4. Of Smyrna, or rather of the small place of Phlossa on the river Meles, near Smyrna. (Suid. s. v. Θεόκριτος
All that we know about him is the little that can be inferred from the third Idyl of Moschus, who laments his untimely death.
The time it which he lived can be pretty accurately determined by the fact, that he was older than Moschus, who calls himself the pupil of Bion. (Mosch. 3.96, &c.) His flourishing period must therefore have very nearly coincided with that of Theocritus, and must be fixed at about B. C. 280. Moschus states, that Bion left his native country and spent the last years of his life in Sicily, cultivating bucolic poetry, the natural growth of that island. Whether he also visited Macedonia and Thrace, as Moschus (3.17, &c.) intimates, is uncertain, since it may be that Moschus mentions those countries only because he calls Bion the Doric Orpheus.
He died of poison, which had been administered to him by several persons, who afterwards received their well-deserved punishment for the crime.
With respect to the relation of master and pupil between Bion and Moschus, we cannot say anything with certainty, except that the resemblance between the productions of the two poets obliges us to suppose, at least, that Moschus imitated Bion; and this may, in fact, be all that is meant when Moschus calls himself a disciple of the latter.
The subjects of Bion's poetry, viz. shepherds' and love-songs, are beautifully described by Moschus (3.82, &c.); but we can now form only a partial judgment on the spirit and style of his poetry, on account of the fragmentary condition in which his works have come down to us. Some of his idyls, as his poems are usually called, are extant entire, but of others we have only fragments. Their style is very refined, the sentiments soft and sentimental, and his versification (he uses the hexameter exclusively) is very fluent and elegant.
In the invention and management of his subjects he is superior to Moschus, but in strength and depth of feeling, and in the truthfulness of his sentiments, he is much inferior to Theocritus.
This is particularly visible in the greatest of his extant poems, Ἐπιτάφιος Ἀδώνιδος
He is usually reckoned among the bucolic poets; but it must be remembered that this name is not confined to the subjects it really indicates; for in the time of Bion bucolic poetry also embraced that class of poems in which the legends about gods and heroes were treated from an erotic point of view.
The language of such poems is usually the Doric dialect mixed with Attic and Ionic forms. Rare Doric forms, however, occur much less frequently in the poems of Bion than in those of Theocritus.
In the first editions of Theocritus the poems of Bion are mixed with those of the former; and the first who separated them was Adolphus Mekerch, in his edition of Bion and Moschus. (Bruges, 1565, 4to.)
In most of the subsequent editions of Theocritus the remains of Bion and Moschus are printed at the end, as in those of Winterton
, and Schaefer
The text of the editions previous to those of Brunck
is that of Henry Stephens
, and important corrections were first made by the former two scholars.
The best among the subsequent editions are those of Fr. Jacobs (Gotha, 1795, 8vo.)
, Gilb. Wakefield (London, 1795)
, and J. F. Manso (Gotha, 1784, second edition, Leipzig, 1807, 8vo.), which contains an elaborate dissertation on the life and poetry of Bion, a commentary, and a German translation