Arion sang in a voice reminiscent of a spring breeze in the morning, at noon the song moaned down a steep slope like the summer sun, and in the evening a muffled tone of longing crept into the sound of mourning. He thought how good it would be for him and Arethusa to one day turn to earth, stone, water, or air. Then they would always be together, in the embrace of the nature they come from.



The landscape of the Dubrovnik River is special for its beauty and diversity. This magical natural environment, which in the past provided an image of open nature, gave the old people of Dubrovnik a dream place of freedom and pleasance.



Once upon a time, when the Illyrians sailed the nearby seas and the Romans crowned themselves with laurel and myrtle, it seemed true that Rijeka was one of those places that the gods gave birth to when they came down to earth; one foot of it bathes in the water among the river sedges, as if on a plank stretched out and facing the surrounding hills and cool boiling water beneath the Palata massif.


It is said that Odysseus, in his long wanderings towards Ithaca, sailed to the source of the Dubrovnik River below the cliff, where he turned with his fleet and continued his journey. This ingenious Greek hero who, after the Trojan War, in which he himself took part, left the coast and wandered with his company by the will of the gods- from temptation to temptation, and after two years experienced a great shipwreck. Left alone, without a ship and company, he was thrown on the waves to the shores of the mythical island of Ogygia, where he met the nymph Calypso in a cave. She saved Odysseus’ life, but she also fell in love with him. Wanting to make him her husband and immortal, she did not let him go home for a full seven years, until, through the intercession of the goddess Athena, Zeus, through the messenger of Hermes, ordered her to release him and return him to his native Ithaca. It is not known how and when the legend of Odysseus’ stay with the nymph Calypso was related to the island of Mljet, but according to that legend, the “Odysseus Cave” is located there. It is possible that, wandering the nearby sea routes, he may have sailed even to the River water, in order to find at least temporary shelter.



This water, today the Ombla River, settled its bed into a fjord and spilled between the two banks;  in the middle of that stream the small island of Blato overgrown with reeds, cypresses and tamarisks sleeps in abundance at high tide.

Perhaps in the hustle of the devastating earthquakes, the river changed course and allowed the legend of the shepherd Arion and the fairy Aretusa to spin about it. As she did not love him back, he mingled with her body and allowed the forces of earth, darkness and water to unite in a mass of hills, in the mud along the river from which his tears still flow today.


In the green Dubrava where the timid Rijeka flows, there were fertile fields where shepherds used to graze their flocks. The young and most beautiful shepherd Arion, fell in love with the fairy Aretusa , who was famous by her beauty. But Aretusa raised her proud forehead, which shone like marble, to the voice of love addressed to her. Aware of her beauty, she sought for herself more than what Arion could offer her; the high courts, a wealth of gold and precious stones to make her beautiful face shine in them, and she remained silent and cold as a stone to the attention of young Arion.

Spring and summer and autumn have passed. Under the mighty trees of the Dubrava, the wind stacked piles of golden leaves. The shepherds’ songs fell silent. Those were hard winter days without sun kisses, while cold winds blew whirlpools of icy breath over distant wastelands. Another winter has passed. Then, in the spring, all the shepherdesses came out with their flocks again, and in front of them all walked the young Aretusa, illuminated by the light from the east. On the other side, shepherds came and in front of them, like the voice of Dubrava, Arion walked. It all started from scratch, but much more lush and impatient than last summer. His longing now outgrew the plain and rolled like timid water, and Aretusa’s forehead still shone, proud and arrogant, like the whitest stone. Summer lingered in the heat, and young Arion’s love boiled like a hidden spring. Of all the songs sung to Aretusa, none touched her stony heart. Only the gods of the forest; Hoya, Lero, and Doleria, surrounded by the darkness of the green leaves, listened to his song, tenderly so that a shadow in the yellow and fragrant sap slid down the oaks and pines and flowed down the rough trunks.




One day, when the shepherds were kissing their loved ones in the bushes and in the clearings of the forest, Arion turned to the forest gods and wished that Aretusa would become what she has always been: a stone hill whose heart can’t be touched by his prayers. Let all silver and gold and precious stones belong one day to the others, and let Aretusa become the stone guardian of another’s happiness which she cannot catch with his cold and heartless hands!

