8 MAY 1886, Page 15


PINDAR.al "I'," wrote Byron,—

" If, fallen on evil days and evil tongues,

Milton appealed to the Avenger Time; If Time the Avenger execrates his wrongs, And makes the word Miltonio mean sublime,"

—although we may not quite agree with one of his Lordship's assumptions, his conclusion is true enough. Time has also made the word " Pindaric " mean sublime, and in Pindar's case there were clearly no wrongs to execrate. He was a most prosperous gentleman—we shall justify this appellation anon— and few poets have ever gained more in the way of praise and solid pudding during their lifetime than Pindar did. Were these guerdons entirely deserved P The latter need not trouble us. The recompense which Finder's patrons, or clients, or customers, or call them what you will, paid him for his wares, is their business and his, and in no sense whatever ours. His reputation as a poet does concern us. By the common consent of ancient critics, he was the first of lyric poets ; and the common consent, we imagine, of modern critics, has ratified that opinion. In so far as it rests upon the judgments of Horace, let us say, or Quintilian, we have no disposition to challenge that opinion. For we regard those judgments as embodying the verdict of the Greek nation on Pindar's poetry, and against that verdict we hold that there is no appeal. Modern opinion, when it is any-

thing more than an echo of ancient opinion on this point, when it is based, that is, on data which may be said to leave it inde- pendent, is another affair. In short, we hold that the Epinikia, if not the worst, for that is a great deal more than we can say, are far from the best of Pindar's poetry ; and that Pindar owes his fame—which we do not in the least impugn —to that portion of his works which has not reached us. A different opinion prevails, that the survival of the Epinikia is a survival of the fittest. Whether the " Fragments " sup- port this view or not, is a question we shall not touch upon, as we do not intend to call them as witnesses. The object of the following remarks is to attempt to show that the Epinikia do

not justify the praise that has been given to Pindar's poetry,— praise which we again expressly say we have no desire to impugn. We must also beg the reader to remember that we are compelled to make dogmatically and positively a great many assertions which, if our limits permitted, would be far better made with reserves and qualifications.

An undercurrent of criticism adverse to Pindar is of very old

standing. Longinus, while implicitly treating him as the first of lyric poets, explicitly declares that he often breaks down very miserably (IroXXaiza; wiirrfir oisvxiaroura), and the sum of what a minority of modern critics have said in depreciation of Pindar goes much farther. They hold that his eulogy is a bought eulogy, untrustworthy, with a cunning make-weight of good advice ; that his bumptiousness is intolerable ; that his gorgeous phraseology marks poverty of thought; that his metaphors are constantly crossing the line which separates the sublime from

the ridiculous ; that his far-fetched myths are for the most part mere padding; and that the spirit-stirring note of passion, the essential note of true lyric poetry, is seldom, if ever, heard in his eminently decorous strains. The last objection, which, so far as we know, has not yet been directly met by Pindar's admirers, we shall set aside for the present. They meet the others by contending that, as a true servant of Apollo, the god of truth, Pindar never meddled with lies ; that his good advice was the unaffected outcome of piety and wisdom ; that his language is rich, indeed, but in that only corresponsive to thoughts of equal richness ; that he is profoundly self-conscious, but that his witness concerning himself is true; that his forcible metaphors never cross the aforesaid line; that his myths are, when rightly taken, as relevant as they are beautiful.

