Bion of Borysthenes

Bion of Borysthenes ( _el. Βίων Βορυσθενίτης), was a Greek philosopher, who lived c. 325-c. 250 BC. After being sold into slavery, and then released, he moved to Athens, where he studied in almost every school of philosophy available. It is, however, for his Cynic-style "diatribes" that he is chiefly remembered, for he satirized the foolishness of people and even attacked the gods.

Life

Bion was from the town of Olbia on the north coast of the Black Sea by the mouth of the river Borysthenes (modern-day Dnieper). He lived c. 325-c. 250 BC, but the exact dates of his birth and death are uncertain. Strabo [Strabo i.] mentions him as a contemporary of Eratosthenes, who was born 275 BC. Diogenes Laërtius has preserved an account in which Bion describes his parentage to Antigonus II Gonatas, King of Macedonia. [Diogenes Laërtius, iv. 46-47] His father was a freedman and a dealer in salt fish, with which he combined the occupation of smuggling. His mother, Olympia, was a Lacedaemonian prostitute. The whole family were sold as slaves, on account of some offence committed by the father. In consequence of this, Bion fell into the hands of a rhetorician, who made him his heir. Having burnt his patron's library, he went to Athens, and applied himself to philosophy, in the course of which study he embraced the tenets of almost every sect in succession. First he was an Academic studying under Xenocrates [Diogenes Laërtius, iv. 10] and Crates of Athens,Diogenes Laërtius, iv. 51] then he became a Cynic, (perhaps under Crates of Thebes), afterwards he attached to Theodorus,Diogenes Laërtius, iv. 52] the Cyrenaic philosopher whose atheism is said to have influenced Bion,Diogenes Laërtius, iv. 54] and finally he became a pupil of Theophrastus the Peripatetic. After the manner of the sophists of the period, Bion travelled through Greece and Macedonia, and was admitted to the literary circle at the court of Antigonus II Gonatas. [Diogenes Laërtius, iv. 46, 54] He subsequently taught philosophy at Rhodes, [Diogenes Laërtius, iv. 49, 53] and died at Chalcis in Euboea.

Philosophy

Bion seems to have been a man of considerable intellectual acuteness, but quite ready to attack everyone and everything. He was essentially a popular writer, and in his "Diatribes" he satirized the foolishness of people. While eulogizing poverty and philosophy, he attacked the gods, musicians, geometricians, astrologers, and the wealthy, and denied the efficacy of prayer. He spoke with contempt of Socrates, and was a notorious unbeliever in the existence of God. Many of Bion's dogmas and sharp sayings were preserved by Teles, a Cynic philosopher of the 3rd century BC; others appear in Diogenes Laërtius and Stobaeus.

His influence is distinctly traceable in succeeding writers, e.g. in the satires of Menippus. Horace alludes to his satires and caustic wit. [Horace, "Epistles", ii. 2.60] Examples of this wit are his sayings, that "the miser did not possess wealth, but was possessed by it," that "impiety was the companion of credulity," "avarice the "metropolis" of vice," that "good slaves are really free, and bad freemen really slaves," with many others of the same kind. One is preserved by Cicero, [Cicero, "Tusculan Disputations", iii. 26] viz. that "it is useless to tear our hair when we are in grief, since sorrow is not cured by baldness."

Notes

Further reading

*Kindstrand, J., (1976) "Bion of Borysthenes: A Collection of the Fragments with Introduction and Commentary". Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis. ISBN 9-15540-486-3

External links

*Diogenes Laërtius, [http://www.classicpersuasion.org/pw/diogenes/dlbion.htm "Life of Bion"]


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