Academic journal article Helios

Hymnos/Poikilos

Academic journal article Helios

Hymnos/Poikilos

Article excerpt

The task of a philosophy of art is not merely to explain away the moment of the incomprehensible, as speculation has almost inevitably tried to do, but rather to comprehend incomprehensibility itself.

Theodor Adorno (1)

I. Preliminary Remarks

Pindar's is an art of chiaroscuro, for the light of Praise--[LANGUAGE NOT EPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ("like a fire blazing at night," Ol. 1.l-2) (2)--has its ground of possibility in the darkness of nonpraise. In the diacritical logic of the epinician genre, darkness, being the possible impossibility of light, enables light to be perceived as light, just as defeat (the possible impossibility of victory) enables victory to be understood as victory. Without a certain risk or danger [LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], neither victory nor praise would be possible as such. Should praise poetry ignore this necessary limitation or definition of praise by its opposite, the project of praise itself would be fatally threatened. As a consequence, the single encomiastic focus of the odes must yield to an overriding dynamics at work within the epinician program, one that oscillates between what aims at praise and what detracts from it. Hence, the importance of the word [LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] that, with its im plication of weaving together two distinct strands, allows each poem to execute the impossible possibility and the possible impossibility of praising by not praising.

The epinicia abound in images of light and dark, whereby defeat is described as lacking the brightness shed on victory. Here the encomiast's task is especially analogous to the athlete's, for the splendor of successful song is portrayed explicitly as the overcoming of the darkness that desires to engulf it. Among the forces that threaten to obscure the project of praise is envy [LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. (3) Just as competitors fight to prevent each other's victory, so do envious neighbors desire to begrudge the victor his success. Indeed, throughout the epinicia, [LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] arrives as the agency of darkness that aims to detract the light of praise, an aim perfectly congruent with the motives of an athletic opponent. We read in Nemean 4, for example:

[LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]

We shall appear

to enter in the light, much superior to our enemies,

while another man, enviously looking on,

churns an empty thought in the dark

that falls on the ground. But whatever the excellence

lord Destiny gave me,

I know well that time, as it proceeds, will accomplish what is fated.

The envy of one's fellow citizens, however, is not the only force that counters the victor's claim for glory in song; presumably far more dangerous is the envy of the gods. In Pythian 10, for example, Pindar includes an apotropaic prayer in his praise of Hippokleas and his family: [LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]/[LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ("May they not meet with envious reversals from the gods," 20-21). (5) This notion of the gods' envy is well established in archaic Greek literature. As Solon remarks to an unsuspecting Croesus: [LANGAUGE NOT REPRODUCEIBLE IN ASCII] ("The divine is entirely envious and troubling concerning human matters," Herodotus 1.32). The idea is most frequently associated with the strict maintenance of the boundary that separates mortal existence from the divine. Max Pohlenz, for example, comments on the Herodotus passage: "The [LANGAUGE NOT REPRODUCEIBLE IN ASCII] is the expression of the religious belief in the steadfastness [Unverbruchlichkeit] of the divine world orde r that will not tolerate any transgression of human limits. …

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