“Epitaphios Adonidos,” second century b.c.e. (“Lament for Adonis,” 1759)
five other pastoral poems and some fragments (English translation, 1651)
The Greek bucolic poet Bion (BI-uhn) was born in the village of Phlossa, near Smyrna, and later moved to Sicily. Almost nothing else is known of his life, and even the approximate times of his birth and death are based upon metrical analysis of his few surviving poems. He is often referred to as Bion of Smyrna to distinguish him from the philosopher Bion of Borysthenes. A verse epitaph to Bion was traditionally attributed to Moschus, a pastoral poet who was writing at about 150
Bion’s “Lament for Adonis,” his only surviving work to have had any appreciable influence on later poets, was written to celebrate the first day of the festival of Adonis, an important figure in Greek mythology. A handsome young man loved by the goddess Aphrodite, Adonis died in a hunting accident. According to one version of the myth, the gods, in order to comfort the broken-hearted Aphrodite, agreed to permit Adonis to leave Hades for six months of each year. Thus Adonis came to represent the cyclical nature of the cosmic order, and his death was associated with the annual change of seasons. The annual Athenian festival in his honor was held in late summer. Aside from Bion’s “Lament for Adonis,” some other works dealing with this myth are the fifteenth Idyl of Theocritus, the third book of The Library, by Apollodorus (second century
Poets who are designated as pastoral (from Latin pastor, or shepherd) or bucolic (from Greek boukolos, shepherd)–such as Bion, Moschus, and the earlier and more famous third century
The last-named of these poems appears to have been directly influenced by Bion’s most famous surviving poem, the “Lament for Adonis,” and by the “Lament for Bion,” once attributed to Moschus. In fact, Shelley prefaces “Adonais” with a four-line Greek quotation from the latter poem and later (stanza 36) paraphrases part of this quotation in his own text. In this poem can be seen how the pastoral poet employs the mechanism of the shepherds’ artificial world to address a personal crisis, since Shelley is actually writing about the recent death of the poet John Keats.
Another notable work influenced by Bion is the Victorian pastoral elegy “Thyrsis” (1866), by Matthew Arnold, a lament for the passing of Arnold’s friend the poet Arthur Hugh Clough. Arnold acknowledges his debt by devoting lines 81 through 90 to Bion.
Bion’s “Lament for Adonis” has been translated by several different persons, including J. M. Edmonds, Arthur S. Way, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. The anonymous “Lament for Bion” has been translated by Way and by Andrew Lang, among others.