Bion of Smyrna Biography

Bion (Greek: Βίων, gen.: Βίωνος), Greek bucolic poet, was a native of the city of Smyrna and flourished about 100 BC. Most of his work is lost. There remain 17 fragments (preserved in ancient anthologies) and the "Epitaph on Adonis," a mythological poem on the death of Adonis and the lament of Aphrodite (preserved in several late medieval manuscripts of bucolic poetry). Some of the fragments show the pastoral themes that were typical of ancient Greek bucolic poetry, while others attest the broader thematic interpretation of the bucolic form that prevailed in the later Hellenistic period. They are often concerned with love, mainly homosexual. Besides Adonis, other myths that appear in his work are those of Hyacinthus and the Cyclops; to judge from references in the "Epitaph on Bion," which frequently alludes to Bion's work, he also wrote a poem on Orpheus, to which some of the extant fragments may have belonged. The Greek texts of Bion's poems are generally included in the editions of Theocritus. There is no particular reason to think that the "Epithalamius of Achilles and Deidameia", preserved in bucolic manuscripts and usually included under his name in modern editions, is Bion's work.

Bion's influence can be seen in numerous ancient Greek and Latin poets and prose authors, including Virgil and Ovid. His treatment of the myth of Adonis in particular has influenced European and American literature since the Renaissance.

Almost nothing is known of Bion's life. The account formerly given of him, that he was the contemporary of Theocritus and a friend and teacher of Moschus, and lived about 280 BC, is now regarded as incorrect: it rests on a misreading of the "Epitaph on Bion," a poem commemorating his death, which in early modern times was erroneously attributed to Moschus. The Suda lists the ancient canon of Greek bucolic poets as Theocritus, Moschus, and Bion, which should reflect chronogical order, and Moschus flourished in the mid 2nd century BC. Probable and certain imitations of Bion by Greek and Latin poets begin to be seen in the early 1st century. Some information concerning Bion's life comes from the "Epitaph on Bion." Its anonymous author calls himself Bion's heir and an "Ausonian" (= Italian), which may mean that Bion traveled to Italy at some point, perhaps for patronage in Rome (as Greek poets were beginning to do in his lifetime). It may, however, mean only that the author considered himself Bion's poetic heir. The poem also asserts that Bion was poisoned, which may or may not be a poetic metaphor.
One ancient text gives his place of origin as "a little place called Phlossa," which is otherwise unknown; it was presumably a district under the administration of Smyrna, perhaps one of the villages out of which Smyrna was reconstituted during the Hellenistic period. The appellation "Bion of Phlossa," under which he is sometimes known (for example, by the Library of Congress), is therefore a pedantic solecism: outside of Smyrna itself he would have been known as Bion of Smyrna.

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