The following parable is found in Aulus Gellius (XVI.19), who himself takes it from Herodotus (I.23). It reminds us that effort and talent, if applied consistently, will eventually reap rewards.
Arion was a lyre-player from the town of Methymna. A lyre-player in those days was much like a solo musician now. He entertained audiences with the large amount of memorized poetry he had at his command, which would be sung to the music of the lyre. He was well-known for his virtuoso abilities, and for this reason he was a highly sought-after performer. Eventually, as time went on, he came to the attention of the King of Corinth, who was called Periander (625-585 B.C.).
Arion decided to tour the islands of Sicily and Italy to improve his art and see what he could learn. His tour was successful and he won large audiences wherever he went. But he eventually wanted to return to Corinth, and booked passage on a Corinthian vessel for this purpose. He had a large amount of money with him, earned from his performances. He reasoned that, since he was well-known in Corinth, he would be most safe in a ship from that city.
Once aboard, the Corinthian sailors figured out who he was. They formed the idea of murdering him and stealing his money. When the vessel was underway, they followed through with their plan. They took his money. He implored them not to kill him. But they ordered him to jump into the sea. He despaired, but asked them one last request.
He asked that he be permitted to make one last performance, wearing his full costume as a lyre-player. The sailors, although rouges and savages, agreed to this request. So Arion stood at the stern of the ship in full costume and sang his last ode to the accompaniment of his own music. He sang in a high key, called “orthian”, which was a type of key that only a few musicians could duplicate. These notes were so expertly and loudly sung that they attracted the attention of dolphins following the ship.
And then he threw himself into the ocean. The sailors assumed he was dead. They continued on their course.
But in truth a miracle occurred. A dolphin suddenly appeared, and permitted Arion to climb on his back. The dolphin continued to take Arion near the town of Taenarum in the land of Laconia. Arion was close enough to the shore to be able to make land.
He eventually was able to make his way back to Corinth. Arion asked to be admitted to the presence of King Periander, and told him all the details of how he had been saved from certain death. The king, of course, could hardly believe the story, and ordered Arion to be taken into custody.
But persistent doubts nagged at Periander. He was able to locate the sailors (who had been from Corinth, of course) and had them questioned intensively. Their evasive answers convinced him that they were in fact lying, and that Arion was telling the truth. What tipped Periander off to this was when they told him that Arion was currently alive and living in Italy, and playing there.
And then Arion was brought in to confront them. They could no longer deny their schemes, and what they had tried to do to him.
And thus was Arion vindicated, and so the criminal sailors were exposed for what they were. To commemorate this event, Gellius tells us, the citizens of Taenarum erected two bronze images of dolphins near their city. On one of them, the figure of a man can be seen on its back.
He was a target because of his abilities, and was saved because of his abilities. Arion’s miraculous good fortune would not have been possible without his artistic craft.
Talent, persistence, and faith in one’s mission can work miracles. When all seems to be lost, is when all is to be won.
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