Pindar, Second Nemean Epinikion
A translation and notes by Jack Vaughan
For Timodemos of Archarnai, Victor in Pankration
Much as Homerid singers often begin their weaving of songs with a prelude
honoring Zeus, this man, too,
for a start has received an installment of a victory-studded
career in the sacred contests
in the much-celebrated hallowed precinct of Nemean Zeus.
It still behooves him, the son of Timonoos, if his life’s time, guided straight according to the
ways of his fathers, has been given as an adornment to great Athens, to harvest often again the
highest and most lovely prizes of the Isthmian games and to win in the Pythian games. But,
again, it is likely for Orion to come along close after the appearance of the mountain-dove
Pleiades. And, doubtless, Salamis is capable of raising a warrior hero.
In Troy, O Timodemos, Hektor heard of Ajax, and your stouthearted victoriousness in the
pankration will exalt you.
Acharnai has an ancient reputation for producing good men. When it comes to athletic contests,
the clan of the progeny of forebear Timodemos are hailed in the first ranks.
They harvested four victories in the Pythian games by Parnassus’ majestic heights. By the
Corinthians in the vales of good Pelops’ land they have already been awarded eight victory crowns.
Seven victories in Nemea—at home more than anyone can count—in the contest of Zeus. In Zeus’
honor, O citizens, launch a Komos for Timodemos who is returning home with well earned glory.
Begin the celebration with sweet-voiced music.
ΤΙΜΟΔΗΜΩι ΑΧΑΡΝΕΙ ΠΑΓΚΡΑΤΙΑΣΤΗι
ὅθεν περ καὶ Ὁμηρίδαι
ῥαπτῶν ἐπέων τὰ πόλλ᾽ ἀοιδοὶ
ἄρχονται, Διὸς ἐκ προοιμίου: καὶ ὅδ᾽ ἀνὴρ
καταβολὰν ἱερῶν ἀγώνων νικαφορίας δέδεκται πρῶτον Νεμεαίου
ἐν πολυυμνήτῳ Διὸς ἄλσει. 5
ὀφείλει δ᾽ ἔτι, πατρίαν
εἴπερ καθ᾽ ὁδόν νιν εὐθυπομπὸς
αἰὼν ταῖς μεγάλαις δέδωκε κόσμον Ἀθάναις,
θαμὰ μὲν Ἰσθμιάδων δρέπεσθαι κάλλιστον ἄωτον, ἐν Πυθίοισί τε νικᾶν
Τιμονόου παῖδ᾽: ἔστι δ᾽ ἐοικὸς 10
ὀρειᾶν γε Πελειάδων
μὴ τηλόθεν Ὠαρίωνα νεῖσθαι.
καὶ μὰν ἁ Σαλαμίς γε θρέψαι φῶτα μαχατὰν
δυνατός. ἐν Τρωΐᾳ μὲν Ἕκτωρ Αἴαντος ἄκουσεν: ὦ Τιμόδημε, σὲ δ᾽ ἀλκὰ
παγκρατίου τλάθυμος ἀέξει. 15
Ἀχάρναι δὲ παλαίφατοι
εὐάνορες: ὅσσα δ᾽ ἀμφ᾽ ἀέθλοις,
Τιμοδημίδαι ἐξοχώτατοι προλέγονται.
