Scholia Reviews ns 17 (2008) 24.

Hanna Boeke, The Value of Victory in Pindar's Odes: Gnomai, Cosmology, and the Role of the Poet. Mnemosyne Supplementa: Monographs on Greek and Roman Language and Literature 285. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2007. Pp. x + 230. ISBN 978-90-04-15848-1. Euro89.00, US$125.00.

P. J. Finglass
University of Nottingham, England, U.K.

In 1994 Hanna Boeke left the insurance industry after fifteen years to study for an M.A. in Classics. Pindarists should welcome her change of career, since one of its products is this helpful book, which will be of value to scholars and students alike.

The volume contains six chapters: (1) ‘Introduction’ (pp. 1-10), (2) ‘Gnomai as a Source of Cosmological Reflection’ (pp. 11-28), (3) ‘The Gnomic Expression of Cosmology in Pindar’ (pp. 29-102), (4) ‘Cosmology in Action: An Analysis of Selected Odes’ (pp. 103-60), (5) ‘The Poet as Mediator of Cosmology’ (pp. 161-94), (6) ‘Conclusion’ (pp. 195-98). As stated in the preface (p. ix), Boeke’s aim is ‘to investigate the world view revealed in the gnomai [of Pindar’s poetry] and to determine how it influenced the way in which individual victors were celebrated’. ‘World view’ in that quotation is a synonym for the ‘cosmology’ of the book’s title; Boeke later admits (p. 30, n. 7) -- a discussion better put in the introduction -- that her only reason for preferring the latter term over the former (and over the German ‘Weltanschauung’) is that it is better supplied with derivatives.

Chapter 2 sets out the idea that ‘the gnomai of antiquity reflect the views of ancient communities on the nature of their world and how this world works with regard to both human and extra-human realities’ (p. 13), before discussing some ancient remarks on the value of gnomai. While not an addition to knowledge, this nevertheless contains a useful collection of information. In the following, and much longer, chapter, Boeke collects and sorts Pindaric gnomai under the two headings ‘The Elemental Forces: Fate, God, Nature, and Man’ (p. 32) and ‘Man in Society’ (p. 72) -- under which cluster various subheadings, without a numbering system to help readers find their way around -- with a view to setting out the cosmology of his poems. Again, this is a helpful arrangement of various well-known Pindaric themes rather than a novel analysis.

The fourth chapter draws on the preceding material ‘to investigate how Pindar applies cosmological ideas for encomiastic purposes’ (p. 103) in particular poems: after a brief discussion of Pythian Seven and Nemean Two, Boeke moves onto analyses of Olympian Twelve, Isthmian Four, and Olympian Thirteen. To give one example, in her discussion of Olympian Twelve, Boeke intelligently analyses how Pindar makes use of the topic of the victor’s family in a way that ‘displays sensitivity to the circumstances of a particular laudandus and insight into the realities of his position’ (p. 106). These carefully and clearly argued close readings form the best and most original part of the book. The final chapter before the conclusion is a discussion of the role and function of the Pindaric narrator, which again contains much to stimulate thought.

Boeke’s ability to shed new light on hoary problems can be seen early on in her discussion of Elroy Bundy’s contribution to Pindaric studies.[[1]] She points out (p. 5) that while Bundy declared that the sole purpose of Isthmian One was ‘the glorification . . . of Herodotos of Thebes’, he qualified that statement with the words ‘within the considerations of ethical, religious, social, and literary propriety’. As a result, she argues, Bundy’s own text indicates that ‘praise for an individual has to stay within certain boundaries which are not determined by rhetorical convention but by the practices and norms of society’. In the light of this, the opposition often drawn between Bundy’s formalism and more recent approaches, which stress the importance of the historical context of a particular ode, breaks down somewhat. If Bundy had developed his work on Pindar after his Studia Pindarica of 1962, he might have gone on to explore the implications of that vital qualification.

Boeke writes well and it always easy to follow. The clarity of her exposition is all the more remarkable given her exposure to the corporate and academic worlds, both notorious for the use of jargon. She patiently and politely corrects a scholar whose linguistic (English, not Greek) errors lead her into absurdity (p. 162 n. 3). She is up to date not only with Pindaric scholarship (citing, for example, the recent volume edited by Hornblower and Morgan,[[2]] even though it appeared in the same year as her own), but also with the latest work on other authors bearing on her argument (for example, p. 16 n. 24 on Isocrates, p. 19 n. 27 on the Rhetorica ad Alexandrum, pp. 38f. n. 30 on the authenticity of a line in Hesiod).

The book is accurately printed, well bound, and attractively produced: a credit to author and publisher.[[3]]


[[1]] E. Bundy, Studia Pindarica (Berkeley 1962).

[[2]] S. Hornblower and C. Morgan (edd.), Pindar's Poetry, Patrons, and Festivals. From Archaic Greece to the Roman Empire (Oxford 2007).

[[3]] Some points of detail. (p. 79 n. 129) ‘breathe at ground level’ is an odd translation of P. 11.30 (p. 201). Evelyn-White’s Hesiod was published in 1914, not 1959. For the convenience of readers, articles by Erbse, Lloyd-Jones, and Woodbury should have been cited from those scholars’ Collected Papers as well as from their original place of publication. (Barrett’s papers too have now been gathered together in W. S. Barrett (ed. M. L. West), Greek Lyric, Tragedy, and Textual Criticism: Collected Papers (Oxford 2007), though that volume was presumably not available to Boeke. If it had been, she would have cited pp. 162-67 of that book in support of her (correct) decision (at p. 113 n. 36) to take Isthmian Three and Four as two separate poems, against, for example, Snell).