of student’s nature and diligence (B 3 D–K).