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Bion of Borysthenes (Greek: Βίων Βορυσθενίτης; c. 325-c. 250 BC) was a Greek philosopher. After being sold into slavery, and then released, he moved to Athens, where he studied in almost every school of philosophy available. It is, however, for his Cynic-style diatribes that he is chiefly remembered, for he satirized the foolishness of people and even attacked the gods.



Bion was from the town of Olbia on the north coast of the Black Sea by the mouth of the river Borysthenes (modern-day Dnieper). He lived c. 325-c. 250 BC, but the exact dates of his birth and death are uncertain. Strabo[1] mentions him as a contemporary of Eratosthenes, who was born 275 BC. Diogenes Laërtius has preserved an account in which Bion describes his parentage to Antigonus II Gonatas, King of Macedonia.[2] His father was a freedman and a dealer in salt fish, with which he combined the occupation of smuggling. His mother, Olympia, was a Lacedaemonian prostitute. The whole family were sold as slaves, on account of some offence committed by the father. In consequence of this, Bion fell into the hands of a rhetorician, who made him his heir. Having burnt his patron's library, he went to Athens, and applied himself to philosophy, in the course of which study he embraced the tenets of almost every sect in succession. First he was an Academic studying under Xenocrates[3] and Crates of Athens,[4] then he became a Cynic,[4] (perhaps under Crates of Thebes), afterwards he attached to Theodorus,[5] the Cyrenaic philosopher whose atheism is said to have influenced Bion,[6] and finally he became a pupil of Theophrastus the Peripatetic.[5] 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 II Gonatas.[7] He subsequently taught philosophy at Rhodes,[8] and died at Chalcis in Euboea.[6]


Because of his early association with the Academy, Diogenes Laërtius placed Bion among the Academics, but there is nothing in his life or thought suggesting an affinity with Platonism and modern scholars regard him as a Cynic, albeit an atypical one with strong Cyrenaic leanings.[9] Bion seems to have been a man of considerable intellectual acuteness, but quite ready to attack everyone and everything. He was essentially a popular writer, and in his Diatribes he satirized the foolishness of people. While eulogizing poverty and philosophy, he attacked the gods, musicians, geometricians, astrologers, and the wealthy, and denied the efficacy of prayer. He spoke with contempt of Socrates, and was a notorious unbeliever in the existence of God. Many of Bion's dogmas and sharp sayings were preserved by Teles, a Cynic philosopher of the 3rd century BC; others appear in Diogenes Laërtius and Stobaeus.

His influence is distinctly traceable in succeeding writers, e.g. in the satires of Menippus. Horace alludes to his satires and caustic wit.[10] Examples of this wit are his sayings:

"The miser did not possess wealth, but was possessed by it."
"Impiety was the companion of credulity, [and] avarice the metropolis of vice."
"Good slaves are really free, and bad freemen really slaves."

One saying is preserved by Cicero:[11]

"It is useless to tear our hair when we are in grief, since sorrow is not cured by baldness."

Another is cited by Plutarch:[12]

"Though boys throw stones at frogs in sport, yet the frogs do not die in sport but in earnest."


  1. ^ Strabo i.2.2
  2. ^ Diogenes Laërtius, iv. 46-47
  3. ^ Diogenes Laërtius, iv. 10
  4. ^ a b Diogenes Laërtius, iv. 51
  5. ^ a b Diogenes Laërtius, iv. 52
  6. ^ a b Diogenes Laërtius, iv. 54
  7. ^ Diogenes Laërtius, iv. 46, 54
  8. ^ Diogenes Laërtius, iv. 49, 53
  9. ^ Luis E. Navia, (1996), Classical Cynicism: A Critical Study, pages 154-5. Greenwood
  10. ^ Horace, Epistles, ii. 2.60
  11. ^ Cicero, Tusculan Disputations, iii. 26
  12. ^ Plutarch, Moralia, xii. 66

Further reading

  • Kindstrand, J., (1976) Bion of Borysthenes: A Collection of the Fragments with Introduction and Commentary. Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis. ISBN 9-15540-486-3

External links



Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Bion of Borysthenes (c. 325-c. 250 BC) was a Greek philosopher closely allied to the Cynic school, who was famous in the ancient world for his witty remarks.


  • Good slaves are free, but bad free men are slaves of many passions.
    • Stobaeus, iii.1.18
  • How stupid it was for the king to tear out his hair in grief, as if baldness were a cure for sorrow.
    • Cicero, Tusculan Disputations, iii. 26
  • It hurts the bald-head just as much as the thatched-head to have his hairs plucked.
    • Seneca, On Tranquility of the Mind
  • Boys throw stones at frogs in fun, but the frogs do not die in fun, but in earnest.
    • Plutarch, Moralia, xii. 66
  • Love of money is the mother-city (metropolis) of all evils.
    • Stobaeus, iii.10.37
  • Just as the good actor perform well whatever role the poet assigns, so too must the good man perform whatever Fortune assigns. For she, says Bion, just like a poet, sometimes assigns the leading role, sometimes that of the supporting role; sometimes that of a king, sometimes that of a beggar. Do not, therefore, being a supporting actor, desire the role of the lead.
    • Teles of Megara, fr. 2, On Self-Sufficiency
  • Therefore we should not try to alter circumstances but to adapt ourselves to them as they really are, just as sailors do. They don't try to change the winds or the sea but ensure that they are always ready to adapt themselves to conditions. In a flat calm they use the oars; with a following breeze they hoist full sail; in a head wind they shorten sail or heave to. Adapt yourself to circumstances in the same way.
    • Teles of Megara, fr. 2, On Self-Sufficiency

Lives of Eminent Philosophers, by Diogenes Laërtius

  • Bion used to say that the way to the shades below was easy; he could go there with his eyes shut.
    • Book IV, Sec. 49.
  • Once when Bion was at sea in the company of some wicked men, he fell into the hands of pirates; and when the rest said, "We are undone if we are known,"—"But I," said he, "am undone if we are not known."
    • Book IV, Sec. 50.
  • Of a rich man who was niggardly he said, "That man does not own his estate, but his estate owns him."
    • Book IV, Sec. 50.
  • Bion insisted on the principle that "The property of friends is common."
    • Book IV, Sec. 53.
  • Old age is the harbor of all ills.
    • Book IV, Sec. 48.
  • Wealth is the sinews of affairs.
    • Book IV, Sec. 48.
  • The road to Hades is the easiest to travel.
    • Book IV, Sec. 49.
  • He has not acquired a fortune; the fortune has acquired him.
    • Book IV, Sec. 50.
  • Self-conceit is the enemy of progress.
    • Book IV, Sec. 50


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