Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Myth of Arion

  Mythology Guide - Arion
"Arion was a famous musician, and dwelt at the court of Periander,
king of Corinth, with whom he was a great favorite. There was to
be a musical contest in Sicily, and Arion longed to compete for
the prize. He told his wish to Periander, who besought him like
a brother to give up the thought. "Pray stay with me," he said,
"and be contented. He who strives to win may lose." Arion
answered, "A wandering life best suits the free heart of a poet.
The talent which a god bestowed on me, I would fain make a source
of pleasure to others. And if I win the prize, how will the
enjoyment of it be increased by the consciousness of my wide-
spread fame!" He went, won the prize, and embarked with his
wealth in a Corinthian ship for home. On the second morning
after setting sail, the wind breathed mild and fair. "Oh,
Periander," he exclaimed, "dismiss your fears! Soon shall you
forget them in my embrace. With what lavish offerings will we
display our gratitude to the gods, and how merry will we be at
the festal board!" The wind and sea continued propitious. Not a
cloud dimmed the firmament. He had not trusted too much to the
ocean, but he had to man. He overheard the seamen exchanging
hints with one another, and found they were plotting to possess
themselves of his treasure. Presently they surrounded him loud
and mutinous, and said, "Arion, you must die! If you would have
a grave on shore, yield yourself to die on this spot; but if
otherwise, cast yourself into the sea." "Will nothing satisfy
you but my life?" said he. "Take my gold, and welcome. I
willingly buy my life at that price." "No, no; we cannot spare
you. Your life will be too dangerous to us. Where could we go
to escape from Periander, if he should know that you had been
robbed by us? Your gold would be of little use to us, if, on
returning home, we could never more be free from fear." "Grant
me, then," said he, "a last request, since nought will avail to
save my life, that I may die as I have lived, as becomes a bard.
When I shall have sung my death-song, and my harp-strings shall
cease to vibrate, then I will bid farewell to life, and yield
uncomplaining to my fate." This prayer, like the others, would
have been unheeded, they thought only of their booty, but to
hear so famous a musician, that moved their rude hearts. "Suffer
me," he added, "to arrange my dress. Apollo will not favor me
unless I be clad in my minstrel garb."

He clothed his well-proportioned limbs in gold and purple fair to
see, his tunic fell around him in graceful folds, jewels adorned
his arms, his brow was crowned with a golden wreath, and over his
neck and shoulders flowed his hair perfumed with odors. His left
hand held the lyre, his right the ivory wand with which he struck
its chords. Like one inspired, he seemed to drink the morning
air and glitter in the morning ray. The seamen gazed with
admiration. He strode forward to the vessel's side and looked
down into the blue sea. Addressing his lyre, he sang, "Companion
of my voice, come with me to the realm of shades. Though
Cerberus may growl, we know the power of song can tame his rage.
Ye heroes of Elysium, who have passed the darkling flood, ye
happy souls, soon shall I join your band. Yet can ye relieve my
grief? Alas, I leave my friend behind me. Thou, who didst find
thy Eurydice, and lose her again as soon as found; when she had
vanished like a dream, how didst thou hate the cheerful light! I
must away, but I will not fear. The gods look down upon us. Ye
who slay me unoffending, when I am no more, your time of
trembling shall come. Ye Nereids, receive your guest, who throws
himself upon your mercy!" So saying, he sprang into the deep
sea. The waves covered him, and the seamen held on their way,
fancying themselves safe from all danger of detection.

But the strains of his music had drawn round him the inhabitants
of the deep to listen, and dolphins followed the ship as if
chained by a spell. While he struggled in the waves, a dolphin
offered him his back, and carried him mounted thereon safe to
shore. At the spot where he landed, a monument of brass was
afterwards erected upon the rocky shore, to preserve the memory
of the event.

When Arion and the dolphin parted, each to his own element, Arion
thus poured forth his thanks. "Farewell, thou faithful, friendly
fish! Would that I could reward thee; but thou canst not wend
with me, nor I with thee. Companionship we may not have. May
Galatea, queen of the deep, accord thee her favor, and thou,
proud of the burden, draw her chariot over the smooth mirror of
the deep."

Arion hastened from the shore, and soon saw before him the towers
of Corinth. He journeyed on, harp in hand, singing as he went,
full of love and happiness, forgetting his losses, and mindful
only of what remained, his friend and his lyre. He entered the
hospitable halls, and was soon clasped in the embrace of
Periander. "I come back to thee, my friend," he said. "The
talent which a god bestowed has been the delight of thousands,
but false knaves have stripped me of my well-earned treasure; yet
I retain the consciousness of wide-spread fame." Then he told
Periander all the wonderful events that had befallen him, who
heard him with amazement. "Shall such wickedness triumph?" said
he. "Then in vain is power lodged in my hands. That we may
discover the criminals, you must remain here in concealment, and
so they will approach without suspicion." When the ship arrived
in the harbor, he summoned the mariners before him. "Have you
heard anything of Arion?" he inquired. "I anxiously look for his
return." They replied, "We left him well and prosperous in
Tarentum." As they said these words, Arion stepped forth and
faced them. His well proportioned limbs were arrayed in gold and
purple fair to see, his tunic fell around him in graceful folds,
jewels adorned his arms, his brow was crowned with a golden
wreath, and over his neck and shoulders flowed his hair perfumed
with odors; his left hand held the lyre, his right the ivory wand
with which he struck its chords. They fell prostrate at his
feet, as if a lightning bolt had struck them. "We meant to
murder him, and he has become a god. O Earth, open and receive
us!" Then Periander spoke. "He lives, the master of the lay!
Kind Heaven protects the poet's life. As for you, I invoke not
the spirit of vengeance; Arion wishes not your blood. Ye slaves
of avarice, begone! Seek some barbarous land, and never may
aught beautiful delight your souls!"

Spencer represents Arion, mounted on his dolphin, accompanying
the train of Neptune and Amphitrite:

"Then was there heard a most celestial sound
Of dainty music which did next ensue,
And, on the floating waters as enthroned,
Arion with his harp unto him drew
The ears and hearts of all that goodly crew;
Even when as yet the dolphin which him bore
Through the Aegean Seas from pirates' view,
Stood still, by him astonished at his love,
And all the raging seas for joy forgot to roar."

Byron, in his Childe Harold, Canto II., alludes to the story of
Arion, when, describing his voyage, he represents one of the
seamen making music to entertain the rest:

"The moon is up; by Heaven, a lovely eve!
Long streams of light o'er dancing waves expand;
Now lads on shore may sigh and maids believe;
Such be our fate when we return to land!
Meantime some rude Arion's restless hand
Wakes the brisk harmony that sailors love;
A circle there of merry listeners stand,
Or to some well-known measure featly move
Thoughtless as if on shore they still were free to rove."