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  • Arion and the Dolphin

    Who was Arion?

    They relate that Arion of Methymna, who as a player on the harp,

    was second to no man living at that time, and who was, so far as we

    know, the first to invent the dithyrambic measure, to give it its

    name, and to recite in it at Corinth, was carried to Taenarum on

    the back of a dolphin. He had lived for many years at the court of

    Periander, when a longing came upon him to sail across to Italy and

    Sicily. Having made rich profits in those parts, he wanted to

    recross the seas to Corinth. He therefore hired a vessel, the crew

    of which were Corinthians, thinking that there was no people in

    whom he could more safely confide; and, going on board, he set sail

    from Tarentum. The sailors, however, when they reached the open

    sea, formed a plot to throw him overboard and seize upon his

    riches. Discovering their design, he fell on his knees, beseeching

    them to spare his life, and making them welcome to his money. But

    they refused; and required him either to kill himself outright, if

    he wished for a grave on the dry land, or without loss of time to

    leap overboard into the sea. In this strait Arion begged them,

    since such was their pleasure, to allow him to mount upon the

    quarter-deck, dressed in his full costume, and there to play and

    sing, and promising that, as soon as his song was ended, he would

    destroy himself. Delighted at the prospect of hearing the very best

    harper in the world, they consented, and withdrew from the stern to

    the middle of the vessel: while Arion dressed himself in the full

    costume of his calling, took his harp, and standing on the

    quarter-deck, chanted the Orthian. His strain ended, he flung

    himself, fully attired as he was, headlong into the sea. The

    Corinthians then sailed on to Corinth. As for Arion, a dolphin,

    they say, took him upon his back and carried him to Taenarum, where

    he went ashore, and thence proceeded to Corinth in his musician’s

    dress, and told all that had happened to him. Periander, however,

    disbelieved the story, and put Arion in ward, to prevent his

    leaving Corinth, while he watched anxiously for the

    return of the mariners. On their arrival he summoned them before

    him and asked them if they could give him any tiding of Arion. They

    returned for answer that he was alive and in good health in Italy,

    and that they had left him at Tarentum, where he was doing well.

    Thereupon Arion appeared before them, just as he was when he jumped

    from the vessel: the men, astonished and detected in falsehood,

    could no longer deny their guilt. Such is the account which the

    Corinthians and Lesbians give; and there is to this day at

    Taenarum, an offering of Arion’s at the shrine, which is a small

    figure in bronze, representing a man seated upon a dolphin.

    Many thanks to

    Jona Lendering

    Amsterdam, The Netherlands

    Articles on ancient history

    Look at our catalog

    Arion and the Dolphin

    Whirligig body: mahogany.
    Rudder & propeller: marine plywood.
    Shaft & lever: stainless steel.
    Bronze screws and epoxy glue.

    45 x 65 x 45 cm

    500 $