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Gender, Genre, and Truth in Pindar: Three Case Studies

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Park, Arum. “Gender, Genre, and Truth in Pindar: Three Case Studies.” CHS Research Bulletin 1, no. 2 (2013). http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hlnc.essay:ParkA.Gender_Genre_and_Truth_in_Pindar.2013


§1  Pindar’s epinician odes take care to identify and emphasize the relationship between poet and patron, a relationship that is based on reciprocity, truthfulness, and trust, and is marked by key terms and concepts such as xenia, philia, charis, and alêtheia.[1] These terms are what the poet uses to define his genre of epinician poetry and appear both when he refers to the relationship to his patron (cf. the opening lines of Olympian 10) and in the mythical digressions, during which reciprocity often figures as a theme linking myth and outer praise narrative. In such digressions female characters, like their predecessors in poets such as Homer and Hesiod, are often depicted as deceptive and seductive, but in the epinician context this deception is depicted to emphasize its impact on relationships of exchange and reciprocity, such as guest-friendship and marriage, that reflect the poet’s relationship to his patron. Thus, the poet incorporates familiar depictions of women in his metaphorical representations of epinician poetry, coupling gender with genre in such a way that the two become almost inseparably intertwined: gender cannot be defined without recourse to genre and vice versa. The examples I will examine here are the Hera-cloud in Pythian 2, Koronis in Pythian 3, and Hippolyta in Nemean 5.

Pythian 2: Feminized Deception 

§2  The figure of the Hera-cloud in the Ixion myth of Pythian 2 raises the issue of gender and its relationship to genre by illuminating the link between truth and reciprocity. Ixion, a mortal man who has enjoyed the rare privilege of living among the gods, subsequently loses this privilege through his own error and suffers the torment of being permanently bound to a spinning wheel in the Underworld. Pindar tells us of two specific crimes that result in Ixion’s eternal damnation: the murder of a family member and the attempted seduction of Hera (Pythian 2.31–34), in retaliation for which Zeus fashions a false Hera, a cloud bearing the appearance and sexual allure of the real one. Ixion couples with this Hera-cloud under the misapprehension that she is real and begets Kentauros, who in turn becomes the eponymous forebear of the half-man, half-horse creatures familiar from mythology.

§3  Pindar depicts the crime primarily as a violation of a unique relationship between Ixion and Zeus. Having been granted the supreme blessing of life among the Olympian gods (25–26), Ixion squanders this life by overstepping the bounds of propriety and developing a lust for Hera. In doing so, he disturbs the delicate balance of his relationship with Zeus, which is essentially a guest-host friendship, but an unusual one in that the two participants are a god and a mortal. Ixion’s lust is a twofold offense as he has wronged both a host and a god. Thus does Pindar tell us of the necessity to observe one’s proper place (χρὴ δὲ κατ’ αὐτὸν αἰεὶ παντὸς ὁρᾶν μέτρον, 34).  In response to Ixion’s violation, Zeus deceives him with the Hera-cloud, which formalizes the dissolution of xenia between himself and Ixion. This type of guile is not ordinarily permissible in a guest-friendship, but because Ixion has behaved in a manner unsuitable for a xenos, he effectively severs his relationship with Zeus, who is now free to enact a retributive deception.

§4  The usual story of Ixion, as Glenn Most ably summarizes, is that having promised his father-in-law gifts in exchange for the bride, Ixion murders him when he attempts to collect. Madness overcomes Ixion, whom Zeus eventually purges of blood-guilt and invites to Olympus,[2] only to expel him for making advances on Hera. While Pindar refers specifically to both of Ixion’s crimes (Pythian 2.30–34), his reference to the father-in-law’s murder is vague and, as Most points out, presupposes a precise familiarity with the rest of the myth.[3] Details of Ixion’s bloodguilt are omitted or downplayed in Pindar’s version, which focuses instead on the seduction of Hera. Furthermore, it is Zeus more than Hera who is depicted as the victim of Ixion’s crime. While the crime is clearly attempted rape, Pindar later includes Zeus as a victim along with Hera, who is relegated to a possession of her husband: Ἥρας ὅτ’ ἐράσσατο, τὰν Διὸς εὐναὶ λάχον | πολυγαθέες (“He fell in love with Hera, who belonged to Zeus for joyous acts of love,” 27–28). By doing so, Pindar underscores Ixion’s action as a violation of Zeus and reformulates the rape as a different type of offense. Even Ixion himself understands his crime primarily as a violation of his host, rather than of Hera: the admonition he is forced to utter from his wheel of torment reflects regret foremost for violating reciprocal trust rather than for any other (more obviously objectionable) offense: τὸν εὐεργέταν ἀγαναῖς ἀμοιβαῖς ἐποιχομένους τίνεσθαι (“Go and repay your benefactor with deeds of gentle recompense,” 24).

