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Thucydides and PindarHistorical Narrative and the World of Epinikian Poetry$

Simon Hornblower

Print publication date: 2004

Print ISBN-13: 9780199249190

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2007

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199249190.001.0001

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Conclusion

Conclusion

Chapter:
(p.373) Conclusion
Source:
Thucydides and Pindar
Author(s):

Simon Hornblower (Contributor Webpage)

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199249190.003.0013

Abstract and Keywords

This concluding chapter argues that the ancient literary critics were right to see stylistic similarities between Pindar and Thucydides. Pindar's poetry, especially but not only his epinikian odes, was placed side by side with Thucydides' history to determine aspects of the latter. This has been done many times over for tragedy and epic, but not for epinikian poetry. And yet the important and pervasive aspect of contemporary Greek life which is described and celebrated by epinikian poetry features directly, if occasionally, in Thucydides' history in a way that the literal world described by Sophocles or Homer does not. It is therefore reasonable to suppose that the same competitive language and concepts should feature in both Pindar and Thucydides, and it has been shown that they do.

Keywords:   Thucydides, Pindar, poetry, Thucydides' history

In this book I have tried to do two things. In the second part, an intertextual inquiry,1 I have argued that the ancient literary critics were right to see stylistic similarities between Pindar and Thucydides. That Thucydides knew Pindar personally cannot be proved, and without a specific mention of Pindar in Thucydides' text I cannot even claim certainty for the proposition that he was aware of Pindar's poetry. The same strict argument could however be used in support of his ignorance of Herodotus, an eccentric and I would say untenable minority position. I have placed Pindar's poetry, especially but not only his epinikian odes, side by side with Thucydides' History in the hope of illuminating aspects of the latter. This has been done many times over for tragedy and epic, but not for epinikian poetry. And yet the important and pervasive aspect of contemporary Greek life which is described and celebrated by epinikian poetry features directly if occasionally in Thucydides' history, in a way that the literal world described by Sophocles or Homer does not. It is therefore reasonable to suppose that the same competitive language and concepts should feature in both Pindar and Thucydides, and so they do. The military commander Brasidas, we recall, is crowned and welcomed at Skione ‘like an athlete’: Thucydides 4. 121.1.2 Conversely, Pindar tells us that the family of the pankratiast Melissos of Thebes, victorious at the Isthmian games, had also ‘found favour with bronze Ares’ i.e. were good fighters: Isthmian 4. 15. Thematic overlap of this sort might be expected to lead to similarity of literary and linguistic presentation, and I have argued that it does.

This leads me to my other and related aim, the aim of my Part I, which was to show that the world evoked by the brief but eloquent comparison about Brasidas just quoted constantly lurks beneath and is presupposed by Thucydides. If he chooses not to give it more explicit coverage that is, we may conjecture, because success at the games (p.374) was in large part seen as a religious matter and he usually prefers to keep the religious dimension out of sight.3 Usually but by no means always, and he is capable of changing his standard priorities dramatically in the middle of routine military and diplomatic narrative. To this Thucydidean ποικιλία‎ or thematic variety, and it must be said straight-forward Thucydidean awareness that history sometimes imposes reversal of normal priorities by putting festivals centre-stage, we owe some notable departures from the normal military manner. I think most obviously of the long chapter about the Athenian revival of the Delian festival in book 3 (ch. 104) and those two detailed chapters which describe the the panēgyris or Olympic games and festival of 420 BC, and which formed the subject of our Chapter 7. The very recent equestrian successes in 416 of which Alkibiades is made to boast (6. 16) did not belong to some vanished world, but to a world of annual, biennial, and quadrennial panēgyreis in which Thucydides gathered his information, and without which we might not have had his History at all. He learnt his facts οὐκ ἐκ τοῦ παρατυχόντος‎, ‘not from chance informants’, as he tells us (1. 22. 2). The negative presentation there is not so much a hit at Herodotus' methods as a vehicle for a strong positive affirmation about the quality of his sources, which include of course himself, as he goes on to say superbly. Such understatements are characteristic of him. Pindar would have understood and sympathized.4 But the oral sources he alludes to surely included both the people who attended, such as himself and Pindar, and those like Dorieus of Rhodes (p. 134) who actually won victories at those festivals. They were sources not only for facts but for values, of a sort which I have argued Thucydides shared with the epinikian poets who were, along with Herodotus, his immediate predecessors in the celebration of what all Greeks (not just the victors or the poets and historians) reckoned the finest human achievements: see the first sentence of this book. The informants and main participants were select, but the values were very widely shared: it was the community of Skione as a whole which welcomed the victorious Brasidas, and it was the Thebans at large who joined in the all-night festival for Melissos, although he ‘was not granted the build of an Orion’.5 That apology for paltry, ὀνοτός‎, physique reminds us that Pindar's people were not all beautiful demigods in the literal sense. They could however (p.375) achieve immortality by athletic glory or patriotic death, or very occasionally and splendidly by both, like the two panhellenic victors of Thespiai who were commemorated as such in the mass grave for the 101 men of that city who fell at the Thucydidean battle of Delion in 424. I think6 that Thucydides knew exactly what he meant when he spoke, in a hapax-word, of Thespiai losing its anthos or ‘flower’ in that battle. The meaning I argued for was essentially a Pindaric meaning, although Pindar had been dead for twenty years when that battle was fought and for perhaps forty years when Thucydides looked for a word to describe its casualties.

Notes:

(1) See above, Ch. 6 p. 269.

(2) Above, Ch. 1 p. 46.

(3) Hornblower 1992.

(4) For litotes and other negatively- expressed positives in both authors see p. 284 n. 42.

(5) For the local festival evoked towards the end of I. 4 see above, p. 164. citing Krummen, For Melissos' unimpressive physical physique see lines 49–50 of the poem; cf. above, p. 336.

(6) Above, p. 45. For hapax-words see p. 370.