Chapter 7. PERIANDER (tyrant 625-585 B.C.)
Periander, the son of Cypselus, was born at Corinth,
of the family of the Heraclidae. His wife was
Lysida, whom he called Melissa. Her father was
Procles, tyrant of Epidaurus, her mother Eristheneia,
daughter of Aristocrates and sister of Aristodemus,
who together reigned over nearly the whole of
Arcadia, as stated by Heraclides of Pontus in his book
By her he had two sons, Cypselus
and Lycophron, the younger a man of intelligence,
the elder weak in mind.
However, after some time,
in a fit of anger, he killed his wife by throwing
a footstool at her, or by a kick, when she was pregnant, having been egged on by the slanderous tales
of concubines, whom he afterwards burnt alive.
When the son whose name was Lycophron grieved
for his mother, he banished him to Corcyra. And
when well advanced in years he sent for his son to
be his successor in the tyranny; but the Corcyraeans
put him to death before he could set sail. Enraged
at this, he dispatched the sons of the Corcyraeans
to Alyattes that he might make eunuchs of them;
but, when the ship touched at Samos, they took
sanctuary in the temple of Hera, and were saved by
Periander lost heart and died at the age of
eighty. Sosicrates' account is that he died fortyone years before Croesus, just before the 49th
Herodotus in his first book
he was a guest-friend of Thrasybulus, tyrant of
Aristippus in the first book of his work
Luxury of the Ancients2
accuses him of incest with
his own mother Crateia, and adds that, when the fact
came to light, he vented his annoyance in indiscriminate severity. Ephorus records his now that,
if he won the victory at Olympia in the chariot-race,
he would set up a golden statue. When the victory
was won, being in sore straits for gold, he despoiled
the women of all the ornaments which he had seen
them wearing at some local festival. He was thus
enabled to send the votive offering.
There is a story that he did not wish the place
where he was buried to be known, and to that end
contrived the following device. He ordered two
young men to go out at night by a certain road
which he pointed out to them; they were to kill
the man they met and bury him. He afterwards
ordered four more to go in pursuit of the two, kill
them and bury them; again, he dispatched a larger
number in pursuit of the four. Having taken these
measures, he himself encountered the first pair and
was slain. The Corinthians placed the following
inscription upon a cenotaph3
In mother earth here Periander lies,
The prince of sea-girt Corinth rich and wise.
My own epitaph on him is4
Grieve not because thou hast not gained thine end,
But take with gladness all the gods may send;
Be warned by Periander's fate, who died
Of grief that one desire should be denied.
To him belongs the maxim: Never do anything
for money; leave gain to trades pursued for gain.
He wrote a didactic poem of 2000 lines. He said
that those tyrants who intend to be safe should make
loyalty their bodyguard, not arms. When some one
asked him why he was tyrant, he replied, "Because it
is as dangerous to retire voluntarily as to be dispossessed." Here are other sayings of his: Rest is
beautiful. Rashness has its perils. Gain is ignoble.
Democracy is better than tyranny. Pleasures are
transient, honours are immortal.
Be moderate in
prosperity, prudent in adversity. Be the same to
your friends whether they are in prosperity or in
adversity. Whatever agreement you make, stick
to it. Betray no secret. Correct not only the
offenders but also those who are on the point of
He was the first who had a bodyguard and who
changed his government into a tyranny, and he
would let no one live in the town without his permission, as we know from Ephorus and Aristotle.
He flourished about the 38th Olympiad and was
tyrant for forty years.
Sotion and Heraclides and Pamphila in the fifth
book of her
one a tyrant, the other a sage who was born in
Neanthes of Cyzicus also says this, and
adds that they were near relations. And Aristotle5
maintains that the Corinthian Periander was the
sage; while Plato denies this.
His apophthegm is: Practice makes perfect. He
planned a canal across the Isthmus.
A letter of his is extant:
Periander to the Wise
"Very grateful am I to the Pythian Apollo that I
found you gathered together; and my letters will
also bring you to Corinth, where, as you know, I will
give you a thoroughly popular reception. I learn
that last year you met in Sardis at the Lydian court.
Do not hesitate therefore to come to me, the ruler
of Corinth. The Corinthians will be pleased to see
you coming to the house of Periander."
Periander to Procles
"The murder of my wife was unintentional; but
yours is deliberate guilt when you set my son's
heart against me. Either therefore put an end to
my son's harsh treatment, or I will revenge myself
on you. For long ago I made expiation to you for
your daughter by burning on her pyre the apparel
of all the women of Corinth."
There is also a letter written to him by Thrasybulus,
"I made no answer to your herald; but I took him
into a cornfield, and with a staff smote and cut off
the over-grown ears of corn, while he accompanied
me. And if you ask him what he heard and what he
saw, he will give his message. And this is what you
must do if you want to strengthen your absolute
rule: put to death those among the citizens who
are pre-eminent, whether they are hostile to you or
not. For to an absolute ruler even a friend is an
object of suspicion."