In antiquity, Bion was considered the third great pastoral poet after Theocritus and Moschus. This order of ranking is apparently both chronological and stylistic. Very little is known of the life of Bion. He was born in an obscure place called Phlossa near Smyrna sometime in the second century b.c.e. His death provides the subject of a superb pastoral elegy traditionally attributed to Moschus, “Lament for Bion.” Actually this lament occasioned by the death of Bion is not by Moschus but rather by the hand of a pupil of Bion from Magna Graecia. In the lament the poet calls Bion’s work Dorian and invokes the Sicilian Muses as if Bion were from Sicily. This detail, however, may be entirely conventional, for in the same poem Bion is called a shepherd and we know this detail to be simply an assumption customary to such writing which in no way reflects historical reality. According to the lament, Bion drank poison and in the next several lines the poet suggests darkly that justice will be done. If we can take these lines literally, what was the fate of Bion—suicide, murder, political execution? There is no way of knowing.
Probably the most important extant work of Bion is the pastoral elegy, “Lament for Adonis.” Adonis, the youth beloved by Venus the goddess of love, has been slain by a wild boar and this poem laments his death. The structure of the poem is extremely conventional, inviting comparison with other pastoral...
(The entire section is 902 words.)
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