Bion, Lament for Adonis

LCL 28: 504-505

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The Lament for Adonis, though in part set in the countryside, is probably inspired by the Adonis song at Theocritus Id. 15.100–144 (an “urban” idyll). There in a static scene, Aphrodite and Adonis are celebrated as happy lovers; here Bion dwells on the gory death of Adonis and the goddess’s lament for him. There are several changes of scene (Aphrodite’s bed, Adonis in the hills, Aphrodite and the dying Adonis, Aphrodite’s palace), and the emphasis is on speech and movement. On a formal level the poem owes much to those hymns of Callimachus (to Apollo, Athena, and Demeter) in which details supplied in passing by an anonymous “master of ceremonies” figure (here a female celebrant) allow readers to construct for themselves a dramatic context.

The poem is a hexameter version of the ritual lament uttered on the day of mourning at the Adonia festival (see p. 205). In real life this may have been in rhythmic prose or may have consisted in ritual cries and exclamations. Sappho appears to have composed a Lament for Adonis in lyric meter (Fr. 140 Voigt); and the lyric lament for performance at wakes was well established as a literary form by the sixth century. Such works had a stately and consolatory tone. Bion, by contrast, aims to reproduce the strident effect and heightened eroticism of an exotic foreign



festival; hence the extraordinary amount of repetition, alliteration, and assonance, which suggest rapid movement and animation. The refrain is perhaps inspired by the lament for Daphnis in Theocritus Id. 1, and it represents the repeated interjections of woe characteristic of Greek laments. Antiphony and antithesis are found throughout: the focus is alternately on Aphrodite and Adonis, while the poet varies themes of praise and reproach, life and death, past happiness and present grief.

  • Alexiou, M. The Ritual Lament in Greek Tradition. 2nd ed. Lanham, MD, 2002.
  • Fantuzzi, M. Bionis Smyrnaei Adonidis Epitaphium. Liverpool, 1985.
  • Hopkinson, Hellenistic Anthology, 215‒26.
  • Reed, J. D. Bion of Smyrna: The Fragments and the Adonis. Cambridge, 1997.
DOI: 10.4159/DLCL.bion-lament_adonis.2015