Olympian Ode I
Chiefest is water of all things, for streaming
Therefrom all life and existence came;
And all proud treasure of princes the gleaming
Splendour of gold outshines, as the flame
Of a great fire flings through the night its rays.
But, heart of mine, if thou fain wouldst praise
Triumphs in athlete-contests won,
Search not, when day with his glory is glowing,
For a radiant star more life bestowing
In the whole void sky, than the kingly sun.
Even so shall we find no brighter crown
Than Olympia giveth whereof to sing;
For thence doth the chant of high renown
O’er the spirits of bards its perfume fling,
When, the praise of Kronion in song resounding,
Unto Hiero’s blest heart wealth-abounding
The hymn of his praise they bring.
Hiero!—yea, for the rod of his power
Is a scepter of righteousness stretched o’er the land
Of the myriad flocks; and the choice of the flower
Of chivalry ever is plucked by his hand.
Yea, and he also is garlanded
With the blossom of song enstarring his head,
The song that with gladsome voices now
We singers chant, at the banquet meeting
Of the Prince who giveth us friendhsip’s greeting.
Now, O my Muse, from its rest take thou
The lyre that is strung to the Dorian strain,
If the glory of fleet Pherenikus, he
Who triumphed in Pisa’s Olympian plain,
Haply with rapture of song thrilled thee,
When flashed in the course by Alpheus’ river
His body by lash or by goad touched never,
And wedded to victory.
His lord, the ruler of Syracuse-town
The king who joyeth in gallant steeds,
Flasheth afar his name’s renown,
Flasheth from Sicily far over sea
Where Pelops, the exile from Lydia’s meads,
Founded a hero-colony—
Pelops, beloved of the Earth-enfolder,
Poseidon the strong, when the Fate of the Thread
Drew him resplendent with ivory shoulder
From the undefiled laver, whom men deemed dead.
There be legends full many; and fables hoary
With inventions manifold broidered o’er
Falsify legend, I wot, with a story
Wherein truth liveth no more.
But the Grace of Beauty, which aye is weaving
All manner of charm round the souls of men,
Taketh these tales unworthy believing,
And arrays them in honour; so cometh it then
That man with unwavering credence clings
To a false-feigned tale of impossible things.
But the after-days are witnesses
That be wisest. Reverent speech beseemeth
The mortal who uttereth that which he deemeth
Of the Gods—so shall his reproach be less.
O Tantalus’ son, I will speak not as they
Who told thy story in days of old!
But thy father bade thee a guest that day
To a banquet arrayed by the righteous-souled
Upon Sipylus’ loved height—so he tendered
To the Gods requital for boons they had rendered.
On a sudden the chariot of gold
Of the Lord of the Trident gleaming splendid,
Whose soul was with love for thy youth overcome,
Bare thee, as up through the blue ye ascended,
To imperial Zeus’s glory-home,
Whither also came in the after-day
Ganymedes ravised from earth away
In halls celestial the nectar to pour,
But when viewless thus from the earth they had caught thee,
Nor the questers that far and near had sought thee
To the arms of thy mother could thee restore,
Then spake some neighbor in envious spite
A whispered slander of sin and shame,
How that over the boiling water’s might
Which hissed in the bronze that bestrode the flame
Did they carve thy flesh with the knife, and seethe it,
And served at the feats, and –dare lips breathe it?—
That the God-guests ate of the same.
But impossible is it for me to call
Any Blest One man-eater—with loathing and scorn
I recoil! Oh, the profit is passing small
That the dealer in slander hath oftentimes found.
But if ever a man on the earth was born
Whom the Watchers from Heaven with honour crowned,
That man was Tantalus: yet of their favour
No profit he had, or of that hight bliss.
But the man’s proud stomach was drunk with its savour
And gorged with pride; and by reason of this
He drew on him ruin utter-crashing;
For Zeus hung o’er him a huge black scaur,
And he cowers from it aye on his head down-rushing
From happiness exiled far.
And there unto torment fettered for ever
Living on, living on in eternal despair
He abides with the Three on whom hope dawns never,
He who from the feast of the Gods could dare
To steal ambrosia and nectar whereby
They had given him immortality,
That the guests of his wine-cup might revel thereon!
But who thinketh to hide his evil doing
From God, he errs to his bitter ruin!
So then the Immortals sent back his son
Exiled to earth from the heavenly home,
Thenceforth with the sons of a day to abide.
