Monday, June 16, 2014

Olympian I - some context

Great city of Syracuse, Sacred precinct of Ares, plunged deep in war, 
Divine nurse of men and horses who rejoice in steel, 
For you I come from splendid Thebes bringing this song (Pythian 2) 

For those seeking a bit of context for Pindar's 1st Olympian, which is termed an Epinikion, or victory ode, a few links:

Hieron I
Hieron I (Greek: Ἱέρων Α΄) was the son of Deinomenes, the brother of Gelon and tyrant of Syracuse in Sicily from 478 to 467 BC. In succeeding Gelon, he conspired against a third brother Polyzelos. During his reign, he greatly increased the power of Syracuse.
During his reign, he greatly increased the power of Syracuse. He removed the inhabitants of Naxos and Catana to Leontini, peopled Catana (which he renamed Aetna) with Dorians, concluded an alliance with Acragas (Agrigentum) . . .
His most important military achievement was the defeat of the Etruscans and Carthaginians at the Battle of Cumae (474 BC), by which he saved the Greeks of Campania from Etruscan domination. A bronze helmet (now in the British Museum), with an inscription commemorating the event, was dedicated at Olympia
Hieron's reign was marked by the creation of the first secret police in Greek history, but he was a liberal patron of literature and culture. The poets Simonides, Pindar, Bacchylides, Aeschylus, and Epicharmus were active at his court, as well the philosopher Xenophanes. He was an active participant in panhellenic athletic contests, winning several victories in the single horse race and also in the chariot race. He won the chariot race at Delphi in 470 (a victory celebrated in Pindar's first Pythian ode) and at Olympia in 468 (this, his greatest victory, was commemorated in Bacchylides' third victory ode). Other odes dedicated to him include Pindar's first Olympian Ode, his second and third Pythian odes, and Bacchylides' fourth and fifth victory odes.

Pindar's First Pythian

Golden lyre, rightful joint possession of Apollo and the violet-haired Muses, to which the dance-step listens, the beginning of splendid festivity; and singers obey your notes, whenever, with your quivering strings, you prepare to strike up chorus-leading preludes. [5] You quench even the warlike thunderbolt of everlasting fire. And the eagle sleeps on the scepter of Zeus, relaxing his swift wings on either side, the king of birds; and you pour down a dark mist over his curved head, a sweet seal on his eyelids. Slumbering, he ripples his liquid back, [10] under the spell of your pulsing notes.
Even powerful Ares, setting aside the rough spear-point, warms his heart in repose; your shafts charm the minds even of the gods, by virtue of the skill of Leto's son and the deep-bosomed Muses. But those whom Zeus does not love are stunned with terror when they hear the cry of the Pierian Muses, on earth or on the irresistible sea; more...
In ancient Greece, tyrants were influential opportunists that came to power by securing the support of different factions of a deme. The word "tyrannos", possibly pre-Greek, Pelasgian or eastern in origin,[5] then carried no ethical censure; it simply referred to anyone, good or bad, who obtained executive power in a polis by unconventional means. Support for the tyrants came from the growing middle class and from the peasants who had no land or were in debt to the wealthy landowners. It is true that they had no legal right to rule, but the people preferred them over kings or the aristocracy. The Greek tyrants stayed in power by using mercenary soldiers from outside of their respective city-state. To mock tyranny, Thales wrote that the strangest thing to see is "an aged tyrant" meaning that tyrants do not have the public support to survive for long. More.
Gelo (Hieron's brother)
Gelo’s first major contribution to Greek, and more specifically Sicilian, history was the foundation of Syracuse as his capital, which he turned into “the greatest Greek city in the west.” The location of the city itself made it a prime spot for such a role. The city was located on an island, connected to the mainland by a peninsula constructed in the 6th century BC. The city faced east towards the Greek mainland and had its own harbour. 
Gelo constructed a wall that ran from the fort of Achradina on the mainland to the sea, making Syracuse virtually impregnable. Also, by bringing in the wealthy citizens from conquered cities, a tactic never before used in Sicily, he greatly increased the prosperity of the city. He constructed a theatre which improved the city’s culture, and following the victory at Himera, he built an ornate temple dedicated to the goddess Athena
The other great contribution of Gelo was the victory at Himera over the Carthaginians. More.

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