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  • Deixis, Performance, and Poetics in Pindar's First Olympian Ode
  • Lucia Athanassaki

In her work on Pindar's First Olympian Ode, Lucia Athanassaki studies the types of person deixis established between the participants in the communicative act (laudator, laudandus, heroes, and gods), their temporal and spatial localizations, and the interaction of these localizations in the course of the performance. Her aim is to explore the inscribed performative strategies and to assess their significance for Pindaric poetics. By tracking the pathway of ego, she shows that this first-person figure "visits" the mythic world of Pelops, particularly when addressing the re-envisioned hero through apostrophe—a case of Mohammed going to the mountain. This poetic speech-act engages ego in projected deixis, and the Pindaric audiences accompany him. Because of its deictic pattern, Athanassaki argues, Olympian 1 is especially suitable for performance and re-performance—not only in the victor's homeland of Syracuse but at Olympia as well. She suggests, moreover, that whatever the original mode of performance, the symmetrical alternation of second- and third-person deixis in the mythical and encomiastic sections allows for monodic, choral, or even mixed execution. In terms of poetics, she concludes, the underlying performative strategies strengthen Pindar's claim to be a master of truth.

More than any other choral genre, epinician poetry poses a special challenge. Simultaneous re-enactment of glorious achievements in the hic et nunc of reception and of divine and heroic deeds in illo tempore is the challenge of poets composing with an eye to performance. Almost all extant epinicians display a common pattern: they commemorate a specific historical victory in the light of memorable heroic and divine deeds in the remote past. Mythical narrative is, of course, an integral component of all choral lyric. What distinguishes epinician poems are the detailed references to the historical persons and events they commemorate. Epinician performative practices are forever lost to us, but we can explore, in the surviving texts, the various ways that epinician poets brought victorious athletes, heroes, and gods to life in performance through a nexus of deictic markers. Deictic markers were among the devices that enabled the chorus to bring before their audience's eyes distant events featuring distant characters, taking place in different places at different times.

Many epinician odes offer deictic indications that point to the place or places where epinician performance was either intended or, at least, suitable.1 Study of epinician deixis can shed light upon the range of performative strategies inscribed in the texts and thus offer readers an idea [End Page 317] of the pragmatics of epinician performance as well as insight into the spectrum of possibilities the poets saw as they endeavored to bring together in the intimate space of performance their contemporaries, the heroes of the remote past, and the gods.2

"When?" "where?" and "who?" are the three general categories of questions that deixis addresses. In an everyday act of communication, a speaker of English who knows nothing about the particular social circumstances of the speech-act can make a number of safe inferences even from a minimal utterance such as "May we come in?," to use Charles Fillmore's test case sentence. It is evident that three beings are involved: the speaker (A), the addressee (B), and at least one companion of the speaker (C), who can, according to Fillmore, be either a person or a pet. A and C are in front of an enclosed space to which the addressee has authority to grant them permission to enter. The pronoun "we" is inclusive of more than one individual but exclusive of the addressee. The time of the event is the time of the utterance of the request by the speaker.3 "May we come in?" is, therefore, a socially anchored sentence, whereas a message such as "Meet me here at noon tomorrow with a stick about this big," found in a bottle afloat on the ocean is an extreme example of a total absence of deictic anchorage (Fillmore 1997.60-61). These are, of course, simple sentences that illustrate the nature and function of linguistic deixis; once they form part of discourse, the time, the place, and...


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