According to Greek Mythology, Arion was wonderful black horse, incredibly fast, and gifted with intelligence, speech, and flight. Arion was the result of the union of Demeter and Poseidon.

Arion (around 600 BC), singer and poet

Touring singer
Arion of Methymna (on the island of Lesbos) was the most famous Greek singer and poet of his time. According to ancient Greek historian Herodotus (the main source for our knowledge of Arion), Arion invented the dithyrambe: a choir song with hobo in honour of Dionysus. After becoming a rich man touring through Italy and Sicily, he decided to go back to the court of Periander, where he had spent most of his life already. Periander (625-585), or Periandros, was tyrant of Corinth and one of the Seven Wise.

Rich man gets robbed
He arranged for a ship with solely Corinthians, because he thought they were the only ones he could fully trust. But at sea the crew decided to rob the rich guy and kill him. Herodotus tells this as follows:

The seamen told him that he had to jump overboard. Arion realised praying would not help him and asked if they would allow him to sing a last song on the afterdeck. Of course the crew would not let go by a chance to see a performance by the world's greatest singer. Arion put on his best cloth and sung the so-called bravura-aria which was an aria in honour of the god Apollo. Then he jumped overboard and the crew continued their travel to Corinth.

A dolphin's back
Herodotus' story tells us that what the crew didn't know, was that Arion was saved by a dolphin. Knowing Greek symbolism, this is no odd development: the dolphin was considered a musical animal and also it was dedicated to... Apollo. The dolphin carried Arion home, but Periander would not believe the miraculous story at first. Then the crew arrived and they told the tyrant that Arion was still safely in Italy. After the confrontation with the singer, they confessed their cruelty and were punished.

Arion Art
The ancient Greek erected a bronze monument on Cape Tainairon, a little man on a dolphin's back. From Renaissance times, artists have represented Arion many times with a cittern on a dolphin's back. Often they use the singer as a symbol of poetic inspiration. Artists that have depicted or described Arion include Annibale Carracci, Giovanni Francesco Romanelli, Andrea Mantegna, Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux' contemporary Hiolle, Lord Byron, Edmund Spenser and German poet August Wilhelm von Schlegel.


A musician from Lesbos who had been given leave by his master, the tyrant of Corinth, Periander, to travel all over Magna Graecia and Sicily, earning money from his singing. After some time he wanted to go back to Corinth, but the slaves and the crew of the ship in which he was travelling conspired to kill him and appropriate his money. Instantly Apollo appeared to Arion in a dream in the guise of a lyre-player and told him to look out for his enemies, promising his help. When Arion was attacked by the conspirators he asked them for the favour of allowing him to sing once more. They granted this request and when the dolphins, Apollo's fovourites, heard his voice, they gathered round and Arion, putting his trust in the god, leaped into the sea. A dolphin picked him up and carried him on its back to Cape Tenaros. Once he was safely on shore, the musician dedicated an ex voto to Apollo and made his way to Corinth where he told his story to the tyrant.

The ship containing the would-be assassins soon arrived at Corinth whereupon Periander asked the sailors where Arion was and they replied that he had died on the voyage. Arion then appeared in person and the conspirators were crucified or, according to some accounts, impaled. To commemorate the story, Apollo changed Arion's lyre and the dolphins which had taken pity on him into constellations.


Table of Sources:
- Serv. on Virgil, Ecl. 8, 55
- Ovid, Fast. 2, 79ff.
- Hyg. Astron. 2, 17; Fab. 194
- schol. on Aratus Phaen. p. 165 Br.
- Hdt. 1, 24

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