Perseus and the Gorgon: Pindar 'Pythian' 12.9-12 reconsidered.
[GREEK TEXT OMITTED]
. . . (the art) which Pallas Athena once invented, weaving together the bold Gorgons' dirge destructive, which she heard dripping from the maidens' unapproachable heads of snakes with grievous suffering when Perseus shouted as he brought the third part of the sisters to sea-girt Seriphos and its people as (his share and) its doom. Truly did he dim the race of Phorkos, and he made his banquet-contribution and his mother's long-endured enslavement and her forced bed grim for Polydectes, having stripped off lovely-checked Medusa's head, he the son of Danae.(1)
The transition from Perseus' "shout" at his victory over the Gorgon to his "bringing" Medusa's head to Polydectes (who had ordered him to perform this task) remains a major problem but is not insoluble. Wilamowitz suggested-emending [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] to [GREEK TEXT OMITTED]: Perseus "shouted that he was bringing doom to Seriphos";(2) but this usage of [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] with indirect discourse is unattested, and the emendation is more noteworthy for indicating than resolving the problem.
Another approach has been attempted by Adolf Kohnken in 1978 and recently developed in a different direction by Jenny Strauss Clay.(3) Kohnken made the interesting suggestion that we punctuate lines 9-12 with a comma after "shouted" ([GREEK TEXT OMITTED]), construing "third" ([GREEK TEXT OMITTED]) with this verb rather than with "part" ([GREEK TEXT OMITTED]). He translates, ". . . the lament which Athena heard flowing from the unapproachable snake-heads of the Gorgons when amid a dreadful struggle Perseus had for the third time called upon her [Athena] for help (and she had made her appearance to rescue him) while he carried off part of the (Gorgon) sisters to Seriphos and its people as their portion." Kohnken's reading is syntactically possible. It has been accepted by Maehler in his 1980 Teubner edition, who prints Kohnken's proposed 1978 punctuation. On this view the shout of Perseus is for help, and it constitutes the "third cry," the decisive, critical moment in a dangerous struggle, which is then followed by success. Kohnken also takes the phrase [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] to modify Perseus' "shouting" rather than the "pouring out" of the Gorgon's cry.
Kohnken's view of the passage has several difficulties. First, the reason for Perseus' triple shouting is unclear and unmotivated.(4) Kohnken rightly notes that three is often decisive as the "success number" ("Two Notes" 95 n. 11). In Homer, however, as generally in early Greek poetry, adverbial [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] generally occurs in an enumerative sequence (Il. 3.225, 6.186, 23.733, 23.842; Od. 10.520 = 11.28). The proper expression for such a "triple shout" would be [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] (e.g., Il. 11.462-63, which Kohnken cites in another connection).(5)
In the examples that Kohnken himself lists, this third action is part of a clearly enumerated series (so Hes. frag. 76.21 M-W; A. Cho. 655; E. Hel. 1417) or else receives special lexical emphasis, as in Iliad 8.488, [GREEK TEXT OMITTED], also cited by Kohnken. (To this enumerative use of the "decisive" [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] may be added Hes. Th. 313; S. Ant. 55; E. Hipp. 400.) The adverbial usage for [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] that Kohnken claims for our passage has no such enumerative function and is not prepared for in its context as it is in these other passages.
It is an additional obstacle to Kohnken's reading that the only adverbial occurrences of [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] in the Epinicia are in just such enumerative sequences:
[GREEK TEXT OMITTED]
The opening of Bacchylides 4 seems to be an exception, for here Hieron will be sung "for the third time" and there is no explicit enumeration of prior occasions:
[GREEK TEXT OMITTED]
Even here, however, the opening [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] and the audience's obvious familiarity with Hieron's previous victories create an implied sequence, now capped by this "third" achievement. Thus the usage that Kohnken claims for [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] in this passage, while within the realm of possibility, is not the idiom that the extant texts of Pindar or Bacchylides demonstrate.
It is true, as Kohnken suggests, that the verb [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] can refer to a cry for help, and this is a common usage in Homer. Equally well attested, however, is the meaning "shout in exultation," which is the proper meaning in our passage.(6) Kohnken's interpretation has another difficulty, for, as Clay points out, he too narrowly insists that [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] refers to Perseus' "toil" or "effort" ("Muhe," "Anstrengung").(7) Pindar's phrase, however, should mean something like "grievous suffering" (Nisetich translates it as "bitter anguish") and so would refer to the deep grief of the Gorgon sisters in their mourning for Medusa, not to Perseus in his struggle for victory. [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] (literally, "grief," "woe") in the adjective [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] is more appropriate to the Gorgons' cry of mourning than to Perseus' effort. Pindar generally uses the word in associations with death and mourning rather than effort: see Pyth. 11.18b, Nem. 10.77, Isth. 7.37, fr. 133.1 Snell-Maehler = fr. 127.1 Bowra.
