Simonides, the poet, once paid a visit to Hiero, the despot. When both found time to spare, Simonides said: “Hiero, will you please explain something to me that you probably know better than I?”

“And pray what is it,” said Hiero, “that I can know better than one so wise as yourself?” [2]

“I know you were born a private citizen,” he answered, “and are now a despot. Therefore, as you have experienced both fortunes, you probably know better than I how the lives of the despot and the citizen differ as regards the joys and sorrows that fall to man's lot.” [3]

“Surely,” said Hiero, “seeing that you are still a private citizen, it is for you to remind me of what happens in a citizen's life; and then, I think, I could best show you the differences between the two.” [4]

“Well,” said Simonides, taking the suggestion, “I think I have observed that sights affect private citizens with pleasure and pain through the eyes, sounds through the ears, smells through the nostrils, meat and drink through the mouth, carnal appetites—of course we all know how. [5] In the case of cold and heat, things hard and soft, light and heavy, our sensations of pleasure and pain depend on the whole body, I think. In good and evil we seem to feel pleasure or pain, as the case may be—sometimes through the instrumentality of the moral being only, at other times through that of the moral and the physical being together. [6] Sleep, it seems clear to me, affects us with pleasure; but how and by what means and when are puzzles that I feel less able to solve. And perhaps it is no matter for surprise if our sensations are clearer when we are awake than when we are asleep.” [7]

“For my part, Simonides,” said Hiero in answer to this, “I cannot say how a despot could have any sensations apart from those you have mentioned. So far, therefore, I fail to see that the despot's life differs in any respect from the citizen's.” [8]

“In this respect it does differ,” said Simonides: “the pleasures it experiences by means of these various organs are infinitely greater in number, and the pains it undergoes are far fewer.”

“It is not so, Simonides,” retorted Hiero; “I assure you far fewer pleasures fall to despots than to citizens of modest means, and many more and much greater pains.”

“Incredible!” exclaimed Simonides. [9] “Were it so, how should a despot's throne be an object of desire to many, even of those who are reputed to be men of ample means? And how should all the world envy despots?” [10]

“For this reason of course,” said Hiero, “that they speculate on the subject without experience of both estates. But I will try to show you that I am speaking the truth, beginning with the sense of sight. That was your first point, if I am not mistaken. [11]

“In the first place, then, taking the objects that we perceive by means of vision, I find by calculation that in regard to sight-seeing, despots are worse off. In every land there are things worth seeing: and in search of these private citizens visit any city they choose, and attend the national festivals, where all things reputed to be most worth seeing are assembled. [12] But despots are not at all concerned with missions to shows. For it is risky for them to go where they will be no stronger than the crowd, and their property at home is too insecure to be left in charge of others while they are abroad. For they fear to lose their throne, and at the same time to be unable to take vengeance on the authors of the wrong. Perhaps you may say: [13] `But, after all, such spectacles come to them even if they stay at home.' No, no, Simonides, only one in a hundred such; and what there are of them are offered to despots at a price so exorbitant that showmen who exhibit some trifle expect to leave the court in an hour with far more money than they get from all the rest of the world in a lifetime.” [14]

“Ah,” said Simonides, “but if you are worse off in the matter of sight-seeing, the sense of hearing, you know, gives you the advantage. Praise, the sweetest of all sounds, is never lacking, for all your courtiers praise everything you do and every word you utter. Abuse, on the contrary, that most offensive of sounds, is never in your ears, for no one likes to speak evil of a despot in his presence.” [15]

“And what pleasure,” asked Hiero, “comes, do you suppose, of this shrinking from evil words, when one knows well that all harbour evil thoughts against the despot, in spite of their silence? Or what pleasure comes of this praise, do you think, when the praises sound suspiciously like flattery?” [16]

“Well yes,” replied Simonides, “in this of course I agree with you entirely, Hiero, that praise from the freest is sweetest. But this, now, you will not persuade anyone to believe, that the things which support human life do not yield you a far greater number of pleasures.” [17]

“Yes, Simonides, and I know that the reason why most men judge that we have more enjoyment in eating and drinking than private citizens is this; they think that they themselves would find the dinner served at our table better eating than what they get. Anything, in fact, that is better than what they are accustomed to gives them pleasure. [18] This is why all men look forward to the festivals, except the despots. For their table is always laden with plenty, and admits of no extras on feast days. Here then is one pleasure in respect of which they are worse off than the private citizen, the pleasure of anticipation. [19] But further, your own experience tells you, I am sure, that the greater the number of superfluous dishes set before a man, the sooner a feeling of repletion comes over him; and so, as regards the duration of his pleasure too, the man who has many courses put before him is worse off than the moderate liver.” [20]

“But surely,” said Simonides, “so long as the appetite holds out, the man who dines at the costlier banquet has far more pleasure than he who is served with the cheaper meal.” [21]

“Don't you think, Simonides, that the greater a man's pleasure in any occupation the stronger is his devotion to it?”


