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Genealogy, History, and Mythology in Olympian 9

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Classics
Wordcount: 5588 words Published: 28th Jul 2017

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From Polis to Oikos

At the end of Olympian 9, the ode for Epharmostos, the champion wrestler from Opountian Lokris, Pindar declares phya, his idiosyncratic rendering of physis (“altogether best”: Ol. 9.100);[1] he says that the herald’s proclamation ought to record that his victor was born (“with quick hands, nimble legs, determination in his look”), all the natural and inherited endowments necessary for athletic success (Ol. 9.108ff).[2] Despite his emphasis on Epharmostos’ birth (“with divine help he was born”), Pindar, unusually, names neither the father of the victor nor acknowledges any family whatsoever. In a genre as concerned with family and identity as epinikian, the omission is striking and potentially troublesome for the rhetoric of epinikian praise. Miller remarks that such an omission would almost certainly only occur at “the instruction of the client himself”, and thus we should conclude that Epharmostos did not regard family or father’s name “as essential to his self-definition.”[3] Pindar’s encomium still functions, but the absence of family disturbs many of the regular features of epinikian, especially the standard integration of phya and family.[4]

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Family, via the father’s name, was an element of the herald’s proclamation – or angelia – and would have been announced after Epharmostos’ victory.[5] While Pindar’s epinikian evokes the angelia, it freely includes, excludes, or modifies elements of the proclamation.[6] The modification, or omission, of a component of the angelia therefore serves as an opening for my analysis of the ode: rather than focus on the question of why Pindar did not include the father’s name, this article explains how Pindaric praise, particularly the praise of inherited ability, still functions in an ode that omits a key component of epinikian poetics. Pindar, despite the ostensible absence of family in this ode, nonetheless praises phya through ethnos and polis and with a colonial narrative of early Lokrian and Opountian history. While the focus on the conjunction of the victor with ethnos and polis is certainly not without parallel, Ol. 9 is singular in its emphasis on the correlation of biography and history. The Archaic and early Classical assimilation of genealogy to ethnic and civic history joins such seemingly disparate concepts as inheritance, family lineage, and genealogy with ethnic descent and civic foundation. The polis, one component of the angelia, can replace family, another component, because of the conceiving of ethnic and civic identity as essentially genealogical.

In her study of the economy of praise in epinikian, Kurke concludes that the family is crucial not only to the celebration of athletic success but to success itself (1991, 3; cf. Cole 1987, 560). She suggests that the family connection is important enough that we should recognize Pindar’s (and his victor’s) different concept of self-identity, which was integrated, to a great degree, with family.[7] In this conceiving of self-identity, personal athletic victory can be understood as a renewal of the family, especially through the metaphors of new birth, marriage, and rites for dead ancestors.[8] Thus, the exclusion of family from Epharmostos’ ode is unexpected: his victory, while it may have brought fame to his living relatives, is not represented as renewing or reviving the fame of his oikos, since the oikos is absent from the ode; his Olympic victory cannot participate in the common epinikian analogizing of athletic victory to family renewal, since there is no literal family in the poem. This omission is highly unusual in epinikian, which, as Carey points out, memorializes through naming.[9]

In only a few odes does Pindar not mention family members: Ol. 1, Ol. 4, Ol. 9, Pyth. 3, Pyth. 12, and Isthm. 3. In a number of these, the paternal and familial absence may be able to be rationalized: the victor is either a ruler or politically or socially prominent and thus the ode focuses attention on them, or at any rate participates in a rather complex political context (Ol. 1 for Hieron; Pyth. 3 for Hieron);[10] in another two cases the father’s name appears in an earlier ode for the same victor, and thus perhaps familial self-identity had been fulfilled  (Hieron’s father’s name appears in another ode as well: Pyth. 1.79; Ol. 4 for Psaumis of Kamarina, whose father Akron is named at Ol. 5.8, and his sons at 5.23; Isthm. 3 for Melissos of Thebes, whose father is named at Isthm. 4.45).