§5  In depicting Ixion’s crime as a violation of xenia, Pindar departs significantly from other versions of the myth: Ixion’s lust for Hera inverts Homer’s presentation, where it is Zeus who couples with Ixion’s wife (Iliad XIV 317); in casting Zeus as the fashioner of the Hera-cloud, Pindar again varies from an account in which Hera invents her own retaliatory imitation.[4] These differences are significant demonstrations of Pindar’s shift in focus to the relationship between Zeus and Ixion and his incorporation of the Hera-cloud as a key component of that relationship. A punitive instrument of Ixion’s downfall, the cloud also represents a symbolic act of communication by Zeus; Pindar terms the Hera-cloud a pseudos, which he usually reserves for verbal falsehoods:[5]

ἐπεὶ νεφέλᾳ παρελέξατο
ψεῦδος γλυκὺ μεθέπων ἄιδρις ἀνήρ·
εἶδος γὰρ ὑπεροχωτάτᾳ πρέπεν Οὐρανιᾶν
θυγατέρι Κρόνου· ἅντε δόλον αὐτῷ θέσαν
Ζηνὸς παλάμαι, καλὸν πῆμα.  (Pythian 2.36–40)

Because he lay with a cloud, an ignorant man in pursuit of a sweet lie, for it resembled in looks the foremost heavenly goddess, Kronos’ daughter. Zeus’ wiles set it as a snare for him, a beautiful affliction.

§6  The pseudos refers to the imitation of Hera that Zeus has fabricated as a trap (δόλον, 39) and a bane (πῆμα, 40) for Ixion. Through this Hera-cloud, Zeus conveys to Ixion a false message that seduction of Hera is permissible. Thus, Zeus effectively “speaks” to Ixion through the Hera-cloud.

§7  In this respect, Pindar’s Hera-cloud bears striking resemblance to Pandora, whom Hesiod describes in similar language.[6] Both Pandora and the Hera-cloud are oxymorons: as the scholiast to Pindar notes, the “beautiful bane” (καλὸν πῆμα, Pythian 2.40) of the Hera-cloud echoes Hesiod’s description of Pandora as a beautiful evil (καλὸν κακόν, Theogony 585) and great bane to mankind (πῆμα μέγα, Theogony 592). Furthermore, each female figure has been constructed as a likeness or an image, comparable to its model but not equivalent to it. Hesiod’s Pandora is made in the image of a devout maiden (παρθένῳ αἰδοίῃ ἴκελον, Theogony 572) while the Hera-cloud, of course, is an imitation of Hera (εἶδος…ὑπεροχωτάτᾳ…θυγατέρι Κρόνου, Pythian 2.38–39). Each female figure embodies falsehood and deception: the cloud is a “sweet lie” (ψεῦδος γλυκύ, Pythian 2.37) and Pandora is a deception (αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ δόλον αἰπὺν ἀμήχανον ἐξετέλεσσεν, Works and Days 83; ὡς εἶδον δόλον αἰπύν, ἀμήχανον ἀνθρώποισιν, Theogony 589). Perhaps most importantly, each female figure is created by the mandate and wiles of Zeus (Ζηνὸς πάλαμαι, Pythian 2.40; cf. Κρονίδεω διὰ βουλάς, Theogony 572 = Works and Days 71).

§8  Thus these figures represent acts of communication and exchange by Zeus, who produces each of them to punish mortals, yet they are also given the ability to act of their own accord. As entities that are paradoxically both passive and active, pseudo-Hera and Pandora embody a recurrent female type in Greek thought, a type that Ann Bergren has identified in Herodotus:

Women are like words, they are ‘metaphorical words,’ but they are also original sources of speech, speakers themselves. They are both passive objects and active agents of linguistic exchange…In this relation to the linguistic and the social system, the woman…is paradoxically both secondary and original, both passive and active, both a silent and a speaking sign. (Bergren 1983:76)

§9  She draws on the work of Lévi-Strauss, who observes that in the practice of marriage exchange, women are traded between men as a communicative sign, yet the female herself also generates her own signs.[7] These ideas resonate with both the Pandora-myth of Hesiod and the Ixion-myth of Pythian 2. Pandora, as the price mankind must pay for fire, is the incarnation of Zeus’ deception, a message of retribution. As a divine creation, she is a passive entity who embodies the various aspects of the gods who contributed to her making, but the very gifts that she represents also enable her to act of her own accord. Not only is she a “steep deception” of Zeus, she is also given the capacity to speak falsehoods and deceptions by Hermes (Works and Days 78). She subsequently, of her own will, opens the jar that unleashes all evil onto the world (Works and Days 94–95). Thus Pandora originates as Zeus’ deception, but her ability to act represents a combination of her own agency as well as an embodiment of the gods’ exchange with mankind.

§10  Similarly, Zeus creates the Hera-cloud in retribution for Ixion’s offense; as a pseudos the cloud effectively serves as an act of communication to Ixion. The Hera-cloud, like Pandora, is not entirely a passive entity or an illusion; her seductive effect on Ixion is powerful and “real” enough to result in coupling and reproduction. While a creation of Zeus, she is also an independent being whose agency and ability to interact sexually with Ixion increasingly overtakes Zeus as the focus of the mythical narrative. By describing the Hera-cloud as a “lie” and a “bane,” Pindar calls attention to her ability to cause deception and misery. No mere illusion, the false-Hera, born as a cloud, nevertheless attains enough tangibility to engage in sexual activity and produce a line of descendants, with which the mythical digression concludes:

ἄνευ οἱ Χαρίτων τέκεν γόνον ὑπερφίαλον
μόνα καὶ μόνον οὔτ’ ἐν ἀνδράσι γερασφόρον οὔτ’ ἐν θεῶν νόμοις·
τὸν ὀνύμαζε τράφοισα Κένταυρον. (Pythian 2.42–44)

Without the Graces’ blessing, that unique mother bore a unique son, who was overbearing and respected neither among men nor in the ways of the gods. She who reared him called him Kentauros.

§11  At this point Zeus’ hand has completely disappeared: just as Hera is occluded by Zeus, Zeus too, who has been mentioned only twice and each time in oblique cases (Διὸς, 34; Ζηνὸς, 40), recedes to the background. Attention to Ixion as well, after a few words reiterating his punishment, yields to a focus on the Hera-cloud and her progeny. The repetition of μόνα/μόνον (43) stresses the singularity of the Hera-cloud and her child Kentauros, and, as Bonnie MacLachlan observes, the absence of the Graces from the birth, along with the exclusion of Kentauros from both mortal and godly realms further accentuates the isolation of these figures.[8]

§12  Thus the Hera-cloud, originally a passive creation, is now an independent, discrete entity. Ultimately, figures such as Pandora or the Hera-cloud embody a paradox: by playing the dual roles of message and speaker, they enable communicative acts by Zeus, who in creating them as deceptions, metaphorically “speaks” them while absolving himself of culpability for their trickery. By fashioning these female figures, Zeus ensures conveyance of punishment or retribution, but because these figures can speak and act for themselves, he transfers agency of deception onto them. Thus do Pindar and Hesiod feminize deception, for an initially male act of falsehood becomes a female act of seduction.[9] To borrow the ideas of Bergren and Lévi-Strauss, Pandora and pseudo-Hera are signs both passive, embodying Zeus’ message to mortals, and active, as agents of their own communication.

§13  Pindar’s innovation lies in the situation of this female type within a relationship of reciprocity. Unlike Pandora, who is simply a retributive figure, the Hera-cloud terminates the relationship between xenoi, a relationship that serves as a metaphor for Pindar’s own relationship to his patron. In the context of Pindar’s odes, the creation of a female, third-party pseudos between guest-friends Zeus and Ixion sheds light on both the poet’s metaphorical relationship of xenia with his patron, and the role of gender in his characterizations of truth, falsehood, and deception. By externalizing falsehood from Zeus and Ixion’s guest-friendship in the form of a seductive female figure, Pindar implies that falsehood and deception do not belong in the xenia he shares with his patron and secondarily suggests that the feminine, as represented by deceptive seduction, is external to the bounds of proper guest-friendship. Pindar thus employs a model of misogyny familiar from earlier poetry, but reformulates it to suit his specific genre of epinician poetry.

Pythian 3: Koronis and Female Perversion of Exchange

§14  In several of his mythical narratives, Pindar similarly points to a female figure as a source of corruption to relationships of reciprocity like xenia and marriage. Perhaps the way has already been paved for him by Hesiod, who puts the source of both falsehood and truth in the mouths of the female Muses (Theogony 26–29),[10] or by Homer, whose Hera incorporates seduction in her deception of Zeus in Iliad XIV–XV. Pindar often embellishes a tale of seduction or infidelity by partnering such crimes with a deceptive element, thus adding another layer to the complicated nexus of alêtheia, pseudos, and xenia.

§15  For example, Koronis in Pythian 3 shares many points of similarity with Ixion and, like the Hera-cloud, threatens a ritualized relationship of reciprocity with seduction and deception. Having conceived the child of Apollo, Koronis falls in love with another man and couples with him, unbeknownst to her father. Apollo, however, detects her infidelity and consequently sends his sister Artemis to fell Koronis with her arrows. The similarities between Koronis and Ixion appear at the level of verbal resonance: Pindar refers to both Koronis’ and Ixion’s crimes as mental folly (ἀμπλακίαισι φρενῶν, Pythian 3.13; cf. αἱ δύο δ’ ἀμπλακίαι, Pythian 2.30), involving love for something inappropriate. Koronis “was in love with what was distant” (ἤρατο τῶν ἀπεόντων, 3.20), while Ixion’s love for Hera is based on crazed irrationality (μαινομέναις φρασίν | Ἥρας ὅτ’ ἐράσσατο, 2.26–27). Moreover, Pindar emphasizes the profoundly delusional lust of each (ἀυάταν ὑπεράφανον, 2.28; μεγάλαν ἀυάταν, 3.24).[11]

§16  Beyond these verbal echoes, Koronis’ crime further resembles Ixion’s in that hers too occurs in the context of a guest-host relationship, although a more subtle one. Pindar provides very few details about Ischys, the man who diverts Koronis’ affections from Apollo, but he does mention twice that her affair occurs with a xenos (ξένου, Pythian 3.25; ξεινίαν κοίταν, 32), a significant repetition in light of the paucity of other details concerning Ischys. In this context the term is generally translated “stranger” and reflects Pindar’s variation from the traditional myth in making Ischys a foreigner from Arcadia (25) rather than a fellow Thessalian like Koronis.[12] As David Young and Reginald Burton each observe, this innovation fits into the general message of the ode that one should love what is near, both geographically and figuratively.[13] A side effect of this innovation is that Ischys becomes a guest-friend, presumably of Koronis’ father, whose expected participation in this diplomatic relationship of exchange is implied when Pindar faults Koronis for acting without her father’s knowledge (κρύβδαν πατρός, 13). Furthermore, both Koronis’ and Ixion’s sexual activities offend the gods and produce offspring, who are borne of an act of deception.

§17  In the Koronis myth the guest-host relationship is not between Koronis and a god—indeed, female participation in xenia would have been rare, almost inconceivable[14]—but between two mortals, Ischys and Koronis’ father, whose sole mention in line 13 serves to note his participation in a relationship of alliance between host and guest. Koronis violates this relationship by interfering in it and forging a marriage alliance without her father’s approval.[15] Ixion’s and Koronis’ interactions with the gods represent two different albeit closely related relationships: Ixion and Zeus are engaged in a guest-host relationship while Koronis and Apollo are essentially married, as they are involved in a binding sexual relationship whose trust Koronis violates by sleeping with Ischys.[16] Marriage and xenia resemble one another in that each comprises a set of expectations and reciprocal obligations, but the different dynamics of xenia and marriage make for different modes of violation. The key difference between Ixion and Koronis is, of course, gender, which is the primary explanation for the points of divergence between their otherwise similar stories. While both violate xenia, only Koronis, as a female figure, does so through deception and seduction, thus embodying the gender paradigms of ancient myth.

