Hans Hansen

Anchoring in/of Greek Lyric Poetry

Home > Projects > Anchoring in/of Greek Lyric Poetry
Anchoring in/of Greek Lyric Poetry

Along with his near contemporary Bacchylides, Pindar was the last of the nine canonical Greek lyric poets. This position afforded him a privileged perspective on the tradition of archaic Greek poetry and his odes are characterized by a thorough engagement with earlier authors and genres. He refers by name to his predecessors more than any other author in the lyric tradition, and throughout the epinicia, he assumes the personae of earlier poets, such as Hesiod. This research project will study anchoring discourse in Pindar’s epinicia, with a special focus on these references and how Pindar uses them to situate himself and his poetry within the lyric tradition, to authorize himself as a lyric poet, and to help epinician poetry gain purchase within Greek society.

Anchoring in/of Greek Lyric Poetry

One of the reasons for Pindar’s extensive use of anchoring discourse is the novelty of epinician poetry. As far as we can tell, this genre was still relatively new when Pindar composed the tenth Pythian, his earliest victory ode, in 498 (Morgan 2007). Ibycus, indeed, had composed encomiastic poetry that praised athletic accomplishments, but these encomia are formally distinct from the epinicia poetry of later poets (Rawles 2012). In fact, the earliest surviving victory odes are by Simonides, Pindar’s immediate predecessor, and the first of Simonides’ epinicia seems to have been composed only around 520. Pindar’s epinicia themselves furnish further evidence that this was a novel genre, or at least that Pindar wanted it to be understood as novel. For instance, in his explanations of the appropriate scope (e.g. Pyth. 8.29-32), content (e.g. Nem. 7.61-69), quality (e.g. Pyth. 10.51-54), and purpose (e.g. Pyth. 10.55-59) of epinician, Pindar inscribes into this poetry guidance for its appreciation, and so implies that his audience is potentially unfamiliar with the genre. Moreover, Pindar does not attempt to conceal the newness and novelty of his poetry; in fact, he praises it overtly (e.g. Ol. 9.47-49). But this very novelty would seem to be a hindrance to the intended purpose of epinician, that is, to immortalize the kleos of his laudandi by enshrining it in the tradition of praise poetry. This study will attempt to show that Pindar addresses this dilemma with a strategic use of anchoring discourse, namely, that he tempers the innovativeness of his epinician poetry and his overt praise for its newness with implicit and explicit references to earlier poets, and by assuming recognizable personae from the literary tradition.

Two articles exploring the concept of anchoring in Pindar’s epinician odes will be produced for this project. The first will study Pindar’s explicit references to Hesiod, Homer and Archilochus, and how these references ground Pindar’s epinician project in the established traditions of praise and wisdom poetry. For instance, in Homer he finds an illustration of the power of poetry to sway minds (Nem. 7.20-23), an effect that he sees in his own epinicia (e.g. Pyth. 10.55-59). Homer is also an authority for gnomic statements (Pyth. 4.277-278). But most of all, Pindar finds in Homer the chief exemplar of praise-poetry, and at Isth. 4.34-45, he explicitly anchors his epinician project in this aspect of Homeric epic. This article will also take up the issue of the concepts of positive vs. negative anchoring, specifically how Pindar refers to Homer and Archilochus to delineate both what epinician is—epideictic praise poetry—and what it is not—mythological narrative and blame poetry.

The second article will study how Pindar anchors his poetry and specifically his poetic persona in the sympotic discourses familiar from poets such as Anacreon. This study will occasion an exploration of anchoring strategies when explicit references to literary precedents are not named. The significance of Pindar’s sympotic references is still a matter of debate, and this article will seek to show, first, that Pindar authorizes his poetry by appropriating a familiar, sympotic persona, second, that through this appropriation he participates in a typically sympotic play with identity, and, finally, that by incorporating into his epinicia certain features of earlier sympotic poetry, Pindar encourages the reperformance of his odes in sympotic contexts.

Other supplementary questions that will be addressed in these studies include how anchoring discourse functions across media, for instance, how Pindar positively and negatively anchors his epinicia to victory sculpture and inscribed victory lists, as well as how the tradition in which Pindar anchors his poetry is, to a certain extent, constructed by Pindar himself.