Saturday, May 23, 2009

Singing and Dancing Pindar's Epinikia

Meet Pindar! He was an aristocratic poet from Thebes who (probably)lived from 522 BC to 443 BC. Here is a Roman copy of his bust. Next to that is a picture of a lyre, taken directly from a vase painting. You can see how the instrument is made of a tortoise shell and two horns.

Pindar is most famous for a bunch of Victory Songs (Epinikia), each of which celebrated a victory at one of the Panhellenic Games (e.g. Olympia, Pythia, Nemea, Isthmia).

The Scene

The Games were held at sacred places and were organized by priests.
They were timed to occur (mostly) every four years in the middle of
the month, at the time of the full moon[1]. Many people made
the pilgrimage from all over Greece. The picture on the left is of
Nike of Paionios, a statue unearthed at Olympia. Nike is the goddess
(and impersonation) of Victory. Here her windswept garments suggest
movement and swiftness.

The Song
How were the Victory Songs performed? We don't know for sure whether a
chorus or soloist sang them. Pindar's poems in other genres were
performed by a chorus that sang in unison and danced to the accompaniment
of lyres and pipes. It seems likely these were too [3].
It's not clear whether the poet was present at either the victory
he writes about or at the performance of the song itself.

Here are some questions that I have:

*Did Pindar compose the song on the spot, incorporating extracts of pre-prepared work and then suiting it to the specifics of the occasion? Or did he have a long period to work on it?
*Did he write it down first or compose it orally?
*Did he sing or chant the poem?
*Where was the poem performed? The stadium? A banquet?
*Was it performed in the day or at night?
*Did the dancers enact scenes from the poem, or did they follow set choreography?
*Did they wear costumes? (ie was it a visual as well as an aural display?)
*Was the stadium lit by fire as well as moonlight?
*What did the audience do? Stand? Sit? Dance along?
*Was the audience everyone -- or just a select few (aristocrats/winners)?
*How much practice did the chorus have to do?

Fair to Compare?

*choreographed dances at modern Olympic Games
*gospel (songs of praise to God)
*stirring songs overlaying TV montages of sports victories
*New Orleans Wild Tchapatoulas call and response

1. Pindar: The Olympian and Pythian Odes by Basil L. Gildersleeve
2. Pindar:Selected Odes Translated with Interpreted Essays by Carl A.P.Ruck and William H. Matheson.
3.Olympian Odes, Pythian Odes by Pindar translated and edited by William H. Race

1 comment:

  1. LOVE IT - the look the humour the information. Everything. I am looking forward to lazily gleaning from you to learn all about the Greeks. (I am horribly ignorant.)