The scholiasts offer two different dates for the Pythian victory of the Theban Thrasydaios celebrated in Pindar's eleventh Pythian ode: 474 or 454 bce. Following several older scholars, I accept the latter date, mainly because Pindar's myth in this poem is a mini-Oresteia, teeming with what seem to be echoes of the language, plotting, and sequencing of Aischylos' trilogy of 458 bce, as well as allusions to the genre of tragedy in general. Yet even those scholars who have argued for such a dialogue between these two works are at something of a loss to explain it, except as Pindar's admiring homage to the genius of Aischylos. Such accounts reveal the inadequacy of a reading that assumes a narrowly literary system of intertextuality. In order to account for this intertextual, intergeneric dialogue, we need instead to recognize the embeddedness of choral lyric and tragedy within their social and cultural contexts, and their differential relations with “neighboring systems” such as cult ritual. I will argue that Pindar implicitly challenges the tendency of Attic tragedy to displace and appropriate for its own purposes cults that properly belong to other Greek cities. Pindar, in contrast, in Pythian 11 emphasizes the locality and specificity of different communities' relations to the heroes of myth and cult as an important part of traditional choral and civic harmonia. Thus I will argue that these two texts are engaged in a contestatory ritual poetics about the locality and propriety of cult and its relation to the community as mediated through different choral forms.
Pindar's Pythian 11 and the Oresteia: Contestatory Ritual Poetics in the 5th c. BCE
Earlier versions of this paper were delivered at conferences at the University of Chicago, Yale University, and the Classics Triennial at Cambridge University in spring and summer 2011. I'm grateful to audiences in all three venues for lively discussion; for the Triennial, thanks especially to Simon Goldhill for the original invitation; to Johannes Haubold and Richard Seaford for their thoughtful responses; and to Froma Zeitlin for chairing the panel. I owe a particular debt of gratitude to the following, for reading earlier version(s) and offering detailed comments and criticisms: G. B. D'Alessio, Mark Griffith, Barbara Kowalzig, Richard Martin, Boris Maslov, Donald Mastronarde, Nigel Nicholson, Nikolaos Papazarkadas, Jim Porter, Oliver Taplin, and Peter Wilson. Thanks also to Classical Antiquity's two anonymous readers, who challenged my thinking and saved me from many errors. Those that remain—errors of fact or of judgment—are mine; I have perhaps not heeded enough the warnings of these generous readers.
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Leslie Kurke; Pindar's Pythian 11 and the Oresteia: Contestatory Ritual Poetics in the 5th c. BCE. Classical Antiquity 1 April 2013; 32 (1): 101–175. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/ca.2013.32.1.101
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