CJ-ONLINE Archives

March 2010


Options: Use Monospaced Font
Show Text Part by Default
Show All Mail Headers

Message: [<< First] [< Prev] [Next >] [Last >>]
Topic: [<< First] [< Prev] [Next >] [Last >>]
Author: [<< First] [< Prev] [Next >] [Last >>]

Print Reply
Reply To:
Classical Journal On-Line <[log in to unmask]>
Mon, 8 Mar 2010 18:27:02 -0600
text/plain (145 lines)
Pindar. Ancients in Action. By ANNE PIPPIN BURNETT. London: Bristol 
Classical Press, 2008. Pp. 175. Paper, $23.00. ISBN 978–185–399711–2.

Order this text for $23.00 from Amazon.com 
using this link and benefit CAMWS and the Classical Journal:


This and previously published CJ Online reviews are at 

CJ Forum Online 2010.03.02

Anne Pippin Burnett’s Pindar is part of the series “Ancients in 
Action” from Bristol University Press, whose goal, according to the 
Press’ statement, is to “introduce(s) major figures of the ancient 
world to the modern general reader, including the essentials of each 
subject’s life, works, and significance for later western 
civilization.” This book does not fulfill these goals, and indeed Pindar 
resists such a neat summing up. Instead, B. has produced a general 
description of epinician poetry, followed by copious translation and 
commentary, which is much closer to what a “modern general reader” 

In Chapter 1, “Praise for a Victorious Athlete,” B. offers a 
description of the epinician poem remarkable for the variety of views of 
Pindar included. She follows Bundy by stating that the essential task is to 
recite the name of the victor, his significant relatives and the locations 
where he or his relatives won this and other prizes. But B. departs from 
the formalists when she attempts to recreate the occasion of the poems, 
following Carne-Ross and asserting that the second task was to evoke the 
divine quality that attends athletic victory and is enlarged by the use of 
myth to include the entire community. The discussion of Pindar’s myth 
takes up a third of this chapter and is covertly stressed through the 
choice of passages to translate in the chapters that follow. What is 
missing is reference to Pindar’s style, which is for many the main reason 
he continues to be read. B. approaches this topic through her translation, 
which—despite a tendency to simplify and generalize Pindar’s 
language—is the strongest part of the book. The chapters that follow 
consist largely of summary, translation and commentary. The commentary is 
problematic, raising large issues in such a brief and simple form that it 
is often confusing.

The songs for young men are the topic of Chapter 2, and B. centers her 
account on Pythian 10, Nemeans 7, 3 and 8, and Isthmians 6 and 8 (in that 
order). B. (who has written a book on this topic) [[1]] finds a few themes 
peculiar to these songs, the main ones being the trainers, female 
divinities and personal beauty. B. translates all of Pythian 10, and in her 
commentary she suggests that the central myth, Perseus visiting the 
Hyperboreans, is linked to the present occasion, in that both scenes are 
festive. This is one example of B.’s attempts in the commentary to relate 
the myths to the honorees of the poems, and in this case the link is 
consistent with Chapter 1: myth expands on the religious feeling that 
attends athletic victory. The remark that this myth is “a parallel 
world” (p. 45) also hearkens back to that chapter. B. occasionally 
oversimplifies in her commentary, an example being her claim that the 
account of Achilles in Isthmian 8 is a “supremely positive definition of 
mortality” (p. 58). B. ends this chapter by translating most of Nemean 8, 
presumably because it includes the story of Odysseus’ slander of Ajax and 
Ajax’s suicide, although B. does not herself say as much.

Chapter 3 is titled “Celebrations for Men” and treats Pythian 9, 
Olympians 9 and 7, Isthmian 1 and Olympian 6. Olympian 7 is translated in 
its entirety, with occasional breaks for explanatory notes. In these notes 
B. adopts a view not found in her first chapter. She observes in her 
commentary that Telemachus’ arrival in Rhodes, Zeus’ gift of Rhodes to 
Helios, and the Rhodians’ flawed sacrifice to Helios all involve 
mistakes, which is an uncontroversial remark; but she then explains that 
this long poem about “mortal error and weakness” is designed to draw 
envy away from the famous athlete being honored, Diagoras of Rhodes. The 
reasoning behind this view is unclear. Not all the mistakes are mortal, and 
no evidence is offered for the existence of any envy or the need to deflect 
it. B. assumes that the poems have a political function, which contradicts 
her explanation of the role of myth in Chapter 1.

The main part of Chapter 4, “Celebrations for Rulers,” is devoted to 
translations of ten poems: Olympians 3 and 2; Pythian 6; Olympian 1; 
Pythians 1, 2 and 3; Nemean 1; and Pythians 5 and 4. This chapter is nearly 
as long as Chapters 2 and 3 combined, and is the heart of the book. These 
poems include direct and indirect references to contemporary events, and B. 
again assumes that they have an instrumental purpose. Here, for instance, 
is her comment on Olympian 1’s story of Tantalus: “To the courtiers 
gathered at the table … the ode says this: (if you try to share in 
Hieron’s glory) … your punishment will be, like that of Tantalus, 
painful and never-ending” (p. 125). B. makes a similar suggestion about 
the myth of Ixion in Pythian 2: “the listeners … would understand … 
any attempt to disturb the settled order of things would bring a perpetual 
bondage” (p. 132). B’s extremely simple historical reading can be read 
as evidence against such an approach. On the other hand, her comments on 
imagery are often interesting when she is not treating the poems as mere 
political documents. For instance, when B. translates all of Olympian 3 
with her usual clarity and energy, in her commentary she sees a parallel 
between Heracles bringing the olive tree to Olympia and Theron bringing the 
olive crown to Acragas. B. translates over half of Olympian 2, including 
lines 53–100 (the end), because of the poem’s unique account of the 
afterlife. This is one case where she explains her choice of passages.

B. ends Chapter 4 with an account of Pythian 4, of which she translates 
only 102 of 299 lines, but her treatment of the poem, a mix of translation, 
summary and commentary, extends over 12 pages of text. There is a good 
story to be told here, and B. tells it well. At the end of the account, she 
translates the poet’s direct appeal to Arkesilas (278 ff.), and her verse 
vividly describes the life the young exile longs to live in his homeland 

					“…With his
cup of misfortune now drained, he prays that he may sometime see
home once again, frequently drinking with friends at the well of Apollo, 
heart given over to pleasures of youth, or in tranquility
raising his elegant lyre among citizen singers, offering
pain to no man, himself without grief.”

These anapestic lines, a meter B. often uses, give the English verse some 
feel of the original aeolic and dactylo-epitritic meters. A key test of a 
translation is how it reads, and these translations pass that test.

A book of this sort must deliver a sense of the author to a “general 
reader” approaching Greek literature through translation. B.’s chapter 
on epinician offers a fair representation of scholarly thinking about 
Pindar, whereas the commentary that follows is overly condensed and 
frequently at odds with the general chapter. The quality of the 
translations, however, will determine whether the modern reader is able to 
connect with the ancient author. Although these translations sometimes fail 
to convey Pindar’s admittedly difficult style, they remain the strongest 
part of this book.

The University of Kansas

[[1]] Pindar’s songs for young athletes of Aigina. (Oxford and New York, 

If you have been forwarded this review, you may subscribe to the listserv 
by sending an email to: [log in to unmask]
Leave the subject line blank, and in the first line of the message write: 

You may remove yourself from the CJ-Online listserv by sending an email to: 
[log in to unmask]
Leave the subject line blank, and in the first line of the message write: