Pausanias 9.23.2–4, on the tomb of Pindar

2022.05.02 | By Gregory Nagy

§0. The three paragraphs of Pausanias that I quote and translate here are relevant to my ongoing research on the hero cults of poets. In that research, I took note of a traditional idea that is typical of such hero cults. The idea is this: poets as cult heroes, can be imagined as speaking their own poetry from the dead—more specifically, from the tomb where a given hero is buried and worshipped as a cult hero (Nagy 2021.04.30 and elsewhere). In what follows, I focus on some relevant evidence adduced by Pausanias in the context of his visit to the tomb of the master poet Pindar.

Painted panel in the “Villa Imperiale,” showing an enthroned Pindar, with lyre. Attending, among other figures, is his Muse.{9.23.2}  ὑπερβάντι δὲ τοῦ σταδίου τὰ ἐν δεξιᾷ δρόμος ἵππων καὶ ἐν αὐτῷ Πινδάρου μνῆμά ἐστι. Πίνδαρον δὲ ἡλικίαν ὄντα νεανίσκον καὶ ἰόντα ἐς Θεσπιὰς [θέρους] ὥρᾳ καύματος περὶ μεσοῦσαν μάλιστα ἡμέραν κόπος καὶ ὕπνος ἀπ’ αὐτοῦ κατελάμβανεν· ὁ μὲν δὴ ὡς εἶχε κατακλίνεται βραχὺ ὑπὲρ τῆς ὁδοῦ, μέλισσαι δὲ αὐτῷ καθεύδοντι προσεπέτοντό τε καὶ ἔπλασσον πρὸς τὰ χείλη τοῦ κηροῦ.

{9.23.3} ἀρχὴ μὲν Πινδάρῳ ποιεῖν ᾄσματα ἐγένετο τοιαύτη· εὐδοκιμοῦντα δὲ αὐτὸν ἤδη ἀνὰ πᾶσαν τὴν Ἑλλάδα ἐς πλέον δόξης ἦρεν ἡ Πυθία ἀνειποῦσα Δελφοῖς, ὁπόσων ἀπήρχοντο τῷ Ἀπόλλωνι, μοῖραν καὶ Πινδάρῳ τὴν ἴσην ἁπάντων νέμειν. λέγεται δὲ καὶ ὀνείρατος ὄψιν αὐτῷ γενέσθαι προήκοντι ἐς γῆρας· ἐπιστᾶσα ἡ Περσεφόνη οἱ καθεύδοντι οὐκ ἔφασκεν ὑμνηθῆναι μόνη θεῶν ὑπὸ Πινδάρου, ποιήσειν μέντοι καὶ ἐς αὐτὴν ᾆσμα Πίνδαρον ἐλθόντα ὡς αὐτήν.

{9.23.4}τὸν μὲν αὐτίκα τὸ χρεὼν ἐπιλαμβάνει πρὶν ἐξήκειν ἡμέραν δεκάτην ἀπὸ τοῦ ὀνείρατος, ἦν δὲ ἐν Θήβαις γυνὴ πρεσβῦτις γένους ἕνεκα προσήκουσα Πινδάρῳ καὶ τὰ πολλὰ μεμελετηκυῖα ᾄδειν τῶν ᾀσμάτων· ταύτῃ Πίνδαρος ἐνύπνιον τῇ πρεσβύτιδι ἐπιστὰς ὕμνον ᾖσεν ἐς Περσεφόνην, ἡ δὲ αὐτίκα ὡς ἀπέλιπεν αὐτὴν ὁ ὕπνος, ἔγραψε ταῦτα ὁπόσα τοῦ ὀνείρατος ἤκουσεν ᾄδοντος. ἐν τούτῳ τῷ ᾄσματι ἄλλαι τε ἐς τὸν Ἅιδην εἰσὶν ἐπικλήσεις καὶ ὁ χρυσήνιος, δῆλα ὡς ἐπὶ τῆς Κόρης τῇ ἁρπαγῇ.