The most serious difficulty with Kohnken's and Clay's approach is separating "third" from "part" and making Perseus dispatch "a part of the sisters."(8) That Pindar refers to the Gorgon sisters collectively as the "race of Phorkos" (Hesiod's Phorkys) in 13 and that he names Euryale as one of the two surviving Gorgons helps to establish the Gorgons as a group of three. Pindar's naming of Euryale in 20 also suggests that he may have in mind the fullest literary account of the event in the tradition, namely Hesiod's Theogony 270-86. Hesiod gives the names of all three Gorgon sisters, Sthenno, Euryale, and Medusa, and then contrasts "the two" immortals with "the one" mortal, Medusa:
[GREEK TEXT OMITTED]
The one was mortal, but the two others immortal and ageless, and with that one did Poseidon of the dark hair lie . . .
Even if Pindar did not have this specific passage in mind, the name of Euryale in 20 reminds us of the remaining sisters and reinforces Medusa's status as the "third part" of "the divine race of Phorkos" in 13.(9) To the Hesiodic parallel for Medusa as "one" of three sisters may be added a stylistic consideration. Pindar's originality in envisaging this scene lies in part in a sympathetic view of the bereft monsters: compare Stesichorus' sympathetic treatment of Geryon in the Geryoneis (PMGF S 15, col. 2, 14-17). Now the pathos of the death of one of the triad is stronger and more effective if the two surviving Gorgons utter their dirge over their slain sister as their "third part." The solidarity of the three sisters, of course, underlies the bitter suffering in the dirge of the two survivors in lines 9-10.
Kohnken claims that the traditional reading is unsatisfactory for two reasons: "Medusa's head, which Perseus carries off to Seriphos, is not exactly the third part of the three (Gorgon-) sisters'; syntax and effect of the [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] clause is impaired by [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] being entangled with the preceding part of the sentence" ("Two Notes" 92). Strictly speaking, Kohnken's first point is correct. Yet a synecdoche of this kind is not difficult or uncommon in Pindar, particularly as the head in early Greek literature often stands for the person (see LSJ s.v. [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] I.2) and in Medusa's case particularly is closely identified with her whole figure. Kohnken's second objection seems to me a matter of taste where Opinions may differ. Wilamowitz, keeping the traditional reading, admired the wordplay between [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] and [GREEK TEXT OMITTED].(10) As to the entangled syntax, it may be observed that no ancient reader is on record as being troubled by the traditional reading. The scholiasts, though divided on whether Perseus or the Gorgon is the subject of [GREEK TEXT OMITTED], universally understand [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] with [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] as "the third part of the sisters."
To Kohnken's objections to the traditional reading Clay now adds a third point ("far more important"), namely "the extremely awkward placement of [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] before the finite verb and at some distance from [GREEK TEXT OMITTED]" (521-22). Yet one can easily find more violent hyperbata: cf. [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] . . . [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] in lines 20-21 of this ode.(11) The word order of 11-12, [GREEK TEXT OMITTED], is perfectly normal for Pindar. The emphatic [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] comes first in its clause for emphasis, followed by the verb, [GREEK TEXT OMITTED], which is the only word that separates [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] from its noun plus genitival modifier, [GREEK TEXT OMITTED]. The following clause, [GREEK TEXT OMITTED], is in apposition to [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] and so is logically placed close to it. The participle [GREEK TEXT OMITTED], governing the two nouns, [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] and [GREEK TEXT OMITTED], is naturally placed at the end of the sentence. The apposition and the two datives dependent on [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] make the sentence dense and complex, but it is essentially clear.
