Contrasting Pindar, Sophocles and Aristophanes

Pindar’s Pythian; Sophocles’ Ajax; Aristophanes’ Birds

Pindar Pythian II.49-52:

θεὸς ἅπαν ἐπὶ ἐλπίδεσσι τέκμαρ ἀνύεται,
θεός, ὃ καὶ πτερόεντ᾽ αἰετὸν κίχε, καὶ θαλασσαῖον παραμείβεται
δελφῖνα, καὶ ὑψιφρόνων τιν᾽ ἔκαμψε βροτῶν,
ἑτέροισι δὲ κῦδος ἀγήραον παρέδωκ᾽.

Sophocles Ajax 758-61:

τὰ γὰρ περισσὰ κἀνόνητα σώματα
πίπτειν βαρείαις πρὸς θεῶν δυσπραξίαις
ἔφασχ᾽ ὁ μάντις, ὅστις ἀνθρώπου φύσιν
βλαστὼν ἔπειτα μὴ κατ᾽ ἄνθρωπον φρονῇ.

Aristophanes Birds 1236-1257:


Πισθέταιρος

ὄρνιθες ἀνθρώποισι νῦν εἰσιν θεοί,
οἷς θυτέον αὐτούς, ἀλλὰ μὰ Δί᾽ οὐ τῷ Διί.

 


Ἶρις

ὦ μῶρε μῶρε μὴ θεῶν κίνει φρένας
δεινάς, ὅπως μή σου γένος πανώλεθρον
Διὸς μακέλλῃ πᾶν ἀναστρέψῃ Δίκη,
λιγνὺς δὲ σῶμα καὶ δόμων περιπτυχὰς
καταιθαλώσῃ σου Λικυμνίαις βολαῖς.

 


Πισθέταιρος

ἄκουσον αὕτη: παῦε τῶν παφλασμάτων:
ἔχ᾽ ἀτρέμα. φέρ᾽ ἴδω, πότερα Λυδὸν ἢ Φρύγα
ταυτὶ λέγουσα μορμολύττεσθαι δοκεῖς;
ἆρ᾽ οἶσθ᾽ ὅτι Ζεὺς εἴ με λυπήσει πέρα,
μέλαθρα μὲν αὐτοῦ καὶ δόμους Ἀμφίονος
καταιθαλώσω πυρφόροισιν αἰετοῖς;
πέμψω δὲ πορφυρίωνας ἐς τὸν οὐρανὸν
ὄρνις ἐπ᾽ αὐτὸν παρδαλᾶς ἐνημμένους
πλεῖν ἑξακοσίους τὸν ἀριθμόν. καὶ δή ποτε
εἷς Πορφυρίων αὐτῷ παρέσχε πράγματα.
σὺ δ᾽ εἴ με λυπήσεις τι, τῆς διακόνου
πρώτης ἀνατείνας τὼ σκέλει διαμηριῶ
τὴν Ἶριν αὐτήν, ὥστε θαυμάζειν ὅπως
οὕτω γέρων ὢν στύομαι τριέμβολον.

 


Ἶρις

διαρραγείης ὦ μέλ᾽ αὐτοῖς ῥήμασιν.

 

Analysis:

The first point to make when comparing these passages is that each of the three belong to a different genre. Each displays characteristics of their respective genre, be it lyric, comedy or tragedy, but the overarching message is the same. Men belong under Gods in power and authority, and should know their place. Hubris, as implied by all the writers, will inevitably incur the wrath of the Gods and as such, piety and temperance should be practiced by all men. Aristophanes however makes the message with a less clear conclusion. The style by which this message is relayed is, characteristically different, but there are similar themes utilised by each, and the venue each would have been performed at would quite likely have been similar.

Pindar, the lyric poet, uses the most expressive language to get his point across. The message is relayed in poetic meter, and his verse is more succinct than Aristophanes’ passage. He utilises animals as a comparison to ‘God’, drawing upon a familiarly swift creature for sky and sea in order to demonstrate just how much better divinity is. This use of simile is standard practice for lyric poetry. Once God’s superiority is established, Pindar has now justified his claim that a man who oversteps his place in the world will be denied glory in favour of the more humble man. It is possible that Pythian was written with a benefactor in mind, a man Pindar refers to as ‘others’, whose humility and piety will earn him ‘ageless glory’.

Sophocles too writes a succinct passage in order to get his message across. He states that no matter how big and strong a man is in comparison to other men, if they get too full of themselves, they will be punished by the Gods in heaven. Given that this is a tragic passage, it is possible that the messenger, a minor character, could be speaking in the authorial voice, so that the passage is actually spoken from the mouth of Sophocles himself. As Plato believed, Tragedy was apart from history in that the message from it warned of dangers to come. From the mouth of Sophocles himself, he could well be saying to the audience of whichever festival this was performed at that they themselves should remain humble and pious, for fear of divine wrath.

Aristophanes here makes use of more light-hearted, comedic language to give his message. The theme of Gods against men is emphasised with the personification of Iris against Peisetairos. In the fashion of ‘Old Comedy’, Pesietairos is depicted as the protagonist, with Iris in this passage representing an unwelcome visitor. Though there is no chorus in this passage, the Birds play this role. The use of such light-hearted language as ‘flapdoodle’ and sexual obscenity make light of a clearly serious message.  It is interesting to note that unlike the other two passages, Aristophanes does not resolve this passage with Gods clearly outdoing man. Instead, he ridicules Iris, and though the warning that Zeus may well be Peisetairos’ undoing is strong indeed, the protagonist is fearless and does not hesitate to attack the Goddess Iris herself, going so far as to call her a servant. It is unclear whether this is simply use of ‘Comedic license’ or the views are Aristophanes’ own, he himself not trusting in the power of the Gods.

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