Navigation – Plan du site

AccueilNuméros112Pindar and the Poetics of Repatri...

Pindar and the Poetics of Repatriation in the 4th Pythian Ode

Pindare et la poésie du rapatriement dans la quatrième ode Pythienne
Dennis R. Alley
p. 21-34


Bien qu’il contienne l’un des seuls moyens de rapatriement explicites de la littérature grecque classique, la quatrième ode Pythienne de Pindare n’a guère retenu l’attention comme exemple de rhétorique et de négociation de rapatriement. Prenant le plaidoyer au sérieux, cet article examine le travail que la structure et le contenu du poème exercent pour assurer le retour de l’exilé et son rapport avec le plaidoyer de clôture. Il fait valoir que non seulement les éléments constitutifs du poème constituent un argument convaincant en faveur du rapatriement, mais qu’ils sont soigneusement conçus pour contourner les obstacles potentiels au retour de l’exil.

Haut de page

Texte intégral

1How did ancient Greek petitioners request a return to the communities from which they had been expelled? What obstacles impeded their homecoming? How might an exile have circumvented them? These are undeniably difficult questions to answer, as the majority of ancient texts fixate on the conditions of exile, behaviors of individuals in exile, or the void in the communities left by removal of the exiled person(s). Nevertheless, at least one early Greek text foregrounds the circumstances of repatriation and offers us a potential glimpse at what these negotiations looked like.

  • 1 Harvey, 1955, p. 161. For recent discussions of eidography, see Lowe, 2007.

2Pindar’s fourth Pythian ode, dated to 462 B.C., is a striking aberration in the surviving Pindaric corpus. At an exceptionally long 299 lines, the poem is nearly three times larger than Pindar’s next longest composition. It mentions the king’s victory only once in passing; features a continuous 200-line myth, focusing on the engagements between the exiled hero Jason and a pair of hostile kings; and concludes with the apparent repatriation plea of an exiled Cyrenean named Demophilus—a feature not only unparalleled in Pindar’s other compositions, but unique in Ancient Greek poetry. The profusion of features irregular to epinician exhibited in Pyth. 4 has perennially challenged scholars, and at least, one, Harvey, broke ranks and denied that it was an epinician at all: “We possess four books of epinicia by Pindar, and it is perfectly clear from these that the [Alexandrian] editors were not always scrupulous in observing the qualifications of certain poems to belong to certain categories. Pythians 3 and 4, for example are certainly not epinikia, if by ‘epinikion’ is meant a composition to be sung soon after an athletic victory in honour of the victor: they are both a kind of poetic epistle. Similarly, the ancients themselves were aware that the last three Nemeans were only placed in that position for convenience.”1

  • 2 The most famous example is Wilamowitz’s (1922, p. 392) frustrated characterization: “Dies längste G (...)
  • 3 Ancient scholiasts even invented stories about Arcesilaus being so incensed with Pindar’s neglect o (...)
  • 4 Cole, 1991, p. 50.

3No shortage of scholars has seen Pyth. 4 as an erratically disjointed poem.2 To be sure, if we view the ode as an epinician designed to praise the victor, Arcesilaus, they are no doubt right. Arcesilaus’ chariot victory seems little more than an afterthought clumsily tacked on to the poem.3 Moreover, its impressive length has caused some, like Cole, to believe that much more is at play in the poem than mere praise: “The extreme length of the poem, combined with the fact that – like most epinicia – it was performed at a banquet may point to the existence of persuasion on other levels as well.”4

4Additionally, the scholarly approach to the poem has impeded serious consideration of its concluding plea. Over two centuries ago the great Pindaric scholar and editor Böckh suggested that Pythian Four’s myth contained marked parallels with the historic circumstances of the ode’s composition. The myth featured an exiled hero, Jason, returning to his home to confront the scheming usurper Pelias. Jason’s youth, probity, and gentle nature are all highlighted, and after a pair of exchanges with Pelias, Jason willingly accepts the task of retrieving the Golden Fleece. Jason enjoys divine support for the expedition and he easily accomplishes his task. With the myth concluded, the poem’s narrator apostrophizes King Arcesilaus in such a way as to emphasize that it was during the adventure that Pelias imposed him that Jason found, fell in love with, and brought back home the Colchean princess Medea- Pelias’ murderess. For Böckh, the myth was commenting directly on the situation Arcesilaus found himself in vis-à-vis the exile Demophilus: the poem served to shame the king into allowing the exile to return.

  • 5 Gildersleeve, 1885, p. 281.

5Nearly a century after its publication, the view was abandoned in favor of a historicist reading of the ode. Basil Gildersleeve well illustrates the historicists’ distain for Böckh’s view: “There are those who see in Pindar’s Argonautic expedition a parable. Damophilos is Jason. Then Arkesilas must be Pelias—which is incredible. Damophilos is anybody else, anything else. Sooner the soul of Phrixos, sooner the mystic clod that Euphemos received… The true keynote, then, is the sweetness of return, the sweetness of the fulfilment of prophecy and the fruition of hope long delayed.”5

  • 6 Bundy, 1962.

6In his commentary on Pyth. 4 published a little over a century after Gildersleeve, Bruce Braswell echoes Gildersleeve by emphasizing the importance of the myth to the Euphemid king: “Pindar’s primary aim was to show that the Euphemids were divinely chosen to become kings in Cyrene and that their rule is in accord with the will of the gods. The means which Pindar uses to demonstrate this is the narration of the Argonautic myth suitably adapted to reveal Euphemus’ divine mission.” Braswell’s treatment of the myth takes a remarkably disproportionate interest in its 5 concluding lines mentioning Euphemus. Indeed, Braswell’s faith in the encomiastic purpose of the Argonautic myth conforms to the generic model of Bundy. Bundy’s Studia Pindarica posited that every element of an epinician ode engages in well-established generic rhetoric designed to praise the victor.6 This view necessitates that even evident complexities of the ode, which may superficially contain deviations from the encomiastic purpose, in actual fact praise the victor. Recently, however, scholars have challenged the Bundian thesis.