Pythian 12 and Olympian 9 stand out, since they lack any explicit reference to the father, clan, or family of the victor. Pyth. 12 praises the victory of Midas of Akragas in the aulos competition at the Pythian Games; significantly, it is the only extant ode to praise a victor in a musical contest. While Strauss-Clay suggests that the absence of Midas’ father and family is explained by his professional standing as an aulos player, Maria Pavlou offers a convincing and subtle explanation that situates the absence of family in the context of Akragrantine politics.[11] She suggests that Midas’ victory is an agalma for the city, since Akragas itself receives an extended encomium (Pyth. 12.1-5), and she argues that Midas’ victory ode was commissioned by the then-ascendant Emmenidae (perhaps Theron himself), in order to stress their power, and to relate them to a celebration of Akragantine culture. Thus Pythian 12 does not offer evidence that lower-status athletes (if, indeed, Midas was lower-status) would not celebrate their fathers, but rather indicates the potential utility of an epinikian victory to the political program of an aspiring tyrant.[12]

Consequently, Ol. 9 is alone in its complete absence of a literal family or ancestry, or at least, it is the only ode in which an obvious explanation does not appear to be forthcoming through the political or social context of the poem, and the lack of father’s name cannot be explained because of any known personal political prominence or a powerful patron. Even if Epharmostos’ family had not had previous athletic success, family could still appear, since in other odes victory acts retroactively to glorify otherwise obscure ancestors (e.g., Nem. 6.17-29).

Aside from Epharmostos, the ode mentions one other apparently historical individual, Lampromachos, whose presence has sparked much ancient and modern discussion.[13] He is introduced as a cause for the poet’s presence at the celebration of Olympian 9 (82-84):


Because of guest friendship and achievement

I have come to honor the Isthmian fillets of Lampromachos, when both won

their victories in one day.

The scholiasts are divided on the meaning of: 123a and 123c regard Lampromachos as a proxenos in the technical sense, while 123d and 123e consider to be equivalent to in this passage; finally, 125c considers Lampromachos a kinsman of Epharmostos.[14] Modern scholarship has been similarly divided.[15] While the institution of proxenia existed in the fifth-century, it is not certain that an institutionalized proxenia has any relevance to Pindar’s use of the term in Ol. 9.[16] In one of the only accounts to try to rationalize the appearance of proxenos here, Pavlou focuses on the early evidence for proxenia in Lokris specifically; she is skeptical that Pindar would use a technical term so loosely and she contends that by the fifth-century, proxenia was firmly entrenched as an institution.[17] Pavlou follows the opinion of one of the scholiasts and regards Lampromachos as the proxenos of the Thebans at Opous, and thus a relevant personage to Pindar’s presence and the commissioning of the ode.[18]

The Pindaric usage of proxenia and related words, however, suggests that proxenia could also signify vaguer “hospitality.” Isthm. 4.8, for example, teams proxenia with the adverb which renders it unlikely that the word refers to a contemporary institution; it is probable that appropriate hospitality is simply another component of the praise of the Kleonymidai.[19] In fr. 94b, Pindar uses the plural dative προξενίαισιdescribes a tradition of hospitality, which began in the past and extends to the present day (38-45), and once again, it is unlikely that the combination of a temporal adverb referring to the past and proxenia refers to the institution.[20] Nem. 7 has presented its own issues of interpretation, in terms of situating the passage in the larger organization of the poem, but proxenia, nonetheless, likely remains general rather than specific.[21] At Nem. 7.64-65, the reference to proxenia probably has little to do with the “Achaian man”, and rather, proxenia evokes the previous reference to xenia at Nem. 7.61 ( “I am a guest-friend”).[22] Again, an institutionalized meaning is highly unlikely.

In other poetic uses from the early fifth-century, the term can refer to general hospitality: in Aeschylus’ Suppliant Women, proxenia refers to general “protection” by a powerful patron (or deity), rather than an institutionalized system of city-sponsored hosting (Aesch. Supp. 420, 491, 919). A fragment of Aeschylus’ Diktyouloi uses proxenia but then glosses it with the word προπράκτωρ “champion” (TrGF III: fr. 47a.768-770). Therefore, proxenia in Ol. 9, and throughout the Pindaric corpus, can occur as a metaphor for hospitality, guest-friend relations, and philia, rather than a reference to the civic institution; the term is not evidence for a civic commissioning or biographical speculation but rather reinforces the intimate connection of city and victor.