The gods, hearing Arion, create a mountain wreath of Srđ from the proud Aretusa, which casts a dark shadow towards the green valley. Her left hand sows the sunny Bjelotina above the source of the River Ombla and in an open embrace, she said goodbye to her fertile pastures and green groves.




Arion soon realized that he had lost his beloved forever, so he cursed his impatience and the curse he had addressed to the gods. His tears soaked the ground like heavy streams. Arion mourned for a year and two, and one day he went under the shadow of Aretusa’s lap under the high massif Bjelotina and crawled into a cave that the shade lured him into a paradise of love.




Then the mountain shook, and a great river of tears flowed from his eyes, and sedges and reeds grew from his hair. The River and the surrounding hills have been lovers ever since; from Arion’s tears came the River, which has since kissed the stone skirts of the proud fairy Aretusa.




In order to fulfill his beloved’s wish for the high and luxurious mansions she deserved, the people of Dubrovnik later built their summer villas along both banks of the River. Thus the forest gods united the unfortunate Arion with his beloved fairy, who was finally endowed with a wealth of water in which her beautiful face is reflected.

This water was originally called Arion, and the names Vimbula, Umbla and then Ombla, were later given by the wine and vineyards that were grown along its shores. According to historians, there were Roman palaces around the River source, later replaced by mills. In the heart of the River, where the shores overlap with crowns of cypresses and tamarisks, there were gardens that from ancient times continued their course and flourished in the Renaissance, combined with numerous summer residences that planted its solid stone right by the water.




One of the owners of such a summer villa in the village Mokošica, the poet and translator Luko Mihov Bona, wrote a poem about Arion and his unhappy love story, inspired by Ovid’s work, as did most of Dubrovnik’s classicist poets of the second half of the 18th century. The real impetus was the unrequited love of the young Uršula Gozze, the beautiful daughter of Vladislav Gozze from a nearby summer villa near Obuljeno, which even today the inhabitants of the Dubrovnik River call a “haunted house”.




However, Luko did everything to win Ursula’s heart, and by convincing her father Vladislav, he even managed to marry her. Ursula tragically passed away at the age of 23 after giving birth, and in his poem, her husband turned her into an inaccessible rock that rises silently over the River, just across from her father’s lavish summer villa, due to the unrequited love. The tears he cryed, turned the poet Luko into the water of Arion flowing beside the rock, constantly mourning and kissing its dignified and inaccessible coldness. This is how the poem Arion in the River, Aretusa in the mountain, was written and then printed in 1864 in Dubrovnik.


Judging by the historical records, Ursula certainly had reason for her coldness. Her father Vladislav Gozze, after losing both of his sons in addition to his wife and losing hope of having heirs, considered how to marry his daughters as soon as possible. At the urging of Luko’s father, Miho Bona, motivated by the fact that his son would not ask for a dowry, Vladislav agreed to the marriage, although he did not initially intend to give Ursula’s hand to Bona. The unfortunate girl escaped  to her sister Jelena and her husband Pavao Gozze, who strongly opposed her forced marriage. Pavao Gozze even offered a dowry so that Ursula could marry another man. A scandal broke out, because first Jelena and Pavao Rafov Gozze received approval from the Senate to assign Ursula to guardians, but after an argument broke out between Vladislav and his daughter and son-in-law, they were punished by expulsion from Dubrovnik. That is how Ursula’s destiny was sealed. For a while she resisted and pretended to be ill, but as she was left without any support, she married without a wedding song and feast, which would be common for aristocratic daughters. The sad bride left her parents’ house in silence and shortly afterwards, after her father’s death, young Ursula passed away at the birth of her second daughter, broken more by grief than by illness.

Even then, her husband Luko could not forgive her unrequited love, so in the verses he immortalized her arrogance but he also described the beauty of the River called Arion:


And you, my Child,

are running out of numbers

You’re going to be immortal,

And your proud fairy,

She will have a friend of her own.

Noble will be the River,

Arion called, your tears,

Flowing clear in the eternity,

And in the embrace of your Aretusa.

She will enjoy it,

In the wealth of your waters,

And the voices will be distracting,

Which of you ascend

It is known that all ancient people have a large number of their legends and myths with which they ornament their past and find in them an inexhaustible source of motives for all forms of art.




