An ancient Greek bard and great master on the cithara, was a native of Methymna in Lesbos, and, according to some accounts, a son of Cyclon or of Poseidon and the nymph Oncaea. He is called the inventor of the dithyrambic poetry, and of the name dithyramb.1
All traditions about him agree in describing him as a contemporary and friend of Periander, tyrant of Corinth, so that he must have lived about 700 BCE. He appears to have spent a great part of his life at the court of Periander, but respecting his life and his poetical or musical productions, scarcely anything is known beyond the beautiful story of his escape from the sailors with whom he sailed from Sicily to Corinth. On one occasion, thus runs the story, Arion went to Sicily to take part in some musical contest. He won the prize, and, laden with presents, he embarked in a Corinthian ship to return to his friend Periander. The rude sailors coveted his treasures, and meditated his murder.
Apollo, in a dream, informed his beloved bard of the plot. After having tried in vain to save his life, he at length obtained permission once more to seek delight in his song and playing on the cithara. In festal attire he placed himself in the prow of the ship and invoked the gods in inspired strains, and then threw himself into the sea. But many song-loving dolphins had assembled round the vessel, and one of them now took the bard on its back and carried him to Taenarus, from whence he returned to Corinth in safety, and related his adventure to Periander. When the Corinthian vessel arrived likewise, Periander inquired of the sailors after Arion, and they said that he had remained behind at Tarentum; but when Arion, at the bidding of Periander, came forward, the sailors owned their guilt and were punished according to their desert.2
In the time of Herodotus and Pausanias there existed on Taenarus a brass monument, which was dedicated there either by Periander or Arion himself, and which represented him riding on a dolphin. Arion and his cithara (lyre) were placed among the stars.3
A fragment of a hymn to Poseidon, ascribed to Arion, is contained in Bergk's Poetae Lyrici Graeci, p. 566 ff.
- Herodotus. Histories i, 23; Scholiast on Pindar's Olympian Odes xiii, 25.
- Herodotus. Histories i, 24; Gellius, xvi, 19; Hyginus. Fabulae, 194; Pausanias. Description of Greece iii, 25.5.
- Hyginus, l.c.; Servius on Virgil's Eclogues viii, 54; Aelian. History of Animals xii, 45.
- Smith, William. (1870). Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. London: Taylor, Walton, and Maberly.
This article incorporates text from Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology (1870) by William Smith, which is in the public domain.