  • 7 Cole, 1992, p. 125, n. 18.
  • 8 Most, 1985, p. 38-43.
  • 9 For recent scholarly objections to the longstanding commission-fee model of Pindaric composition, s (...)

7First, the problematic logical consequences of the pre-arrangement deal are well expressed by Cole: “The commissioning of a work as elaborate and costly as Pythian Four becomes difficult to explain. It was either a very risky expense (if there were no guarantee that the plea would be successful) or a largely unnecessary one, if, as Gildersleeve and others have argued, the granting of Damophilus’ request was already prearranged by the time of the poem’s performance).”7 Moreover, it has been argued that the “dogma of mono-functionalism,” as it has been termed, has proven insufficient to explain all of the material in any given epinician.8 This is particularly important if, as many scholars suspect, the author engages in warning or admonishment to temper or complicate the praise. If the mono-functional thesis that Gildersleeve and Braswell embrace has already been challenged in the context of generically indisputable epinicia, should we expect an ode which may reasonably be called non-epinician to conform to this model?9 Consequently, we may ask, if the ode is not intended exclusively to praise Arcesilaus, what else might it be doing? Let us begin with a consideration of the poem’s constituent parts.

1. Captatio Benevolentiae

8After a whirlwind 10 line opening that recedes chronologically from the present occasion of Arcesilaus’ celebration of his chariot victory to the mythic past, Pyth. 4’s first section focuses on a prophecy of Medea foretelling the foundation of the Battiad kingship in Cyrene. Scholars have noted the significance of the passage for the king’s propaganda, but few have seen its astonishing degree of internal symmetry.

9We may observe that Medea’s speech accomplishes three important tasks. First, Pindar uses the prophetess to foretell the foundation of the city of Cyrene. This theme begins her speech (P.4.12-20):

Κέκλυτε, παῖδες ὑπερθύμων τε φωτῶν καὶ θεῶν·

φαμὶ γὰρ τᾶσδἐξ ἁλιπλά-

                κτου ποτὲ γᾶς Ἐπάφοιο κόραν


ἀστέων ῥίζαν φυτεύσεσθαι μελησιμβρότων

Διὸς ἐν Ἄμμωνος θεμέθλοις.

ἀντὶ δελφίνων δἐλαχυπτερύγων ἵπ-

                πους ἀμείψαντες θοάς,

ἁνία τἀντἐρετμῶν δί-

                φρους τε νωμάσοισιν ἀελλόποδας.

κεῖνος ὄρνις ἐκτελευτάσει μεγαλᾶν πολίων


ματρόπολιν Θήραν γενέσθαι.”

  • 10 I have used Race’s Loeb translation of Pindar with minor modifications throughout.

“For I say that from this sea-struck land one day the child of Epaphus will have grown
the root of renown cities at the foundations of Ammonian Zeus. In place of short winged dolphins, they will trade swift horses, and they will brandish reins instead of oars, and
steer chariots driven by wind-like feet. And that omen will bring to pass that Thera
become a mother of great cities…”

  • 11 Fontenrose, 1978, p. 184-185.
  • 12 For discussion of the structure of oracles generally, see Fontenrose, 1978, p. 166-196.

10Medea’s first mention of the Theraian foundation of Cyrene offers the passage’s most vivid prophetic language. She avoids explicitly mentioning which places she speaks of, instead employing circumlocution and focusing on the nature of the change that will transpire: when Epaphus’ daughter (Cyrene) bears the root of new cities (the city of Cyrene), then islanders will have become mainlanders. Fontenrose, who catalogued and analyzed the extant Greek oracles, termed the feature component “D”: the “Conditional Precedent.11 In his collection of oracular prophecies, Fontenrose demonstrated how verse oracles traditionally employ a temporal marker with conditional clause, which has an alternate form expressed by the temporal particle πότε. The ambiguities and intentionally opaque language of the “Conditional Precedent” often demand an explication.12 In our passage, the necessary clarification of the prophetic rhetoric seamlessly connects the opening with Pindar’s second task: tying the mythic events of the Argonautic voyage with the historical past. He does this by demonstrating how the Argonaut Euphemus was given dominion over Cyrene in the form of clod of dirt given to him by an unnamed god (Pyth. 4.38-44):

πεύθομαι δαὐτὰν κατακλυσθεῖσαν ἐκ δούρατος

ἐναλίαν βᾶμεν σὺν ἅλμᾳ


ἑσπέρας ὑγρῷ πελάγει σπομέναν.

                μάν νιν ὤτρυνον θαμά

λυσιπόνοις θεραπόντες-

                σιν φυλάξαι· τῶν δἐλάθοντο φρένες

καί νυν ἐν τᾷδἄφθιτον νάσῳ κέχυται Λιβύας

εὐρυχόρου σπέρμα πρὶν ὥρας.

“For I have learned that that (clod) has been washed from the deck in the evening and went into the depths with the brine, following the moist sea. But I, indeed, often urged him to guard it with toil relieving guards. But their wits were struck from them, and now the immortal seed of broad Libya has been poured upon this island before its time.”

11Euphemus’ mistake explains away another potential challenge to the Battiad claim: if the Battiads were descended from Euphemus why didn’t they settle the region sooner? The answer the poem proffers is that the guest-gift the divinity granted Euphemus was not treated with proper reverence. In addition to expounding the delay in Cyrene’s foundation, the passage further details Medea’s prophetic power. Medea had already mentioned that the choice for the Argonauts to proceed overland through the desert was her idea (Pyth. 4.27). For the extra-carminal audience, this mention reveals how the princess’s advice put the Argonauts in the place where Euphemus was to be granted dominion by a local god. In conjunction with this plan, Medea’s recollection of her frequent pleas to watch over the gift reinforce the role she played in creating the Battiad dynasty. Presumably, either her prophetic power or immortal insight allowed her to grasp the significance of the gift bestowed on Euphemus. These were ignored, and the validity of her warnings were revealed in the delay on Thera Euphemus’ descendants experienced before they were able to arrive in Cyrene.

