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  • The Poetic Effects of Deixis in Pindar's Ninth Pythian Ode
  • Nancy Felson

In her treatment of deixis in Pythian 9, Nancy Felson examines several degrees of deictic displacement. She shows that, in the embedded mythic exchange between Apollo and Cheiron, initial embedded ocular deixis anchors the exchange; but eventually, in Cheiron's prophecy, embedded fictional deixis imaginatively transports the god (and with him Pindaric audiences) to Cyrene at the time of its founding. In the programmatic opening of the ode (1-4), the ocular deixis is less defining, and deictic language never directly designates Cyrene as the hic et nunc. Instead, "now" seems to coincide with the anticipated and imminent welcome home of the victor, a future moment to which the performance of the ode is displaced. Celebration of that welcome is interrupted by a further displacement-a poetic sojourn at Thebes that seems to promise vicarious transport to the auditors, but, in the end, merely orients them in the direction of the poet's own hometown. By its intimacy with the deictic ego, however, the city of Thebes functions as an indexical sign of ego and his creative process, a place to which he can "return" (in this and other odes) with relative ease. Pragmatically, the sojourn at the outskirts of Thebes, replete with its local heroes and the inspirational waters of Dirce, gives audiences imaginative access to the locus of poetic composition and inspiration even as it contributes to the formation of an epinician convention.

The loss of the original performance context poses special interpretive problems for understanding the Pindaric epinikion as a performance text. Even though the transcript (Nagy 1996.153-86) of an ode, by itself, offers only limited access to the information we need to fully appreciate it as originally performed, we may find ways to supplement and situate it. These include study of the archaeology and reconstruction of the political and social history of the homeland of each victor and of the social practices underlying the pan-Hellenic Games and their celebration through poetry. Despite some progress in restoring individual odes to their original religious, social, and political contexts,1 precise information about the place of performance itself and the circumstances of performance is, as John Herington (1985.28) has observed, only rarely given to us, though the odes tend not to contradict the assumption of performance in the victor's hometown. Gildersleeve, in his 1965 [1890] commentary, occasionally offers his own astute conjectures as to the site of a particular ode's performance or the nature of its festive occasion, and so do other scholars, most recently Gentili et al. 1995, Krummen 1990, and, for the Cyrenean odes, Calame 2003. [End Page 365] Moreover, Bundy 1986 [1962] and 1972 advance our understanding of the conventions of referring to person, place, and time in victory odes, a "conventional pointing" that any deictic analysis of the odes needs to consider. The referentiality, in particular, of the first-person pronoun-a topic of recent debate2 that has refocused attention not only on performance but on the function of person deixis within individual odes and in the epinician corpus-hearkens back to Bundy's approach, as does the notion of the "encomiastic future" (re-examined by D'Alessio, this volume).

Given the inadequacy, then, of our evidence for the details of epinician performances, we can only speculate as to how deictics once functioned at the first performance and thereafter. Might the considerable and growing body of research on deixis as a linguistic phenomenon come to our rescue? Is it possible, using a deictic approach, to extract more performance detail from the transcript of an ode than we have done to date and to broaden our discussion of deixis and the epinikion within a larger study of deixis and choral lyric?

As a contribution to the dialogue on that topic, this paper, along with my earlier essay on "Vicarious Transport: Fictive Deixis in Pindar's Pythian Four," draws on pragmatics and cognitive linguistics to describe and assess Pindar's deictic strategies in Pythian 9. I try to show how the poet combines these strategies with other narratological manipulations of plot to enlist his auditors (and...


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