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All Hands on Deck: Complementary Nautical Metaphors in Pindar and Bacchylides

Joshua A Zacks

University of Washington, Seattle

This paper examines poetological reflections in Pindar’s Nemean 5 and Bacchylides 13, commissioned for Pytheas of Aegina’s pankration victory. Pindar routinely stresses his superiority over unnamed epinician competitors, most famously at Ol. 2.83-88 and Nem. 3.80-82. Beginning with Pindaric scholiasts, these statements have been falsely interpreted as references to an historical rivalry between Pindar and Bacchylides (Lefkowitz 1991). Commissioning both poets for Pytheas’ victory, however, could invite such an agonistic relationship. If one poet were to demonstrate his own poetic superiority, this would ensure future commissions (Most 2012). I analyze lexical and thematic parallels in each poet’s claims to Panhellenic dissemination of the victor’s achievement and suggest that they collaborated in order to magnify Pytheas and Aegina. Pindar and Bacchylides metaphorize the performance of their poetry outside of Aegina as naval journeys, and thereby integrate their craft into Aegina’s commercial network. But whereas Pindar contrasts his work with that of a sculptor (O’ Sullivan 2003), Bacchylides assimilates his poetry to the rhapsodic traditions of Homeric epic. I propose that their self-representations indicate an agonistic approach to the performance, while their poetological statements ultimately reinforce the other’s encomiastic program.

I first review two gnomic reflections in Bacchylides 13. In lines 58-66 the poet concludes a myth about Herakles slaying the Nemean lion with a meditation about the differences between δόξα and κλέος. This parallelizes the victor’s and the hero’s achievements and suggests that Pytheas will gain repute comparable to that of Herakles (Stenger 2004). I argue that this differentiation also highlights the poet’s own encomiastic strategy. Bacchylides deploys Homeric imagery and diction to assimilate his praise to the poetry of Homer. When he describes the Panhellenic reperformance of his poetry in lines 175-189, he ultimately depicts the victor’s achievement and the community’s eunomia steering an Aeginetan ship of state (Nagy 2011). Bacchylides thus bases reperformances of his poetry on Aegina’s oligarchic constitution (Simonton 2017, Hornblower 2006).

Pindar, on the other hand, embeds the Panhellenic dissemination of Pytheas’ victory in Aeginetan commercial exchange (Kowalzig 2011). He contrasts his poem’s mobility with the fixity of victory statues and thus partly assimilates his craft to local artistic traditions (Spelman 2018, Walter-Karydi and Walter 1987). When he orders his song to embark upon every ship passing through Aegina, he points to Aegina’s naval network as a common point of diffusion for Epinician poetry and victory statues. The community’s thalassokratia (Hdt. 5.83) thus ensures the proclamation of Pytheas’ victory and the reperformance of Pindar’s poetry on a Panhellenic scale.

The complementary naval imagery in Pindar’s Nemean 5 and Bacchylides’ 13 therefore reinforces each poet’s claims to repeated performances outside of Aegina. Yet Bacchylides’ appeal to the rhapsodic tradition contrasts with Pindar’s comparison between poetry and sculpture. The poets thus employ divergent communicative methods to broadcast communal Aeginetan virtues. Whereas Bacchylides’ naval imagery lauds Aegina’s oligarchy, Pindar highlights poetry’s and sculpture’s capacity for financial exchange to praise the community’s economic system.

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Early Greek Poetry

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