§18  The secrecy that characterizes Koronis’ relations with her father extends to her interactions with Apollo as well (ἄθεμίν τε δόλον, 32) and further marks her crime as not merely one of delusion but also of deception. This characteristic of deception enters into two crimes, one against her father and the other against Apollo, and thus corrupts two sacred relationships. The first is the relationship of xenia between Koronis’ father and Ischys, who is presumably a guest in her father’s house. Koronis, as a woman, does not have a part in guest-host relations, nor does she have the authority to forge a marriage without the knowledge or consent of her father.[17] Moreover, Pindar downplays Ischys’ agency and culpability in the affair, even delaying the sole mention of his name until line 31. Instead, Koronis is the constant focal point. She violates the unspoken agreement between Apollo and herself that she will remain faithful to him while pregnant with his child.[18] Her actions recall the paradox of woman described by Bergren, for by contravening the expectations of bridal passivity, Koronis’ deception of Apollo causes disorder in their “marriage,” which has obligations and expectations of reciprocity similar to those of xenia.[19]

§19  The emphasis on Koronis’ deception is clear, as is the role it plays in her detection. Apollo’s omniscience is another Pindaric departure from the earlier version of the myth in which a raven informs Apollo of Koronis’ infidelity. The intended significance of this change is debatable,[20] but it is clear that Apollo’s knowledge of Koronis’ deception is of key importance to the tale. Moreover, the way Pindar describes Apollo’s omniscience is significant:

οὐδ’ ἔλαθε σκοπόν· ἐν δ’ ἄρα μηλοδόκῳ Πυθῶνι τόσσαις ἄιεν ναοῦ βασιλεύς
Λοξίας, κοινᾶνι παρ’ εὐθυτάτῳ γνώμαν πιθών,
πάντα ἰσάντι νόῳ· ψευδέων δ’ οὐχ ἅπτεται, κλέπτει τέ μιν
οὐ θεὸς οὐ βροτὸς ἔργοις οὔτε βουλαῖς. (Pythian 3.27-30)

She did not escape the watcher, but in sheep-receiving Pytho, the king of the temple, Loxias, happened to perceive her, entrusting his opinion to his most straightforward confidant, his mind which knows all things. He does not embrace falsehoods, and neither god nor mortal deceives him in deed or thought.

§20  Pindar characterizes Apollo’s distance from falsehood not as a refusal to craft falsehoods, which an extra-contextual translation of ψευδέων δ’ οὐχ ἅπτεται might suggest, but rather as an ability to recognize falsehood.[21] Falsehood is focalized through the perceiver, but the fault of Koronis as the female crafter is equally emphasized.

§21  Female seduction is central to deception in both Pythian 2 and 3. By contrast, no sexual deception occurs in the story of Tantalos and Pelops in either of the versions Pindar presents in Olympian 1, even though Poseidon’s sexual attraction to Pelops is a key component of Pindar’s retelling. Seduction by a male figure contains no deceptive element. Thus the pseudos of Zeus’ creation is a female figure intended to allure Ixion, yet because this figure is capable of acting of her own will, seductive actions are ascribed to her rather than to Zeus. In Ixion’s story, although the agent of the deception is a male figure, the deception itself takes the form of a woman. Similarly, Koronis, a woman, deceives Apollo by seducing another man. Although the two cases are not exact parallels—Koronis, after all, does not deceive Apollo by seducing him—in each case female seduction is closely associated or even synonymous with deception. Moreover, Pindar downplays Ischys’ role while highlighting Koronis’ culpable deceptiveness (κρύβδαν πατρός, 13; οὐδ’ ἔλαθε σκοπόν, 27; ἄθεμιν δόλον, 31), thus departing significantly from earlier versions of the myth where Ischys is presented as a rival to Apollo for Koronis’ affections.[22] Pindar recasts the myth to emphasize the central role of specifically female seduction and deception.

Nemean 5: Hippolyta as Foil

§22  The alliance of female seduction and deception becomes ever clearer as we examine Hippolyta in Nemean 5, who further demonstrates the tendency for mythical female figures to compound their wrongfully seductive activities with deception. Pindar introduces the story of Peleus and Thetis with Peleus’ interactions with Hippolyta. Although married to Akastos, Hippolyta attempts to seduce Peleus, but he refuses her advances, fearing retribution from Zeus Xenios (33–34). Hippolyta’s reaction is to recruit her husband for an act of vengeance, claiming falsely that Peleus attempted to seduce her. Unlike Ixion, who succumbs to the charms of a deceptive female figure and thereby disregards the importance of his xenia with Zeus, Peleus resists such a woman out of respect for xenia. Pindar’s narrative of falsehood focalizes not through the agent of deception, but through the one who experiences it: Peleus is rewarded for his virtue, but Hippolyta disappears from the narrative without a word as to her punishment or subsequent fate.[23]

