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Dionysius the Elder, when the speakers who were to address the people were drawing by lot the letters of the alphabet to determine their order of speaking, drew the letter M; and in answer to the man who [p. 31] said, ‘Muddle-head you are, Dionysius,’ he replied, ‘ No ! Monarch I am to be,’ and after he had addressed the people he was at once chosen general by the Syracusans. 2

When, at the beginning of his rule, he was being besieged as the result of a conspiracy against him among the citizens, his friends advised him to abdicate unless he wished to be overpowered and put to death. But, on seeing that an ox slaughtered by a cook fell instantly, he said, ‘Is it not then distasteful that we, for fear of death which is so momentary, should forsake such a mighty sovereignty ?’ 3

Learning that his son, to whom he was intending to bequeath his empire, had debauched the wife of a free citizen, he asked the young man, with some heat, what act of his father's he knew of like that! And when the youth answered, ‘None, for you did not have a despot for a father.’ ‘Nor will you have a son,’ was the reply, ‘unless you stop doing this sort of thing.’

At another time he went into his son's house, and, observing a vast number of gold and silver drinking-cups, he exclaimed, ‘There is no despot in you, for with all the drinking-cups which you are always getting from me you have not made for yourself a single friend.’

He levied money on the Syracusans, and later, when he saw them lamenting and begging and protesting that they had none, he ordered a second levy, and this he did twice or thrice. 4 But when, after calling for still more, he heard that they laughed and jeered as they went about in the market-place, he [p. 33] ordered a halt in the proceeding; ‘For now they really have nothing,’ said he, ‘since they hold us in contempt.’

When his mother, who was well on in years, wanted to get married, he said that he had the power to violate the laws of the State, but not the laws of Nature. 5

While he punished relentlessly all other malefactors, he was very lenient with the footpads, so that the Syracusans should stop their dining and drinking together.

A stranger professed that he would tell him privately and instruct him how to know beforehand those who were plotting against him, and Dionysus bade him speak; whereupon the stranger came close to him and said, ‘Hand me a talent that you may give the impression that you have heard about the plotters' secret signs;’ and Dionysius gave it, pretending that he had heard, and marvelling at the man's clever tactics. 6

To the man who inquired if he were at leisure he said, ‘I hope that may never happen to me !’ 7

Hearing that two young men at a drinking party had said much that was slanderous about him and his rule, he invited them both to dinner. And when he saw that the one drank much and talked freely, and the other indulged in drink sparingly and with great circumspection, he let the former go free, holding him to be by nature a hard drinker and a slanderous talker when in his cups, but the latter he caused to be put to death, holding that this man was disaffected and hostile as the result of deliberate choice.

When some blamed him for honouring and 8 [p. 35] advancing a bad man who was loathed by the citizens, he said, ‘But it is my wish that there shall be somebody more hated than myself.’

When ambassadors from Corinth 9 declined hi,s proffered gifts because of the law, which did not allow members of an embassy to receive gifts from a potentate, he said that they were playing a scurvy trick in taking away the only advantage possessed by despotism, and teaching that even a favour from a despot is a thing to be feared.

Hearing that one of the citizens had some gold buried at his house he ordered the man to bring it to him. But when the man succeeded in keeping back a part of it, and later removed to another city and bought a farm, Dionysius sent for him, and bade him take the whole amount belonging to him, since he had now begun to use his wealth, and was no longer making a useful thing useless.

1 Ruler of Syracuse, 405-367 B.C.

2 Cf. Diodorus, xiii. 91-92.

3 Cf. Moralia, 783 C-D; Diodorus, xiv. 8; Aelian, Varia Historia, iv. 8; Polyaenus, v. 7.

4 Cf. Aristotle, Politics, v. ii., and the Aristotelian Oeconomica, ii. 20, and Polyaenus, Strategemata, v. 19.

5 Cf. Plutarch's Life of Solon, chap. xx. (89 D).

6 Cf. Polyaenus, v. 2. 3, and Stobaeus, Florilegium, iii. 65.

7 Cf. Moralia, 792 C.


9 Cf. Diodorus, xv. 70.

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