How Pindar’s Homer might save from harm the heroic glory of Ajax

2021.05.10 | By Gregory Nagy

§0. In this essay I attempt to explain, though only in its barest outlines, Pindar’s poetic project of picturing ‘Homer’ as a potential savior of the glory deserved by Ajax, hero of Salamis—despite this Homer’s generally indiscriminate taste, it is claimed, for greedily savoring all the delicacies of all the myths cooked up for him by way of epic poetry—I use the word ‘myths’ here only for the moment in rendering the original Greek word, mûthoi. For Pindar, as a master of lyric song in the earlier part of the fifth century BCE, the mûthoi of epic poetry are harmful because of their inherent relativism—a relativism that results, supposedly, from uncritical and indiscriminate inclusions of localized variations in epic storytelling. Such variations, which tend to contradict each other in content, are blamed on a ‘Homer’ who is imagined in Pindar’s songs as a prototypical master poet of all epic poetry. In terms of Pindar’s songs, the relativism of mûthoi in the epic poetry of this proto-poet Homer threatens to shade over the unified alḗtheia or absolute ‘truth’ of heroic glory as supposedly illuminated in Pindar’s own lyric songs. It is in the light of such a selective lyric program that Pindar’s songs focus on the desperate feelings of Ajax in that agonizing moment when this hero’s own fellow Achaeans awarded the arms of the fallen super-hero Achilles, the best of the Achaeans, to Odysseus and not to Ajax. Reacting to the indignity that he has just suffered, Ajax expresses his cosmic desperation by committing suicide. He skewers himself on a sword that he had received as a gift, once upon a time, from his admiring martial opponent Hector. This suicide of Ajax is blamed in Pindar’s songs on shameless distortions of truth—yes, distortions made possible by way of Homer’s shamelessly indiscriminate inclusions of all too many tasty epic variations that this prototypical poet of epic, as pictured in Pindar’s lyric song, was savoring all too greedily. And yet, despite such a negative picturing of epic repertoire, it is also claimed in Pindar’s song that the despair of Ajax might be mitigated, that there might still be hope, genuine hope, for saving the heroic glory deserved by Ajax. Such a hoped-for salvation might still be achieved, it is claimed, by way of judicious selectivity in rethinking Homer’s menu, as it were, and even in a rethinking of Homer himself. Pindar’s Homer, as represented in his own lyric song, thus becomes an improved Homer who must be more discriminating, more selective, in viewing the heroes of the epic past.

Suicide of Ajax, from the Eurytios Krater (Corinthian column-krater from Cerveteri, ca. 600 BCE; Louvre E 635). Digital illustration by Wikimedia Commons user Perhelion, after a 19th-century French lithograph in the Bibliotheque des Arts Decoratifs, Paris.
Etruscan bronze figurine (cista handle): the suicide of Ajax. 5th century BCE, 2nd quarter. Once on loan to the Antikenmuseum Basel (Kä 531), now reverted to a private collection. Drawing by Valerie Woelfel.

§1. Such selectivity in the rethinking of Homer in Pindar’s lyric songmaking requires pointedly negative and positive wording about Odysseus and Ajax, respectively, in retelling the tale of a quarrel between these two heroes over the awarding of the armor formerly worn by Achilles, now that the best of the Achaeans is dead. In the wording of Pindar, it is as if Ajax, as a noble character in epic, had been skewered not by his own sword, nor even by any envy felt against him by Odysseus, but, rather, by the actual words spoken by an ostensibly envious Odysseus or, even worse, by the indiscriminate words of epic quoting the envious words of an ostensibly ignoble character in epic:

ὄψον δὲ λόγοι φθονεροῖσιν, | ἅπτεται δ᾽ ἐσλῶν ἀεί, χειρόνεσσι δ᾽ οὐκ ἐρίζει. | κεῖνος καὶ Τελαμῶνος δάψεν υἱόν, | φασγάνῳ ἀμφικυλίσαις. | ἦ τιν᾽ ἄγλωσσον μέν, ἦτορ δ᾽ ἄλκιμον, λάθα κατέχει | ἐν λυγρῷ νείκει· μέγιστον δ᾽ αἰόλῳ ψεύδει γέρας ἀντέταται

