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Pindar and the Renaissance Hymn-Ode, 1450-1700

By Stella P. Revard | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
Pindar and his Muses

With the Renaissance came a rebirth of interest in the divine poet and in his Muses, those divine forces who inspire him. Renaissance critics were well aware that not all ancient poets looked on the Muses, as Pindar did, as deities who expressed the will of the highest god. In much Greek and Latin poetry they were merely perfunctory symbols of poetic vocation. Many ancient poets called on them to establish their poetic credentials, and many Renaissance poets simply followed this well established practice. But some Renaissance poets were reaching for more than humanistic Muses; they wished to translate the Greek Muses into Christian Muses in order to give a name to the inspiration that they claimed as Christian poets. Although scripture furnished Christian poets with no information about inspiring deities of poetry, it did name David as the “inspired” harpist of the Bible. Renaissance poets who were seeking both a poetic and a religious vocation therefore often turned to Pindar, the poet most often connected with David, when they wished to “Christianize” their Muses.

In one sense the Renaissance had no need to be introduced to the Muses. They were familiar presences in much classical literature. In most instances, however, their actual appearance was limited to the invocations of epic poems by Homer, Vergil, and their successors. True, they also appeared in ritual hymns, such as the brief Hymn to the Muses attributed to the archetypal poet and Muse's son, Orpheus. But little was said in epic invocation and in cult hymn about the Muses' character as divinities. Hence Pindar was important. Throughout his odes he not only formally invokes the Muses, but also describes them and his rela

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