§23  Hippolyta is a foil for the virtuous Peleus, whose marriage to Thetis serves as the mythical paragon of harmonious relations between man and god, the forging of an alliance with Zeus Xenios as its overseer. Zeus’ decision to marry Peleus to a sea nymph specifically rests on the observations he makes as the god who protects the guest-host relationship (34–35). His approval alone is not sufficient, however, as he must obtain Poseidon’s consent. The marriage of Peleus and Thetis thus represents the culmination of Peleus’ respect for the guest-host relationship, Zeus’ recognition of this respect, and the cooperation of Zeus and Poseidon to reward it. Peleus and Thetis’ union reflects and results from collaborative relationships on several levels: on the mortal level Peleus’ upstanding behavior towards his xenos earns him the reward of marriage; on the divine level the marriage cannot occur until Zeus confers with his brother Poseidon, whose broad influence is encapsulated in line 37 with the summary of his travels from Aigai to the Isthmos. The spirit of collaboration that pervades the myth of Peleus and Thetis explains its frequency in odes about Aigina, whose centrality in commercial affairs often leads Pindar to note its reputation for xenia.[24]

§24  In many ways Hippolyta parallels Ixion while Peleus runs counter to him, for she, like Ixion, engages in a lustful attraction that would harm a guest-host relationship, this time between her husband and Peleus, rather than between herself and a guest.[25] As I have pointed out above, however, Pindar does not characterize Ixion as deceptive, whereas Hippolyta is emphatically so: she is sneaky (δόλῳ, 26), deceitful even in seduction (παρφαμένα λιτάνευεν, 32),[26] and deftly persuasive, convincing her husband to take retaliatory action for false charges (πείσαισ’ ἀκοίταν ποικίλοις βουλεύμασιν, | ψεύσταν δὲ ποιητὸν συνέπαξε λόγον, 28).[27] Furthermore, these contrasting depictions of two similar wrongdoers, Ixion and Hippolyta, cannot be fully attributed to differing circumstances, for Pindar does not inform us of any of the measures Ixion surely must have taken to conceal his lust for Hera from Zeus. The characterization of Hippolyta as tricky in Nemean 5 is consistent with Nemean 4 (δολίαις | τέχναισι, 57-58[28]), yet the Peleus myth serves an entirely different purpose in that ode, where his rejection of Hippolyta is not an emphasized prerequisite of his marriage to Thetis. It is notable that Hippolyta is credited with techne, a term that suggests her talent, intelligence, and resourcefulness. The use of this term, which elsewhere is used positively of artistry and skill,[29] explicates the generally instinctive aversion to deception and seduction: they represent perversion or misuse of ordinarily positive, lauded qualities such as artfulness (cf. ποικίλοις, Olympian 1.28), cunning, and intelligence. Deception is driven not by madness of any sort, but by cool rationality, a trait that would normally be favorable.

§25  Gender is the key factor in coupling deception with seduction. In all of the myths I have discussed above, female figures and the falsehood they enact or even embody are central to the disruption of a guest-host relationship. While the ramifications for this disruption vary, in each story a female figure is the instrument of corrupted relations between guest and host, even when it is a male figure like Ixion who violates xenia. As Jeffrey Carnes has observed, Hippolyta in Nemean 4 and 5

threatens the whole system of exchange of women and the Name of the Father…The consequences of this are represented in immediate, concrete terms: in female hands, language is harmful, exchange—including marriage and xenia—is queered, and men must suffer unjustly. (Carnes 1996:44–45)

§26  Carnes’ study notes Hippolyta’s disruptive role in relationships of exchange and focuses on her “masculine” sexual aggression[30] when she hijacks, to disastrous ends, the typically male role in the exchange of women: “[Women] must be exchanged by others, not by themselves.”[31] His observations about the corruptive role of women in the Hippolyta myth can also be applied to the Koronis myth of Pythian 3 and the Ixion myth of Pythian 2, for Koronis disrupts various relationships by arranging her own marriage while the Hera-cloud, a female embodiment of pseudos, cements the end of Ixion and Zeus’ xenia.


