Nemean One

[Bar the odd josh, this a fairly straight translation of Pindar’s First Nemean Ode]

Famed Syracuse islet offshoot, rest-stop revered

where Alpheus stopped off to catch his breath, birth-bed

of Artemis & Apollo, source of the gush

of our mellifluous song that heaps laudation

on the hurricane-hoofed horses blessed by Etna’s



    Victorious Chromius’s chariot

and these Nemean Games impel the composition

of an encomium, befitting such glorious

feats, to the uneartly talents of this man

on whom the gods have smiled so generously.

The pinnacle of glory is fixed in the foundation

of good fortune; and so the muse forever will

recollect the victors of such athletic games.

Sow now, O muse, some splendor on this blessed isle

that the Olympian strongman gifted Persephone. 

His long locks granting blessing to budding Sicily,

best of our earthly fruits, to bristle with cities

decked with the trophies of their economic wealth.

On whom son of Old Father Time bestowed a race

of bronze-clad battle-wooers and riders of steeds

synonymous with the golden olive garlands

of Olympians.


Often I rise to such occasions;

no falsehood sullies my lips. I cross the threshold

singing sincere praises to a man whose heart and hearth

are warmth itself and always open to all.

Lavish the feast laid on for me within these walls,

which are no stranger to strangers.  


Fortune has blessed

my host with a great band of loyal peers to counter

his detractors, like water tossed on smoldering fire.

So each man, gifted with his ability, must

keep to the righteous path, follow his natural bent

towards accomplishment. For strength must prove itself

in acts, and wisdom, in those gifted with foresight,

bear the fruit of guidance passed down to other men. 


Son of Hagesidamus, the life you’ve led

has earned you a life of pleasure. I have no yen

to stash treasure aplenty secretly away,

only to own enough for my own comfort and to help

out friends. Such is the hope of all hard-working men.

And, so, I’m happy to stick to Heracles

& dust off once again one of the age-old stories

of his glittering deeds.


No sooner had this son

of a god sprung with his sibling twin out from his mother’s

womb into the wondrous light of day, fleeing

the pangs of birth, and been laid in his crib in saffron

swaddling clothes, than he was spied by Hera—queen

of the goddesses, seated atop her gilded

throne, and she, galled by that sight, her heart

churning with hate, did swiftly dispatch two snakes

to do him harm. The door to the spacious inner

sanctum eased open for the asps to slither in,

eager to sink their lethal fangs into the fair

flesh of the babes. Herc sat bolt upright ready

for his first taste of combat; grabbed each serpent’s neck

with his strong infant hands and squeezed with all his might

until the beasts fell lifeless in his grip for want

of breath. The midwives caring for pale Alcmene

at her bedside froze with fear, as mum herself leapt

unclothed to her feet to fend the murderous onslaught

of the monsters off. En masse, the bronze-clad Cadmian

chiefs rushed to the rescue; flushed with adrenalin,

Amphitryon unsheathed his sword. Heartbreak’s a thing

alike for all who suffer sorrow of their own;

recovery swift for those whose hearts bleed only for

their fellow-men. Stepdad thus stood transfixed by wonder

and amazement mixed with the joy of sweet relief,

seeing the marvelous fortitude and sheer strength

of his son—ill-tidings brought by baleful messengers

belied by the luck richly bestowed upon him

by immortal gods. He calls out to his neighbor,

the illustrious prophet of almighty Zeus, 

truthful Teiresias, who foretells for the king

and his attendant throng how many souls the boy

will slaughter on dry land, how many misbegotten

monsters he will lay to rest at sea; and tells

of one especially execrable character

who struts this earth full of contempt for other

mortal men, whom too good Heracles will go on

to consign to the doom the brute is due. He tells

how also upon the Plain of Phlegra in Thrace,

gods shall do battle with giants and, under a hail

of arrows from our hero’s bow, the latter shall

be felled; their lacquered locks strewn in the dirt, clotted

with brains and gore. While, he, our hero, shall enjoy

uninterrupted and perpetual peace and repose

in recompense for his great labors, hostelled

among the dwellings of the blessed; and shall eventually

take Hebe, handmaid of the gods, fresh in the bloom

of youth, to wife, and celebrate the marriage

with a lavish wedding feast, toasting the sacred

laws before the son of Chronos—god almighty