12As a third aim, Medea’s explication of the connections between Battos and the Euphemid myth gives Pindar the opportunity to connect Medea’s prophecy with the Delphic oracle. As he has already mentioned, and will have Medea do again, this was the spot where the oracle sanctioned the Battiads as rulers of Cyrene. Arguably, it is the single most important place and event for the dynasty’s claim to legitimacy: connecting the two narratives strengthens both claims (Pyth. 4.50-6):


νῦν γε μὲν ἀλλοδαπᾶν κριτὸν εὑρήσει γυναικῶν

ἐν λέχεσιν γένος, οἵ κεν τάνδε σὺν τιμᾷ θεῶν

νᾶσον ἐλθόντες τέκωνται

                φῶτα κελαινεφέων πεδίων

δεσπόταν· τὸν μὲν πολυχρύσῳ ποτἐν δώματι

Φοῖβος ἀμνάσει θέμισσιν


Πύθιον ναὸν καταβάντα χρόνῳ

ὑστέρῳ, νάεσσι πολεῖς ἀγαγὲν Νεί-

                λοιο πρὸς πῖον τέμενος Κρονίδα.’

“But now he will find the chosen race in the beds of foreign women, who coming to this island with the honor of the gods will bear a man to be ruler of the dark-clouded plains. Whom, one day at a later time, when coming to the Pythian temple, Phoebus will call him back with oracles, to lead many men in ships to the rich boundaries of the son of Kronos on the Nile.”

  • 13 Elements of the narrative are paralleled in the famous 4th century B.C. “founders decree” found at (...)

13While it may be tempting to discount the importance of the prophecy contained in Medea’ speech, it is crucial that we recognize that the authority of the Battiads—and specifically Arcesilaus IV—to rule in Cyrene relied in part on the divine acknowledgement of their reign.13 By making Medea an immortal prophetess, Pindar has left nothing to chance.

14The narratives surrounding Medea’s prophecy interlace with many of these points. The opening muse invocation incites the deity to engage in song as a way of increasing the swell of song due to Apollo and Delphi (Pyth .4.1-3):


                Σάμερον μὲν χρή σε παρἀνδρὶ φίλῳ

στᾶμεν, εὐίππου βασιλῆϊ Κυράνας,

ὄφρα κωμάζοντι σὺν Ἀρκεσίλᾳ,

Μοῖσα, Λατοίδαισιν ὀφειλόμενον Πυ-

θῶνί ταὔξῃς οὖρον ὕμνων.

“Today, Muse, it is necessary for you to stand beside a dear man, the king of well-horsed Cyrene, so that, along with Arcesilaus celebrating, you might increase the swell of songs owed to the Leotids and Pytho.”

15The narrator immediately pivots to the role Delphi played in founding the Battiad line (Pyth. 4.4-9):

ἔνθα ποτὲ χρυσέων Διὸς αἰετῶν πάρεδρος


                οὐκ ἀποδάμου Ἀπόλλωνος τυχόντος ἱέρεα

χρῆσεν οἰκιστῆρα Βάττον

                καρποφόρου Λιβύας, ἱεράν

νᾶσον ὡς ἤδη λιπὼν κτίσσειεν εὐάρματον

                πόλιν ἐν ἀργεννόεντι μαστῷ

“Where once, the priestess, companion of Zeus’ golden eagles, declared Battos the founder of crop-bearing Libya—and Apollo happened not to be away—how leaving behind the sacred island, he would found a well-charioted city on the silvery breast.”

16This is the ode’s first mention of the Delphic oracle to Battos. Though brief, the passage underscores the authority of Battiad rule: it is sanctioned by both Zeus and Apollo. Placed immediately after Pindar’s description of Arcesilaus as a “dear man”, the expansion suggests the reasoning behind the earlier description—Arcesilaus and his family are dear to the gods. As we have seen, Zeus’ approval of the Euphemids will be made explicit at line 24, and Apollo’s role will be expounded throughout Medea’s speech. In conjunction with the unnamed deity and the now immortal Medea, the cluster of divinities represented as supporting the Battiads is remarkable. A second temporal transition moves us from Battos to Medea by citing the fulfillment of Medea’s Theraian prophecy (Pyth. 4.9-10):

καὶ τὸ Μηδείας ἔπος ἀγκομίσαι


                ἑβδόμᾳ καὶ σὺν δεκάτᾳ γενεᾷ Θή-


“And the Theraian speech of Medea had its return in the seventeenth generation.”

17His statement introduces Medea’s prophecy, which will dovetail with the sequence of events the narrator has just described. It may be possible to see the inclusion of Delphi in these lines less as a celebration of the site and more as a tool to appropriate its power. An observation of the structure of the passage is instructive.

18From a schematic perspective, if A represents the present occasion of celebration, B represents Battos’ Delphic oracle, C represents Medea, and D Euphemus, the passage would look like this: A, B, C, [B, D, C, D, B], C, B, A. Graphically represented, the poem’s first seventy line look as follows:


Present occasion









Prophecy referencing Delphic prophecy/ Battos/Thera






Medea’s advice on the clod



Euphemus’ mistake



Delphic Oracle refencing Battos/Thera






Delphic oracle to Battos/Therans



Present occasion


19This is a remarkable degree of symmetry and demonstrates how carefully Pindar crafted his representation of the series of prophetic steps leading to the foundation of the Battiad dynasty. No question is left unanswered, nor is any aspect of the Battiads’ divine sanction to rule left assailable by potential critics. To be sure, the intricate, lapidary design of the passage reflects its nature as propaganda of legitimacy for the Battiads, but the degree of calculation and thought exerted to affect this outcome seems excessive for the task. This is especially true when we consider that the Battiads had been ruling in Cyrene for eight generations. They were not a new entity attempting to assert their right to rule over former equals, but had long been ensconced in regal authority. Why would Pindar expend so much energy meticulously crafting this interlocking sequence?

  • 14 For the history of the period, Chamoux, 1953, p. 202-210 remains among the best treatments. See als (...)

