JIM LEHRER: Finally tonight, an ode to the Olympics. Here is NewsHour
contributor and former poet laureate, Robert Pinsky.
ROBERT PINSKY: The original Olympics of ancient Greece included familiar
events like footraces and wrestling, as well as races in horsedrawn
chariots and mule cars. The poet Pindar wrote many odes--for choral
perfomance with song and dancing-- celebrating the Olympic victors.
The importance of the games is clear from the opening of the first Olympian
Ode, celebrating Hieron of Syracuse, who won the horserace in 476 B.C.
Pindar compares the games to the elements:
Water is supreme, and gold
Like fire at night stands out
Among all the subtances that heighten human pride--
But if you want to celebrate
Greatness in games, O my soul, you'll find
No brighter star in the vastness of space
Than the sun, no contest more glorious
And here's Pindar's account -- in Frank Nisetich's translation of the
career of Epharmostos of Opous, a wrestler:
At Argos, he won glory in the men's division,
At Athens, he competed as a boy;
at Marathon, they plucked him
From the booy's ranks,
but how he bore the brunt of full-grown men
contending for the silver trophy!
His swift, cunning moves tossed them over
without a slip: what a shout, as he walked
amid the circle of onlookers, young
and noble in achievement as in looks!
In another Ode, Pindar recalls the founding of the games by Hercules,
and speaks of "the one who alone proves Truth true, Time"--
and the catalogue of names is like a glorious elegy on that theme:
and Time moving onward
has made it manifest:
how Herakles set war's firstfruits
aside for sacrifice and ordained
the five-year festival
with the first Olympiad and its triumphs.
Say, then, who won the new crown--
praying for victory in his thoughts
and seizing it by his deeds
in boxing, in running, in the chariot race?
Running the straight dash, Oionos was the best,
who came from Midea
at the head of a host.
For wrestling, Echemos
had his home Tegea proclaimed to the throng.
Doryklos of Tiryns took away the boxing prize,
and with the four-horse team
It was Samos out of Mantinea, Halirothios's son.
With the javelin,
Phrastor struck the mark.
In distance, Nikeus sent the stone
spun from the whirl of his hand
past them all, and as it passed his comrades in arms
sent a shout roaring after it.
And then the radiance
of the moon's beautiful eye made everything shine.