Pindar's Pythian 11 and the Oresteia: Contestatory Ritual Poetics in the 5th c. BCE

TitlePindar's Pythian 11 and the Oresteia: Contestatory Ritual Poetics in the 5th c. BCE
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2013
AuthorsKurke, L
Ancient AuthorsPindarus Lyr. (TLG 0033), Aeschylus Trag. (TLG 0085)
JournalClassical Antiquity

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. []


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