Lampromachos opens the victory catalogue – two other Isthmian wins are recorded separately in the following line (Ol. 9.86). The mention of Lampromachos is likely a flourish with which to open the catalogue, an instance in which Epharmostos and his countryman both won at a pan-Hellenic festival on the same day. Pindar begins with a special victory, and then proceeds to begin the catalogue-proper of Epharmostos, proceeding, as is normal, from victories in the Crown Games.[23] The victory with Lampromachos is given special prominence (it begins the catalogue) because of its significance to the city of Opous, a city poorly represented in victories at the Crown Games.[24] Considering the ode’s explicit focus on praise of Opous aswellasEpharmostos, the inclusion of its other stephanitic victor is hardly surprising. It may be strange, in this case, that Pindar does not mention Menalkes (Moretti no. 240), who won at boxing at the same Olympics as Epharmostos, though perhaps the inclusion of another Olympic victor would challenge the primacy of Epharmostos’ praise in the ode – Lampromachos’ lesser Isthmian victory fulfills the function of praising the city without eclipsing the praise of the laudandus.

The mythic section of the ode, in which hospitality and guest-friendship – not institutionalized proxenia – are conjoined, when foreigners are welcomed to the new city of Opous (Ol. 9.67-69), supports my interpretation of proxenia at Lampromachos’ appearance. In fact, the settlement of foreigners (explicitly xenoi: Ol. 9.67) and the arete of Opous himself (Ol. 9.65-66; and the polis at Ol. 9.16) as well as one of the descendants of the new settlers (Patroklos, Ol. 9.70-76), have already appeared together in the ode’s narrative. Thus, Pindar comes to Opous because of the same qualities that have already characterized the polis and ethnos in the mythic narrative – he, like the xenoi in the myth, is attracted to the presence of the famous residents of the city, and its famous hospitality. Repetition and a cyclical perspective on Lokrian and Opountian history predominate in the structure of the ode, and so the rationale for Pindar’s visit seems to reinforce the identity of Epharmostos’ victory with the past history and mythology of his city and ethnos. Lampromachos is not included because of any political office, special relation, or involvement in the commissioning of the ode (all the suggestions of the scholiasts), but simply because of his status as an Opountian pan-Hellenic victor.[25] Regardless of the always vague, and impossible to prove historical circumstances surrounding the commissioning of the ode, the focus is on Opountian achievements in the victory catalogue, first in the single victory of Lampromachos, and then in the longer record of Epharmostos’ myriad victories – this is not proof of a civic commissioning, but rather exemplary of Pindar’s method of integrating victor with community.[26]

Ol. 9 exemplifies the Pindaric tendency to merge oikos and polis – epinikian is a form of civic adornment by the wealthy after all. Merger, however, does not fully satisfy in the context of the ode, since the family in Ol. 9 is not simply combined with the polis; that, in athletics, is the normal state of affairs, because the angelia teams together individual, familial, and civic identities. [27] In Ol. 9, in contrast, Epharmostos’ family is absent, and the ethnos of Lokris and the polis of Opous replace the oikos of the victor. The presence of Lampromachos in the victory catalogue, in a place generally reserved for family achievements, as a result of his civic identity, indicates this replacement: the polis relegates family and positions itself as the family of the seemingly family-less Epharmostos, so that the history of Lokris and Opous becomes the biographyof Epharmostos, the city’s putative ancestry replaces the victor’s actual genealogy.

