BION OF BORYSTHENES—philosopher, d. around 280 BC.
Bion came from the lowest social classes. He was the son of a slave and a prostitute. He gained his freedom, education, and property from an unknown wealthy rhetorician. After going Athens he studied with Crates, among others (the last scholarch of the old Academy), later, “he adopted the Cynic discipline, donning cloak and wallet. For little else was need to convert him to the doctrine of entire insensibility” (DLaert IV 7, 51). He also listened to the lectures of the hedonist Theodorus of Cyrene, called the Atheist, and the peripatetic Theophrastus. Bion was best known, however, as a sophist who “was great at cutting up anything with a jest, using vulgar names for things” (DLaert IV 7, 52). For a certain time he was a guest at the court of the Macedonian king Antigonus Gonatas in Pelli. After this he devoted himself to teaching youth for money and moved from city to city. He died in Chalcis where when he was facing death he repented of all the blasphemies he had made against the goods.
He gave lectures for a broad circle of listeners, and thereby the form of his speeches, composed of short sentences decorated with citations from other authors, anecdotes, and jokes, took on a very popular form, and so Bion is regarded as the creator of a style called the Cynic diatribe (short dialogues concerning ethical matters). Diogenes Laertius (IV 7, 47) wrote of him that “a shifty character, a subtle sophist, and one who had given the enemies of philosophy many an occasion to blaspheme”. Of his views we know only that he connected the conceptions of his teachers and used them in speeches and lectures. He compared all the sciences, with the exception of philosophy, to Penelope’s slaves with whom people associate who cannot be close to the lady—philosophy. In ethical questions he assumed the attitude of a hedonistic Cynic and mocked generally accepted conventions and prejudices, which is seen in the aphorisms and sayings ascribed to him. Of Bion’s writings, only outlines for lectures have survived.
J. M. Hoogvliet, De vita, doctrina, et scripta B., Leida 1821; P. Rossignol, Fragmenta B. Boristene philosophi, P 1830; J. F. Kindstrand, Bion of Borystenes. A Collection of the Fragments with Introduction and Commentary, Up 1976.