20Looking to the historical circumstances of the Cyrenaean kingship provides possible explanations.14 In Herodotus’ narrative of the rise and fall of the Battiad monarchy, prophecy plays a central role. Though the historian was writing roughly 60 years after the fall of the monarchy, one passage affords us a glimpse at the city’s subsequent development:

  • 15 Hdt. 4.163 (trans. by Purvis).

“Meanwhile, Arcesilaus (III) was on Samos collecting every man he could find with the prospect of sharing in a redistribution of land in Libya. When he had mustered a large army, he sent to Delphi to consult the oracle about his return. The Pythia gave him this response: four kings named Battos and four named Arcesilaus, for eight generations of men, does Loxias grant the kingship of Cyrene. His advice is not to attempt to go beyond that.”15

21The use of allegedly prophetic warnings to affect political change is a well-documented phenomenon in Ancient Greece. That we should see this oracle as speaking of Arcesilaus IV and not Arcesilaus is suggested by the 2nd century historian Heraclides Lembus’ account of the last Battiad:

  • 16 Heraclid. Lembus, Excerpta Politiarum 17 (trans. by ?).

“During the reign of Arcesilaus (IV), a white raven appeared, concerning which there was a dire oracle. (Later) when the democracy was established, Battos, going to the Hesperides died, (when) they taking hold of his head, drowned him.”16

22Contextualized in the ambit of Cyrene’s political unrest, Pindar’s introduction and speech of Medea takes on greater meaning than pure encomium. The passage reacts and responds to the anti-monarchic rhetoric exemplified by Herodotus’ and Heraclides’ passages. Its value as political propaganda is rooted in the poet’s cultural authority to appropriate prophetic language. Coupled with the authority of the Delphic oracle, the opening quarter of Pyth. 4 is a tour de force of poetic-prophetic power. From these beginnings, Pindar moves on to the myth.

2. Paraenesis et Exemplum

  • 17 Carey, 1982, p. 243-249.
  • 18 Braswell, 1988, p. 23.
  • 19 Pl. Symp. 174e2-175a9.

23In a 1982 article, Christopher Carey argued that P.4’s myth serves as an exemplum to the king. I will adopt Carey’s view that the narrative offers a paraenetic exemplum but modify it in some of the particulars.17 P.4.127-135 portrays Jason as the host of a banquet, graciously receiving his guests, offering them, and himself enjoying, the pleasures of the feast, and warmly addressing them as friends. As many commentators have noted, Jason’s charisma and charm are clearly depicted.18 But the inner-carminal tranquility belies the innate potential for conflict the scene coveys. Indeed, the sympotic and komastic undercurrent of the passage, which should play a significant role in its interpretation, have gone largely unnoticed. On this point, the language Pindar employs to describe the activities at the banquet is significant. The first illustration of sympotic culture – (P.4.128-9) ἐν δαιτὸς δὲ μοίρᾳ μειλιχίοισι λόγοις αὐτοὺς Ἰάσων δέγμενος ξείνιἁρμόζοντα τεύχων – combines feasting and the affirmation of guest friendship between Jason and his extended family and friends. Jason’s admission of the visitors to his banquet is a clear signal that we are intended to construe the scene as a sympotic gathering, much as Plato’s Agathon first graciously welcomes the uninvited Aristodemus to his banquet, as he reaches Agathon’s house just as dinner is about to begin,19 and later, when he indicates to his slave how to handle Alcibiades and his Komos:

καὶ ἐξαίφνης τὴν αὔλειον θύραν κρουομένην πολὺν ψόφον
παρασχεῖν ὡς κωμαστῶν, καὶ αὐλητρίδος φωνὴν ἀκούειν. τὸν
οὖν Ἀγάθωνα, Παῖδες, φάναι, οὐ σκέψεσθε; καὶ ἐὰν μέν τις
ῶν ἐπιτηδείων , καλεῖτε· εἰ δὲ μή, λέγετε ὅτι οὐ πίνομεν ἀλλ
ἀναπαυόμεθα ἤδη.

  • 20 Pl. Symp. 212c6-d2.

“And suddenly the courtyard door was struck, letting off a great noise, like
that of komasts, and they heard the voice of a flute-girl. And Agathon said,
“slaves, won’t you see who it is? If it is one of our friends, invite them in.
If not, tell them that we are not drinking, but have already given it a rest.”

24In particular, the phrase μειλιχίοισι λόγοις αὐτοὺς Ἰάσων δέγμενος in the context of sympotic admission mirrors the drunken Alcibiades’ language requesting entrance to Agathon’s banquet in Plato’s Symposium:

  • 21 Pl. Symp. 212e3-5.

“Greetings, gentlemen! Will you admit a very drunk man as a fellow symposiast, (μεθύοντα ἄνδρα πάνυ σφόδρα δέξεσθε συμπότην) or, crowning Agathon alone—which is why we came—should we be off?”21

  • 22 Latacz, 1966, p. 161-173. In contexts to denote sympotic pleasure, Hom. Od. 9.5-11; 10.465; 20.8; T (...)

25The following lines expand on the sympotic revelry—πᾶσαν ἐυφροσύναν τάνυεν—he protracted all mirth. The noun εὐφροσύνη is common in Homer and Archaic poetry to denote the pleasure of intoxication and sympotic activities associated with the symposium.22 In tandem, Jason’s admission of guests to the banquet and inebriated pleasure underscore the scene’s sympotic current.

  • 23 Braswell, 1988, p. 219.

26After several days of feasting, Jason puts his story before the gathered guests and at the conclusion of his speech they all rally for the king’s home. An overlooked detail sheds important light on the interpretation of this scene. That Jason and his guests are still in the throes of sympotic revelry is confirmed by the final lines αἶψα δἀπὸ κλισιᾶν ὦρτο σὺν κείνοισι “and quickly he leapt from his couch along with them.” Generations of scholars have taken ἀπὸ κλισιᾶν ὦρτο to mean emerged from his tent. This meaning fails to consider the sympotic language that preceded the final actions, and, as Bruce Braswell has rightly observed, ignores the noun’s more common meaning of “couch,” which is appropriate to the situation and a central feature of symposium.23 But how does this change our understanding of the passage?