But in process of time, when Pelops was come
To the flower-bright season of life' s springtide,
When the soft rose-tint of his cheek 'gan darken,
To the whisper of love did his spirit hearken,
And he dreamed of the world-famed bride,
Hippodaemia, the glorious daughter
Of the Lord of Pisa, a prize for him
Who could win her. Alone by the surf-white water
Of the sea he stood in the darkness dim.
To the Thunderer-voiced he cried o'er the wave,
To the Lord of the Trident mighty to save:
And lo, at his side did the God appear.
And 'O Poseidon," he spake imploring,
"If the gifts of the Cyprian Queen's outpouring
To thy spirit, O King, be in any wise dear,
His bronze lance let not Oenomaus lift
To mine hurt, but cause me to Elis to ride
On a god-given chariot passing swift:
There throne thou me by victory's side.
For lovers by that spear merciless-slaying
Have died thirteen, and he still is delaying
To bestow his child as a bride.
In the path doth a mighty peril lie;
To the craven soul no welcome it gives.
But, seeing a man must needs once die,
Wherefore should I unto old age screen
From peril a life that only lives,
Sitting nameless and fameless in darkness unseen,
In the deeds of the valiant never sharing?
Nay, lies at my feet the challenge now:
I will accept it for doing and daring!
Good speed to mine heart's desire grant thou!"
Not fruitless the cry of his heart's desiring
Was uttered. The God heard gracious-souled,
And crowned him with honour. Winged steeds untiring
He gave a chariot of gold.
So he won for his bride that maiden peerless;
For her terrible father he overcame.
And she bare to him six sons battle-fearless,
Captains of war-hosts, thirsting for fame.
And his portion assured hath Pelops still
Where the priests the blood of the sacrifice spill;
And unto his tomb resorteth the throng
Of strangers from far who have heard his story.
From his grave-mound his spirit beholdeth the glory
Of the mighty Olympian strife of the strong
In the course that from Pelops its name hath ta'en,
Wherein be contending the swift to run
And the thews that be might in wrestling-strain.
and whoso therein hathh the victory won,
Thereafter on through his life-days ever
Sweetly his peace shall flow as a river
Blissfully gliding on
For those Games' sake. Yea the good that unceasing
On man's lot daily as dew droppeth down
In that which to each is most well-pleasing.
Now is it my bounden duty to crown
With a strain wherein hoof-beats triumphant ring
In Aeolian mood Sicilia's King.
And hereof is my spirit assured past doubt
That amidst all men on the wide earth dwelling
There is found no host whom with prouder-swelling
Notes in many a winding bout
Of noble song I may glorify;
Yea, none more learned in honour's lore,
None who showeth therein more potency.
The God who guardeth thee watcheth o'er
Thine hopes and thine aims, that no evil assail thee;
And if--O nay, but he cannot fail thee!--
I trust ere long once more
To chant a triumph than all more sweet,
Inspiration-wafted, as one that flies
In a chariot, on paths of utterance meet,
Till I win unto Kronos' Hill sunbright.
O yea, in my Muses quiver lies
A song-arrow winged for stronger flight.
By diverse paths men upward aspire:
Earth's highest summit by kings is attained.
Thou therefore look to attain no higher
Than earth. Be it thine on the height thou hast gained
To pace mid splendour of royal achieving
Thy life through: mine be it no less long
To consort with victors, from Hellas receiving
The world o'er praise for my song.
--translated, A. S. Way
Olympia = city in Greece for which our Olympics are named
Kronos = leader of the Titans, ruled during the Golden Age
Heiron = tyrant king of Syracuse, city in Sicily, owns horse that wins the race
Dorian = one of the Greek musical modes; a lyre’s like a harp
Pisa = city in Italy of leaning tower fame; home of Oenomaus
Pherenicus = Heiron's horse, wins the real race
Alpheus = a river god and a river in NW Greece
Lydian Pelops = from Lydia (now Turkey), grandson of Zeus, founder of Olympic games
Poseidon = god of sea
Clotho = one of 3 fates, she spins the thread of life
Tantalus = son of Zeus, father of Pelops
Hippodaemia = wife of Pelops, daughter of Oenomaus
Aphrodite = goddess of love
Oenomaus = son of Ares & king of Pisa; races against Pelops and loses
Elis = site of first Olympics