Words [lógoi] are a delicacy-to-eat [ópson] for those who are envious [phthoneroí = those who have phthónos]. | He [= one who has phthónos] grabs-at [háptesthai] the noble rather than quarrel [have-éris] with the inferior. | That one [= Odysseus] even feasted-on [dáptein] the son-of-Telamon [= Ajax], skewering him on the sword. | One who is unversed in speech but valiant at heart is held down by non-remembrance [lāthā = lēthē] on the occasion of a baneful quarrel [neîkos]. | And the biggest honorific portion is handed over to variable [aiólon] deception [pseûdos].

Pindar Nemean 8.21–25

§2. I have written a detailed commentary on this passage in The Best of the Achaeans (Nagy 1979/1999:225–227 = §§5–7; supplemented in Nagy 1996:143n130), and I offer here only a brief epitome (§§5–7 renumbered as §2.1–3).

§2.1. At line 21 of Nemean 8, we see that the idea of phthónos, meaning ‘envy’, is metaphorized as a voracious appetite for delicious food to be devoured by speakers of negative wording, who are described at this line by way of an adjective derived from phthónos, that is, phthoneroí, meaning ‘the envious ones’. For such speakers, the language of their negative words is their means for feeding themselves, for getting a meal. But then, we also see at lines 22–23 a ghastly extension of such an idea: not only does the man of phthónos ‘envy’ get a meal, but the meal may actually turn out to be his victim! The verb háptesthai at line 21 (ἅπτεται) connotes not only ‘grab at food’, as at Odyssey 4.60 and 10.379, but even ‘grab at a victim with the teeth’, as at Iliad 8.339, where the subject of the verb is kúōn ‘dog’. Similarly with the verb dáptein ‘devour, feast on’ at line 22 of Pindar’s song: in Homeric diction, this word can be applied not only in positive contexts where corpses are ‘devoured’ by the fire of cremation (Iliad 23.183) but also in negative contexts where they are ‘devoured’ instead by dogs (again, Iliad 23.183; also 22.339). So also with piaínein ‘fatten’ in the expression φθόνῳ πιαίνεται ‘fattens himself on phthónos’ at Bacchylides 3.68 and βαρυλόγοις ἔχθεσιν | πιαινόμενον ‘fattening himself on heavy-worded hatreds’ at Pindar Pythian 2.55–56: in Homeric diction, dogs devour specifically the fat of uncremated corpses (Iliad 8.379–380, 11.818, 13.831–832). In effect, then, we see here a metaphorical world of opposing the language of positive wording, to which I will hereafter refer as praise, with the language of negative wording, to which I will refer as blame. And, in terms of Pindar’s wording, the negative language of unjustified blame is parallel to the devouring of heroes’ corpses by dogs.

