Francis Cairns Publications

ARCA Classical and Medieval Texts, Papers and Monographs ISSN 0309-5541

Cult, Myth, and Occasion in Pindar’s Victory Odes.
A Study of Isthmian 4, Pythian 5, Olympian 1 and Olympian 3

Eveline Krummen
translated by J.G. Howie

ARCA 52. ISBN 978-0-905205-56-4. Cloth, x+346 pp. Publ. May 2014  

Author and Translator      Contents      Reviews

In this pioneering study, first published in German as Pyrsos Hymnon. Festliche Gegenwart und mythisch-rituelle Tradition als Voraussetzung einer Pindarinterpretation (Isthmie 4, Pythie 5, Olympie 1 und 3) (Berlin 1990), Eveline Krummen examines the related problems of the unity (or intelligibility and cohesion) and the ‘occasionality’ (the heuristic importance of the original performance situation) of Pindaric epinicia. She uses various approaches – including narratology, archaeology, and art history, as well as philology – to recover information about original performance occasions and original audience expectations, and thus to come to a clearer understanding of the structure and strategies of this sometimes baffling poetry. Throughout the book she focuses primarily on the interactions between myths and cult festivals, and on Pindar’s skill in integrating and innovating upon traditional material.

An introductory chapter discusses ‘occasionality’ and surveys scholarly views of the unity of Pindaric victory odes in general. The four main chapters deal in turn with each of the Odes selected as ‘case-studies’. These all contain a passage referring to a cult festival. In Isthmian 4 and Pythian 5 the reference is explicit, and to a festival currently being celebrated, Olympian 1 refers to a festival celebrated earlier at the place of victory, and in Olympian 3 the reference is again arguably to a festival still in progress. Krummen delineates the historical settings of the cults and their related festivals, and each chapter ends with a consideration of how the cult passage fits into the poem as a whole. Brief appendixes list allusions to festivals and cults throughout the whole Pindaric corpus, and offer sketch maps of the topography of Thebes and of Cyrene. A bibliography and indexes are included.

Study of the cult passages naturally involves study of their related myths. Adopting the approach of modern researchers in religious history, Krummen details the basic patterns, the ‘programmes of actions’ underlying Pindar’s mythical and ritual narratives, patterns fixed in the cultures of the communities concerned. On this basis she shows, for example, that Pindar’s treatment of the myth of Pelops in Olympian 1 goes beyond mere rationalisation: Pindar alters its role within the audience’s cultural expectations in a way that makes his revision not only convincing but also profoundly acceptable. Modern approaches to Greek lyric narrative enable Krummen to clarify sequences of events in Pindar’s foundation myth of Cyrene in Pythian 5, and archaeology guides her to the true function of the topographical allusions within his narrative. Comparison with rituals in other parts of Greece helps to explicate the text in both Olympian 3 and Isthmian 4, and Weinrich’s theory of metaphor, in combination with archaeology, enables Krummen to identify the ‘new-built crownings of altars’ in Isthmian 4 and to reveal their full significance. Finally Krummen’s analyses of the original occasions and the myths of these odes make full use of surviving works of art.

Throughout, the Greek text is kept firmly in sight: for instance, Krummen’s meticulous discussion of text, grammar, and tense provides a sound basis for a convincing identification of the Antenorids in Pythian 5 and for the reconstruction of their role in the Carnea in Cyrene.

Krummen’s analysis of the four Odes selected for case-study exemplifies interpretational techniques of wider application to Greek epinician poetry; she reveals how in each of them the cult passages contribute at literal, figurative, and associative levels to the praise of the patron, and thus brings us closer to grasping the unity of these poems. Cult, Myth, and Occasion in Pindar’s Victory Odes has already proved influential in its original German form. J.G. Howie’s English translation will make it widely accessible to students and scholars throughout the English-speaking world.

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Eveline Krummen studied Classical Philology at the Universities of Bern, Zürich, Cambridge, and Tübingen; her 1987 Zurich dissertation was published in 1990 as Pyrsos Hymnon. Festliche Gegenwart und mythisch-rituelle Tradition als Voraussetzung einer Pindarinterpretation (Isthmie 4, Pythie 5, Olympie 1 und 3). She was habilitated at Zürich in 1997; part 2 of her Habilitationsschrift Mousike Historia. Die frühgriechische Lyrik im Kontext der Fest- und Musikkultur der archaischen Polis is due to appear in print in 2014.

