Monday, December 15, 2008

Pindar's House

The great Emathian conqueror bidd spare
The house of Pindarus when temple and towre
Went to the ground.

These lines are from Milton's 8th sonnet. The "Emathian conqueror" is Alexander the Great, who, when his troops were about to destroy Thebes, gave orders that Pindar's house should be left intact. It is not really surprising that Alexander would admire Pindar. His poetry urges great men to accomplish great deeds, and chides those who would stay close to home and fade into oblivion. Alexander should have paid more attention, however, to Pindar's warning that men should not strive too far, lest they overreach human boundaries. Alexander's sights were set on no less than the entire world, and he only stopped because he did not have the necessary support from his men. What is even worse, he petitioned (or maybe paid) an oracle to declare that he was the son of Zeus and therefore partly divine. Pindar clearly warned men not to seek godly things: μὴ ματεύσῃ θεὸς γενέσθαι.

For more on the story of Alexander and Pindar's house, see Slater 1971, "Pindar's House," in Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies, and also Plutarch.Alex.11, Arrian.Hist.Alex.1.9.10, Pliny.Nat.Hist.7.29, and Dio Chrysostom.2.33.


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