Pindar's Physics of Family: Kinship, Heredity, and the Problem of Being Human

Author: ORCID icon
Moench, Peter, Classics - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Clay, Jenny, Classics, University of Virginia

This dissertation investigates how Pindar in the epinicia refashions epic conceptions of humanity’s place in the cosmos in relation to the gods in order to construct his own paradoxical vision of the human condition. As previous scholarship has demonstrated, the epic poets explain the relationship between human and divine according to an evolutionary development from a period of kinship, located deep in the mythic past, to the estrangement that marks the human present. In Chapter 1, I demonstrate that Pindar’s proem to Nemean 6 collapses this chronological account, bringing divine kinship and alterity into collision in the present moment. The result is a paradoxical vision of human life, caught between the centripetal pull toward and the centrifugal push away from the divine. Through close readings of four odes, the remainder of Nemean 6, Nemean 5, Olympian 7, and Olympian 13, the subsequent chapters illustrate how Pindar finds this general paradox borne out in the mythological family histories he constructs for specific victors and their communities. Each ode situates the athletic victory within a broader lineage of achievement including a familial link to the gods. Nevertheless, this link is always a fraught and partial one, and Pindar highlights not just immortal greatness in the Aeginetan, Rhodian, and Corinthian families he celebrates but mortal frailty, failure, and disaster as well. I thus make the case for Pindar as an original thinker on the relation between human and divine, in contrast to the dominant critical approaches of recent decades that have viewed the odes’ social function as praise poetry as defining the poet’s agenda to the exclusion of other aims. Throughout, I demonstrate how Pindar’s characteristic formal complexity is not simply conventional or a device for enlivening his material but integral to his meaning.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Pindar, Ancient Greek lyric, Ancient Greek epic, Cosmogony, Human and divine
All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
Issued Date: