Stories of the Ancient Greeks - Charles D. Shaw

The Singer and the Dolphin

At the court of the king of Corinth lived a famous musician, Arion. Everybody liked him, for he was pleasant and kind, and his music made glad all who heard it.

A musical contest was to be held in Sicily, and Arion wished to try for the prize. His friends did everything to persuade him to stay with them, but he would have his own way and sailed to Sicily.

He was the best of all the singers and won the prize. He took a Corinthian ship for home. The sky was bright, the sea was calm; he was glad to think he should soon be among his friends.

The sailors looked angrily at him. They intended to have that prize which had made him rich. They gathered around him with knives in their hands. "You must die," they said. "Make your choice. If you want to be buried on the shore, give up to us and die here. We will give you decent burial. Or throw yourself into the sea, if you would rather died that way."

Arion say, "Why should I die? You can have my gold; I will give you that. Why must you take my life?"

"Dead men tell no tales," they answered. "If we let you live you will tell the king of Corinth, and where could we hide from him? Your gold would be of no use to us, for we should always be afraid. Death quiets all. You must die."

"Grant me one favor, then," he pleaded. "If I must die, let it be as becomes a bard. So have I lived, so let me pass away. When my song is over and my harp is hushed, then I will give up my life and make no complaint."

These rough men had no pity, but they were willing to hear so great a singer. They said, "It shall be as you wish."

He added, "Then let me change my clothes. Apollo will not hear me unless I wear my minstrel dress."

He put on a purple robe embroidered with gold. He poured perfume on his hair, set a golden wreath upon his head, and bracelets on his arms. His lyre he held in his left hand, and struck its strings with his right hand.

The sailors were pleased to see him so richly dressed. He went to the forward part of the vessel and looked down into the sea. This was his song:

"O harp, our happy day is o'er!

On earth thy chords shall sound no more,

No more shall charm the listening maids—

My harp, we go to seek the shades.

"Ye heroes, who the flood have past,

Receive me, thus among you cast,

Although you cannot heal my grief,

Or to my sorrow bring relief.

"I die, and yet I do not fear!

The watchful gods are ever near!

You, you who slay me, soon shall know

The bitter taste of guilty woe.

"But o ye sea-nymphs, bright and fair,

My harp and I now seek your care;

Upon your mercy I depend,

Receive me as a welcome friend."

Then he sprang overboard, and sank beneath the waves. The sailors were glad to have so little trouble. He was gone, they had the prize, who could know that he had not fallen into the water by accident? Still, they rowed hard to get away from the spot.

They did not see what was going on in the water. While Arion was singing, the fish and other creatures of the sea had gathered around the ship to hear his music. When he sank down among them they came close to show their love and offer their help. One strong dolphin turned his broad back to the singer. Arion took the hint, and mounted upon the dolphin. The proud fish rose nearly to the surface of the water and carried the musician safely to land.

Arion journeyed on and soon reached Corinth. He went with his lyre to the palace and met his friend the king.

"I have come back famous, but poor," he said. "I gained the glory and the prize, but thieves have robbed me of the gold."

When the king heard the strange history, he said, "Is power mine, and shall I not punish the guilty? Keep close until the ship comes in."

When the ship came into port, he sent for the sailors and asked them, "Where is Arion? Have you heard anything of him? He is my friend, and I am anxious to have him come back to Corinth."

They said, "We left him well and happy at Tarentum."

Then Arion stepped forward, dressed just as he was when he threw himself overboard at their command. The sailors fell on their faces. "He is a god," they said. "We killed him and he is alive." The king said, "You miserable wretches. Arion forgives you, but go to some wild land where nothing beautiful can ever give you pleasure."