Eveline Krummen taught at the Universities of Zürich, Bern and Heidelberg before her appointment in 1999 to her present position as Professor of Classical Philology at the University of Graz, Austria. Her principal research interests are in early Greek literature, Greek historiography, and Greek religion, and she has contributed in these fields to a number of periodicals, multi-authored themed volumes, and encyclopaedias. She has edited Volume VI of the collected papers of Prof. Walter Burkert, and, as a member of an international research team dedicated to the continuation of F. Jacoby’s Fragmente der Griechischen Historiker, she is engaged with FGrHist IV a 2, on ancient literary-historical authors.


J. Gordon Howie studied Classics at the Universities of Glasgow and Oxford (Balliol College), and taught in the Department of Greek (later Classics) at the University of Edinburgh, where he was Senior Lecturer in Classics, and where he is currently an Honorary Fellow. He is a Member of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting. In addition to his own numerous scholarly articles on early Greek literature, now collected in Exemplum and Myth, Criticism and Creation (2012), his translation of Detlev Fehling’s Die Quellenangaben bei Herodot, on which he worked closely with the author to produce a definitive version, Herodotus and his ‘Sources’ (1989), is widely known and appreciated. He has also collaborated with Douglas Cairns on the translations in that scholar’s Bacchylides. Five epinician Odes (2010).

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Part I

1. Isthmian 4. Heracles and his Eight Sons: a Pannychis in Thebes

1. Introduction

2. Electra Gate and Heracleion

3. Νεόδματα στεφανώματα βωμῶν: Reality and Metaphor

4. Χαλκοαρᾶν ὀκτὼ θανόντων: The Eight Fallen Warriors

5. Heracleia: the Agon (85–90b)

6. The Heracleia and Isthmian 4: Composition and Metaphor

Αppendix 3

2. Pythian 5. Celebration and Tradition of the Carnea in Cyrene

1. Introduction

2. Pindar and the Topography of Cyrene

3. The Invocation of Apollo Carneus and the Carnea in Cyrene

4. The Antenorids

5. The Aegeidae and Dorian Tradition

6. The Foundation Story: Composition and Encomium

Part II

1. Olympian 1. The Cult of Pelops, the Myth of Pelops, and Myth-Criticism

1. Introduction

2. Pelops at Olympia: Grave, Cult, and Metaphor

3. The Cauldron

4. Ἔρως

5. Pindar’s “Invention”: Myth-Criticism and Symposium

Appendix: Olympian 1.1–2 and 105

2. Olympian 3. Theoxenia at Acragas and Victors’ Crown at Olympia

1. Introduction


3. Acragas

4. Victory Celebration and Theoxenia

5. Heracles and the Olive Trees

6. Orthosia, Taygeta, and the Hind

7. The Hyperboreans and the Olive Crown

8. Myth and Composition



I Allusions to Festival Background and Local Cults in the  Poems of Pindar
II Topography of Thebes
III Cyrene: the Agora 8
IV Topography of Cyrene

Works Cited in Abbreviated Form


Subject Index; Index of Greek Words; Index Locorum 344

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Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2015.03.24 [opens in new window] (Chris Eckerman)

Reviews of Pyrsos Hymnon (1990)

The Classical Review n.s. 41 (1991) 295-297 (D. E. Gerber). “This is an important contribution to Pindaric studies, thoroughly researched and clearly presented. It is unusual to see one person so familiar with the scholarship on myth, ritual, art, archaeology, and the language of Greek poetry.”

L’Antiquité Classique 61 (1992) 319-320 (D. Donnet). “Les qualités de ce travail sont hautement appréciables : connaissance foncière des domaines différents qui interfèrent dans la démonstration, ingéniosité à débusquer les passages suggestifs et les termes révélateurs, largeur de vue dans l’ouverture aux diverses tendances qui ont marqué l’approche des textes et dans leur critique pertinente. Beaucoup d’érudition et beaucoup d’intuition.”

Gnomon 65 (1993) 483-486 (S. Instone) “All in all K.’s book is a splendid achievement: it provides a new way of looking at Pindar’s poetry”.

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