Abstract–Preface to Pindar: Early Classical Choral Songs and the Language of Genre

The paper, which argues that Greek philology needs an injection of cultural relativism and attention to indigenous ways of thinking (‘ethnopoetics’), focuses on the problems of genre and cultural distance in reading early Greek poetic texts and especially Pindar and Bacchylides, and on how we can understand what these texts meant in their own time and cultural context. It first examines how the concepts and terms by which Alexandrian scholarship approached and categorised early classical choral songs can both illuminate their meaning (particularly in a Hellenistic cultural context) and also distort our impressions of their cultural function (‘songwork’) in the early classical song culture. The second part of the essay, drawing on the surviving texts of epinician (‘victory odes’) presents several examples of how early classical poets use the ‘language of genre’ that they inherited from their tradition to define what they and their choruses are doing, and to enable the song-text to endure in multiple contexts of re-performance: the emphasis is on the breadth of allusion (to places, performance-modes, popular song, music and dance, and so on as well as to earlier texts). A close reading of the odes of Pindar and Bacchylides enables us better to understand their ‘implied poetics’, and to understand both their place in the culture, and the nature of genres as enabling matrices of poetic creativity and invented tradition.