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Herodotus


Arion and the Dolphin: Herodotus’ History


Herodotus (1.23–24) recounts a marvelous event that happened when Periander was tyrant of Corinth  (in the seventh century B.C) concerning the best lyre-player  of his time, namely Arion from Methymna in Lesbos, who invented the dithyramb, a special poem in honor of  Dionysus.
Arion, having spent much of his time at the court of Periander, wanted to sail to Italy and Sicily and then, after he had made a great deal of money there, return to Corinth. Since he trusted the Corinthians more than anyone else, he hired one of their ships to take him to Tarentum. When they were out to sea the crew plotted to throw Arion overboard and steal his money.  Arion, however, discovered their treachery and pleaded with them to take all his money and spare his life. But he could not persuade them. They ordered him either to kill himself and receive burial on land or jump into the sea immediately. Driven to such straits, Arion begged them, since this was their wish, to allow him to stand at the stern of the ship in his full dress as singer. After he had finished his song, he promised that he would do away with himself. Since it would give them great pleasure to hear the best singer in the world, the men moved away from the stern to the middle of the ship and Arion, having put on his robes, took up his lyre, and standing in the stern performed a song in honor of Apollo. As soon as he had finished, he jumped into the sea, just as he was in all his apparel. The crew sailed away back to Corinth  but  (so the story goes) a dolphin took Arion on his back and brought him to Taenarum  (the central promontory of the soutnern Pelopnnese).

After landing, he returned to Corinth, dressed in his professional robes, and there related all that had happened. Periander, however, did not believe Arion and had him closely guarded, while he careful watched for the return of the sailors. When they arrived, he summoned them and asked if they could tell him anything about Arion. They replied that he was safe in Italy and they left him, doing well, in Tarentum. Then Arion jumped out and appeared before them, just as he looked when he leapt into the sea, they were astounded and could no longer deny the truth. This is the tale told by the people of Corinth and Lesbos and there is a small  bronze monument to Arion in Taenarum of a man riding on a dolphin.

The “bronze statue of Arion the lyre-player” was seen at Taenarum by Pausanias (3.25.5).

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