Before we balance these pros and cone with a view to estimate -the merits of Pindar's poetry, it will be convenient to consider very briefly his theory of human life. But human life is hardly the correct phrase. Pindar wrote not as a poet for all mankind ; he wrote as a gentleman for gentlemen, an aristoerat for • Pinder : the Olympian and Pythian Odes. With an Introductory Essay, Notes, and Indexes. 1,LiL B. L. Gilderstene, Professor of Greek in the John Hopkins University, Baltimare. —rondon 11.9.0111illitII and Co. 1885. aristocrats. He had no dealings with the vulgar herd; and we cannot accept in the stock quotation, 01.99CieYTCG aVVET0140110 ic IiTO 7reir ippnvieur xcrrk.tr, the interpretation which makes TO 17-eiy equivalent to Shakespeare's "the general." He held, and ex- pressed with no great frequency, the bed-ridden truth, which no man regards, that all men are ephemeral creatures, and "a shadow's dream." But that dream, in the case of an aristocrat, might prove a tolerably substantial vision of delight. A victory at Olympia could irradiate it with celestial splendour, and fill the victor's days with pleasantness. The proneness of Greek nature to be spoiled by success, and the belief that jealous deities were ever on the watch to punish 013pg, explain the iteration with which Pindar insisted on the necessity of "prudent, cautions self-control." But he worked this vein of thought to death, so to speak, and worked it in a spirit that may be called pedantic. The Ajax of Sophocles teaches the one great lesson which Pindar in- culcates in a very different spirit. Sophocles forces us to see the justice of divine vengeance, but leaves us free to sympathise with its victim. Pindar leaves us free to suspect the fairness of his jealous gods, and sends the victims of that jealousy to creep away from the scene of their defeat by lanes and by-ways, "eating their hearts," like Bellerophon, "and shunning the footsteps of men." The funeral games in honour of Patroclus, and the chariot-race in the Electra, prove, if any proof were needed, that accidents and what we call " jockeying " were not unknown at Olympia. But Pindar cares for none of these things. Success with him is success, the sign and seal of divine favour ; defeat is all that defeat must in that case inevitably be. It is true that he occasionally and transitorily hints at a Fortune (vie) that may run counter for a time to the will of his gods; but they are equal in the long-run to the task of ruining her blessings, and Pindar's theory of life is in the main as con- sistent as it is clear. It is not on the whole attractive,—it runs too much in the same groove ; it is clannish, high and dry, and unsympathetic. Sophocles, like Pindar, was orthodox in religion and conservative in politics. Superficially, their views of life are identical ; but look a little closer, and it will be found that between the real grandeur of Sophocles and the false grandeur of Piudar, there is a great gulf fixed, and that the former's strength gauges with terrible accuracy the latter's weakness.

We believe that Pindar overrates the importance and signifi- cance of a victory in the national games of Greece. It was his cue to do so ; and if he did, he was merely labouring in his vocation. The substantial rewards of a victorious athlete were in any case very considerable ; but his fame must in many instances have been what we should call provincial, or even parochial. English- men, of all people in the world, are not likely to judge unfairly the poet who over-praises a boxer or race-horse (pugilumve equninve). But victories at Olympia might be won in two ways, —by training or expenditure (c690; xed Zaircipn); and Pindar, it seems to us, could hardly have carried his countrymen with him in the praises which he lavishes on victories won by Iccireisn. A glance at what Mr. Gilderstene calls the "wonderful second Olympian" will enable us to say something on this point; and we must use the same ode, we find, for the few and insufficient criticisms which are all that our limits will permit us to make on Pindar's poetry. That ode is in praise of Theron, tyrant of Agrigentum. We have Mr. Gilderstene's authority for saying that he was a better man than Hieron of Syracuse ; and Mr. Gilderstene, who is a most enthusiastic admirer of Pindar, calls attention to the fact that Pindar praises the latter with more reserve than the former. But Theron, good man, made himself master of Agrigentnm by a trick, and—we are still following Mr. Gilderstene—he had the great satisfaction of gaining an Olympian victory, after putting to death all his enemies,—a process which so thinned the ranks of the citizens of Agrigentnm, that it was necessary to fill them up by foreigners. We cannot stop to point a moral here. We must take Pindar as we find him. He simply wor- shipped wealth, provided it was spent with liberality. Disin- terestedness has never been attributed to him by his wildest admirers ; and we must leave the reader to draw what inference he likes. The question we have now to deal with is not Pindar's morality, but his poetry. Hard driven as he must have been by the monotonous nature of his themes, his sheet-anchor was the myth. From a mercantile point of view, he was a very honest man. For a lordly recompense—the expression is Mr. Gilder- stene's—he was prepared to give a long ode; and a long ode necessitated a long myth. Now, Pindar could unquestionably tell a pretty myth very prettily. But when quantity as well as quality had to be considered, quality, as the Germans say, drew the shorter "The fourth Pythian," says Mr. Gilderstene, "is, not only in size, bat in many other respects, Pindar's greatest poem ; and