§2.2. Significantly, the language of epic itself quotes the language of blame within the framework of narrating quarrels, and a prominent word of insult within such direct quotations is kúōn ‘dog’ and its derivatives. For example, Achilles insults Agamemnon by calling him kunôpa ‘having the looks of a dog’ (Iliad 1.159) and kunòs ómmatékhōn ‘having the eyes of a dog’ (Iliad 1.225) in the context of their quarrel, which is designated by éris and its derivative erízein (Iliad 1.6, 8, 177, 210, 277, 319; 2.376), as well as by neîkos (Iliad 2.376). The actual words of blame spoken by Achilles to Agamemnon are designated as óneidos, which actually means ‘blame’, and the designation comes from Agamemnon himself as the target of blame (ὀνείδεα at Iliad 1.291); the verb oneidízein, derived from the noun óneidos, is attested in parallel contexts (as in the case of ὀνείδισον at Iliad 1.211). Similarly, in the song of Pindar that we are now considering, the ‘quarrel’ between Ajax and Odysseus qualifies as an éris (ἐρίζει at Nemean 8.21) and as a neîkos (νείκει at Nemean 8.25). In addition, as we will see in more detail soon, the unjustified ‘blame’ directed at Ajax by Odysseus qualifies as óneidos (ὄνειδος, Nemean 8.33). For now, however, Pindar’s song, of and by itself, blames the originator of blame, Odysseus, not by calling him kúōn ‘dog’ directly but rather by describing his actions as those of a dog feeding on human flesh. Whereas the righteous indignation of Achilles is formalized in his words of justified blame against Agamemnon, the corresponding indignation of Ajax is taken up by the words of blame directed against Odysseus in Pindar’s song, which redirects the words of blame that had been directed against Ajax by Odysseus. Still, the words of justified blame in Pindar’s Nemean 8 are intended not so much against Odysseus but against the unjustified blame in the quarrel that led to the besting of the heroic Ajax by his ostensibly deceitful adversary.

§2.3. After concluding its retrospective on the quarrel between Ajax and Odysseus, Pindar’s poetry of praise has this to say about the poetry of blame:

ἐχθρὰ δ᾽ ἄρα πάρφασις ἦν καὶ πάλαι, | αἱμύλων μύθων ὁμόφοιτος, δολοφραδής, κακοποιὸν ὄνειδος

Hateful misrepresentation has existed for a long time. | It is the fellow-traveler of words [mûthoi] that are wily [haimúloi]. It is a deviser of deceits. It is maleficent blame [óneidos]

Pindar Nemean 8.32–33

These words blaming blame poetry serve as a foil for the words that later conclude the song, where praise poetry gets the ultimate praise (Pindar Nemean 8.50–51).

§3. In the praise poetry of Pindar, as we have just seen in his Nemean 8, the noun óneidos at line 33, which means ‘blame’, is correlated with the adjective phthonerós ‘envious’ at line 21, derived from the noun phthónos, which means ‘envy’. This idea of envy is a primary metaphor for expressing the negativity of blame poetry, as I argue in a brief article I have contributed to A Concise Inventory of Greek Etymologies (= CIGE, edited by Olga Levaniouk, linked here). The text of that article reads as follows:

ὄνειδος (óneidos)

The Greek noun óneidos (plural oneídea), as used in Homeric poetry, can be translated as ‘blame’ or, to put it more generally, ‘insult’, that is, ‘the saying of words that insult’; the verb oneidízein, derived from this noun, means ‘blame, say words of insult’; such an act of verbal insult typifies the poetics of negative as opposed to positive wording, that is, blame poetry as opposed to praise poetry (Nagy 2017 at Iliad 1.291, 2.222, 20.244; and at Odyssey 18.326; more detailed analysis in Nagy 1979/1999:226, 255, 263, 270–271, 274). Another word that is used to indicate the poetics of blame as opposed to praise is the noun phthónos, meaning ‘envy, greed’, as we see most clearly in the victory songs of Pindar and Bacchylides, as for example at line 85 of Pindar’s Pythian 1 (Nagy 1979/1999:224–225, with numerous further examples). Consequently, those who are phthoneroí ‘envious’, as we read at line 21 in Pindar’s Nemean 8, exemplify blame poetry. This contextual link of óneidos in the sense of ‘blame’ with phthónos in the sense of ‘envy’ is relevant to the meaning of the German noun Neid, meaning ‘envy’, which is cognate with óneidos ‘blame’. In other Germanic languages, the cognates of German Neid can actually refer to blame poetry. A striking example where such reference is explicit is the Old Norse noun níð, meaning ‘blame, insult, libel’. My colleague Stephen Mitchell has kindly shared with me three relevant points to be made about this word:

1) Old Norse ð is actually attested in contexts referring to libelous songmaking—that is, to blame poetry, as documented in the work of Bo Almqvist (1965).