While “homeland praise” is a commonplace in Pindaric criticism, Kurke notes that the place of neither family praise nor homeland praise in epinikian has ever been questioned.[28] She stresses the public and communal nature of the reception of Pindar’s art, and comments that Pindar uses foundation myths because of their inherently political quality, since they “transform an entire polis into a single family descended from a common mythic ancestor.”[29] The public aspect of epinikian, and the function of homeland praise as part of the political performative of epinikian provokes this article’s new interpretation of Olympian 9: the recognition of Opous and Lokris standing in as the oikos of this victor allows us to reimagine the connection between Epharmostos’ Olympic victories and the mythic narrative in the ode in the context of replacement family and substitute ancestry.

This reimagining begins by situating the series of foundations and renewals in the performance of the song itself. The respective establishment of ethnos and polis are emphasized in the ode and function to praise Epharmostos by placing him in a continuity of inheritance (Pindaric phya), modulated through civic and ethnic lineage. Although he has no actual family worth mentioning in the ode, the song manufactures a lineage (and inheritance) of great deeds through the telling and re-telling of history and mythology. It is therefore in the two figures who complete great deeds, Deukalion and Opous (ethnic and civic founders, and themselves involved with unusual family), that we should look for the mythic parallels through which Pindar praises his patron, Epharmostos, and the polis, Opous.[30]

Pindar’s narrative in Ol. 9 is one of the earliest, and most complete, Lokrian myths.[31] He begins from the flood, after which Deukalion and Pyrrha descend from Mount Parnassos to found a city and establish its autochthonous inhabitants (Ol. 9.43-46), the Leleges who become the ethnos of the Lokrians;[32] second, the lineage of kings is renewed through the adoption of a son, Opous, descended directly from Zeus (Ol. 9.57-66), through whom the civic identity of Opountians is established.[33] In both cases, foundations are not straightforward. Standard Greek origin stories revolved around autochthony or migration (Hall 2002: 31-35), but in Pindar’s narrative, colonial-style foundation is coupled with autochthony (Deukalion and Pyrrha) and hereditary inheritance is complicated by adoption (Opous) – a productive merger for representing Epharmostos’ civic and ethnic genealogy. Thus, Pindar finds room in his Lokrian and Opountian creation myths to accommodate all manners of foundation and establishment, and in doing so, firmly establishes the Hellenic identity of Epharmostos’ Lokrian ancestors.[34]

The section on Deukalion and Pyrrha opens after Pindar’s self-recrimination for the Herakles narrative. While the digression accords with Pindar’s formal use of Abbruchsformeln,[35] the specific rationale for the inclusion of Herakles here has generated debate, and some have compared Herakles’ stance against the gods (mortal versus immortal) with Epharmostos’ victory at Marathon, when he was, according to Pindar, incorrectly placed in the “men’s” category (Ol. 9.89-90).[36] Though some audience members may have made this connection, I concur with Gerber, who regards the comparison as inappropriate, since it would claim some glory for doing combat with the gods (surely, un-Pindaric: see Ol. 9.35-41; cf. Ol. 1.35).[37] Rather, the Abbruchsformel, as often, allows Pindar to draw a connection through juxtaposition, where one is logically absent: here, Herakles’ descent from Zeus and its consequent effect on his abilities (for the general principle of inherited ability and divine grace: Ol. 9.28-29; for the specific application to Epharmostos, see Ol. 9.100-104) is placed in close contact with the founding story of Opous and the Lokrians, in which Zeus will similarly play a major role and will bequeath abilities to Lokrian and Opountian progeny (Ol. 9.56-65).[38] By the end of the ode, the connection of divinity and ability is made clear in the latest generation, in the object of the ode’s praise, when Pindar observes that men do poorly ἄνευ δὲ θεοῦ (Ol. 9.103).

After this apparent interruption, with characteristic self-recrimination (though with the effect generated by the juxtaposition in place), Pindar directs himself to stay to the topic at hand, which is “the city of Protogeneia” (Ol. 9.41-56):

φέροις δὲ Πρωτογενείας

ἄστει γλῶσσαν, ἵν’ αἰολοβρέντα Διὸς αἴσᾳ

Πύρρα Δευκαλίων τε Παρνασσοῦ καταβάντε

δόμον ἔθεντο πρῶτον, ἄτερ δ’ εὐνᾶς ὁμόδαμον

45κτισσάσθαν λίθινον γόνον·

λαοὶ δ’ ὀνύμασθεν.