  • 24 For Pindar’s representation of the komos, see Morgan, 1993 and Eckermann, 2010.
  • 25 Pütz, 2007, p. 121-126; see also Wecoski, 2014, p. 28-29.
  • 26 Pütz, 2007, p. 142-146.

27A sudden procession stemming from the symposium is a common form of the komos.24 As Pütz has observed, Greek literature commonly illustrates multiple forms of the komos ranging from an orderly religious procession to a violent, drunken riot.25 In particular, Pütz notes how the time of the komos and its place of origin both closely correspond to the form they assume. Thomas Cole helps us expand on this view: “What all such occasions have in common is a collective highly demonstrative passing beyond the bounds of some private space which serves both as the original locus of the movement of the komos, and the ultimate source of the contribution which the komos seeks to make to the larger realm that lies beyond. This contribution may affect all of the larger realm or be confined to a part of it—at least for the time being.” Cole’s observation that the source of the komos is significant for identifying its purpose is useful for interpreting our scene. Pütz has observed that in the plays of Aristophanes, komoi stemming from symposia commonly result in violence.26 Couple a political interest with inebriated, aggressive partisans and the symposium and resulting komos seem a fertile ground for powerful protest or even a putsch. This is in effect what we see in Pindar’s depiction of the conclusion of the banquet.

  • 27 The long duration of the symposium also suggests the possibility for violence, as in Greek represen (...)

28Viewing our passage through the lens of komastic upheaval reveals how unsettling the scene must be to its royal audience. Recalling Cole’s observation above, the point of origin and destination are of special importance for understanding the komos’ intent. In this case, the procession’s beginning at Jason’s father’s house and its direct route to the royal palace suggest that one aim of the komos might have been regime change.27 The king’s discomfort must have been amplified by the narrative’s account of the komos’ palace entry: “And they went straight to the home of Pelias and, rushing inside, they stood. He, hearing them, himself opposed them.” Pindar’s depiction of the king receiving the komos implies a solitary despot facing a crowd assembled against him.

  • 28 Hdt. 4.164.2-4: καί μιν Βαρκαῖοί τε ἄνδρες καὶ τῶν ἐκ Κυρήνης φυγάδων τινὲς κατααὐτοῦ Ἀλάζειρα.

29For Arcesilaus this must have been particularly alarming given how his grandfather Arcesilaus III had died. Herodotus tells us the story when he recounts the period of intense stasis that gripped Cyrene following the dynasty’s submission to Persia. After a brief period of exile, the king returned to Cyrene and, with extraordinary violence, purged the city of enemy partisans either by death or exile. Concerned for himself after he received an oracle about his own death, he went to visit his father-in-law in the neighboring city of Barke for advice, and there: “Some of the exiles from Cyrene, noticing him in the agora, killed him and his father-in-law.”28 To judge from Herodotus’ history of Cyrene, the late archaic period was marked by prolific violence and political reprisals. In this environment, it is difficult to imagine that Pindar’s scene, fraught with as much potential for violence against a king, could go unnoticed or even received neutrally.

30Why would Pindar include such a charged, and potentially threatening scene in an ode designed to secure an exile’s repatriation? The conclusion of the myth offers some possibilities. Pindar’s Jason, of course, does not overthrow the king. Instead, he peacefully attempts to negotiate his return on good faith. This negation leads Pelias to attempt to rid himself of the young exile by imposing the seemingly impossible—and likely lethal—task of recovering the Golden Fleece on Jason. Jason, however, does not perish. He is wildly successful, and, at the conclusion of the mythic narrative, Pindar calls Arcesilaus’ attention to it with an apostrophe (Pyth. 4.250): Ἀρκεσίλα, κλέψεν τε Μήδειαν σὺν αὐτᾷ, τὰν Πελίαο φονόν. “Arcesilaus, he took Medea by her own volition, the slayer of Pelias.” This final statement of the myth emphatically demands Arcesilaus contemplate the unforeseen consequences Pelias faced by refusing to allow Jason a peaceable homecoming: Jason returns regardless of Pelias’ machinations, and brings with him the instrument of Pelias’ death. Pindar, however, does not dwell on the negative, but swiftly poses a positive alternative to Pelias’ choice.

3. Redivivus ab Exsilio

31Seeing the poem as a serious effort to restore an exile to the community which exiled him demonstrates the significance of the composition’s final thirty lines. First, Pindar exhorts Arcesilaus to heal his city by letting go of old resentments (Pyth. 4.270-4):


                ἐσσὶ δἰατὴρ ἐπικαιρότατος, Παι-

                άν τέ σοι τιμᾷ φάος.

χρὴ μαλακὰν χέρα προσβάλ-

                λοντα τρώμαν ἕλκεος ἀμφιπολεῖν.

ῥᾴδιον μὲν γὰρ πόλιν σεῖσαι καὶ ἀφαυροτέροις·

ἀλλἐπὶ χώρας αὖτις ἕσσαι δυσπαλὲς

                δὴ γίνεται, ἐξαπίνας

εἰ μὴ θεὸς ἁγεμόνεσσι κυβερνατὴρ γένηται.

“But you (Arcesilaus) are the most opportune healer, and Paean honors you with his light. It is necessary to apply a soft hand when dressing a sore wound. For easily can even weaklings shake a city; but to set it back in place again is a difficult struggle indeed, unless suddenly a god serves as steersman for the leaders.”

32Next, the poet calls attention to the exile’s justice, probity, precocious wisdom, and mild nature (Pyth. 4.279-87):

                                ἐπέγνω μὲν Κυράνα


                καὶ τὸ κλεεννότατον μέγαρον Βάττου δικαιᾶν

Δαμοφίλου πραπίδων. κεῖνος γὰρ ἐν παισὶν νέος,

ἐν δὲ βουλαῖς πρέσβυς ἐγκύρ-

                σαις ἑκατονταετεῖ βιοτᾷ,

ὀρφανίζει μὲν κακὰν γλῶσσαν φαεννᾶς ὀπός,

ἔμαθε δὑβρίζοντα μισεῖν,


                οὐκ ἐρίζων ἀντία τοῖς ἀγαθοῖς,

οὐδὲ μακύνων τέλος οὐδέν. γὰρ και-

                ρὸς πρὸς ἀνθρώπων βραχὺ μέτρον ἔχει.