2) Old Norse níð is cognate with Gothic neiþ, which means ‘envy’ and which is used in the Gothic Bible of Ulfila (fourth century CE) for translating Greek phthónos (φθόνος) ‘envy’, as in Mark 15:10.

3) Relevant is the work of Preben Meulengracht Sørensen (1980|1983), who studies a specialized function of the ð as a libelous medium of sexual defamation, especially in the form of feminizing a male target by ridiculing him as an ‘unmanly man’.

With reference to the third of these three points, I would compare instances of such feminizing in Homeric poetry, as in Odyssey 18.73, where the character of Îros (cognate of Latin vīr ‘man’) is mocked as an ‘unmanly man’, á-Iros (commentary by Nagy 2017 at Odyssey 18.73–74). In Iliad 2.235 and 7.96, we see two cases where the Achaeans are insulted by being addressed as ‘no longer he-Achaeans but now she-Achaeans’, Ἀχαιΐδες οὐκέτ’ Ἀχαιοί. In the first case, the character who directs the insult at the Achaeans is Thersites, who fits the negative stereotype of a blame poet (Nagy 2017 at Iliad 2.214, 221, 235) and who is chastised by Odysseus for daring to say such words of blame—words signaled by the noun óneidos (Iliad 2.251: ὀνείδεα) and the verb oneidízein (Iliad 2.255: ὀνειδίζων). In the second case, the insult against the Achaeans is directed by Menelaos, and his words of blame are signaled, this time again, by the verb oneidízein (Iliad 7.95: ὀνειδίζων).

Finally, with reference to the character of Iros (Îros) in Odyssey 18, who likewise fits the negative stereotype of a blame poet, I add the following relevant commentary (epitomized from Nagy 2017 at Odyssey 18.15–19). Provoking a quarrel, as expressed by the verb neikeîn at line 9, Iros hurls words of blame against Odysseus. In doing so, he also orders Odysseus to get out of the way, line 10, threatening that the present éris ‘strife’ between the two of them, line 13, may escalate from verbal to physical violence, lines 10–13. The disguised master of the household refuses to budge from the doorway, answering Iros at lines 15–19. There the collocation of ólbos ‘prosperity’ at line 19 with phthoneîn ‘envy, begrudge’ at lines 16 and 18 reflects a traditional way of thinking, well attested also in Pindar’s praise poetry, which teaches that prosperity is given by the gods to the righteous—and that this gift is threatened by the unrighteous, who feel envious about such god-given prosperity. Ironically, the prosperity of Odysseus himself is now being threatened by the suitors, whose messenger Iros, as a mock Iris, is so begrudging as to hinder our hero from even entering his own household. Without having to identify himself as the real householder, however, Odysseus warns Iros not ‘to be begrudging [phthoneîn] about the property of others’ (ἀλλοτρίων φθονέειν), line 18. Such a begrudging attitude on the part of Iros is directly comparable to blame poetry in its function as a traditional negative foil of praise poetry within praise poetry, where the vice of gluttony is pictured as a prime characteristic of blame poetry: hence the saying in Pindar Nemean 8.21: ὄψον δὲ λόγοι φθονεροῖσιν ‘words [lógoi] are a delicacy-to-eat [ópson] for those who are envious [phthoneroí = those who have phthónos]’. In fact, we see from the Homeric description of Iros that his role as a blame poet is manifested in precisely this sort of gluttony (Odyssey 18.1–4).  

