A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology

Smith, William

A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology. William Smith, LLD, ed. 1890

(Βίων), a Scythian philosopher, surnamed BORYSTHENITES, from the town of Oczacovia, Olbia, or Borysthenes, near the mouth of the Dnieper, lived about B. C. 250, but the exact dates of his birth and death are uncertain. Strabo (i. p.15) mentions him as a contemporary of Eratosthenes, who was born B. C. 275. Laertius (4.46, &c.) has preserved an account which Bion himself gave of his parentage to Antigonus Gonatas, king of Macedonia. His father was a freedman, and his mother, Olympia, a Lacedaemonian harlot, and 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 lie embraced the tenets of almost every sect in succession. First he was an Academic and a disciple of Crates, then a Cynic, afterwards attached to Theodorus [THEODORUS], the philosopher who carried out the Cyrenaic doctrines into the atheistic results which were their natural fruit [ARISTIPPUS], and finally he became a pupil of Theophrastus, the Peripatetic. He seems to have been a man of considerable intellectual acuteness, but utterly profligate, and a notorious unbeliever in the existence of God. His habits of life were indeed avowedly infamous, so much so, that he spoke with contempt of Socrates for abstaining from crime. Many of Bion's dogmas and sharp sayings are preserved by Laertius : they are generally trite pieces of morality put in a somewhat pointed shape, though hardly brilliant enough to justify Horace in holding him up as the type of keen satire, as he does when he speaks of persons delighting Bioneis scrmonibus et sale nigro. (Epist. 2.2. 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 μητρόπολις 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 (Tusc. 3.26), viz. that "it is useless to tear our hair when we are in grief, since sorrow is not cured by baldness." He died at Chalcis in Euboea. We learn his mother's name and country from Athenaeus (xiii. p. 591f. 592, a.)