English - Prize Poetry: Resources

Article excerpt

Forget medals and trophies - the ancients had victory odes.

If you won a race in the ancient Greek Olympics you would be rewarded with a wreath of leaves and given a statue of yourself, to symbolise your triumph. But if you were rich, you could also pay the poet Pindar to write you an ode.

The word "ode" means "song" in ancient Greek. And your ode would be a huge public event, featuring a chorus of singers who would perform it with a dance. (One performer allegedly "drove the audience ecstatic by his gyrations" - an ancient Greek Elvis.) Audience members would sing your praises for years to come at private parties and, of course, the next Olympics.

Your ode would celebrate you, your home town and your victory, but it would be woven together with other tales about the gods. Victory odes also spoke of heroic effort and the nature of poetry. They are as fresh as fire: "O heart, my leaping heart, if you burn to sing the ranks of games then scan the vast, vanquished sky no more for a star," Pindar wrote in Olympian 1 For Hieron of Syracuse, Winner in the Horse Race.

Victory odes are a great introduction to poetry for competitive children. Get pupils to research, write and perform as a group a victory ode for a sporting celebrity. By taking the ode back to its classical roots as public performance, they will feel and remember how powerful poetic techniques can be.

Many English poets were inspired by the victory odes of Pindar. John Dryden's A Song for St Cecilia's Day is all about music. Most young people adore music, so they will relate to Dryden's wish to honour its patron saint. …