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  • Pindar Nemean 4.57-58 and the Arts of Poets, Trainers, and Wrestlers
  • Nigel Nicholson
Pindar Nemean 4.54-581

By the foot of Pelion, turning against Iolcus with hostile hand, Peleus gave it over to the Haemonians to be their servant, using the crafty arts of Hippolyta, wife of Acastus.

For most of the modern history of the text of Pindar's odes, Nemean 4.57-58 have been seen as a problem. The lines seem to suggest a Peleus who is not suited to be a model of aristocratic conduct: a guest who made common cause with his host's wife and treacherously attacked him. Some recent critics have rejected the idea that this passage offers an unfavorable portrait of Peleus, but, in this paper, I argue that these lines do indeed disturb a smooth understanding of aristocratic ethics. What needs particular attention is a term that has been ignored, , the arts or skills that Peleus seems to use. "Art" is the central ideological problem of this ode and a particularly loaded word for an aristocrat, signifying many of the things he despised and [End Page 31] feared: commodity exchange, the rise of the baseborn, and the success of those without appropriate natural ability. Yet art was crucial to the celebration of this Nemean victory, not only the art of the poet, but also the art of wrestling practiced by the victor Timasarchus and taught by his trainer Melesias. The connection of Peleus to art that Nemean 4.57-58 suggests is thus both unacceptable and potentially troubling in that it points the audience towards interrogating the relationship of the aristocracy to art. While the rest of the ode works to conceal the presence of art in the economy of this athletic victory, this problematic moment serves to expose the role of art in this victory celebration.

Although the majority of editors used to agree that the lines suggested an unacceptable role for Peleus, the balance has shifted in more recent years. Many modern critics have sought to show that the lines can be understood in ways that are not prejudicial to Peleus' aristocratic standing, and such interpretations are now standard. In Part I, I defend the earlier understanding that the lines naturally suggest that Peleus uses Hippolyta's "crafty arts," but also agree with more recent commentators that a more appropriate understanding can be wrung out of the lines. Where I differ from both camps is in seeing the determination of meaning as a process that takes time: some interpretations that are now accepted are possible, but cannot be seen as the immediate suggestion of the text. The lines initially suggest that Peleus is using Hippolyta's "crafty arts," and it is only because the audience is compelled to reject this suggestion that it works to produce a meaning for the text that conforms to aristocratic ethics.

In Parts II and III, I show that the prominence of art is the central ideological problem treated by the ode. In Part II, I examine the association of Timasarchus, Pindar, and Melesias with art and show art's anti-aristocratic associations. On the one hand, art, , was seen in some contexts as opposed to the natural abilities that were the mark of an aristocrat's superiority and taken as the justification of his power; on the other hand, art was particularly implicated in commodity exchange. Art was thought of as something that was for sale, not something that participated in a gift exchange economy, and thus, to an aristocrat, artisans were certainly marked as non-aristocratic, and possibly as untrustworthy and hostile.

Nemean 4, like many other odes, attempts to associate the poet's art with the aristocratic economy of gift exchange, but what is especially interesting about this ode is that it is not only the poet whose status is threatened by his use of art. The wrestling of the victor and the teaching of the trainer must also be made to fit the aristocratic code of ethics, and it is [End Page 32] through the identification of all three figures with a suitably refigured idea of wrestling that the use of art that is foundational to...


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