What do you expect wisdom to be?

Pindar Fragment 61 (but taken from v.2 of the Loeb Early Greek Philosophy set):

What do you expect wisdom to be, if it is only by a little
That one man possesses it more than another?
For it is impossible for him
To discover the gods’ plans with a human mind (phreni):
He was born of a mortal mother.

τί ἔλπεαι σοφίαν ἔμμεν, ἃν ὀλίγον τοι
ἀνὴρ ὑπὲρ ἀνδρὸς ἴσχει;
οὐ γὰρ ἔσθ᾽ ὅπως τὰ θεῶν
βουλεύματ’ ἐρευνάσει βροτέᾳ φρενί·
θνατᾶς δ᾽ἀπὸ ματρὸς ἔφυ.

They drove him into the underworld like a peg

A modestly amusing footnote in the Loeb edition of Apollonius’ Argonautica (1.55ish), as the poet enumerates the crew.

And from wealthy Gyrton came Caeneus’ son, Coronus—a brave man, but no braver than his father. For bards sing of how Caeneus, although still living, perished at the hands of the Centaurs, when, all alone and separated from the other heroes, he routed them. They rallied against him, but were not strong enough to push him back nor to kill him, so instead, unbroken and unbending, he sank beneath the earth, hammered by the downward force of mighty pine trees*

They drove him into the underworld like a peg, hence he perished while still alive; cf. Pindar, fr. 128f.


ἤλυθε δ᾿ ἀφνειὴν προλιπὼν Γυρτῶνα Κόρωνος
Καινεΐδης, ἐσθλὸς μέν, ἑοῦ δ᾿ οὐ πατρὸς ἀμείνων.
Καινέα γὰρ ζωόν περ ἔτι κλείουσιν ἀοιδοὶ
Κενταύροισιν ὀλέσθαι, ὅτε σφέας οἶος ἀπ᾿ ἄλλων
ἤλασ᾿ ἀριστήων· οἱ δ᾿ ἔμπαλιν ὁρμηθέντες
οὔτε μιν ἀγκλῖναι προτέρω σθένον οὔτε δαΐξαι,
ἀλλ᾿ ἄρρηκτος ἄκαμπτος ἐδύσετο νειόθι γαίης,
θεινόμενος στιβαρῇσι καταΐγδην ἐλάτῃσιν

The Pindar fragment (with the Loeb edition by the same editor/translator as Apollonius) is:

128f The same papyrus gives scraps of vv. 3–8. A scholion on Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica. “Apollonius took it from Pindar, who said” (vv. 7–9):

(lines 1–2 are fragmentary)
excel(?)
famous(?)
5and Castor(?)
. . . . . .
But Caeneus,6 (struck with) green (fir trees)
disappears after splitting the earth with his upright
foot.

Cf. Plutarch, The Stoics Talk More Paradoxically Than the Poets. “Pindar’s Caeneus used to be criticized for being an implausible creation—invulnerable to iron, feeling nothing in his body, and finally having sunk unwounded under the ground, ‘after splitting the earth with his upright foot.’”

But the best telling is Ovid’s (Metamorphoses 12.490is) in Nestor’s version of the battle of  the Centaurs and the Lapiths:

Now, quite beside themselves, the double monsters rushed on with huge uproar, and all together against that single foe they aimed and drove their weapons. The spears fell blunted, and Caeneus, the son of Elatus, still stood, for all their strokes, unwounded and unstained. The strange sight struck them speechless. Then Monychus exclaimed: ‘Oh, what a shame is this! We, a whole people, are defied by one, and he scarcely a man. And yet he is the man, while we, with our weak attempts, are what he was before. Of what advantage are our monster-forms? What our twofold strength? What avails it that a double nature has united in our bodies the strongest living things? We are not sons of any goddess nor Ixion’s sons, I think. For he was high-souled enough to aspire to be great Juno’s mate, while we are conquered by an enemy but half-man! Come then, let us heap stones and tree-trunks on him, mountains at a time! let’s crush his stubborn life out with forests for our missiles! Let sheer bulk smother his throat, and for wounds let weight suffice.’ He spoke and, chancing on a tree-trunk overthrown by mad Auster’s might, he hurled it at his sturdy foe. The others followed him; and in short time Othrys was stripped of trees and Pelion had lost his shade. Buried beneath that huge mound, Caeneus heaved against the weight of trees and bore up the oaken mass upon his sturdy shoulders. But indeed, as the burden mounted over lips and head, he could get no air to breathe. Gasping for breath, at times he strove in vain to lift his head into the air and to throw off the heaped-up forest; at times he moved, just as if lofty Ida, which we see yonder, should tremble with an earthquake. His end is doubtful. Some said that his body was thrust down by the weight of woods to the Tartarean pit; but the son of Ampycus denied this. For from the middle of the pile he saw a bird with golden wings fly up into the limpid air. I saw it too, then for the first time and the last.


