Bion And Moschus.
The relation of Shelley's Elegy of Adonais to the two Elegies written
by Bion and by Moschus must no doubt have been observed, and been more
or less remarked upon, as soon as Adonais obtained some currency among
classical readers; Captain Medwin, in his Shelley Papers, 1832,
referred to it. I am not however aware that the resemblances had ever
been brought out in detail until Mr. G.S.D. Murray, of Christ Church,
Oxford, noted down the passages from Bion, which were published
accordingly in my edition of Shelley's Poems, 1870. Since then, 1888,
Lieut.-Colonel Hime, R.A., issued a pamphlet (Dulau & Co.) entitled The
Greek Materials of Shelley's Adonais, with Remarks on the three Great
English Elegies, entering into further, yet not exhaustive, particulars
on the same subject. Shelley himself made a fragmentary translation from
the Elegy of Bion on Adonis: it was first printed in Mr. Forman's
edition of Shelley's Poems, 1877. I append here those passages which are
directly related to Adonais:—
'I mourn Adonis dead—loveliest Adonis—
Dead, dead Adonis—and the Loves lament.
Sleep no more, Venus, wrapped in purple woof—
Wake, violet-stoled queen, and weave the crown
Of death,—'tis Misery calls,—for he is dead.
With hair unbound is wandering through the woods,
Wildered, ungirt, unsandalled—the thorns pierce
Her hastening feet, and drink her sacred blood.
The flowers are withered up with grief.
Echo resounds, . . "Adonis dead!"
She clasped him, and cried ... "Stay, Adonis!
Stay, dearest one,...
And mix my lips with thine!
Wake yet a while, Adonis—oh but once!—
That I may kiss thee now for the last time—
But for as long as one short kiss may live!"
The reader familiar with Adonais will recognise the passages in that
poem of which we here have the originals. To avoid repetition, I do not
cite them at the moment, but shall call attention to them successively
in my Notes at the end of the volume.
For other passages, also utilised by Shelley, I have recourse to the
volume of Mr. Andrew Lang (Macmillan & Co. 1889), Theocritus, Bion, and
Moschus, rendered into English Prose. And first, from Bion's Elegy on
'The flowers flush red for anguish.... This kiss will I treasure, even
as thyself, Adonis, since, ah ill-fated! thou art fleeing me,... while
wretched I yet live, being a goddess, and may not follow thee.
Persephone, take thou my lover, my lord, for thyself art stronger than
I, and all lovely things drift down to thee.... For why ah overbold!
didst thou follow the chase, and, being so fair, why wert thou thus
over-hardy to fight with beasts?... A tear the Paphian sheds for each
blood-drop of Adonis, and tears and blood on the earth are turned to
flowers.... Ah even in death he is beautiful, beautiful in death, as one
that hath fallen on sleep.... All things have perished in his death, yea
all the flowers are faded.... He reclines, the delicate Adonis, in his
raiment of purple, and around him the Loves are weeping and groaning
aloud, clipping their locks for Adonis. And one upon his shafts, another
on his bow, is treading, and one hath loosed the sandal of Adonis, and
another hath broken his own feathered quiver, and one in a golden vessel
bears water, and another laves the wound, and another, from behind him,
with his wings is fanning Adonis.... Thou must again bewail him, again
must weep for him another year.... He does not heed them [the Muses];
not that he is doth to hear, but that the Maiden of Hades doth not let
The next-ensuing passages come from the Elegy of Moschus for Bion:—
'Ye flowers, now in sad clusters breathe yourselves away. Now redden, ye
roses, in your sorrow, and now wax red, ye wind-flowers; now, thou
hyacinth, whisper the letters on thee graven, and add a deeper ai ai to
thy petals: he is dead, the beautiful singer.... Ye nightingales that
lament among the thick leaves of the trees, tell ye to the Sicilian
waters of Arethusa the tidings that Bion the herdsman is dead.... Thy
sudden doom, O Bion, Apollo himself lamented, and the Satyrs mourned
thee, and the Priapi in sable raiment, and the Panes sorrow for thy
song, and the Fountain-fairies in the wood made moan, and their tears
turned to rivers of waters. And Echo in the rocks laments that thou art
silent, and no more she mimics thy voice. And in sorrow for thy fall the
trees cast down their fruit, and all the flowers have faded.... Nor ever
sang so sweet the nightingale on the cliffs,... nor so much, by the grey
sea-waves, did ever the sea-bird sing, nor so much in the dells of dawn
did the bird of Memnon bewail the son of the Morning, fluttering around
his tomb, as they lamented for Bion dead.... Echo, among the reeds, doth
still feed upon thy songs.... This, O most musical of rivers, is thy
second sorrow,—this, Meles, thy new woe. Of old didst thou lose
Homer:... now again another son thou weepest, and in a new sorrow art
thou wasting away.... Nor so much did pleasant Lesbos mourn for Alcaeus,
nor did the Teian town so greatly bewail her poet,... and not for Sappho
but still for thee doth Mitylene wail her musical lament.... Ah me! when
the mallows wither in the garden, and the green parsley, and the curled
tendrils of the anise, on a later day they live again, and spring In
another year: but we men, we the great and mighty or wise, when once we
have died, in hollow earth we sleep, gone down into silence.... Poison
came, Bion, to thy mouth—thou didst know poison. To such lips as thine
did it come, and was not sweetened? What mortal was so cruel that could
mix poison for thee, or who could give thee the venom that heard thy
voice? Surely he had no music in his soul,... But justice hath overtaken
Bion was born in Smyrna, or in a neighbouring village named Phlossa, and
may have died at some date not far from 250 B.C. The statement of
Moschus that Bion was poisoned by certain enemies appears to be intended
as an assertion of actual fact. Of Moschus nothing distinct is known,
beyond his being a native of Sicily.
Contributed by Rossetti, William Michael