Clay makes the excellent point that Athena's inventive act consists in the "interweaving" of two contrasting sounds, "the Gorgons' mournful song of loss and Perseus' triumphal shout of victory" (523).The contrast of joy and sorrow, as Clay suggests, is certainly appropriate to the mixture of success and danger, present exultation and future uncertainty, in the gnomic utterances that end the ode. Pointing to the present participle [GREEK TEXT OMITTED], however, she argues that the hero utters his cry of triumph not at the moment of beheading Medusa but at "the moment when he brings doom to Seriphos and its people by displaying the Gorgon's head" (522). She therefore translates lines 6-12 as follows (523, emphasis mine):
. . . the art, which Athena once discovered as she interwove the dread lament of the Gorgons that she heard pouring from the unapproachable snaky heads of the maidens with mournful suffering when Perseus shouted his third cry as he brought a portion of the sisters as doom for sea-girt Seriphos and its people.
Repunctuating line 11 so that Perseus utters a "triple shout" of victory and not just a single shout is open to the same objections as Kohnken's interpretation discussed above. The traditional punctuation also has the advantage of highlighting the contrast between the hero's shout of triumph at killing Medusa and the mournful dirge of the surviving sisters. This view of the passage seems to me more appropriate to the function of the myth within the ode as a whole.(12)
In contrast to Hesiod's account of Medusa's death in her remote abode at the edges of night (Th. 274-75), Pindar is silent about the place of Perseus' victory and instead emphasizes his hero's return to Seriphos with his grim prize, as he did also in his briefer narrative of Pythian 10, the poet's earliest ode, composed eight years before Pythian 12:
[GREEK TEXT OMITTED]
And he killed the Gorgon, and he came bearing to the islanders her head bristling with serpents as a stony death.
The emphasis on the return is appropriate to the epinician ode, where the victor's nostos and celebration in his home city are important thematic and formal features.(13)
Pythian 12 pays due attention to the result of Perseus' triumph when he returns to Seriphos in 12-16, and Clay's discussion is a valuable reminder of the importance of this aspect of the myth.(14) But that return becomes even more vivid if the hero is bearing "the third part" of the dread sisters as the sign and substance of his triumph. In contrast to Pythian 10, Pythian 12 is concerned not only with Perseus' dangerous journey, extraordinary victory, and triumphant return; it also calls attention to the Gorgons' defeat, the mourning of the surviving sisters, and Athena's creative act of transforming that wail of woe into the artistic form that will adorn Apollo's festival. Thus Pindar emphatically recalls the scene of Perseus' victory over Medusa as the myth returns to Athena and its leitmotif of the flute in 18-19, [GREEK TEXT OMITTED]. And this passage, in turn, leads into the detailed recapitulation of Athena's invention. Even here the joy of victory and the sadness of the victims' defeat are closely interwoven in the juxtaposition of the Gorgons' "wail" and the diapason of the goddess's flute ([GREEK TEXT OMITTED], 21; [GREEK TEXT OMITTED], 19). The strong parallelism in syntax and morphological pattern between the ends of the first and second strophes contrasts triumphant "Athena" and defeated "Medusa" ([GREEK TEXT OMITTED], 8; [GREEK TEXT OMITTED], 16) and formally marks the progression from death and grief to victory and creation.
Clay goes too far in shifting the hero's shout from the place of his victory to the Greek island of his return, but her reading does point to Pindar's deliberate blurring of the chronology in his rapid lyrical narration.(15) In order to emphasize the aftermath of the victory, that is, Athena's creation of the "many-headed tune" from the wailing of the surviving Gorgon sisters, Pindar fuses Perseus' victory shout, the moment of the Gorgon's death (obviously implied in the victory shout, but not actually described), and Perseus' successful return journey to Seriphos and its results (11-17). The clause introduced by [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] in 18, [GREEK TEXT OMITTED], places Athena's invention of the flute song after Perseus' Victory and victory shout, and also resumes the thread of the narrative after the brief allusion to Perseus' birth just preceding. It thus returns us to the main point of the myth, Athena's invention of the "many-headed tune" ([GREEK TEXT OMITTED], 19). In replacing the actual decapitation of Medusa by the "shout" of the hero, Pindar keeps his emphasis on the vocal and aural dimension of the action, which is of course central to his myth.
