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*Fa/laris), ruler of Agrigentum in Sicily, has obtained a proverbial celebrity as a cruel and inhuman tyrant. But far from the noto riety thus given to his name having contributed to our real knowledge of his life and history, it has only served to envelope every thing connected with their him in a cloud of fable, through which it is scarcely possible to catch a glimpse of truth. The period at which he lived has been the subject of much dis pute, and his reign has been carried back by some writers as far as the 31st Olympiad (B. C. 656), but there seems little doubt that the statement of Suidas, who represents him as reigning in the 52d Olympiad. is in the main correct. Eusebius in one passage gives the older date, but in another assigns the commencement of his reign to the third year of the 52d Olympiad (B. 100.570); and this is confirmed by statements which represent him ascontemporary temporary with Stesichorus and Croesus. (Suid. s. v. Φάλαρις; Euseb. Chron. an. 1365, 1393, 1446 ; Syncell. p. 213d. ed. Paris; Oros. 1.20 Plin. Nat. 7.56; Arist. Plut. 2.20; Diod. Eac. Vat. pp. 25, 26; Betley, Dissertation on the Epistles of Phalaris ; Clinton, F. H.vol. i. p. 236, vol. ii. p. 4.)

There seems no doubt that he was a native of Agrigentum, though the author of the spurious epistles ascribed to him represents him as born in the island of Astypalaea, and first arriving in Sicily and as an exile. Concerning the steps by which he Indignant rose to power we are almost wholly in the dark. Polyaenus indeed tells us that he was a farmer of the public revenue, and that under pretence of constructing a temple on a height which comma the city, he contrived to erect a ternporary citadel, which he occupied with an armed force, and thus made himself master of the sovereignty. But this story has much the air of a fable, and it is clearly implied by Aristotle (Aristot. Pol. 5.10) that he office inb the state, of which he afterwards availed himself to assume a despotic authority. Of the events of his reign, which lasted according to Eusebius sixteen years, we can hardly be said to know anything; but a few anecdotes preserved to us by Polyaenus (5.1.), the authority of which it is difficult to estimate, represent him as engaged in frequent wars with his neighbours, and extending his power and dominion on all sides, though more frequently by stratagem than open force. It would appear from Aristotle (Aristot. Rh. 2.20), if there be no mistake in the story there told, that he was at one time master of Himera as well as Agrigentum ; but there certainly is no authority for the statemeant of Suidas (s. v. Φαίλαρις), that his power extende over the whole of Sieily. The story told by Diodorus of the manner of his death has every appearance of a fable, but is probably so far founded in fact that he perished by a sudden outbreak of the popular fury, in which it appears that Teleinachus, the ancestor of Theron, must have borne a conspicuous part. (Diod. Exe. Vat. p. 25, 26 ; Tzetz. Chil. 5.956; Cic. de Off. 2.7; Schol. ad Pind. Ol. 3.68.) The statement of Iambilichus, who represents him as dethroned by Pythagoras (De Vit. Pyth. 32.122. ed. Kiessl.), is wholly unworthy of credit.

No circumstance connected with Phalaris is more celebrated than the brazen bull in which he is said to have burnt alive the victims of his cruelty, and of which we are told that he made the first experiment upon its inventor Perillus. [PERILLUS. This latter story has much the air of an invention of later times, and Timaeus even denied altogether the existence of the bull itself. It is indeed highly probable, as asserted by that writer, that the statue extant in later times-which was carried off from Agrigentum by the Carthaginians, and afterwards captured by Scipio at the taking of that city-was not, as pretended, the identical bull of Phalaris, but this is evidently no argument against its origiml existence, and it is certain that the fame of this celebrated engine of torture was inseparably associated with the name of Phalaris as early as the time of Pindar. (Pind. Pyth. i. 185 ; Scho. ad loc. ; Diod. 13.90; Plb. 12.25 ; Timaeus, fr. 116-118. ed. Didot; Callim. fr. 119, 194; Plut. Parall. p. 315.) That poet also speaks of Phalaris himself in terms which clearly prove that his reputation as a barbarous tyrant was then already fully established, and all subsequent writer, until a very late period, allude to him in terms of similar import. Cicero in particular calls him "crudelissimurs omnium tyrannorum" ( in Verr.4.33), and uses his name as proverbial for a tyrant in the worst sense of the word, as opposed to a mild and enlightened despot like Peisistratus. (Cic. Att. 7.20; see also De Off. ii. 7, 3.6, De Rep. 1.28, and other passages; Plb. 7.7; Lucian. Ver. Hist. 23, Bis. Accus. 8; Plut. de ser. num. rind. p. 553.)

