c. 650 b.c.e.–c. 590 b.c.e.
The Fame of Arion.
Arion was a master of mousike—dancing, poetry, and music—whose major period of activity was in the last half of the seventh century b.c.e. His fame has lived on, although none of his poetry has survived. He was a native of Methymna, a city-state on the island of Lesbos off the west coast of Turkey, but he spent much of his life at Corinth, where his patron was the tyrant Periander. During Periander's forty-year reign, Corinth was a brilliant center of art and culture, and among the artists attracted to his court was Arion.
Arion and the Dithyramb.
The dithyramb was a choral hymn, accompanied with dance, that was sung in honor of the god of wine Dionysus, and exactly what the music and dance were like before Arion is unknown. Arion's contribution was to give the dithyrambic choir a fresh organization. He was responsible for setting the number of choristers at fifty, and he himself composed dithyrambs and taught choirs in Corinth to perform them. Oxen were prizes given to the winning choirs, and the sacrifice of the prize oxen was part of the festival. From Corinth, the dithyramb was brought to Athens where its development is connected with an equally shadowy figure, Lasus of Hermione who was born around 548–547 b.c.e. Aristotle claimed that Greek tragic drama developed from the dithyramb.
Arion and the Dolphin.
Arion was almost more famous for his adventure with a dolphin than for his contributions to dance and music. The story goes that he took a sabbatical from Periander's court and made a tour of the Greek cities in Italy and Sicily, where he made a great deal of money. When it was time to return to Greece, he chose a Corinthian vessel for the voyage because he trusted the Corinthians more than any others. The sailors knew that he had a good deal of money, however, and they plotted to take it and throw Arion overboard. Arion begged them to take his money but spare his life, and when he could not persuade them, he asked to be allowed to stand on the ship's poop and sing one last song before he died. The sailors agreed, and Arion put on his costume that he wore when he performed and sang a song, and then leaped into the sea, where a dolphin picked him up and carried him on its back to land. Once he got there, he made his way, still in his costume, to Periander's court. Later, the sailors arrived back in Corinth and reported to Periander that Arion was still safe and sound in Italy. They got an unpleasant shock when Periander confronted them with Arion. It was said that Arion was given a helping hand by the god Apollo, who was the god of the lyre and to whom dolphins were sacred. The Greeks believed that Apollo helped musicians in distress, and saw to it that Arion's would-be murderers were punished. After this account of Arion, there is no further reference other than a mention of his death around 590 b.c.e.
Lillian B. Lawler, The Dance of the Ancient Greek Theatre (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1964).
Sir Arthur Pickard-Cambridge, Dithyramb, Tragedy and Comedy. 2nd ed. Rev. by T. B. L. Webster (Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1962).
Emmet Robbins, "Arion," in Der Neue Pauly: Enzylopädie der Antike. Eds. Hubert Cancik and Helmut Scheider (Weimar/Stuttgart, Germany: Metzler, 1996): 1083–1084.
Richard A. S. Seaford, "Arion," in Oxford Classical Dictionary. 3rd ed. (Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1996): 158.