Pindar was one of the greatest lyric poets of ancient Greece. He is best known today for his odes to the victors of athletic contests, including those at famed Olympia. These odes, the only complete surviving pieces by Pindar, are marvels of sustained imagination, packed with dense parallels between the athletic victor, his illustrious aristocratic ancestors, and the myths of Olympian gods and heroes like Jason, Heracles, and Perseus.
Those myths were the religious foundation for the athletic festivities. Pindar knew these athletes and their noble families, as he was a member of the nobility - he had a personal link to the traditions that were highly cherished by Dorian Greeks. Pindar's renown as a poet was richly deserved, and he was extremely well paid for his work.
Pindar was born in Boeotia around 518 B.C., and, according to tradition, died at Argos in 443 B.C. Some sources say he lived to be 79. His first extant ode, Pythian number 10, was written in 498 B.C. His last, a Nemean ode, was composed in 444 B.C.
Although the Olympic games are today the most famous of Greek athletic contests, they were not the only ones of importance. The Isthmian, Nemean, and Pythian games were also highly regarded in ancient times, and odes to victors in those games make up a large part of these surviving pieces. The extreme piety with regard to the gods Zeus, Apollo, Aphrodite, Hera, and the Muses is singularly apparent throughout. It is indicative of the spiritual reverence of the Greek people in this period. There has never been a poet who celebrated the majesty and mystic significance of athletic competition more magnificently than Pindar.