§4. In the same line of Pindar’s Nemean 8 that highlights the word óneidos ‘blame’, line 33, we can see the highlighting of another word, mûthoi, which is likewise meant as a foil for the praise poetry of Pindar. In my working translation of line 33, I have rendered mûthoi neutrally as ‘words’, but I now draw attention to the negative epithet that goes with mûthoi here, haimúloi, which means ‘wily’—that is, ‘deceptive’. And the referent for the ‘deceptive words’ here is epic poetry, in its most generalizable form. Pindar’s praise poetry blames the mûthoi ‘words’ of such generalized epic poetry as harmful because of the relativism inherent in these words, as I noted in the introduction to this essay. Such relativism, I also noted, is supposedly the result of uncritical and indiscriminate inclusions of localized variations in epic storytelling. And we have by now seen an explicit description, in Pindar’s own words, of such deceptive variation: as we have read in Nemean 8.25, the pseûdos ‘deception’ that is hidden within the mûthoi ‘words’ of epic is described there as aiólon ‘variable’. In other words, the deceits created by epic are activated by its capacity for variability—by its capacity for accommodating variant versions of tales told about heroes. With reference to other such variable mûthoi ‘words’ that tell tales about other heroes, we can find in Pindar’s songs a cognate context involving a synonym of the vowel-initial epithet aiólos ‘variable’. That synonym is the consonant-initial epithet poikílos, likewise meaning ‘variable’. (The two epithets are also formulaic variants in epic diction: their metrical shape is the same, and they are interchangeable, depending on whether a consonant or a vowel precedes the word-initial vowel or consonant.) Parallel to aiólos, the epithet poikílos likewise describes the deceptions of words that tell tales about heroes:

ἦ θαύματα πολλά, καί πού τι καὶ βροτῶν | φάτις ὑπὲρ τὸν ἀλαθῆ λόγον | δεδαιδαλμένοι ψεύδεσι ποικίλοις ἐξαπατῶντι μῦθοι.

Ah, yes… there are many things-wondrous [thaúmata]. And, somehow, what gets spoken by mortals, words [mûthoi] crafted by way of deceptions [pseúdea] that are varied [poikíla], beyond wording [lógos] that is true [alēthḗs], do mislead.

Pindar Olympian 1.28–29

§5. In the case of tales told in epic about the quarrel between the heroes Ajax and Odysseus over the armor of Achilles, the variations in the tellings of these tales are still attested, though just barely, in survivals of ancient reportage about the tales retold in the Epic Cycle—as for example in the scholia for Aristophanes Knights 1056, reporting on the lost text of the Little Iliad and quoting a fragment from it (F 2 pp. 129–130 ed. Allen 1912). Such variations, which tend to contradict each other in content, are censured by the poetics of Pindar, since the contradictions are viewed as deceptions—to be blamed on a ‘Homer’ who is imagined as a prototypical master poet of all epic poetry. In terms of Pindar’s songs, as I noted from the start, the relativism of mûthoi in the epic poetry of such a proto-poet Homer threatens to shade over the unified alḗtheia or absolute ‘truth’ of heroic glory as supposedly illuminated in Pindar’s own lyric songs, which aim at selectivity in determining what are true or untrue versions of epic tales told about heroes

§6. As for the textual traditions of the Homeric Iliad and Odyssey that have come down to us, here too we see traces of selectivity, though the selectivity of “our” Homer is in many details different from what we know about Pindar’s Homer, as I tried to show in an earlier essay titled “Pindar’s Homer is not ‘our’ Homer” (Nagy 2015.12.24, linked here). In the present essay, I focus on a particularly striking example of differences between Pindar’s Homer and “our” Homer. This example centers on the valuing of Ajax as a hero in comparison to two other heroes, Achilles and Odysseus.

§7. According to the poetry of Homer in “our” Iliad, as I showed in Chapter 2 of The Best of the Achaeans (Nagy 1979/1999), Ajax is the second-best of all the Achaeans—second only to Achilles, who is best of the Achaeans. Such a ranking is the same also in Pindar’s song, as we see in three of his victory odes: Nemean 7, Nemean 8, and Isthmian 4 (in the case of Isthmian 4, I highlight my relevant comments in Nagy 1990:203n18). But now we come to a big difference between Pindar and “our” Homer. In the poetics of “our: Homer, Ajax is undervalued and Odyssseus is overvalued as a result of a rivalry between these two heroes.. And my point is, such an undervaluing of Ajax by “our” Homer needs to be corrected in Pindar’s songs—if Pindar’s Homer is to retain his credibility.

