1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Bion (philosopher)

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BION, of Borysthenes (Olbia), in Sarmatia, Greek moralist and philosopher, flourished in the first half of the 3rd century B.C. He was of low origin, his mother being a courtesan and his father a dealer in salt fish, with which he combined the occupation of smuggling. Bion, when a young man, was sold as a slave to a rhetorician, who gave him his freedom and made him his heir. After the death of his patron, Bion went to Athens to study philosophy. Here he attached himself in succession to the Academy, the Cynics, the Cyrenaics and the Peripatetics. One of his teachers was the Cyrenaic Theodorus, called “the atheist,” whose influence is clearly shown in Bion’s attitude towards the gods. After the manner of the sophists of the period, Bion travelled through Greece and Macedonia, and was admitted to the literary circle at the court of Antigonus Gonatas. He subsequently taught philosophy at Rhodes and died at Chalcis in Euboea. His life was written by Diogenes Laertius. Bion was essentially a popular writer, and in his Diatribae he satirized the follies of mankind in a manner calculated to appeal to the sympathies of a low-class audience. While eulogizing poverty and philosophy, he attacked the gods, musicians, geometricians, astrologers, and the wealthy, and denied the efficacy of prayer. His influence is distinctly traceable in succeeding writers, e.g. in the satires of Menippus. Horace (Epistles, ii. 2. 60) alludes to his satires and caustic wit (sal nigrum). An idea of his writings can be gathered from the fragments of Teles, a cynic philosopher who lived towards the end of the 3rd century, and who made great use of them. Specimens of his apophthegms may be found in Diogenes Laertius and the florilegium of Stobaeus, while there are traces of his influence in Seneca.

See Hoogvliet, De Vita, Doctrina, et Scriptis Bionis (1821); Rossignol, Fragmenta Bionis Borysthenitae (1830); Heinze, De Horatio Bionis Imitatore (1889).