At that time there were many other poets who sang their own songs, but not one could compare with Arion.
When he sang at the court of Corinth, the king's hunting dogs used to come bounding in to listen to the music, as much pleased as the courtiers. If he sang in the evening, with the doors open for coolness, fierce wolves used to come down from the hills in the darkness and gather around the palace, eager to hear the bewitching sound of the lyre. One could see their eyes shine just outside the doors, but the moment the music ceased they were gone. Overhead, great owls came flapping into the dark trees, and there were other listeners, too, of which the people of the court knew nothing.
One day the news reached Corinth that a musical contest was to be held in Sicily, at which a bag of gold was to be the prize. All the poets of Greece meant to go - not so much for the gold as for the glory that they hoped to gain there.
Arion did not care greatly either for the gold or the glory, but he loved singing better than anything else in the world, and he liked to see new countries. Therefore he said he would go, too, but promised to return to Corinth when the contest was over.
The king of Sicily and the judges were very much surprised when they heard Arion's extraordinary playing, and they awarded him the prize without any question. They would have been glad to keep him in Sicily, but Arion, remembering his promise to the king of Corinth, engaged a Corinthian ship to take him back to that city.
The sun never seemed brighter, nor the sea bluer, than it did on the day when Arion started out to return to Corinth with his prize. Soon Sicily was out of sight, all but her mountains, which still showed faintly against the horizon. Arion was watching the disappearance of the last peak, when suddenly he found himself surrounded by the sailors, all armed. He understood at once that they had conspired against him, in order to obtain possession of the gold. The captain stepped up to him with an unsheathed sword in his hand, and said, "Give me that bag of gold you carry, and prepare to die!"
"But if I give you the gold, will you not let me live?" said Arion.
"No, you must die!" answered the hard-hearted captain, for he was afraid that if he let Arion live, the king of Corinth might find out what had happened.
"I am not afraid to die," said Arion, "but give me leave to sing one last song to my harp."
"That you may do," said the captain; "but when the song is finished, you must throw yourself into the sea."
Then the captain and the sailors retired to the middle of the vessel, not unwilling to hear so famous a singer, while Arion, in his court dress, stood up on the stern, looking sadly toward the beautiful island of Sicily, and sang one last song.
The singer's voice floated out over the water, and a school of dolphins, swimming by just then, heard it, and came leaping after the ship.
When the song was over, Arion, with the lyre still in his hands, leaped straight down into the sea. Then the sailors sprang to the oars, and rowed as fast as they could, making all possible haste to leave the spot where they had done such a wicked deed.
But a wise old dolphin, who had come up to listen to the music, saw Arion leap from the stern of the ship, and caught the musician on his back. Then he set out to swim to Corinth with him.
As Arion rode on the wise dolphin's back, with the other dolphins leaping along behind, he played on his lyre, and the little waves were so charmed that they grew still, to listen. So the procession reached Corinth in safety.
The king was greatly astonished, and could not believe what Arion told him. As soon as the wicked sailors arrived, he sent for them and asked them what had become of Arion.
"He is well and happy," said they, "but has made up his mind that he will remain in Italy."
The king then sent for Arion, who came in wearing the same court dress in which he had leaped into the sea. The sailors were so taken by surprise that they confessed everything, and the king banished them from the country. But Arion was the greatest hero in all Greece..
The Legend and Myth of Arion
The Myth of Arion
The story of Arion is featured in the book entitled Favorite Greek Myths by Lilian Stoughton Hyde, published in 1904 by D. C. Heath and Company.