Works attributed to Phalaris

But in the later ages of Greek literature, there appears to have existed or arisen a totally different tradition concerning Phalaris, which represented him as a man of a naturally mild and humane disposition, and only forced into acts of severity or occasional cruelty, by the pressure of circumstances and the machinations of his enemies. Still more strange is it that he appears at the same time as an admirer of literature and philosophy, and the patron of men of letters.

Such is the aspect under which the character of the tyrant of Agrigentum is presented to us in two declamations commonly ascribed to Lucian (though regarded by many writers as not the work of that author), and still more strikingly in the well-known epistles which bear the name of Phalaris himself. Purely fictitious as the latter undoubtedly are, it is difficult to conceive that the sophist who composed them would have given them a colour and character so entirely opposite to all that tradition had recorded of the tyrant, if there had not existed some traces of a wholly different version of his history.

The once celebrated epistles alluded to are now remembered chiefly on account of the literary controversy to which they gave rise, and the masterly dissertation in which Bentley exposed their spuriousness. The proofs of this, derived from the glaring anachronisms in which they abound -- such as the mention of the cities of Tauromenium, Alaesa, and Phintias, which were not built till long after the death of Phalaris -- the allusions to tragedies and comedies as things well known and of ordinary occurrence -- the introduction of sentiments and expressions manifestly derived from later writers, such as Herodotus, Democritus, and even Callimachus -- and above all, the dialect of the epistles themselves, which is the later Attic, such as was the current language of the learned in the latter ages of the Roman empire -- would appear so glaring, that it is difficult to conceive how a body of men of any pretensions to learning could be found to maintain their authenticity. Still more extraordinary is it, that a writer of so much taste and cultivation as Sir William Temple should have spoken in the highest terms of their intrinsic merit, and have pronounced them unquestionably genuine on this evidence alone. (Essay on Ancient and Modern Leaarning, Works, vol. iii. p. 478.) Probably no reader at the present day will be found to look into them without concurring in the sentence of Bentley, that they are "a fardlle of common-places." The epistle in which the tyrant professes to give the Athenians an account of his treatment of Perillus, and the reasons for it (Ep. v. of Lennep and Schaefer, it is Ep. ccxxii. of the older editions), would seem sufficient in itself to betray the sophist. The period at which this forgery was composed cannot now be determined. Politian ascribed the Spurious epistles in question to Lucian, but there is certainly no ground for this supposition, and they are probably the work of a much later period. The first author who refers to them is Stobaeus, by whom they are repeatedly quoted, without any apparent suspicion (Floriley. tit. 7.68, 49. §§ 16, 26., 86.17); but Photirus alludes to them Ep. 207) in terms that clearly intimate that he regarded them as spurious. At a later period they are mentioned with the greatest admiration by Suidas (s. v. Φάλαρις), who calls them 'avflaarias 7rav. Tzetzes also has extracted largely from them, and calls Phalaris himself ἐκεῖνος πάνσοφος. (Chil. 1.669, §c., 5.1839-969.) After the revival of learn. ing also, they appear to have enjoyed considerable reputation, though rejected as spurious by Politian, Menage, and other eminent scholars.

Latin Editions

They were first given to the world in a Latin translation by Francesco Accolti of Arezzo, published at Rome in 1470, of which many successive editions appeared before the end of the fifteenth century.


The original Greek text was not published till 1498, when it was printed at Venice, together with the epistles ascribed to Apollonius of Tyana and M. Brutus. They were afterwards inserted by Aldus in his collection of the Greek writers of epistles (Venet 1499), and passed through several editions in the 16th and 17th centuries, but none of any note, until that printed at Oxford in 1695, which bore the name of Charles Boyle, and gave occasion to the famous dissertation of Bentley already referred to. For the literary history of this controversy, in which Bentley was opposed not only by Boyle, but by all the learning which Oxford could muster, as well as by the wit and satire of Swift rand Atterlibury, the reader may consult Monk's Life of Bentley, chaps. 4-6, and Dyce's preface to his edition of Bentley's works (8vo. Lond. 1836). Since this period only two editions of the Epistles of Phalaris have been given to the world : the one commenced ty Lennep, and published after his death by Valckenaer (4to. Groningae, 1777), which contains a greatly improved text and valuable notes, together with a Latin translation of Bentley's dissertations. The latter are omitted by Schaefer in his edition (8vo. Lips. 1823), in which he has reproduced the text and notes of Lennep, but with many corrections of the former and some additional notes of his own. This last edition is decidedly the best that has ever appeared.


The epistles have also been repeatedly translated into Italian and French, and three separate versions of them have appeared in English, the latest of which is that by Franklin, Lond. 1749.


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656 BC (1)
hide References (7 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (7):
    • Cicero, Letters to Atticus, 7.20
    • Aristotle, Politics, 5.1310b
    • Aristotle, Rhetoric, 2.20
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 13.90
    • Polybius, Histories, 12.25
    • Polybius, Histories, 7.7
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 7.56
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