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[19arg] A story about the lyre-player Arion, taken from the work of Herodotus.


HERODOTUS has written 1 of the famous lyre-player Arion in terse and vigorous language and in simple and elegant style. “Arion,” says he, “in days of old was a celebrated player upon the lyre. The [p. 191] town in which he was born was Methyma, but from the name of his country and the island as a whole he was a Lesbian. This Arion for the sake of his art was held in friendship and affection by Periander, king of Corinth. 2 Later, he left the king, to visit the famous lands of Sicily and Italy. On his arrival there he charmed the ears and minds of all in the cities of both countries, and there he was enriched as well as being generally admired and beloved. Then later, laden with money and with wealth of all kinds, he determined to return to Corinth, choosing a Corinthian vessel and crew, as better known to him and more friendly.” But Herodotus says that those Corinthians, having received Arion on board and put to sea, formed the plan of murdering him for the sake of his money. Then he, realizing that death was at hand, gave them possession of his money and other goods, but begged that they should at least spare his life. The sailors were moved by his prayers only so far as to refrain from putting him to death with their own hands, but they bade him at once, before their eyes, leap headlong into the sea. “Then,” says Herodotus, “the poor man, in terror and utterly hopeless of life, finally made the one request that before meeting his end he might be allowed to put on all his costume, take his lyre, and sing a song in consolation of his fate. The sailors, though savage and cruel, nevertheless had a desire to hear him; his request was granted. Then afterwards, crowned in the usual way, robed and adorned, he stood upon the extreme stern and lifting up his voice on high sang the song called 'orthian.' 3 Finally, having finished his song, with his lyre and all his equipment, just as he stood and sang, he [p. 193] threw himself far out into the deep. The sailors, not doubting in the least that he had perished, held on the course which they had begun. But an unheard of, strange and miraculous thing happened.” Herodotus asserts that a dolphin suddenly swam up amid the waves, dove under the floating man, and lifting his back above the flood, carried him and landed him at Taenarum in the Laconian land, with his person and adornment uninjured. Then Arion went from there straight to Corinth and, just as he was when the dolphin carried him, presented himself unexpectedly to king Periander and told him exactly what had occurred. The king did not believe the story but ordered that Arion be imprisoned as an impostor. He hunted up the sailors, and in the absence of Arion craftily questioned them, asking whether they had heard anything of Arion in the places from which they had come. They replied that the man had been in the land of Italy when they left it, that he was doing well there, enjoying the devotion and the pleasures of the cities, and that both in prestige and in money he was rich and fortunate. Then, in the midst of their story, Arion suddenly appeared with his lyre, clad in the garments in which he had thrown himself into the sea; the sailors were amazed and proved guilty, and could not deny their crime. This story is told by the Lesbians and the Corinthians, and in testimony to its truth two brazen images are to be seen near Taenarum, the dolphin carrying the man, who is seated on his back.

1 i. 23.

2 625–585 B.C.

3 This was a song in such a high key that it could be reached by few voices. In Aristophanes, Knights, 1279 (L.C.L. i, p. 247) the ὄρθιος νόμος is played by a “prince of harpers.”

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