The participle [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] at the end of its clause in 12 looks ahead to Seriphos but also keeps continuity with the effort at the time and place of the victory. The juxtaposition of the "hearing" and the "shouting" emphasizes the dense mixture of sounds in 10-11: the wail of the Gorgon's sisters, the hissing of the snakes, and the shouting of Perseus.(16) This vocal contrast is central to the poem's theme of the mixture of sounds in the invention of the flute and to the duality in the flute that Clay has so ably analyzed for the ode as a whole.(17)
It is not absolutely certain who is "hearing" in line 10; but our argument strongly favors Athena, for she invents the flute song in imitation of the "wailing" that she "hears." Hearing that cry is not particularly important for Perseus (though he may hear it too), who in any case is hurrying off to Seriphos with his prize. We do least violence to Pindaric usage, to the meaning of the myth within the ode, and to the manuscripts' reading if we retain [GREEK TEXT OMITTED], construe [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] together, and keep the traditional punctuation.(18) Perseus shouts as he kills the "third part" of the triad of Gorgons in his appointed task of "bringing the head of Medusa" to its deservedly doomed recipient on Seriphos. His exultant shout at the moment of triumph contrasts with the suffering of the Gorgon and with the wailing dirge of her sisters and enhances the duality of the flute's origin in the mixture of suffering and success in his victory.(19)
CHARLES SEGAL HARVARD UNIVERSITY
1 For the meaning of the "grim banquet-contribution" see below, note 14.
2 Wilamowitz, Pindaros 146.
3 Kohnken, "Two Notes," 92-93; Clay, "Twelfth Pythian," 520-23.
4 Pavese, "Nuovo verbo" 76, makes two objections to Kohnken's interpretation of [GREEK TEXT OMITTED]: first, that the verb should govern an accusative of the person called, and second, "Perche mai dovrebbe Perseus chiamare Athena per Ire volte per farsi sentire? Forse Athena era un po' dura d'orecchio, come il portinaio nelle Coefore o i defunti di Eschilo nelle Rune." Kohnken had already anticipated the first objection, however, noting that "Athena" can easily he understood as the object ("Two Notes" 95 n. 10). On the second point, Pavese does not take account of Kohnken's argument about the "decisive" third time as the "success-number."
5 Kohnken, "Two Notes" 95 n. 10. Od. 9.65, which Kohnken cites in this note as a parallel for the sense "cry for help," is not appropriate, as the verb here refers to a ritual cry over the dead: see Heubeck and Hoekstra, Commentary ad loc.
6 So, e.g., Il. 5.101 = 5.283, 5.347, 14.147. We may also compare Hector's shout of challenge, Il. 8.160; the shout of Achilles at the ditch. Il. 18.217, with Athena standing by and helping; and the shout of the gods Apollo and Hera in Il. 15.321 and 21.328.
7 Clay, "Twelfth Pythian" n. 13. Kohnken had already argued for this view of [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] in Funktion 119-20, 137, 148-49, on the grounds that it refers to the topos of the victor's efforts in the contest.
8 For [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] with the cardinal number cf. Pyth. 4.157, [GREEK TEXT OMITTED]. Pavese, "Nuovo verbo" 76, also rejects the separation of "third" from "part." The possible verbal play between [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] in 11 and [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] (the Gorgon's head is both Perseus' share for the banquet and doom for Polydectes and his followers) in the following line, which Wilamowitz admired (Pindaros 146), does not really favor either view. See also Pavese, "Nuovo verbo" 89.
9 This point is also made independently by Pavese, "Nuovo verb," 86. It has sometimes been thought that the "dimming of the race of Phorkos" refers to Perseus' blinding of the Graiai by stealing their single eye (so, e.g., Christ, Pindari Carmina ad loc.), but this introduces a distracting detail, and the phrase is better understood as a metaphor for the destruction of the Gorgon: so Wilamowitz, Pindaros 147; see also Kohnken, Funktion 122, with n. 21, and 125. Farnell, Pindar ad loc., and Burton, Pythian Odes 29, think that the phrase is intentionally ambiguous and may refer to both Gorgons and Graiai.
10 Wilamowitz, Pindaros 146: see above, note 8.
11 And compare, for example, the separation of [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] from [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] and [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] from [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] in the generally limpid narrative of Pyth. 9.5-8.
12 My overall interpretation (Segal, "The Gorgon and the Nightingale"), written independently of Clay's, has many points of agreement on the meaning of the myth.