ecce ruunt vasto rabidi clamore bimembres
telaque in hunc omnes unum mittuntque feruntque.
tela retusa cadunt: manet inperfossus ab omni
inque cruentatus Caeneus Elateius ictu.
fecerat attonitos nova res. ‘heu dedecus ingens!’
Monychus exclamat. ‘populus superamur ab uno
vixque viro; quamquam ille vir est, nos segnibus actis,
quod fuit ille, sumus. quid membra inmania prosunt?
quid geminae vires et quod fortissima rerum
in nobis natura duplex animalia iunxit?
nec nos matre dea, nec nos Ixione natos
esse reor, qui tantus erat, Iunonis ut altae
spem caperet: nos semimari superamur ab hoste!
saxa trabesque super totosque involvite montes
vivacemque animam missis elidite silvis!
massa premat fauces, et erit pro vulnere pondus.’
dixit et insanis deiectam viribus austri
forte trabem nactus validum coniecit in hostem
exemplumque fuit, parvoque in tempore nudus
arboris Othrys erat, nec habebat Pelion umbras.
obrutus inmani cumulo sub pondere Caeneus
aestuat arboreo congestaque robora duris
fert umeris, sed enim postquam super ora caputque
crevit onus neque habet, quas ducat, spiritus auras,
deficit interdum, modo se super aera frustra
tollere conatur iactasque evolvere silvas
interdumque movet, veluti, quam cernimus, ecce,
ardua si terrae quatiatur motibus Ide.
exitus in dubio est: alii sub inania corpus
Tartara detrusum silvarum mole ferebant;
abnuit Ampycides medioque ex aggere fulvis
vidit avem pennis liquidas exire sub auras,
quae mihi tum primum, tunc est conspecta supremum.

One should sow with the hand, not with the whole sack

From Plutarch’s De Gloria Atheniensium (4.347F):

 “Corinna warned Pindar, who was still young and prided himself on his eloquence, that he was unpoetic for not telling myths, which are the proper business of poetry, but that he supported his works with unusual words, strange usages, paraphrases, songs, and rhythms, which are just embellishments of the subject matter. So Pindar, taking her words to heart, composed that famous poem, ‘Shall it be Ismenus . . . ?’ When he showed it to her, she laughed and said that one should sow with the hand, not with the whole sack.”


ἡ δὲ Κόριννα τὸν Πίνδαρον, ὄντα νέον ἔτι καὶ τῇ λογιότητι σοβαρῶς χρώμενον, ἐνουθέτησεν ὡς ἄμουσον ὄντα καὶ μὴ ποιοῦντα μύθους, ὃ τῆς ποιητικῆς ἔργον εἶναι συμβέβηκε, γλώττας δὲ καὶ καταχρήσεις καὶ μεταφράσεις καὶ μέλη καὶ ῥυθμοὺς ἡδύσματα τοῖς πράγμασιν ὑποτιθέντα. σφόδρ᾿ οὖν ὁ Πίνδαρος ἐπιστήσας τοῖς λεγομένοις ἐποίησεν ἐκεῖνο τὸ μέλος. δειξαμένου δὲ τῇ Κορίννῃ γελάσασα ἐκείνη τῇ χειρὶ δεῖν ἔφη σπείρειν, ἀλλὰ μὴ ὅλῳ τῷ θυλάκῳ

The line reference is preserved in Psuedo-Lucian’s In Praise of Demosthenes (or the Pindar Loeb v.2 pg. 232)

Shall it be Ismenus, or Melia of the golden spindle,
or Cadmus, or the holy race of the Spartoi,
or Thebe of the dark-blue fillet,
or the all-daring strength of Heracles,
or the wondrous honor of Dionysus,
or the marriage of white-armed Harmonia
that we shall hymn?


Ἰσμηνὸν ἢ χρυσαλάκατον Μελίαν
ἢ Κάδμον ἢ Σπαρτῶν ἱερὸν γένος ἀνδρῶν
ἢ τὰν κυανάμπυκα Θήβαν
ἢ τὸ πάντολμον σθένος Ἡρακλέος
5ἢ τὰν Διωνύσου πολυγαθέα τιμὰν
ἢ γάμον λευκωλένου Ἁρμονίας
ὑμνήσομεν;

μυριᾶν δ᾿ ἀρετᾶν ἀτελεῖ νόῳ γεύεται

From Pindar Nemean 3.40ish, with Loeb text and translation.

