A Song for Arion
The Tale of Delphinus


Although the sun beat harshly against the barren rocks of the island of Lesbos, a song of gentle spring rain echoed through the hills and along the shore, and everyone who listened could feel its cool breezes. Arion sat in the shade of a sea grape tree, resting against its trunk. He held his lyre and, strumming idly under the hot afternoon sun, he sang.

Auster, the south wind comes to life,
She says "Wake up world. It is spring."
Where she blows she brings warm rain
and Mother Earth spreads a carpet
of pastel flowers to show where she has been.

The birds sing as they build their nests.
We listen to their songs and walk among the blooms
while our minds drift and think of love
for from the winter of loneliness
Eros brings the love of spring.

The hawks heard his song and stopped in mid-air as they were about to catch mice. Instead they sought out their mates and, as though it once again was spring, they began again to rebuild their nests. The wolves stopped hunting lambs and returned to their dens to lick their pups. The crabs stopped fighting and collected in the tide pools to rub each other's legs, and the young men and women on the beach stopped arguing and instead, stroked each other's hair.

The waves, who had lapped up on the shore, sat transfixed and refused to leave. "We will leave only when we can take you with us. Bring your songs to our other shores," they said, "there is need of them. We have heard the sadness, anger and fear upon the mainland. Change their tune, dear Arion. Show them a better way to use their voices. Hurry, there is no time to lose. Get ready and we will take you there. We'll even bring you home again when you are through."

"Why not?" thought Arion. "I would like to see something new and I'm sure it would inspire my music. Besides, I'm too young to just stay here." Arion walked home, packed and left on his adventure.

He first went to a land where warring brother kings had battled for twenty years. Arion sang to them a story of the childhood memories of an old man as he died. The brothers dropped their weapons as they cried in each other's arms. "Thank you, dear Arion," they said as they put their arms around him. In gratitude they gave him bags of gold.

"Thank you, dear Arion," the people called to him. "We will give you robes and shoes and feed you like a king."

Word arrived about a town that had been devastated by a storm. The people had given up and sat weeping among the ruins. "We will take you there," his friends said, "for they need you more than we do now."

Traveling for two days, Arion arrived in the desolate place. Arion sang a song of the town's glorious past, of her families and her beauty and her heritage. The people sat up from where they lay upon the ruins. Their imaginations once again beheld the former grandeur of their home. They jumped up and went to work, carting away the rubble and designing their new and splendid city.

"Thank you, dear Arion," they said. They brought him chairs, lamps and candlesticks, and curtains and cushions for a lavish home.

"There is a place where a plague of illness swept the land and many people died. It has been two years, yet still the people mourn. Help them, dear Arion. Help them end their grief." Arion and his band of followers traveled there. He saw the people sadly sitting by the graves. He sang to them of Hades' Mourning Fields where the spirits of the innocents would be together for eternity and of the gods who came to visit there. He sang of Persephone coming back to visit the upper world each spring and when his song had ended the people dried their tears. Once again they planted their fields and played with their children.

"Thank you, dear Arion," the people said as they smiled. "Please teach our children how to play the lyre and sing so they will always be happy." He taught them all and they sang to their parents every night. The people collected all their jewels and gave them to him. "You have given us far more than this," they said. "You have brought us hope."

Word spread of Arion the Great. He and his friends wandered from town to town, delighting everyone who heard his songs. But, finally he tired of traveling. "I miss my home," he said, "and I want to start my own family." His friends took him to the sea and hired a ship to take him with his treasure back home to Lesbos.

"Protect our poet as you take him home to Lesbos," they said to the helmsman. "We will miss him, though his songs will forever live in our hearts."

"The great Arion is with us," the helmsman called out to his crew. "Help him with his trunks." The men lined up and carried trunk after trunk aboard.

"I wonder what's in those trunks?" the helmsman said as he and his bunkmates lay down for the night. "They're probably filled with riches he doesn't deserve. After all, he's just a singer of songs. He doesn't work hard like we do. Why should he be rich and we be so poor?" The men nodded as they drifted off to sleep.

The following day, Arion's journey turned treacherous. It was not caused by high waves or a storm at sea, but by the greed of men. The helmsman and sailors armed themselves with knives and surrounded Arion. "Prepare to die," the helmsman curled his lip and snarled.

"Please grant me one final wish," Arion calmly said. "Let me sing one last song."

"He wants one last song," the helmsman mocked. "Well, he can't leave. Why not! We'll give the little singer one last song." The men elbowed each other as they laughed.

Arion dressed in a purple robe and placed a crown upon his head. He tuned his lyre and began to play and sing.

Poseidon, though the ruler of the seas, was all alone.
No love, no warmth, no gentleness to soothe his savage soul.
Amphitrite was the nymph he loved.
Any wind would bring her scent.
Any dream would hold her voice, her form and
Any time he woke he found that it was but illusion.

Poseidon, though a god, could not confess
His passion or his frailty or his tenderness.
And so she left, the nymph he loved.
She wandered far away from him.
She never saw his gentle side.
She thought his lust was just a rude intrusion.

Poseidon, though so powerful, was but meek.
Fearful of rejection, shame, and fearful of defeat.
A dolphin left to find the nymph,
He told her of Poseidon's love,
He showed her gentleness and care,
He carried her away from self-imposed seclusion.

Poseidon, though so lonely, was so real.
He learned that, god or man, we must say what we feel.
Amphitrite came on dolphin back.
They looked into each others eyes.
They made their vow for all of time and
They loved the dolphin for resolving their confusion.

As Arion played his last note he leaped off the deck and into the sea. "He saved us the trouble of killing him," the helmsman said. "Come on, let's carve our treasure up." They dragged out Arion's trunks and rifled through them, grabbing things from the trunks and from each other as they again pulled out their knives. The deck of the ship erupted in a bloody fight.

Amid the fighting, no one bothered to look over the edge of the deck and into the sea. Had they not been overcome with greed they would have seen their ship surrounded by hundreds of dolphins, all standing on their tails, while one dolphin dived to catch Arion as he fell into the sea. As the fighting on deck broke out, Arion safely rode the dolphin away from the ship and across the sea to the kingdom of Taenarum while a hundred leaping dolphins surrounded them and escorted them to shore.

But the dolphins weren't the only ones who listened to Arion's song. Amphitrite also heard him. "Darling," she said, placing her hand on Poseidon's, "that was so long ago I had almost forgotten. He is so dear to remind us. Oh, those dreadful men have stolen Arion's treasure. Please do something about it."

While the men were fighting, Poseidon blew hard over the sea and a heavy gale raised waves so high, they smashed against the deck and broke it into splinters. Then the waves picked up the bodies and Arion's treasure and deposited them on the beach at Taenarum.

"Brother Zeus," Poseidon called, "the noble dolphin has saved our Arion. How can we show our gratitude?"

Zeus plucked the dolphin out of the water and placed him in the sky over the stars of the nine muses. "You will now be called Delphinus," Zeus said. "Since you saved Arion and his celestial song, I will place you near Lyra so you can always hear the music of heaven."

Myth Index

Tales of the Immortal Night ©2003, J.J. Kuhl


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