§8. Such a correction of “our” Homer is made clear, to cite the most glaringly clear example, in Pindar’s Nemean 7, where it is claimed at line 23 that Homer’s undervaluing of Ajax and overvaluing of Odysseus was caused by mûthoi in the sense of ‘myths’—I return here to my reference, at the start, to the popular understanding of this word today, where a “myth” is understood to be basically untrue and therefore untrustworthy. To be contrasted is the old meaning of mûthoi as this word is used in Homeric poetry. From the evidence assembled in the book The Language of Heroes by Richard Martin (1989), we can see that this same word mûthoi as used in the diction of “our” Homeric Iliad consistently refers to content that is true and therefore trustworthy. But such a valuation of mûthoi as the true words of Homer is denied in Pindar’s poetics—at least, with reference to the Homeric Odyssey. The wording of Pindar in his Nemean 7, culminating at line 23, discredits the trustworthiness of Homeric mûthoi that undervalue Ajax. I quote here and translate the entirety of his relevant wording:

ἐγὼ δὲ πλέον’ ἔλπομαι λόγον Ὀδυσσέος ἢ πάθαν | διὰ τὸν ἀδυεπῆ Ὅμηρον· | ἐπεὶ ψεύδεσί οἱ ποτανᾷ <τε> μαχανᾷ σεμνὸν ἔπεστί τι· σοφία δὲ | κλέπτει παράγοισα μύθοις. τυφλὸν δ’ ἔχει | ἦτορ ὅμιλος ἀνδρῶν ὁ πλεῖστος. εἰ γὰρ ἦν | ἓ τὰν ἀλάθειαν ἰδέμεν, οὔ κεν ὅπλων χολωθείς | ὁ καρτερὸς Αἴας ἔπαξε διὰ φρένων | λευρὸν ξίφος

I think that the wording [lógos] in connection with Odysseus is greater than his experiencing [páthā], all because of Homer, the one with the sweet words. Poised on top of his deceptions [pseúdea] and winged inventiveness there is a kind of majesty; [poetic] skill [sophíā], misleading with its words [mûthoi], is deceptive. Blind in heart are most men. For if they could have seen the truth [alḗtheia], never would great Ajax, angered over the arms [of Achilles], have driven the burnished sword through his own heart.

Pindar Nemean 7.20–27

§9. I epitomize here what I had to say about this passage in comments on Pindar’s Nemean 7 (Nagy 2017.09.28, linked here):

§9.1. The suicide of Ajax, resulting from his failure in a competition with Odysseus over possessing the armor of the dead Achilles, is being blamed here in Nemean 7 on the wording of epic poetry about Odysseus—and on the wording of Odysseus himself as quoted by epic poetry. The wording is linked with the crafty Odysseus, as retold with commensurate craft by Homer, who is seen here as the poet of epic in general. And this wording is described as going far beyond the bounds of alḗtheia ‘truth’, line 25, to which most are ‘blind’ without the poetic vision that is claimed by Pindar’s song, lines 23–24. There is in this song an uncompromising unified vision that defends the true value of heroes from the compromised complexities of mûthoi ‘words’ spoken by Homer. The fame of the great hero Ajax, grounded in the local hero cult of the Aiakidai on the island of Aegina, is threatened by the mûthoi ‘words’ of Homeric poetry and rescued by the alḗtheia ‘truth’ of Pindaric song. A single absolute alḗtheia ‘truth’ is being contrasted here with the multiplicity of mûthoi ‘words’ spoken in epic, which are deceptive because they are mutually contradictory, like the deceptive words spoken by or even about Odysseus. Pindaric song is dismissing Homer as a perpetuator of such mûthoi ‘words’ spoken in his epic poetry. This is not to say that the poetics of Pindar can dismiss epic itself: Homer is being slighted here only to the extent that he is being accused of becoming a perpetuator of words spoken about or even by Odysseus.