εὖ νιν ἔγνωκεν· θεράπων δέ οἱ, οὐ δρά-

                στας ὀπαδεῖ.

“Cyrene and the most famous home of Battis have come to know the just heart of Demophilus For that man—a youth among boys—but in councils he is aged, as though he were happening upon his hundredth year of life. He orphans a malicious tongue of its shining voice, and he has learned to hate the man committing violence—not striving against the noble, nor protracting any end, since opportunity in men’s affairs has a brief span. He has come to know it well. He attends it as a companion, not a slave.”

33Finally, the poem concludes with an explicit request for the exile’s return (Pyth. 4.91-99):

                ἐν δὲ χρόνῳ

μεταβολαὶ λήξαντος οὔρου

ἱστίων. ἀλλεὔχεται οὐλομέναν νοῦ-

                σον διαντλήσαις ποτέ

οἶκον ἰδεῖν, ἐπἈπόλλω-

                νός τε κράνᾳ συμποσίας ἐφέπων


                θυμὸν ἐκδόσθαι πρὸς ἥβαν πολλάκις, ἔν τε σοφοῖς

δαιδαλέαν φόρμιγγα βαστάζων πολί-

                ταις ἡσυχίᾳ θιγέμεν,

μήτὦν τινι πῆμα πορών, ἀπαθὴς δαὐτὸς πρὸς ἀστῶν·

καί κε μυθήσαιθ’, ὁποίαν, Ἀρκεσίλα,

εὗρε παγὰν ἀμβροσίων ἐπέων,


                        πρόσφατον Θήβᾳ ξενωθείς.

“In time, the sails change when the wind abates. He prays, having drained off his accursed disease to the end, he may one day see his home; that he may participate in symposia by Apollo’s fountain, often indulging his heart in youth, and touch upon peace, plucking the ornate phorminx in the company of his cultured citizens, neither causing injury to anyone, nor suffering it from his townsmen. And he would tell, Arcesilaus, what a spring of ambrosial verses he found, recently hosted in Thebes.”

  • 29 On this point, I am anticipated by Lattimore, 1948.
  • 30 Some have seen connections between the term doctor and Jason’s name here (Robbins, 1975 (in Robbins (...)

34To a great extent, P.4’s conclusion capitalizes on the themes introduced throughout the composition.29 The opening appeal to Arcesilaus to act as a healer for his community recalls the negative example of Pelias, who refused to do the same.30 It exhorts the king to end hostilities with the exile once and for all. Correspondingly, Pindar’s characterization of Demophilus’ not only mirrors the poet’s Jason but seems to tacitly admit former mistakes while denying the possibly of future misteps (ἔμαθε δὑβρίζοντα μισεῖν, οὐκ ἐρίζων ἀντία τοῖς ἀγαθοῖς, οὐδὲ μακύνων τέλος οὐδέν). The youth recognizes the validity of the king to rule; his request to return is imbedded in a poem that makes the Battiad right to reign explicit in no uncertain terms. Lastly, the request emphasizes the exile’s desire for tranquility, serenity, and the peaceful cultural pastimes of his home (ἐπἈπόλλωνός τε κράνᾳ συμποσίας ἐφέπων θυμὸν ἐκδόσθαι πρὸς ἥβαν πολλάκις, ἔν τε σοφοῖς δαιδαλέαν φόρμιγγα βαστάζων πολίταις ἡσυχίᾳ θιγέμεν, μήτὦν τινι πῆμα πορών, ἀπαθὴς δαὐτὸς πρὸς ἀστῶν) and concludes by explicitly calling the kings’ attention to possibility of the exile’s future reperformance of the composition, which so favorably depicts the Battiad king and rule (καί κε μυθήσαιθ’, ὁποίαν, Ἀρκεσίλα, εὗρε παγὰν ἀμβροσίων ἐπέων, πρόσφατον Θήβᾳ ξενωθείς). In this way, I suggest that the conclusion underscores the poem’s propagandistic futility if the exile’s plea is rejected. Without Demophilus in Cyrene, the massive poem stands no chance of reperformance, as the praise of the king, his line, and his righteousness is inextricably bound to the praise of the just young exile to return. To re-perform the song in the wake of a failed plea would serve to illustrate that praise of the king was false—effectively undermining its legitimizing propaganda.

35To run through the basic arguments of the poem: the Battiads are undeniably the divinely chosen rulers in Cyrene (Pyth. 4.1-60). Arcesilaus enjoys the continued support of Apollo as his chariot victory illustrates (Pyth. 4.61-70). Nevertheless, just exiles like Jason or Demophilus will return to their homes—they too enjoy divine favor (P.4.71-250). And, indeed, as many Pindaric poems illustrate, even rulers or figures with divine favor can lose it if they make decisions which run counter to the will of the gods—the consequences for these rulers are disastrous, as Medea’s murder of Pelias underscores (Pyth. 4.250). Still, Arcesilaus as a king with Apollo’s favor is uniquely well positioned to heal his community; avoiding Pelias’ mistake—denying a just exile his return—he will return a valuable member to its community. Demophilus is intelligent, gentle, tranquil, and by singing the song that brought him his return, will sing of Arcesilaus’ justice and legitimacy as ruler (Pyth. 4.270-99).

  • 31 For a breakdown of the speech and its contents, see Maidment, 1972, p. 460-461.

36From a structural perspective, the poem bears a striking resemblance to Andocides’ De Reditu Suo. The speech—composed sometime after 411—attempts to secure the exiled Athenian’s return by praising the city and government of Athens and arguing against his detractors (1-5), highlighting Andocides’ commitment to Athens despite his own misfortunes (6-23), underscoring his sincere repentance and personal growth while in exile (24-5), and emphasizing the peacefulness, lack of ill will, and tranquility of his possible return (26-8).31

  • 32 Cic. Brut. 46: itaque, ait Aristoteles, cum sublatis in Sicilia tyrannis res privatae longo interva (...)