παρὰ μὲν ὑψιμέδοντι Παρνασῷ τέσσαρας ἐξ ἀέθλων νίκας ἐκόμιξαν:
ἀλλὰ Κορινθίων ὑπὸ φωτῶν 20
ἐν ἐσλοῦ Πέλοπος πτυχαῖς
ὀκτὼ στεφάνοις ἔμιχθεν ἤδη:
ἑπτὰ δ᾽ ἐν Νεμέᾳ τὰ δ᾽ οἴκοι μάσσον᾽ ἀριθμοῦ
Διὸς ἀγῶνι. τόν, ὦ πολῖται, κωμάξατε Τιμοδήμῳ σὺν εὐκλέϊ νόστῳ:
ἁδυμελεῖ δ᾽ ἐξάρχετε φωνᾷ. 25
Verse 10 Τιμονόου παῖδ’¨: ”The son of Timonoos” is Timodemos, the victorious pankratiast being celebrated. Father and son belong to the “Timodemidai,” an athletically talented clan at home in Archarnai in Attica, named after a forebear Timodemos (perhaps as recent an ancestor as our pankratiast Timodemos’ grandfather). Pindar’s mention of Archarnai and Salamis in virtually one breath, suggesting that Salamis is of the same territory, was variously attempted to be explained by ancient scholars whose opinions are reflected in the scholia. One line of interpretation justifies the leap by the proximity of Salamis, off the coast of Attica, over against the region of Archarnai. The “close enough for Pindar” interpretation is the simplest and in my opinion most convincing view of it. Pindar’s poetry sweeps across the cosmos in this poem. Compared to the scale of the earth and the heavens, the distance between Archarnai and Salamis is a very short one. Not going beyond the four corners of the poem, verse 13 can be read to say, as G.G. Cookesley (commentary accessed online 1 February 2017) noted, that Timodemos was educated on Salamis.
Verse 11 ὀρειᾱν γε Πελειάδων: “Mountain-dove Pleiades”—Scholars at least as early as Hellenistic Antiquity questioned and debated the sense Pindar’s ὄρειαι Πελειάδες. From Hesiod on down the constellation Pleiades (as spelled in Pindar and other poets the extra ε mutates their name into a form of the word for “doves” πελειάδες) was presented as a six or seven daughters of the Titan Atlas and a daughter of Tethys Pleione. Saved from hunter Orion’s erotic pursuit by Zeus’ transforming them into stars, in at least one version transforming them first from mountain-inhabiting nymphs to a flock of mountain doves, the daughters of Atlas became the cluster of stars known as the Pleiades, or (as here) Peleiades. The (heliacal, just before sunlight made the stars invisible) rising of the Pleiades was in the days and locale of Hesiod and Pindar in May and June and their setting marked the beginning of winter. For more detail on the astronomical background, see the notes indexed in M.L. West’s 1978 Oxford commentary on Hesiod, Works and Days. Piecing together the poetry and the scholia, I think the wording and spelling of Pindar’s tight micronarrative enfolds at least three mountain-based aitia of the constellation: the nymphs were mountain nymphs, the nymphs became mountain doves (keeping close to one another as a flock of mountain doves would naturally do), and the constellation shines brightest (maybe bright enough for all seven stars to be counted), clearest to observers in the lonely heights of the mountains.
Cookesley, G.G. 1851. Pindari carmina ad fidem textus Böckhiani. Notas adjecit G.G. Cookesley, Volume 2. Eton.
Drachmann, A.B. 1927. Scholia Vetera in Pindari Carmina recensuit A.B. Drachmann volume III. Scholia in Nemeonicas et Isthmionicas. (originally published by B.G. Teubner Verlag, Leipzig 1927, reprinted with original publisher’s permission, under license, Amsterdam [Verlag Adolf M. Hakkert] 1966) pages 28–39.
West, M.L. 1978. Works & Days. Edited with Prolegomena and Commentary. Oxford.
Jack is a Texas attorney-arbitrator who privately kept up his pre-law interests in Ancient Greek poetry, history, and philosophy and other Eurasian studies. He was educated in the United States and Europe, and in classics and philosophy is an alumnus of the University of Texas at Austin (BA with High Honors) and the Universität Hamburg (MA). Since 2013, soon after losing his wife to cancer, he has been more heavily committed to historical research, writing, translation, study, social learning and mentoring in ancient and medieval world languages, world literatures, philosophical hermeneutics and anthropology, original philosophy and history of philosophy, largely in internet-enabled formats, settings, and media. He was an actively participating learner in HeroesX v2 (his first MOOC participation) and has been an active Community Development team member of the Kosmos Society since 2014.
Image credit: Marie-Lan Nguyen (photo, via Wikimedia Commons): Attributed to the Theseus Painter: Pankratiasts fighting under the eyes of a trainer and an onlooker. Side A of an Attic black-figure skyphos, circa 500 BCE, Metropolitan Museum of Art. Creative Commons CC BY 2.5