its wsthetic value is great, for in it we have a whole incorporated theory of the lyric treatment of epic themes, the Argonantic expedition in points of light." A word or two before we comment

on this criticism. Pinder has been compared with Dante, and the comparison holds in one respect. Each one, to use the phrase of Horace, is laured donandus Apollinari, for isolated

passages ; and so far as language is concerned, these passages are to be chiefly admired for their terseness and graphic power.

Terse and graphic is Pindar's description of Etna in eruption ; terse and graphic is his better-known description of Jove's eagle lulled by harmony. Terse and graphic, too, are some of the "points of light" mentioned above; but as to the "incorporated theory" mentioned in connection with them, we can only say that it allows epic themes treated lyrically to be slightly tedious.

We should like now to return to the "wonderful second Olympian," and develop from an examination of it the reasons which have led us to the following conclusions about Pinder and his poetry. We find, however, that we have barely space for the conclusions themselves in the barest form. They are as follows. Pindar's myths were essentially what we call " padding ;" his " opulence " of language, as shown especially in his sesquipedalian adjectives, is to be tolerated rather than lauded; and his metaphors are frequently violent. It is to them, perhaps, that Longinus's criticism chiefly applies ; and although Professor Jebb has defended some of them by saying, e.g., that to call a man "a bowl of songs" is not the same in Greek as in English, we would appeal to Professor Jebb to say what judgment he thinks Aristophanes would pass upon many of the metaphors and epithets of Pinder. Whether Pinder was an arrogant poet, or a righteously self-conscious one, does not affect us much. We are decidedly of opinion that he praised his own wares, and depreciated those of his rivals, in the spirit of a modern puffing advertiser. There remains the objection which we reserved for consideration, and this we shall meet hypotheti- cally. If Pinder in his dithyrambs fitted thoughts that breathe to burning words fresh from the mint of his glowing fancy ; if he showed in them the rush and sally which made Horace compare him to the mountain torrent, and Longinus to a devouring con- flagration; if, in dealing with the gods, he rose to the height of his great argument, unfettered, as it were, by the chains which clogged his springing spirit in the Epinikia; if in his drinking- songs (exam) he stirred the warmer and higher feelings of human nature to their foundations, and in his elegies (Gpssoz) unlocked the fountain of tears,—if, in short, he spoke from the heart in his lost poems till the hearts of his readers were touched to sympathetic issues by his song, we may freely grant that the Epinikia give us full warrant for believing that language would not fail him for the expression of his feelings. In that case, too, we may infer, indeed, that his claim to be considered the foremost lyric poet of antiquity was irrefragable. All that we here contend for is that the Epinikia themselves do not point to such an inference. We have not been able, we are painfully aware, to do more than set before the reader some bald, dis- jointed hints, which may serve to put him on his guard against yielding too readily to the modern estimate of Finder's poetry.

Gilderstene, with much verve, and in bright, fresh, and un- conventional,- but not very scholarly language, has stated the other side of the question in his introduction. His notes are sometimes fanciful, as his explanation of the famous eagle's isy gLioe will alone make any one ready to believe; and we think he is rather too willing to shirk difficulties. A perusal of his book has revived an impression we long ago formed of the myths, metres, and morality of Pindar. The student who, with the requisite amount—a very large amount—of srosos /cm/ dairriss, reckoning time as money, shall have mastered Pindar's poetry, will be able to say at his leisure what Sam Weller's charity-boy said in his haste, when he had mastered the alphabet, —that it was not worth going through so much to learn so little. And we say quite seriously to all who are meditating such an enterprise, Venienti occurrite inorbo.