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11.3.Wash

Pindar’s second Pythian, an ode of uncertain date and more uncertain purpose, has invited myriad explanations of the poet's intentions and underlying attitude toward Hieron, the subject of the poem, whom many have considered here to be the object of remonstrance. Among all of its obscurities, the pronouncement genoi’ hoios essi mathōn (Py. 2.72) has enjoyed an especially puzzled and manifold reception, and its interpretation remains a matter of debate within philological as well as philosophical and literary circles. Accounts range from the calm conviction that the line presents “no difficulty” (Lloyd-Jones 124) to the post-Nietzscheans’ insistence upon its insoluble paradox (e.g. Porter 197), and translations from “Become who you are through knowing” (Williams, ed. 152 n. 40) to “Be such as you are according to my words.”(Lloyd-Jones 124) Following the brief but immensely helpful history of Pindaric criticism by David Young, I suggest that the line is a locus at which the major strands of criticism come to a head. And so this paper will course through that criticism, chasing the most attractive lines of thought into the net of text and context: most excitingly, a long-noted but insufficiently explored Homeric parallel will lead to a new understanding of the line itself and its potential role as a hermeneutical signpost within the ode. For Pindar’s words to Hieron are, I submit, profoundly informed by Odysseus’ exchange with Alkinous, and intimate connections with this and other Homeric encounters render certain readings of the second Pythian decisive and thus point to some resolution of the “disarray and contradiction of current Pindaric criticism”(Young 1) on the ode.

To begin, the well-precedented lexical study of Pindar’s usage within this poem and others already takes us far in our understanding of the line, but fails to connect it to any broader conventions. While many external comparanda have been adduced in an attempt to find helpful connections, there is a note of interest by the Byzantine commentator Eustathius which has been rarely cited and almost entirely unmined: he quotes from line 72 when commenting on a verse of the most captivating similarity: toios eōn hoios essi, ta te phroneōn ha t’ egō per (Od. 7.312). And yet Eustathius only draws his reader’s attention to the first phrase and its parallel in Pindar’s genoi’ hoios essi. One must look further, however, in order to understand the Pindaric allusion satisfactorily. The remainder of the verse is already alluring because of the inviting comparison of phroneōn with mathōn. Yet from the Homeric description of Odysseus’ exchange with Alkinous, numerous echoes in the second Pythian become unmistakable: the talk of due measure in things and the disavowal of pointless bile (Py. 2.34, 52; cf. Od. 7.311), the prominence of gift-giving (Py. 2.24; cf. Od. 7.314), noble ease in performance (Py. 2.93; cf. Od. 7.325-6), the friendship of two noblemen. Let it be added that within the same speech of Alkinous, only eleven lines after Eustathius’ citation (Od. 7.323), there is mention of Rhadamanthys (visiting Tityus), whose appearance in the final triad of the second Pythian has been variously justified, but never by reference to this Homeric passage. If we reach further and analyze anew the Homeric usage of genoio and hoios, we find evidence which challenges the typical translations and enriches our reading of the verse: the optative genoio, anticipated by khaire (Py. 2.67; cf. Od. 18.122), situates the sentence in the formulae of heroic salutatory prayer, rendering the standard translations ‘Become!’ and ‘Show yourself!’ unacceptably imperative and flat; such a register is also confirmed by the hoios of likewise heroic greeting (cf. Il. 24.376) and epic catalogue. Consequently genoi’ hoios essi mathōn is revealed to be a pointed recombination of conventional formulae, a paradox which drives not so much at gnomic profundity as at the very height of praise, echoing one of the most paradigmatic scenes of xenia and shedding light on many of the poems darker points.

Bibliography

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