Pindar was born at Cynoscephalae, a village in Thebes. He was the son of Daiphantus and Cleodice. The traditions of his family have left their impression on his poetry, and are not without importance for a correct estimate of his relation to his contemporaries. The clan of the Aegidae – tracing their line from the hero Aegeus – belonged to the Cadmean element of Thebes, i.e., to the elder nobility whose supposed date went back to the days of the founder Cadmus.
Employing himself by writing choral works in praise of notable personages, events and princes, his house in Thebes was spared by Alexander the Great in recognition of the complimentary works composed for king Alexander I of Macedon.
Pindar composed choral songs of several types. According to a Late Antique biographer, these works were grouped into seventeen books by scholars at the Library of Alexandria. They were, by genre:
Of this vast and varied corpus, only the victory odes survive in complete form; an Athenian comic playwright, Eupolis, is said to have remarked that the poems of Pindar "are already reduced to silence by the disinclination of the multitude for elegant learning" and it may be suggested that in modern times, too, Pindar is more respected than read. The rest are known to us only by quotations in other ancient authors or papyrus scraps unearthed in Egypt.
The victory odes were composed for aristocratic victors in the four most prominent athletic festivals in early Classical Greece: the Olympian, Pythian, Isthmian and Nemean Games. Rich and allusive in style, they are packed with dense parallels between the athletic victor, his illustrious ancestors, and the myths of gods and heroes underlying the athletic festival. But "Pindar's power does not lie in the pedigrees of ... athletes, ... or the misbehavior of minor deities. It lies in a splendour of phrase and imagery that suggests the gold and purple of a sunset sky."  Two of Pindar's most famous victory odes are Olympian 1 and Pythian 1.
In keeping with the Theban pedagogic tradition, a good part of his poetry touches on 
Pindar is to be conceived, then, as standing within the circle of those families for whom the heroic myths were domestic records. He had a personal link with the memories which everywhere were most cherished by Dorians, no less than with those which appealed to men of "Cadmean" or of Achaean stock. And the wide ramifications of the Aegidae throughout Hellas rendered it peculiarly fitting that a member of that illustrious clan should celebrate the glories of many cities in verse which was truly Panhellenic.
Pindar is said to have received lessons in aulos-playing from one Scopelinus at Thebes, and afterwards to have studied at Athens under the musicians Apollodorus (or Agathocles) and Lasus of Hermione. Several passages in Pindar's extant odes glance at the long technical development of Greek lyric poetry before his time, and at the various elements of art which the lyricist was required to temper into a harmonious whole. The facts that stand out from these meagre traditions are that Pindar was precocious and laborious. Preparatory labour of a somewhat severe and complex kind was, indeed, indispensable for the Greek lyric poet of that age.
Pindar's wife's name was Megacleia, and he had a son named Daiphantus and two daughters, Eumetis and Protomache. He is said to have died at Argos, at the age of seventy-nine, in 443 BC.
Modern editors (e.g. Snell and Maehler in their Teubner edition), have assigned dates, securely or tentatively, to Pindar's victory odes, based on ancient sources and other grounds. (Doubt is indicated by a question mark immediately following the number of an ode in the list below.) The result is a fairly clear chronological outline of Pindar's career as an epinician poet: