Abstract Part I opens with a brief overview of the development of the various strands of Greek lyric poetry, as they are differentiated today, from their roots embedded in the epics of Homer to their finest flowering in the works of the fifth-century authors Pindar and Bacchylides. This prepares the reader for an outline of the purpose and structure of the pair’s so-called epinīkia or ‘victory-odes’, the particular genre that constitutes the most numerous and generally best-preserved examples of their extant corpus, some of which are the subject of extensive commentary in Part II. Such songs were performance-pieces commissioned by individual victors or their families to celebrate a triumph at the games that formed part of the program of a religious festival, usually at the ‘grand-circuit’ sites of (in descending order of importance and prestige) Olympia, Delphi, Isthmia, and Nemea. There it was that the traditional competitiveness that reflected the ‘heroic’ ethos already evident in Homer’s tales might find safe expression among later generations of Hellenes. Excerpts chosen from various epinīkia will show how deft their composers needed to be in satisfying patrons and public alike, given the need both to acknowledge the sacred milieu in which the victory was secured, and to accommodate changing social attitudes in these decades immediately surrounding the Persian Wars.
I have then included a summary of how the festival at Olympia had emerged from a localized cult-ceremony in prehistoric times to assume its position in the early fifth century BC as the premier rallying-point for Hellenes from all over the diaspora. There they could assert their common ‘Greekness’, and their fellows compete for the most prestigious of crowns.
The passage of time has rendered most of the subjects to whom epinīkia are dedicated merely names, something which has often compounded the problems associated with interpreting our poets’ intentions. Consequently, and in anticipation of the specific examples of the form chosen in Part II, I present a profile of the historically best-known patron of both authors: Hieron, tyrant of Syracuse from 478-466. In so doing I demonstrate how a man even in his position of supreme power and wealth saw it as desirable not only to compete and win at Olympia and elsewhere, but to utilise the epinician poet’s art both for political purposes and for the preservation of his legacy of success both on and off the hippodrome. To complete the background to the major section of the work I provide a sketch of Bacchylides’ career, as far as it can be ascertained, and a brief explanation of how I have approached the task of choosing a text (which occasionally includes my own conjectures) as the basis for what follows.
Part II delivers a translation of Bacchylides’ four commissions for Hieron, including one non-epinician but related piece, along with grammatical commentaries on two of the songs in full (fr. 20C, Ode 4), and on the other two in part (Ode 5, Ode 3). These are all the while set in their historical and social contexts and draw germane stylistic comparisons and contrasts with parallel and other compositions of his rival Pindar. In this way, aspects of both poets’ mastery of the genre, the exacting demands of which were detailed in Part I, can be appreciated.