13 See Crotty, Song and Action 108-12.
14 What exactly Perseus does in 16, [GREEK TEXT OMITTED], has been much discussed. It would suit Clay's interpretation if [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] in 16 meant "baring the head," i.e., "stripping it" from its covering to show it to Polydectes, which is Slater's view, Lexicon s.v. This interpretation receives some additional support from the grammarian Theon's comment on the passage (P.Oxy. 2536), discussed by Bernadini ("Banchetto"), calling attention to the fact that the "grim banquet-contribution" (i.e., the petrifying effect of Medusa's head) to Polydectes' banquet on Perseus' return is an ironic evocation of the banquet at which Polydectes proposed the apparently fatal mission to Perseus. With Burton (Pythian Odes 29-30) and, most recently, Pavese ("Nuovo verbo" 90), however, I think that [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] means "beheading" Medusa. Even with the meaning "stripping (the covering of) the head for display," however, my reading of the passage remains viable. If Pindar were referring to Perseus' shout when he returns to Seriphos and shows the head, as Clay suggests, the separation of the verb of "shouting" from this act is considerable.
15 This blurring appears in the interpretation of the temporal clause by Puech in the Bude edition, ad loc., p. 168: ". . . lorsque Persee poussa un cri de triomphe, en apportant a l'ile de Seriphe et a son peuple, pour leur malheur, l'une des trois soeurs." See also Schadewaldt, "Aufbau" 308 n. 1, who takes [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] as the "imperfect participle," which he considered "unanstossig und sehr pragnant: Perseus wird verfolgt; den Streich fuhren und auffliegen war eins" (where "Theseus" in his text is a slip for "Perseus").
16 Wilamowitz's paraphrase, Pindaros 146, brings out the vocal density and vividness of contrasting sounds in the scene: "Die Gottin blast den [GREEK TEXT OMITTED], wahrend die Schlangen zischen, die beiden Schwestern Medusas kreischen, Perseus Siegesgeschrei erhebt."
17 See esp. Clay, "Twelfth Pythian" 523-24.
18 Since the publication of Clay's article Carlo Pavese has attempted another approach to the problems of this passage. (Pavese's article is dated 1991 but because of publishers' delays did not appear until June 1993; I had already written my own study before seeing Pavese's.) He returns to the traditional view of the "third part," rejecting Kohnken's attempt to separate the two words. He argues, however, that the manuscripts' [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] derives not from the verb [GREEK TEXT OMITTED], to shout, but from a transitive form of the homophonous verb [GREEK TEXT OMITTED], "to dry," which would here be equivalent to [GREEK TEXT OMITTED], in the metaphorical meaning "to kill" or "destroy." Pavese's suggestion has the appeal of eliminating the problem of the "shouting" altogether. The effect would thus be the same as Boeckh's widely accepted but lexically improbable emendation [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] (based on the scholia), but without its disadvantages. While Pavese has made a strong case for the existence of the verb, its presence in Pythian 12 has two problems: the meter requires a problematical dissyllabic form of the aorist stem [GREEK TEXT OMITTED]; and there is a harsh mixture within three lines of the metaphors of "drying up" and "dimming" ([GREEK TEXT OMITTED], 13) the Gorgon. Mixed metaphors are of course no strangers to Pindaric poetry, but the combination of two such different figures seems odd in a narrative that is otherwise so direct: see, e.g., Burton, Pythian Odes 29, who remarks on the ode's "sharp directness of the style." "Dried up the third part of the sisters" seems out of keeping with the vividness of the rest of the scene. The metaphor also introduces an unwelcome and discordant contrast with the liquid imagery of the "pouring" or "dripping" forth of the Gorgon sisters' wail of lament in the preceding line ([GREEK TEXT OMITTED], 10). On this liquid image see Isth. 8.64; also Belfiore, Tragic Pleasures 12-14. Pavese's objection (76) to the "pregnant use" of [GREEK TEXT OMITTED], "shouted," is sufficiently answered by the regular Homeric use of the verb for the shout of victory (see above, note 6), by passages like Il. 15.321, 18.217, 21.328, cited above (note 6); and by the striking use of the verb with nonpersonal subjects in Il. 13.409-10 and 13.441. His objection to the separation of the participial phrase with [GREEK TEXT OMITTED] from the previous clause has been sufficiently answered above.
19 I acknowledge the aid of the computerized Thesaurus Linguae Graecae in the preparation of this study. I thank Jenny Strauss Clay and AJP's anonymous reader for helpful comments on an earlier draft of this paper.
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-----. "Perseus' Kampf und Athenes Erfindung (Bemerkungen zu Pindar, Pythien 12)." Hermes 104 (1976) 257-65.
-----. "Two Notes on Pindar." BICS 25 (1978) 92-96.
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|Publication:||American Journal of Philology|
|Date:||Mar 22, 1995|
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