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Pindar and Diodorus on Sicilian mixis

Virginia Lewis

To convince the Athenians to launch the Sicilian Expedition against the Syracusans, Thucydides’ Alcibiades describes the would-be enemy as a mixed group that easily accepts changes and new citizens:

ὄχλοις τε γὰρ ξυμμείκτοις πολυανδροῦσιν αἱ πόλεις καὶ ῥᾳδίας ἔχουσι τῶν πολιτῶν τὰς μεταβολὰς καὶ ἐπιδοχάς. καὶ οὐδεὶς δι’ αὐτὸ ὡς περὶ οἰκείας πατρίδος οὔτε τὰ περὶ τὸ σῶμα ὅπλοις ἐξήρτυται οὔτε τὰ ἐν τῇ χώρᾳ νομίμοις κατασκευαῖς·

For although the Sicilian cities are populous, their inhabitants are a motley rabble, and they readily accept changes and receive new citizens. No one really feels that he has a city of his own; and so the individual is ill provided with arms, and the country has no regular means of defense.

(Thuc. 6.17.2-3, trans. Jowett, slightly modified)

For an Athenian audience steeped in the civic mythology of autochthony (Loraux), the Sicilian character outlined by Alcibiades foretold martial weakness. Though Alcibiades turned out to be wrong about the Syracusans, who effectively withstood the Athenian attack, his speech nonetheless expresses a view about the Sicilians that in all likelihood was commonly held in fifth-century Athens. This paper examines two Sicilian perspectives on civic mixis in the history of Diodorus and the epinician odes of Pindar to argue, first, that the image of mixed peoples in Sicily, and in Syracuse in particular, became an important characteristic of the Syracusans in the ancient imagination. Then I will argue that the mixed citizenry that Athenians like Alcibiades identified as a weakness was celebrated by Sicilians as a unique strength of their citizenry.

In the first part of the paper I will discuss Diodorus Siculus’ representation of Sicilian civic mixture. Unlike Alcibiades’ description in which mixing causes disarray and undermines civic loyalty, Diodorus describes mixis as an integration and inclusion of Sicels in a Greek way of life and in a shared language and name (5.6.5). The reality of the colonial status of Sicilian Greek cities shaped the image of the Sicilians within the Greek world and remained a defining aspect of their identity long after they were well-established and successful (cf. Lomas).

I will then propose that Diodorus’ represents a Sicilian attitude about the foundations of Syracusan civic identity, which acknowledged and celebrated the mixture of differing populations, that had been established well before the threat of Athenian conquest. To prove this, I will discuss the colonial metaphor represented by the connection between the river god Alpheos and the Syracusan nymph Arethusa (Dougherty; Foster) and Pindar’s uses of the verb μίγνυμι and its compounds in the Syracusan odes. Pindar’s references to the mingled waters of the Olympian river and the Syracusan spring emphasize the central place that colonial discourse held within the Syracusan state. The recurring appearances of Alpheos and Arethusa similarly emphasize the diverse population that made up Hieron’s cities. This metaphor of civic diversity prominent in Pindar’s odes for Syracuse acknowledges the “mixed” nature of the Syracusan citizenry and frames this mixture as valuable for the city.

Taken together, representations of Sicilian mixis in Diodorus and Pindar offer a counterbalance to Alcibiades’ negative attitude toward Sicilian population diversity. Both Pindar and Diodorus describe this mixture as the foundation of the city and emphasize inclusion and integration of multiple populations. Rather than a liability as it may seem to an Athenian, in the poetry of Pindar and the history of Diodorus civic diversity is presented as a long-standing tradition that underpins the city’s prosperity. These Sicilian representations of mixis offer a contrast with the Athenian perspective voiced by Thucydides’ Alcibiades and an example of a cultural phenomenon that looks entirely different when examined outside of the Athenian discourse that dominates our extant sources.

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Inscribing Song: Archaic and Classical Greek Poetry

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