Pindar, unquestionably the greatest Greek lyrical poet—quick, try to name another one—was born around 522 B. C. near Thebes in Boeotia. Raised in a cultured family, he learned to play the flute at an early age. He was sent to Athens for his education and learned the art of lyric poetry from Apollodorus, Agathocles, and Lasus; he probably also knew the great playwright Aeschylus, who was a rising star of the theatre about that time.
Pindar returned to make his home in Thebes and became known for his odes, formally structured verses celebrating military victories or great achievements by individuals. He also remained devoted to the flute and taught his children to play.
By all accounts, Pindar was a devout believer in traditional Greek religion. His works show great reverence for the gods, especially for Apollo, worship of whom conveniently involved flute-playing. Pindar was married to a woman named Megacleia, with whom he had two daughters and a son. Pindar also had an eye for young men and was an avid participant in the homoerotic activities that were accepted as part of the Greek way of life. Particularly attached to a youth named Theoxenus, he wrote an ode to him, only a fragment of which remains:
Whoever, having seen the sparkling eyes of Theoxenus,
is not overcome with desire,
must be hard-hearted and made of iron,
disdained by Aphrodite,
obsessed with making money,
or, having only womanly courage,
be carried down an icy-cold path.
But I, under the spell of the Queen of Love,
like melting beeswax in the hot sun,
am powerless to resist when I see
the fresh young limbs of ripening boys.
Pindar is said to have died in the arms of his “fresh-limbed” paramour, Theoxenus, when he had a sudden seizure while attending a music festival in a theatre at Argos. He was a ripe old eighty years of age.