ἔγειρ’ ἐπέων σφιν οἶμον,

αἴνει δὲ παλαιὸν μὲν οἶνον, ἄνθεα δ’ ὕμνων

νεωτέρων. λέγοντι μάν

50χθόνα μὲν κατακλύσαι μέλαιναν

ὕδατος σθένος, ἀλλά

Î-ηνὸς τέχναις ἀνάπωπιν ἐξαίφνας

ἄντλον ἑλεá¿-ν. κείνων δ’ ἔσαν

χαλκάσπιδες ὑμέτεροι πρόγονοι

55ἀρχᾶθεν, Ἰαπετιονίδος φύτλας

κοῦροι κορᾶν καὶ φερτάτων Κρονιδᾶν,

ἐγχώριοι βασιλῆες αἰεί

…apply your speech to


city, where, by decree of Zeus of the bright


Pyrrha and Deukalion came down from Parnassos

and first established their home, and, without coupling,

founded one folk, an offspring of stone:

and they were called people.

Awaken for them a clear-sounding path of words;

praise wine that is old, but the blooms of hymns

that are newer.  Indeed they tell that

mighty waters had flooded over

the dark earth, but,

through Zeus’ contriving, an ebb tide suddenly

drained the floodwater. From them came

your ancestors of the bronze shields

in the beginning, sons from the daughters of Iapetos’

race and from the mightiest sons of Kronos,

being always a native line of kings,

In this passage, Pindar briefly summarizes the end of the flood narrative, which left only Deukalion and Pyrrha alive atop of Mount Parnassos. In Pindar’s telling, the origin of the flood is left obscure, though Zeus’ will is the clear cause of its cessation.[39]

The significance of 48-49 has been interpreted variously.[40] Despite some attempts to connect this comment to Simonides, the phrase must make sense in the context of its performance and patron, not to mention in re-performance scenarios.[41] The contrast is perhaps best understood in terms of praising the essential qualities of things: antiquity in wine is best (e.g., Od. 2.340), whereas novelty in songs, at least in the context of this ode (which opens, after all, with a contrast between old and new songs: Ol. 9.1), is best. Here I am not arguing for a universal motif in Pindar, but rather, that in thisodeinparticular, Pindar opens by stressing the novelty of his song (the “Archilochus song”), and thus, in this ode, newness in song is an important element;[42] Pindar buttresses this contention – perhaps not so self-evident – by the comparison with wine.[43] In fact, since essential qualities generally – phya – play a major part in the praise of the victor (Ol. 9.100ff), the extension of this opinion to the song that praises that victor makes thematic sense and further strengthens the encomium. If the following myth is unconventional, or stresses unconventional aspects by focusing on the Lokrian and Opountian origin of humanity after the flood, then the statement serves as a self-reference to the poet’s skill as well as being emphatic about one of the objects of the ode’s praise.[44] In fact, when Pindar turns to the story of Lokrian and Opountian foundation, he foregrounds the connections amongst ethnos, polis, and Epharmostos (and thus strengthens his case for a continuity of inheritance), by asking for a “clear-sounding path of words” “for them” (Ol. 9.47): surely here we read a reference to the whole race of the Lokrians through all the temporal stages of the ode, since “for them” follows the riddling reference to their name (Ol. 9.45-46). Thus, the whole of 48-49 serves as a transition and, via a short priamel, an explicit way to focus audience attention on the objects of the ode’s praise, before turning to implicit praise via the mythic narrative.[45]