συγγενεῖ δέ τις εὐδοξίᾳ μέγα βρίθει.
ὃς δὲ διδάκτ᾿ ἔχει, ψεφεννὸς ἀνὴρ
ἄλλοτ᾿ ἄλλα πνέων οὔ ποτ᾿ ἀτρεκεῖ
κατέβα ποδί, μυριᾶν δ᾿ ἀρετᾶν ἀτελεῖ νόῳ γεύεται.

One with inborn glory carries great weight,
but he who has mere learning is a shadowy man;
ever changing his purpose, he never takes a precise
step, but attempts innumerable feats with an ineffectual
mind.

The single citation for ψεφεννός I can find is right here but it’s clearly related to another rare word – ψέφος or darkness (which appears as ψέφας in a fragment from Pindar).  But for the logic to follow, the sense has to be in contrast with βρίθω – which Slater’s Lexicon to Pindar, citing this appearance, gives as “be heavy met. συγγενεῖ δέ τις εὐδοξίᾳ μέγα βρίθει prevails, is powerful.”  The image would accordingly have to veer more toward  the association of dark with fog with shadow with shade/spirit with flitting lightness with inconstancy and ineffectuality.  And that movement toward spirit and lightness would seem confirmed with the next line’s πνέων which generally means ‘to breath’ but which Slater cites for this location as falling under the metaphorical sense of “be minded, have aspirations.”  All of which would come together in translation as:

One with inborn glory has great heft,
but he who has learning is an aery/insubstantial fog
aspiring now to one thing, now to another, and never
stepping with determined foot.  Countless achievements does he taste but with a mind that brings none to a conclusion.

I’m certainly projecting my own guilt for intellectual flightiness into Pindar’s conclusion but my rendering avoid’s the Loeb’s unjustifiable insertion of “[mere] learning.” My ἀτρεκής is easily within bounds of the accepted ‘precise, accurate, strict’, my γεύω sheds a loose metaphorical rendering, and my ἀτελής holds closer to the etymological basis.  I call it an improvement.  But the Loeb translator Race has the last laugh because I read his version while no one will read the one I spent 30 minutes on.

the choicest recompense for his great labors

From Pindar’s Nemean 1 (text and translation from the Loeb) – following baby Heracles’ dispatching of the Hera-sent snakes.  A personally revealing observation here but I much appreciate the simple touch that all his life’s labors lead only to peace (εἰρήνη) and quiet (ἡσυχία) – the latter called the choicest recompense (ποινὰν ἐξαίρετον) for his great efforts.  Too rarely is Heracles given a side past man of action and too rarely does Greek literature recognize the joy of relaxation.

[Amphitryon] summoned his neighbor,
the foremost prophet of highest Zeus,
the straight-speaking seer Teiresias, who declared to him
and to all the people what fortunes he would encounter:

all the lawless beasts he would slay on land
and all those in the sea;
and to many a man who traveled
in crooked excess he said that
he would give the most hateful doom.
And furthermore, when the gods would meet the Giants
in battle on the plain of Phlegra,
he said that beneath a volley of his arrows
their bright hair would be fouled

with earth, but that he himself
in continual peace for all time
would be allotted tranquillity as the choicest
recompense for his great labors…


γείτονα δ᾿ ἐκκάλεσεν
Διὸς ὑψίστου προφάταν ἔξοχον,
ὀρθόμαντιν Τειρεσίαν· ὁ δέ οἱ
φράζε καὶ παντὶ στρατῷ, ποίαις ὁμιλήσει τύχαις,

ὅσσους μὲν ἐν χέρσῳ κτανών,
ὅσσους δὲ πόντῳ θῆρας ἀιδροδίκας·
καί τινα σὺν πλαγίῳ
ἀνδρῶν κόρῳ στείχοντα τὸν ἐχθρότατον
φᾶσέ νιν δώσειν μόρον.
καὶ γὰρ ὅταν θεοὶ ἐν
πεδίῳ Φλέγρας Γιγάντεσσιν μάχαν
ἀντιάζωσιν, βελέων ὑπὸ ῥι-
παῖσι κείνου φαιδίμαν γαίᾳ πεφύρσεσθαι κόμαν

ἔνεπεν· αὐτὸν μὰν ἐν εἰρή-
νᾳ τὸν ἅπαντα χρόνον <ἐν> σχερῷ
ἡσυχίαν καμάτων μεγάλων
ποινὰν λαχόντ᾿ ἐξαίρετον