{9.23.2} Crossing over the right side of the race-course-for-foot-racing [stadion] [at Thebes], you come to a race-course-for-chariot-racing [dromos hippōn]—and right there is the tomb [mnēma] of Pindar. When Pindar was a young man he was once on his way to Thespiai in the hot season. At about noon he was overcome with fatigue and, as a result, he fell asleep. Then, while he lay there a little way off-road, sleeping, some bees flitted over to him and plastered his lips with their wax.

{9.23.3} Such was the beginning of Pindar’s making [poieîn] of [lyric-] songs [noun āisma (in the plural), derived from the verb āidein aeidein ‘sing’]. When his reputation had already spread through all of Greece [Hellas], he was elevated to an even greater height of fame [doxa] by an order of the Pythian [priestess], who told the people of Delphi to allot to Pindar the equal portion [moira] of all the first-offerings that they offered to Apollo. It is also said that, when he reached old age, a vision [opsis] came to him in a dream. As he slept, Persephone stood over him and said that she was the only one of all the deities [theoi] whom Pindar had not praised-in-song [humneîn], but she went on to say that Pindar would make [poieîn] for her too a song [noun āisma, derived from the verb āidein aeidein ‘sing’]—once he had come to her [in the realm of Hādēs].

{9.23.4} Soon after that, what-must-happen [to all] caught up with Pindar, [who died]—before even ten days had passed since the dream. Now there lived in Thebes an old woman related by birth to Pindar, and she had-practice [meletân] in singing [āidein aeidein] most of his songs  [noun āisma (in the plural), derived from the verb āidein aeidein ‘sing’]. This old woman had a dream-vision [en-(h)upnion]: it was Pindar, standing over her, and he sang [āidein aeidein] a song[-of-praise] [humnos] for Persephone. Immediately on waking out of her sleep she wrote-down [graphein] all she had heard him singing [āidein aeidein] in her dream. In this song [noun āisma, derived from the verb āidein aeidein ‘sing’], among the epithets-of-invocation [epiklēseis] directed at [the god] Hādēs is khrūs-(h)ēnios ‘holding-the-(chariot’s)-golden-reins—clearly in-commemoration-of [epi plus dative] the abduction [harpagē] of Persephone.

§1. Relevant to my presentation is the commentary of Johanna Hanink (2018:248) on this text of Pausanias. Also relevant is the general perspective of Emmanuela Bakola on poets as cult heroes (2018:125, 137) .

§2. And the relevance extends further, since there are striking parallels to be found in lore about the tomb of Virgil, as we see from an incisive analysis by Irene Peirano Garrison (2018).


Bakola, E. 2018. “Earth, Nature, and the Cult of the Tomb: The Posthumous Reception of Aeschylus heros.” In Tombs of the ancient poets: Between literary reception and material culture (ed. N. Goldschmidt and B. Graziosi ) 12–145. Oxford.

Clay, D. 2004. Archilochus Heros: The Cult of Poets in the Greek Polis. Washington, DC and Cambridge, MA.

Goldschmidt, N., and B. Graziosi, eds. 2018. Tombs of the ancient poets: Between literary reception and material culture. Oxford.

Hanink, J. 2018. “Pausanias’ Dead Poets Society.” In Tombs of the ancient poets: Between literary reception and material culture (ed. N. Goldschmidt and B. Graziosi ) 235–250. Oxford.

Nagy, G. 2008. “Convergences and Divergences between God and Hero in the Mnesiepes Inscription of Paros.” In Archilochus and his Age II, ed. D. Katsonopoulou, I. Petropoulos, S. Katsarou, 259–265. Athens.

Nagy, G. 2013. The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours. Cambridge, MA.

Nagy, G. 2018.06.06. “Picturing Archilochus as cult hero.” Classical Inquiries.

Nagy, G. 2021.04.30. “On the idea of dead poets as imagined by T. S. Eliot, compared with ideas about reperformance, Part III.” Classical Inquiries.

Nagy, G. 2022.01.10. “Annotations about archaic Greek lyric, Part 1: Archilochus, poet and cult hero.” Classical Continuum.

Peirano Garrison, I. 2018. “Virgil’s Tomb in Scholarly and Popular Culture.” In Tombs of the ancient poets: Between literary reception and material culture (ed. N. Goldschmidt and B. Graziosi ) 265–280. Oxford.




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