37The parallels may not be entirely coincidental. Indeed, we know from Cicero’s history of oration in the Brutus that the formal organization of public oratory began in Sicily with individuals attempting to return to Syracuse and Eastern Sicily in the wake of the Deinomenid tyranny’s fall in the late 460s.32 This is precisely the same time period Pindar’ was composing P.4. It is therefore not inconceivable that either Pindar may have been looking to the Sicilian orators to compose the plea or even vice-versa.

  • 33 Garland, 2014, p. 182-183: “In many cases… a returnee represented a serious threat to his or her ci (...)

38Whatever the case, the penitence and disavowal of future political engagement both compositions share point to a significant feature of exile ancient communities feared: reprisal. As Robert Garland has seen, the potential chaos inflicted on communities by returning exiles was reason enough to reject their requests for return.33 By offering characterizations that preemptively reject arguments against their pleas, both compositions seem to take seriously the threat of opposition, and like forensic speeches attempt to counter as many points their opposition may lob at them in their rebuttal as possible. Unfortunately, however, if this reading of P.4 manages to illuminate previously obscure aspects of the poem’s composition and structure, it must be conceded that other aspects will remain obscure. Like forensic speeches, we will never know the outcome of the repatriation plea or mechanics of how Pindar was or was not paid to compose the poem. Nevertheless, the new dimensions of Pindaric composition revealed by the approach and potential insights on the delicacy of repatriation negations revealed therein make for a worthwhile tradeoff.

Haut de page


Bowie, E., 2012, Epinicians and Patrons, in P. Agocs, C. Carey, and R. Rawles (eds.), Reading the Victory Ode, Cambridge-New York, p. 83-92.

Braswell, B., 1988, Pindar’s Fourth Pythian Ode: a Commentary, Leiden.

Bundy, E.L., 1962, Studia Pindarica, Berkley-Los Angeles.

Carey, C., 1982, The Epilogue of Pindar’s Fourth Pythian, Maia, 32.2, p. 143-153.

Chamoux, F., 1953, Cyrène sous la monarchie des Battiades, Paris.

Cole, T., 1991, The Origins of Rhetoric in Ancient Greece, Baltimore.

Cole, T., 1992, Pindar’s Feasts or the Music of Power, Rome.

Drachmann, A., 1910 [1997], Scholia Vetera in Pindari Carmina. Vol. II, Stuttgart.

Eckermann, C., 2010, The Komos of Pindar and Bacchylides and the Semantics of Celebration, CQ, 60, p. 302-312.

Fontenrose, J., 1978, The Delphic Oracle. Its Responses and Operations with a Catalogue of Responses, Berkeley.

Forsdyke, S., 2005, Exile, Ostracism, and Democracy: the Politics of Expulsion in Ancient Greece, Princeton-Oxford.

Garland, R., 2014, Wandering Greeks: the Ancient Greek Diaspora from the Age of Homer to the Death of Alexander the Great, Princeton-Oxford.

Gildersleeve, B., 1885, Pindar: Olympian and Pythian Odes, Cambridge.

Harvey, A.E., The Classification of Greek Lyric, CQ, 5.3-4, p. 157-175.

Hobden, F., 2013, The Symposium in Ancient Greek Society and Thought, Cambridge.

Hornblower, S., 2009, Greek Lyric, Politics, and Sociology, in F. Budelmann (ed.) The Cambridge Companion to Greek Lyric, Cambridge, p. 39-57.

Lattimore, R., 1948, Pindar’s Fourth Pythian Ode, The Classical Weekly, 42.2, p. 19-25.

Lowe, N., 2007, Epinician Eidography, in S. Hornblower, C. Morgan (eds.), Pindar’s Poetry, Patrons, and Festivals: from Archaic Greece to the Roman Empire, Oxford, p. 167-176.

Maidment, K.J., 1972, Minor Attic Orators I, Cambridge MA.

Malkin, I., 1994, Myth and Territory in the Spartan Mediterranean, Cambridge.

Morgan, K.A., 1993, Pindar the Professional and the Rhetoric of the Komos, CPh, 87, p. 1-15.

Morgan, K.A., 2015, Pindar and the Construction of the Syracusan Monarchy in the Fifth Century B.C., Oxford.

Morrison, A.D., 2007, Performance and Audience in Pindar’s Sicilian Victory Odes, BICS Suppl. 95, London.

Pelliccia, H., 2009, Simonides, Pindar, and Bacchylides, in F. Budelmann (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Greek Lyric, Cambridge-New York, p. 240-262.

Pütz, B., 2007, The Symposium and Komos in Aristophanes, Oxford.

Race, W. 1997. Pindar. II Vols. Cambridge, MA.: Harvard UP.

Robbins, E., 2013, Thalia Delighting in Song: Essays on Greek Poetry, Toronto.

Rutherford, I., 2001, Pindar’s Paeans: a Study of the Fragments with a Survey of the Genre, Oxford.

Sigelman, A.C., 2016, Pindar’s Poetics of Immortality, Cambridge.

Slater, W., 1976, The Symposium at Sea, HSCP, 80, p. 161-170.

Von Wilamowitz Moellendorf, U., 1922, Pindaros, Berlin.

Wecowski, M., 2014, The Rise of the Greek Aristocratic Banquet, Oxford.

Haut de page


1 Harvey, 1955, p. 161. For recent discussions of eidography, see Lowe, 2007.

2 The most famous example is Wilamowitz’s (1922, p. 392) frustrated characterization: “Dies längste Gedicht ist wahrlich ein seltsames Gebilde, Chimaerahaft.”

