That which does not kill us makes us stronger. — Nietzsche

Story of the Greeks - Helene Guerber

The Tyrant of Syracuse

You have seen what a cruel man Alexander was. He was not the only tyrant in those days, however; for the city of Syracuse in Sicily, which Alcibiades had hoped to conquer, was ruled by a man as harsh and mean as Alexander.

This tyrant, whose name was Dionysius, had seized power by force, and kept his authority by exercising the greatest severity. He was always surrounded by guards, who at a mere sign from him were ready to put any one to death.

Dionysius was therefore feared and hated by the people whom he governed, but who would have been very glad to get rid of him. No honest man cared to come near such a bloodthirsty wretch, and there were soon none but wicked men to be found in his court.

These men, hoping to win his favor and get rich gifts, used to flatter him constantly. They never told him the truth, but only praised him, and made believe to admire all he said and did.

Of course, even though they were wicked too, they could really admire him, but secretly hated and despised him. Their praise, therefore, was as false as they, and their advice was always as bad as bad could be.

Now, Dionysius was as conceited as he was cruel, and fancied that there was nothing he could not do. Among other things, he thought he could write beautiful poetry. Whenever he wrote a poem, therefore, he read it aloud to all his courtiers, who went into raptures over it, although they made great fun of it behind his back.

Dionysius was highly flattered by their praise, but thought he would like to have it confirmed by the philosopher Philoxenus, the most learned man of Syracuse.

He therefore sent for Philoxenus, and bade him give his candid opinion of the verse. Now, Philoxenus was far too noble a man to tell a lie: and whenever he was consulted by Dionysius, he always boldly told the truth, whether it was agreeable or not.

When the tyrant asked his opinion about the poems, therefore, he unhesitatingly answered that they were trash, and did not deserve the name of poetry at all.

This answer so angered Dionysius, and so sorely wounded his vanity, that he called his guards, and bade them put the philosopher into a prison hewn out of the living rock, and hence known as "The Quarries."

Here Philoxenus was a prisoner for many a day, although his only fault was having told the tyrant an unwelcome truth when asked to speak.

The philosopher's friends were indignant on hearing that he was in prison, and signed a petition asking Dionysius to set him free. The tyrant read the petition, and promised to grant their request on condition that the philosopher would sup with him.

Dionysius' table was well decked, as usual, and at dessert he again read aloud some new verses which he had composed. All the courtiers went into ecstasies over them, but Philoxenus did not say a word.

Dionysius, however, fancied that his long imprisonment had broken his spirit, and that he would not now dare refuse to give a few words of praise: so he pointedly asked Philoxenus what he thought of the poem. Instead of answering, the philosopher gravely turned toward the guards, and in a firm voice cried aloud, "Take me back to The Quarries!" thus showing very plainly that he preferred suffering to telling an untruth.

The courtiers were aghast at his rashness, and fully expected that the tyrant would take him at his word and put him in prison, if nothing worse; but Dionysius was struck by the moral courage which made Philoxenus tell the truth at the risk of his life, and he bade him go home in peace.


Front Matter

Early Inhabitants of Greece
The Deluge of Ogyges
Founding of Important Cities
Story of Deucalion
Daedalus and Icarus
The Adventures of Jason
Theseus Visits the Labyrinth
The Terrible Prophecy
The Sphinx's Riddle
Death of Oedipus
The Brothers' Quarrel
The Taking of Thebes
The Childhood of Paris
Muster of the Troops
Sacrifice of Iphigenia
The Wrath of Achilles
Death of Hector and Achilles
The Burning of Troy
Heroic Death of Codrus
The Blind Poet
The Rise of Sparta
The Spartan Training
The Brave Spartan Boy
Public Tables in Sparta
Laws of Lycurgus
The Messenian War
The Music of Tyrtaeus
Aristomenes' Escape
The Olympic Games
Milo of Croton
The Jealous Athlete
The Girls' Games
The Bloody Laws of Draco
The Laws of Solon
The First Plays
The Tyrant Pisistratus
The Tyrant's Insult
Death of the Conspirators
Hippias Driven out of Athens
The Great King
Hippias Visits Darius
Destruction of the Persian Host
Advance of the Second Host
The Battle of Marathon
Miltiades' Disgrace
Aristides the Just
Two Noble Spartan Youths
The Great Army
Preparations for Defense
Leonidas at Thermopylae
Death of Leonidas
The Burning of Athens
Battles of Salamis and Plataea
The Rebuilding of Athens
Death of Pausanias
Cimon Improves Athens
The Earthquake
The Age of Pericles
Teachings of Anaxagoras
Peloponnesian War Begins
Death of Pericles
The Philosopher Socrates
Socrates' Favorite Pupil
Youth of Alcibiades
Greek Colonies in Italy
Alcibiades in Disgrace
Death of Alcibiades
Overthrow of Thirty Tyrants
Accusation of Socrates
Death of Socrates
The Defeat of Cyrus
Retreat of the Ten Thousand
Agesilaus in Asia
A Strange Interview
The Peace of Antalcidas
The Theban Friends
Thebes Free Once More
The Battle of Leuctra
Death of Pelopidas
The Battle of Mantinea
The Tyrant of Syracuse
Damon and Pythias
The Sword of Damocles
Dion and Dionysius
Civil War in Syracuse
Death of Dion
Philip of Macedon
Philip Begins His Conquests
The Orator Demosthenes
Philip Masters Greece
Birth of Alexander
The Steed Bucephalus
Alexander as King
Alexander and Diogenes
Alexander's Beginning
The Gordian Knot
Alexander's Royal Captives
Alexander at Jerusalem
The African Desert
Death of Darius
Defeat of Porus
Return to Babylon
Death of Alexander
Division of the Realm
Death of Demosthenes
Last of the Athenians
The Colossus of Rhodes
The Battle of Ipsus
Demetrius and the Athenians
The Achaean League
Division in Sparta
Death of Agis
War of the Two Leagues
The Last of the Greeks
Greece a Roman Province