History, on the other hand, is often referred to as a very old science “one of the oldest known to mankind.” However, there is an old interest in the past and its description that goes back even to times when man could not write. There are the beginnings of interest in unusual, strange events, destinies and adventures associated with legends about old “good times”, the emergence and disappearance of civilizations, brave individuals who with their virtues shaped the past, guided its course and thus became legendary, and stories about them “legends” that satisfied the interest in the events from the earliest time of man’s stay on earth. Stories were transmitted first orally and then in writing, from generation to generation, until today.




The difference between a legend and a myth lies in the fact that a legend, although like a myth it is also a narrative, always has a core of historical-biographical data or elements with a historical tradition. Although the word myth, which in Greek means speech, telling, has almost the same meaning as history, until recently it was given a negative connotation of a fairy tale, because it was considered that myth is not a real historical event in the past, so it does not meet the basic conditions under which an event, according to the scientific definition of history, appears to be “historical truth”. From the word myth came mythology, signifying a set of myths about deities, demigods and heroes, but also a science that systematically collects and studies the content, form, and meaning and origin of myths.



Myth differs from ordinary language because it uses a narrative that stimulates imagination and intuition. Cultures that created myths used them to express their understanding of what was created in their environments.

Thus, the Dubrovnik River has its mythical meaning. In older literature, many have identified it with the mythical Arion.




Because of unrequited love, he became a river, explained Pseudo Skilak, an ancient Greek writer who lived in the 4th century. B.C. In his work, he geographically positioned Arion as the Ombla River. According to Thucydides, Arion endowed with musical talent sang the hymn to the god Poseidon and thus gained his eternal affection. He was therefore shown regularly in the company of dolphins or swimming on the backs of dolphins.




In the correspondence of the Dubrovnik naturalist Jakov Lovrov Sorgo with his Italian colleague Ullise Aldrovandi from the 16th century, we find his record of Ombla as a special geographical area rich in fish called Rika, often visited by dolphins in search of fish, which jump ashore in front of their flock.



Herodotus, who often pointed out the importance of the daily life of individual countries and people in recording historical events, gives geographical descriptions of the regions and conveys many anecdotes and legends. He attributes to the Encheleans, a tribe that ruled vast parts of southern Illyria, numerous attacks on northern Greeks. There are some interpretations that the name of the tribe originated from the Greek word meaning eel, thus the Greeks emphasized their skill in piracy which caused immense damage to all people, and especially to the Greeks who were closest to them. Both pirates and eels live in the water, fleeing easily from the hands of the enemy and crossing the sea by winding roads, looking for hidden places to attack and defend. The peak of Enheleian power was reached sometime in the 7th century BC.




The myth of Arion tells exactly how on the way to Corinth greedy sailors tried to kill him by throwing him off the ship, but his life was saved by a dolphin, enchanted by the sounds of his song.

William Adolphe Bouguereau: Arion on a Sea Horse (1855)




Arion was a Greek poet and kitharode, originally from Metimna on the island of Lesbos. He lived at the turn of the 7th and 6th century BC. He found a patron in Periander, tyrant of Corinth and, according to some sources, his father was the god Poseidon. After a successful voyage to Sicily, where he won a musical competition and earned decent money with his art, he found a boat in Taranto and sailed for Corinth. He was intercepted on the high seas by sailors who agreed to rob him. Arion offered them all his money, to spare his life. Fearing that he would betray them, they put him in front of a choice, one of suicide with a proper burial on land, or the other of being thrown in the sea to perish. Neither prospect appealed to Arion: he asked for permission to sing his last song. Playing his kithara, Arion sang a praise to Apollo, the god of poetry, and his song attracted a number of dolphins around the ship. At the end of the song, Arion threw himself into the sea rather than be killed, but one of the dolphins saved his life and carried him to safety at the sanctuary of Poseidon at Cape Tainaron. Some claim that Apollo sent dolphins to save Arion, whom he placed among the constellations of Dolphins because of his musical skills.




Along the banks of the river Ombla, the magical song of the mythical musician Arion turned into the sound of Pastorale with which we woke up the forest fairies among whom Aretusa may be hiding and asleep…

Text: Ivana Jelača

Photo: Katarina Karakaš Spiroski, RIM

Video: Iva Dedo / Unique Films

Music in the video:

B. Kunc: Pastorala (fragment)

Vedrana Dizdar, clarinet, RIM (2017)



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