§27  I have endeavored with these examinations to contextualize Pindar’s deceptive female figures within the epinician poems in which they appear, and to point out the significance of their situation in these epinician contexts. As a genre that is predicated on reciprocity as its fundamental principle, epinician depicts truth and falsehood in their relationship to this reciprocity; thus, the deceptiveness of female figures is depicted as detrimental specifically to the types of relationships that define epinician poetry. Pindar’s use and adaptation of Hesiod’s Pandora in seductive female figures such as the Hera-cloud, Koronis, and Hippolyta demonstrate how he carves out a niche for himself in Greek literature by borrowing earlier gender paradigms but assimilating them to his epinician models of truth, falsehood, and guest-friendship.

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Most, Glenn W. 1985. The Measures of Praise. Structure and Function in Pindar’s Second Pythian and Seventh Nemean Odes. Göttingen.

Oates, John F. 1963. “Pindar’s Second Pythian Ode.” AJP 84.4:377–389.

Park, Arum. 2013. “Truth and Genre in Pindar.” CQ 63.1:17–36.

Pratt, Louise. 1993. Lying and Poetry from Homer to Pindar. Ann Arbor.

Race, William H. 1986. Pindar. Boston.

Robbins, E. 1990. “The Gifts of the Gods: Pindar’s Third Pythian.” CQ 40.2: 307–318.

Roth, Paul. 1993. “The Theme of Corrupted Xenia in Aeschylus’ Oresteia.” Mnemosyne 46.1:1–17.

Slater, W.J., ed. 1969. Lexicon to Pindar. Berlin.

Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, Ulrich von. 1922. Pindaros. Berlin.

Young, David C. 1968. Three Odes of Pindar: Pythian 11, Pythian 3, and Olympian 7. Leiden.


[1] See Park 2013 for further discussion of alêtheia and its role in Pindar’s epinician poetry.

[2] Most 1985:77.

[3] Most 1985:81–82.

[4] See Carey 1976:39, who cites RE X 1376; see also Gildersleeve 1885:260, citing the scholiast to Euripides Phoenissae 1185.

[5] See Komornicka 1972.

[6] Cf. Most 1985:82–84, who discusses the correlation between the Hesiod’s Pandora myth and Pindar’s Ixion myth, positing a parallel between Prometheus and Ixion.

[7] Bergren 1983:75.

[8] Cf. MacLachlan 1993:121: “Further, [Ixion] and his offspring are isolated from human society, from the Charites.”

[9] Cf. Buxton 1982:63–66, who suggests that seductive persuasion is the female version of dolos.

[10] Yet, Hesiod also names Zeus as the Muses’ father in line 29, just as Zeus mandates the creation of Pandora in Hesiod and the pseudo-Hera in Pythian 2. Zeus has a significant connection with several female propagators of deception.

[11] Race 1986:65 also notices this echo.

[12] Burton 1962:83; Young 1968:35.

[13] Burton 1962:83; Young 1968:36.

[14] Herman 1987:34 discusses the role of social status in the guest-host relationship and notes that “ritualised friendship appears as an overwhelmingly upper-class institution…People of humbler standing are significantly rare. Non-free men are absent altogether. And women are extremely rare. There are remarkably few references to male-female alliances.”

[15] See Herman 1987:24–25 for a discussion of how a xenos might foster and encourage a marriage.

[16] Of course Apollo, as a god, never formally marries Koronis, but the possessive authority he exercises over her represents the closest approximation to marriage that can occur between a god and a mortal. Cf. Kyriakou 1994:35, who points out that Pindar suggests a marital arrangement between Koronis and Apollo when he refers to her union with Ischys as ἄλλον…γάμον (Pythian 3.13). Cf. Iliad IX 336, where Achilles laments the loss of Briseis, his ἄλοχος, a word that evokes marriage, even though Achilles and Briseis have no formal relationship. As a union between a mortal woman and an immortal god, Koronis and Apollo’s relationship operates on a double standard of fidelity. Apollo expects monogamy from Koronis, even though he would expect no such devotion from another immortal (cf. Lyons 2003:97n21 on marriage in Hesiod: “The gods already practice marriage of a sort, but it is not for the most part the enduring institution known to mortals, e.g., Ἰαπετὸς …, ἠγάγετο Κλυμένην, Theog. 507-508.”).

