THE WISE MAN BIAS OF PRIENE: THE TRADITION ABOUT HIS TIME, HIS BACKGROUND, AND THE MEANING OF HIS NAME
This paper examines the tradition about Bias of Priene, one of the Seven Wise Men of Greece about whom many stories were told, his background and the meaning of his name. In the absence of reliable historical sources, testimonia mostly come from a variety of disparate sources compiled in Hellenistic times or later and we may only suppose that local anecdotes, proverbs and short sayings reflect historical events. The paper provides detailed treatment of the several conflicting traditions about Bias of Priene. Nevertheless, the surviving biographical information about Bias point to the period of the reign of King Croesus and the Persian conquest of Asia Minor (ca. 560–540 BC), as the best time of his political activity. For this reason he might be designated as the sixth-century philosopher and statesman who was a generation younger than most others from among the Seven Sages (e.g. Solon of Athens, Thales of Miletus, Pittacus of Mytilene, Periander of Corinth).
In the second part of the paper the possible meaning of the name Bias has been examined. This name as a personal name was almost certainly taken from the heroic repertoire of Greek names with an intention of connecting Bias’s family, who obviously belonged to the aristocracy of Priene, with the world of heroes, and through them, with the world of gods. The most famous mythical bearer of the name Bias was the hero Bias, the son of Amythaon and the brother of the legendary seer and healer Melampus. This Bias married Pero, the daughter of Neleus, the founder of Pylos in Messenia, and he had with her glorious offspring, before he settled in Argos. The choice of that heroic name as a personal name in the family of the wise Prienian might not be by chance, and it can be best explained with possible Neleid and Messenian connections generally existing among the local aristocracy in the Ionian poleis of the Archaic period. These connections were quite expected because the Neleids were ubiquitous in foundation myths throughout the Ionian East. Moreover, Messenian associations about Bias of Priene were preserved in the strange story on the Messenian maidens (Diog. Laert. I 82), obviously not well understood by later tradition. This story could allude to an alleged Neleid and Messenian background of the Bias’s family. The existence of the Bias River in Messenia also indicates that the personal name Bias could have been perceived by the Greeks as a good Messenian and Neleid name.