3 Ancient scholiasts even invented stories about Arcesilaus being so incensed with Pindar’s neglect of his victory that he commanded him to compose another poem; Schol. Pind. Pyth. 5 (Drachmann, 1910 [1997], p. 171-172): Γέγραπται καὶ αὕτη ᾠδὴ νικήσαντι τῷ Ἀρκεσιλάῳ ἅρματι τὴν Πυθιάδα. ἐπειδὴ δὲ διήγημα ἐν τῷ πρώτῳ μᾶλλον ἐπινίκῳ ἤπερ ἐγκώμιον πεποίηται τῷ Πινδάρῳ καὶ παρέκβασις διηγηματικὴ τῶν κατὰ Ἰάσονα, ἐδέησεν αὐτῷ καὶ δεύτερον γράψαι ἐπίνικον. “This ode (Pythian 5) was written for Arcesilaus winning in the chariot race in the Pythiad. Since the proceedings in the first (Pythian 4) epinician and the digressive narrative of events concerning Jason were written by Pindar being beyond the scope of encomium, he enjoined him (Pindar) to write a second epinician.”

4 Cole, 1991, p. 50.

5 Gildersleeve, 1885, p. 281.

6 Bundy, 1962.

7 Cole, 1992, p. 125, n. 18.

8 Most, 1985, p. 38-43.

9 For recent scholarly objections to the longstanding commission-fee model of Pindaric composition, see Pelliccia, 2007; Bowie, 2012; Morgan, 2015, p. 114-121.

10 I have used Race’s Loeb translation of Pindar with minor modifications throughout.

11 Fontenrose, 1978, p. 184-185.

12 For discussion of the structure of oracles generally, see Fontenrose, 1978, p. 166-196.

13 Elements of the narrative are paralleled in the famous 4th century B.C. “founders decree” found at Cyrene (Meiggs-Lewis, 1969, p. 5-9). Meiggs-Lewis’ comments warning against credulity toward the inscription mirror my own skepticism on its authenticity (1969, p. 8-9), but whatever the status of the document’s authenticity, it seems that inscribed the divine sanction of Battos was remembered as a significant aspect of the city’s foundation well into the 4th century when the document was.

14 For the history of the period, Chamoux, 1953, p. 202-210 remains among the best treatments. See also Malkin, 1994, p. 169-192, who draws extensively from Herodotus.

15 Hdt. 4.163 (trans. by Purvis).

16 Heraclid. Lembus, Excerpta Politiarum 17 (trans. by ?).

17 Carey, 1982, p. 243-249.

18 Braswell, 1988, p. 23.

19 Pl. Symp. 174e2-175a9.

20 Pl. Symp. 212c6-d2.

21 Pl. Symp. 212e3-5.

22 Latacz, 1966, p. 161-173. In contexts to denote sympotic pleasure, Hom. Od. 9.5-11; 10.465; 20.8; Thgn. 776-779 West; Sol. 4.10 West; Anacr. 2 West. See Hobden, 2013, p. 28-34, for the role of euphrosyne in the context of the symposium.

23 Braswell, 1988, p. 219.

24 For Pindar’s representation of the komos, see Morgan, 1993 and Eckermann, 2010.

25 Pütz, 2007, p. 121-126; see also Wecoski, 2014, p. 28-29.

26 Pütz, 2007, p. 142-146.

27 The long duration of the symposium also suggests the possibility for violence, as in Greek representations the longer the symposium the worse the behavior of its participants. See Slater, 1976.

28 Hdt. 4.164.2-4: καί μιν Βαρκαῖοί τε ἄνδρες καὶ τῶν ἐκ Κυρήνης φυγάδων τινὲς κατααὐτοῦ Ἀλάζειρα.

29 On this point, I am anticipated by Lattimore, 1948.

30 Some have seen connections between the term doctor and Jason’s name here (Robbins, 1975 (in Robbins, 2013), Sigelman, 2016, p. 128-136). I admit the connections are possible, but view the term as more relevant to the immediate context of the invocation to Paean and exhortation to heal the community. For Paeanic healing poetry, see Rutherford, 2001, p. 37.

31 For a breakdown of the speech and its contents, see Maidment, 1972, p. 460-461.

32 Cic. Brut. 46: itaque, ait Aristoteles, cum sublatis in Sicilia tyrannis res privatae longo intervallo iudiciis repeterentur, tum primum, quod esset acuta illa gens et controversiae nata, artem et praecepta Siculos Coracem et Tisiam conscripsisse – nam antea neminem solitum via nec arte, sed accurate tamen et descripte plerosque dicere–; scriptasque fuisse et paratas a Protagora rerum illustrium disputationes, quae nunc communes appellantur loci. “Aristotle informs us that when the Tyrants were expelled from Sicily, and private property was determined by public trials, the Sicilians Corax and Teisias … first attempted to write precepts on the art of speaking. Before them, he says, there was no one who spoke by method, and rules of art, though there were many who discoursed very sensibly, and generally from written notes: but Protagoras took the pains to compose a number of dissertations, on such leading and general topics as are now called common places.” (trans. by ?).

33 Garland, 2014, p. 182-183: “In many cases… a returnee represented a serious threat to his or her city-state, since it was likely that his return would reignite the stasis that initially provoked his expulsion… No less problematically, the return of exiles also created legal battles, notably when their property had been acquired by new owners… Whatever procedure was adopted… We may suspect that recriminations would have been commonplace, if not the norm.” Forsdyke, 2005, p. 27-46 provides many valuable examples of forcible returns in Archaic Greece.

Haut de page

Pour citer cet article

Référence papier

Dennis R. Alley, « Pindar and the Poetics of Repatriation in the 4th Pythian Ode »Pallas, 112 | 2020, 21-34.

Référence électronique

Dennis R. Alley, « Pindar and the Poetics of Repatriation in the 4th Pythian Ode »Pallas [En ligne], 112 | 2020, mis en ligne le 01 juillet 2022, consulté le 23 mai 2024. URL : ; DOI :

Haut de page


Dennis R. Alley

Syracuse University

Visiting Assistant Professor of History and Classics
Maxwell School of Government and Citizenship
Syracuse University - USA

Haut de page

Droits d’auteur


Le texte seul est utilisable sous licence CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. Les autres éléments (illustrations, fichiers annexes importés) sont « Tous droits réservés », sauf mention contraire.

Haut de page
Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search