[17] Cf. the comments on “wild women” by Carnes 1996:31. Carnes argues that Peleus’ marriage to Thetis in Nemean 4 imposes a custom of civilization on the untamed fringes of the earth. Marriage, as an act of “civilization,” suppresses women “who must be exchanged by others, not by themselves.” Koronis, in taking this act of exchange into her own hands, would qualify as an inappropriate, even untamed woman. Cf. also the plethora of scholarly work on marriage in ancient Greek society, including Finley 1981:233–245; Garland 1990:210–241; and Finkelberg 2005: 90–108.

[18] Cf. Burton 1962:83: “Coronis’ sin was that she lay with a mortal while pregnant by a god.”

[19] Cf. Roth 1993:3 on the relationship between Klytaimestra and Agamemnon in the Oresteia: “Aside from the fact that like Helen and the lion of the parable she [Klytaimestra] is an outsider brought into the house who with time encompasses her host’s destruction, her status as a wife is analogous to that of a guest, for marriage and xenia were parallel social institutions. The basic function of each was to bring an outsider into the kin-group, and both forms of relationship entailed the exchanging of gifts and the formation of a hereditary bond imposing mutual obligations between families.”

[20] See Young 1968:37–38 for a discussion of this divergence. Citing Burton 1962:84, Fennell ad loc., and Wilamowitz 1922:281, Young argues that Pindar alludes to the Hesiodic tale of the raven with the word σκοπός (27), but chooses not to go into further detail, as the aetiological nature of the raven-myth does not fit into Pindar’s overall scheme in Pythian 3. I am skeptical as to the allusive nature of σκοπός, which I take to be a direct reference to Apollo’s omniscience. Cf. Burton 1962:84, who observes that the absence of the raven emphasizes Apollo’s reliance on his own omniscience for the truth of Koronis’ infidelity.

[21] Pace Gildersleeve 1885:272, who interprets more ambiguity in the phrase: “Neither deceiving nor deceived.”

[22] Homeric Hymn to Apollo 210. Gantz 1993:91 even calls this allusion to Ischys a “clash between Apollo and Ischys,” thus investing Ischys with a great deal more agency in the Homeric Hymn than he has in Pythian 3.

[23] Carnes 1996:46 also notes this omission.

[24] For xenia in Aigina, cf. Olympian 8.20–23, Nemean 3.2, Nemean 4.12, Nemean 5.8. I should also note that Aigina is the mythical homeland of the Aiakidai, which further accounts for Peleus’ presence in odes to Aiginetan victors (e.g., Nemean 4, Nemean 5, Isthmian 8).

[25] Hippolyta is not cast as directly betraying her own xenos because, as I have noted, participation by women in xenia is very rare. See Herman 1987:34.

[26] Cf. Miller 1982:117, who observes that the participle παρφαμένα here has the force of erotic persuasion, but notes that the other Pindaric uses of παράφημι connote misspeaking or insincere utterance. Cf. Slater 1969 s.v. πάρφαμι. Cf. McClure 1999:63.

[27] Again, cf. Miller 1982:117, whose analysis of πάρφασις in Nemean 8.32 concludes that both senses of the verb παράφημι, persuasion and misrepresentation, are present. I believe a similar combination of meanings occurs in the participle in Nemean 5.32, although Carnes 1996:44 argues that παρφαμένα refers to Hippolyta’s impropriety rather than insincerity.

[28] This similarity appears to be one of the few between the two treatments of the Peleus and Thetis myth in Nemean 4 and 5. See Carnes 1996 for an examination of how the two odes and their differing emphases work together. Carnes 1996:32 argues that Peleus employs the trickery that characterizes Hippolyta and bases this argument partly on a translation of χρησάμενος in Nemean 4.58 as “making use of.” I do not find this part of his argument convincing, as there is no reference in Nemean 4 to any sort of trickery used by Peleus. I prefer instead to follow Slater’s suggested translation of “experience” for the participle χρησάμενος.

[29] E.g., Olympian 7.35, Olympian 7.50, Pythian 12.6. For other examples, see Slater 1969 s.v. τέχνα.

[30] Carnes 1996:26: “Hippolyte displays masculine traits in her combination of sexual desire and aggression (the inverted, or projected, version of the Amazons’ dual status as libidinally- and aggressively-invested objects).”

[31] Carnes 1996:31. Carnes ties this disruption to a female misuse of language. I am hesitant to espouse Carnes’ argument in its entirety, largely because his resolutely structural and psychoanalytical approaches, I have found, can result in distorted interpretations of literary works.

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