§9.2. The songmaking of Pindar pictures Homeric poetry at line 21 here as a kind of lógos ‘wording’ that is relative, not absolute, so that the páthā ‘experiencing’ of experiences by Odysseus at line 21 cannot be matched neatly by the words that are used in Homeric poetry to tell about these experiences. There are more words and fewer experiences to match the words. To put it another way, there are far too many more words that tell about the experiences of Odysseus than there are real experiences to be actually told. Thus, the excess wording cannot be matched by real experiences. To highlight the excessiveness of the wording, both lógos ‘wording’ and the contrasting páthā ‘experiencing’ are presented here in the singular, not in the plural, and this singularization accentuates the force of πλέον’ (pléona) ‘more’ at line 20 as applied to λόγον (lógon) ‘word’ at line 21 by contrast with πάθαν (páthān) at line 21. The ‘moreness’ is accentuated by a one-on-one contrast that shows how the first ‘one’ is far more than the second ‘one’. The use of the word páthā ‘experiencing’ here can best be appreciated in the context of Odyssey 1.5: pollà … páthen álgea ‘he [= Odysseus] experienced [páskhein] many pains’. So, in the Homeric Odyssey, the multitude of experiences is being highlighted. In the song of Pindar, by contrast, it is the multitude of words about the experiences. The problem with these words in Homeric poetry is that they convey mûthoi ‘words’, line 23, that are multiple and relative. There is an outer zone of pseúdea ‘deceptions’, line 22, which envelop the inner core of a poetic truth that the songmaking of Pindar claims for itself.

§10. So, Pindar’s Homer is ostentatiously selective, by contrast with the far more voluminous and indiscriminate mass of epic poetry as generally attributed to Homer in Pindar’s time (again, Nagy 2015.12.24, linked here). And this selectiveness, the hope is, might still become a salvation for the heroic glory of Ajax. Such a hope radiates from Pindar’s Homer himself:

καὶ κρέσσον’ ἀνδρῶν χειρόνων | ἔσφαλε τέχνα καταμάρψαισ’· ἴστε μάν Αἴαντος ἀλκάν, φοίνιον τὰν ὀψίᾳ | ἐν νυκτὶ ταμὼν περὶ ᾧ φασγάνῳ μομφὰν ἔχει | παίδεσσιν Ἑλλάνων ὅσοι Τροίανδ’ ἔβαν. | ἀλλ’ Ὅμηρός τοι τετίμακεν δι’ ἀνθρώπων, ὃς αὐτοῦ | πᾶσαν ὀρθώσαις ἀρετὰν κατὰ ῥάβδον ἔφρασεν | θεσπεσίων ἐπέων λοιποῖς ἀθύρειν. | τοῦτο γὰρ ἀθάνατον φωνᾶεν ἕρπει, | εἴ τις εὖ εἴπῃ τι· καὶ πάγκαρπον ἐπὶ χθόνα καὶ διὰ πόντον βέβακεν | ἐργμάτων ἀκτὶς καλῶν ἄσβεστος αἰεί. 

Even a better man can get tripped up by the craft of worse men. It took him down, you know that, it took down the might of Ajax, which flowed with the blood from the killing as he made the piercing, in the dead of night. Wrapped around the point of his sword, he gives blame [momphḗ] for them to own up to, for however many sons [paîdes] of the Hellenes went to Troy. But Homer, as you know, has given him an honor [tīmḗ] that spreads throughout humanity. He [= Homer] has straightened out for him all his striving [aretḗ], pointing at it with his rhapsodic baton, linked with wondrous words [épea] to delight future generations. This, you know it, is the undying voice that keeps going on, if someone is there to say something that is real. And all over the earth, with its multitudes of harvests, and across the sea, it has made its way, the ray of light streaming from his beautiful deeds, a light that will never be put out, shining forth for all time.

Pindar Isthmian 4.34–42


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