“Then do you notice that despots fall to their meal with any more zest than private persons to theirs?”

“No, no, of course not; I should rather say with more disgust, according to the common opinion.” [22]

“Well now,” said Hiero, “have you observed all those pickles and sauces that are put before despots—acid, bitter, astringent and so forth?”

“Yes, certainly; and very unnatural cates I think them for human beings.” [23]

“Don't you look on these condiments, then, as mere fads of a jaded and pampered appetite? I know well enough, and I expect you know too, that hearty eaters have no need of these concoctions.” [24]

“Well, I certainly think that those costly unguents with which you anoint your bodies afford more satisfaction to those who are near you than to yourselves, just as the man who has eaten rank food is less conscious of the disagreeable smell than those who come near him.” [25]

“Quite so, and we may add that he who has all sorts of food at all times has no stomach for any sort. Offer a man a dish that he seldom tastes, and he eats a bellyful with gusto.” [26]

“It seems,” remarked Simonides, “as if the satisfaction of the sexual appetites were the only motive that produces in you the craving for despotism. For in this matter you are free to enjoy the fairest that meets your eye.” [27]

“I assure you that we are worse off than private citizens in the matter to which you now refer. First take marriage. It is commonly held that a marriage into a family of greater wealth and influence is most honourable, and is a source of pride and pleasure to the bridegroom. Next to that comes a marriage with equals. A marriage with inferiors is considered positively degrading and useless. [28] Now unless a despot marries a foreign girl, he is bound to marry beneath him; and so the thing to be desired does not come his way. And whereas it is exceedingly pleasant to receive the attentions of the proudest of ladies, the attentions of slaves are quite unappreciated when shown, and any little shortcomings produce grievous outbursts of anger and annoyance. [29]

“In his relations with young boys, again, even much more than in his relations with women, the despot is at a disadvantage. We all know, I suppose, that passion increases the sweets of sex beyond measure. [30] Passion, however, is very shy of entering the heart of a despot, for passion is fain to desire not the easy prize, but the hoped-for joy. Therefore, just as a man who is a stranger to thirst can get no satisfaction out of drinking, so he who is a stranger to passion is a stranger to the sweetest pleasures of sex.” [31]

To this speech of Hiero's Simonides replied, laughing:

“How say you, Hiero? You deny that love for boys springs up in a despot's heart? Then how about your passion for Dailochus, whom they call most fair?” [32]

“Why, Simonides, the explanation, of course, is this: I desire to get from him not what I may have, apparently, for the asking, but that which a despot should be the last to take. [33] The fact is, I desire of Dailochus just that which human nature, maybe, drives us to ask of the fair. But what I long to get, I very strongly desire to obtain by his goodwill, and with his consent; but I think I could sooner desire to do myself an injury than to take it from him by force. [34] For to take from an enemy against his will is, I think, the greatest of all pleasures, but favours from a loved one are very pleasant, I fancy, only when he consents. [35] For instance, if he is in sympathy with you, how pleasant are his looks, how pleasant his questions and his answers; how very pleasant and ravishing are the struggles and bickerings. [36] But to take advantage of a favourite against his will seems to me more like brigandage than love. Nay, your brigand finds some pleasure in his gain and in hurting his foe; but to feel pleasure in hurting one whom you love, to be hated for your affection, to disgust him by your touch, surely that is a mortifying experience and pitiful! [37] The fact is, a private citizen has instant proof that any act of compliance on the part of his beloved is prompted by affection, since he knows that the service rendered is due to no compulsion; but the despot can never feel sure that he is loved. [38] For we know that acts of service prompted by fear copy as closely as possible the ministrations of affection. Indeed, even plots against despots as often as not are the work of those who profess the deepest affection for them.”

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