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CJ-ONLINE  October 2007

CJ-ONLINE October 2007

Subject:

CJ-Online 2007.10.03 Review: BURNETT, Pindar's Songs for Young Athletes of Aigina

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Pindar’s Songs for Young Athletes of Aigina. By ANNE PIPPIN BURNETT. Oxford
and New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. Pp. x + 276. Cloth, $95.00.
ISBN 0–19–927794–X.

Order this text for $95.00 from Amazon.com using this link and benefit
CAMWS and the Classical Journal:

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/redirect-home/classjourn-20

Print Version (forthcoming): CJ 103.2: 205–7

Over the last two decades, Pindaric criticism has swung full-circle from
the formalism of Elroy Bundy and his followers, who viewed attempts to
interpret the odes in light of contemporary politics as speculative and
misguided, to an unapologetic embrace of the historical, the local and the
particular as essential determinants of each poem’s conception and
significance. Recent years have produced a wealth of historically and
religiously embedded studies of epinician poetry, including important books
by Christian Mann, Simon Hornblower, Jan Stenger, Bruno Currie and Nigel
Nicholson. [n. 1] But Anne Burnett (B.) is the first to focus a study on
Pindar’s relationship to patrons from a single locality, in this case the
island for which he wrote more epinician commissions than for any other
state.

B.’s greatest contribution is to suggest that the Aeacid mythology of
Pindar’s Aeginetan odes must be read against the contemporaneous backdrop
of the sculptural program in the Temple of Aphaia, which was changed during
the 480s to emphasize the Aeacid heroes of the first and second Trojan Wars
in the two pediments (cf. I. 5.35–8 for Pindar’s foregrounding of the
parallel). After careful analysis of the mythographic sources, she
concludes that the Aeacidae were a relatively late innovation in Aeginetan
mythology, designed to give Aegina a prominent place in the pan-Hellenic
saga of the Trojan War. In her view, the Thessalian Aeacidae suggested
themselves to the Aeginetans because of the overlap between the Myrmidons
and the ant-men who populated Aegina after its founder-king saved Greece
from famine. On the other hand, the Nereid-born Phocus was a holdover from
an earlier stratum of Aeginetan legend, who becomes syncretized and
displaced within the Aeacid myth as the bastard son of Aeacus, killed by
Peleus and Telamon to make way for a greater hero uniting the family with
the favors of a powerful sea-goddess.

The other major strand in B.’s argument is the prominence of adolescent
initiation in both the cult of Aphaia and Aeginetan athletics. She believes
that all of Pindar’s Aeginetan odes are for adolescent victors, even if not
specified as such by their titles, since they either refer to trainers
(e.g. N. 4) or invoke youth as a theme (e.g. N. 8). She thus subscribes to
Leslie Kurke’s notion that the odes serve to “reintegrate” the victorious
athlete with his community, which he re-enters on a new footing, now the
equal of adult citizens. However, I am not sure that we are safe in the
assumption that all these odes were written for adolescent victors: P. 8
bears no traces justifying such a conclusion, and even poems that refer to
“youth” or trainers are not necessarily composed for boys under 18, since
in most sports competitive athletes even in the adult category were young
men in their 20s, and trainers could continue to take pride in their
achievements even if they were no longer directly supervising them. (Nor do
we know, in any event, at what age supervised “training” ceased, if it ever
did.) Recent scholarship on initiation has complained about the loose way
over-enthusiastic literary scholars invoke the concept; [n. 2] the present
study offers a case in point.

After the first three chapters on Aeacid myth, the Temple of Aphaia and
“Coming of Age,” the bulk of the book consists of chapters analyzing each
of the eleven epinicia for Aeginetan victors. Most readers will find
themselves disappointed here. In the style of the author’s earlier book on
Bacchylides, we are treated to a complete Greek text and translation of
each ode, followed by 10–20 pages of comment. These sections usually amount
to little more than tedious paraphrase with copious footnotes surveying
points of contention in the scholarly history. The themes of the first
three chapters disappear except for the occasional animadversion, as in the
fanciful claim that the artistic self-reflections of N. 4 are meant to
serve as an instructional guide to the boys’ chorus that sings it. Perhaps
the best chapter is on N. 5: B. argues that the narration of Phocus’ murder
by his half-brothers is neither condemnatory nor embarrassed, but is cut
short out of cultic reverence. She also usefully notes that Lampon’s own
family was without previous athletic distinction, but that his sons derived
their talent from his wife’s side. It is within this context that we are to
understand the poem’s juxtaposition of Hippolyta and Thetis as competing
paradigms: choosing the right woman is of utmost importance.

One would expect a book with this focus to yield insight on Aegina’s place
within the convoluted inter-state politics of the period, but B.’s study is
particularly weak in this respect. For example, she introduces I. 8 by
positing that Aegina as well as Thebes enjoyed a tarnished reputation in
the immediate aftermath of Plataea. But the fact that Aegina did not
contribute more than a small army to that battle surprised no one, as the
island was primarily a sea-power (and had been instrumental at Salamis).
Similarly, the book downplays any significance of the Aphaia temple
relative to Aegina’s hostilities with Athens, arguing that the temple’s
isolated location made it unlikely that foreigners ever visited it. But
even greater isolation hardly kept foreign visitors away from Dodona and
Delphi. The point of the Aeacid mythology and sculptural program was to
inscribe Aegina firmly into the pan-Hellenic sphere, and contestation with
Athenian claims is also indicated by the temple’s location on the tip of
the island facing Athens and by its incorporation of Athena as the central
figure of the pediments, as well as by the appropriation of the Salaminian
heroes Telamon and Ajax into the Aeacid line (with which they originally
had no connection).

Still more troubling are the questions one would expect the book to answer,
yet are never even posed: why was Pindar so much in demand by Aeginetans?
What personal or political links brought a Theban poet to that island to
celebrate the special relationships of Thebe and Aegina, and Heracles and
Telamon? Does the presence of prominent Athenian trainers in Aegina at a
time of intense rivalry between the two states suggest a pro-Athenian
policy on the part of some of the island’s elite, or a pro-Aeginetan policy
on the part of some Athenian aristocrats like Melesias? Were the athletic
elite of Aegina men whose wealth was based on commerce and trade? If so,
how does this affect their reception by the older, land-based elites from
other states, who had long dominated the pan-Hellenic games? We must wait
for another book to tackle such issues.

THOMAS K. HUBBARD
University of Texas, Austin

[n. 1] C. Mann, Athlet und Polis im archaischen und frühklassischen
Griechenland (Göttingen, 2001); S. Hornblower, Thucydides and Pindar
(Oxford, 2004); J. Stenger, Poetische Argumentation: Die Funktion der
Gnomik in den Epinikien des Bakchylides (Berlin, 2004), esp. 264–317; B.
Currie, Pindar and the Cult of Heroes (Oxford, 2005); N.J. Nicholson,
Aristocracy and Athletics in Archaic and Classical Greece (Cambridge,
2005).

[n. 2] See especially D.B. Dodd and C.A. Faraone, eds., Initiation in
Ancient Greek Rituals and Narratives (London, 2003).


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