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The foundation of Opous, the first human habitation following the destruction of the race, comes about Διὸς αἴσᾳ (“by decree of Zeus”, Ol. 9.42). αἶσα is a complicated word in Pindar, though its basic meaning of “share” or “portion” often metaphorically denotes fate (s.v. αἶσα (A), Slater), and, in several instances, αἶσα is the fate that allows athletic victory to come to fruition: in Nem. 3.16, Aristokleidas’ strength in the pankration persists κατ’ αἶσαν (“thanks to your [i.e., the Muses] favor”); at Nem. 6.13, Alkimidas’ fortune at Nemea is expressly connected to Zeus’ favor (Διόθεν αἶσαν “a fortune from Zeus”); in Pyth. 10, it is κατ’ αἶσαν (“duly”) that a living man sees his son crowned at the Pythian Games (10.25-26).[46] Ol. 9 points to the necessity of the favor of the gods (above all, Zeus) to athletic victory: ἄνευ δὲ θεοῦ, σεσιγαμένον / οὐ σκαιότερον χρῆμ’ ἔκαστον (“but when god takes no part, each deed is no worse / for being left in silence”, 103-104) (also, Ol. 9.28-29); in fact, Zeus is one of the honorees of Epharmostos’ ode (Ol. 9.6).[47] The involvement of the nous of Zeus in Opountian history connects the distant foundation of ethnos, the legendary establishment of polis, and the present praise of Epharmostos, especially through a word that can be used to describe the role of fate in athletic victory. As Pindar describes it, these three instances are correlative, not through content, but through the aition for each, that is, divine will (and Zeus is particularly attuned to watching over Lokrian history, as this ode’s mythic narrative demonstrates); they are thematically contiguous despite the vast expanse of time.[48]

Deukalion and Pyrrha are the founders of the Lokrian ethnos; their arrival at what will be Opous is characterized less as an arrival at a foreign land and rather as the arrival at their destined home – Deukalion and Pyrrha are not alien (although simultaneously not native) to the land of Opous, and it is there that they “establish their home” (Ol. 9.44; cf. Str. 9.4.2). κτισσάσθαν λίθινον γόνον suggestively combines foundation language (κτίζω “to found”) with parentage (γόνος “offspring”); it also evokes Pindar’s vocabulary for athletic inscriptions (cf. Ol. 7.86: ἐν Μεγάροισίν Ï„’ οὐχ ἕτερον λιθίνα / ψᾶφος ἔχει λόγον “while in Megara the record in stone / tells no other tale”).[49] Deukalion and Pyrrha begin the replacement of oikos by ethnos and polis: their natural daughter, Protogeneia, evaporates into the city they found (Ol. 9. 41-42);[50] the λίθινοι λαοί (“stone people”) are treated as if their children; the original inhabitants of Opous, their fellow-citizens, are also their descendants. Pindar emphasizes the blurring of oikos and polis: he describes the descendants of the λίθινοι λαοί as “from them came your ancestors of the bronze shields…” (Ol. 9.53-54).

The antecedent of κείνων has provoked much discussion among commentators ancient and modern, though rather than stress a specific meaning, ambiguity, as often, renders Pindar’s verse more, not less understandable; ambiguity exists in the initial description of the “city of Protogeneia” and the parentage of the λίθινοι λαοί.[51] As so often, Pindar’s verse resists an interpretive straightjacket: the ambiguous demonstrative suggestively begins the replacement of oikos by polis, which is, of course, salient to the encomium of the ode’s laudandus, Epharmostos.

The understanding of ὑμέτεροι (Ol. 9.54) has proceeded along similarly fraught lines, though again, sensitivity to the theme of replacement and identity of oikos, ethnos, and polis in the ode provides some clarity.[52] ὑμέτεροι can refer to both Epharmostos’ family and the Opountians generally because Epharmostos’ family, as represented in the ode, istheOpountians (thus, Epharmostos is like his mythological antecedent, Opous, whose true “family” are the inhabitants of his eponymous city). Pindar’s verse, through mythic narrative and purposeful ambiguity completes not a merger of oikos and ethnos and polis, but rather a replacement of one by the others: Deukalion’s natural daughter becomes an alternative name for a city that is populated by the fellow-citizens (or family) of the descendants of the λίθινοι λαοί.

The appearance of the autochthonous original inhabitants of Opous, the race of stone, evokes colonial motifs, which muddles distinctions between native and foreign, and which stress the rele


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