The Savior of Syracuse
(409 - 354 B.C.)
Sicily was an important part of the Greek world. Dion led the struggle against tyranny in its largest city, Syracuse. Ingratitude and betrayal were his reward for indulging the democrats of Syracuse.
Dionysius [the Elder] 1 had become tyrant of Syracuse.2 He had two wives: Doris, who was the mother of his heir and namesake, Dionysius [the Younger], and Aristomache, who was the sister of Dion. By Aristomache, he had two daughters, one of whom he married to young Dionysius, and the other, named Arete,3 Dionysius gave in marriage to her uncle, Dion. As the son-in-law and brother-in-law of the tyrant, Dion of course was treated honorably by the court, and Dionysius admired him on his own merits because Dion always had a reputation for courage and good character.
While he was a boy, Dion had studied at the Academy 4 in Athens as a pupil of Plato. 5 Of all his students, said Plato, Dion was the quickest to learn and the most willing to practice. Dion brought Plato home to Syracuse to meet Dionysius, naively hoping that the tyrant and the philosopher would become friends, and all of Sicily would blossom with wisdom and virtue.
At the interview [387 B.C.], the conversation turned to human virtue, particularly the virtue of strength. Dionysius felt comfortable on this topic, but Plato proved with perfect reasoning that tyrants have the least claim to strength or bravery. Then Plato went on to talk about justice: how happy a just man is regardless of his circumstances, and how unhappy an unjust man must be. Dionysius noticed that the spectators were full of admiration for Plato and his doctrine, so he angrily ended the interview.
At Plato's request, Dion quickly found a ship to get Plato out of Sicily immediately. Dionysius through his spies discovered this ship, and told the captain either to kill Plato during the voyage or sell Plato as a slave somewhere. "Plato will be happy as a slave," said the tyrant, "if he is a just man." Despite the Plato incident, Dionysius continued to give Dion important responsibilities in the government, and Dion continued to perform effectively.
* * *
Dionysius died of an illness [367 B.C.], and young Dionysius [II] inherited the tyranny. He was surrounded by an entourage of toadies, whose main concern was to say whatever might please the young tyrant. In their votes, these followers were slaves rather than counselors.
At the first council of government, Dion spoke so knowledgeably about state affairs that all of the other advisors appeared to be children by comparison. The most pressing matter was a possible war with Carthage now that Syracuse had lost its strong ruler. Dion offered to go as ambassador to make peace with Carthage, or, if that failed, to furnish -- at his own expense -- fifty warships ready for action. This generous offer pleased young Dionysius, but it made the sycophants hate Dion even more. From then on, they filled the ears of the young tyrant with slanders about Dion.
They made vices out of Dion's virtues: seriousness was called conceitedness, frank speech was insensitivity, and sincere advice was disrespect. So all of Dion's good qualities only evidenced an attitude of superiority and contempt toward his ruler.
At the same time, the sycophants flattered Dionysius and brought him all kinds of amusements. Government business was suspended one time for ninety straight days while Dionysius and his companions frolicked. Dion declined to join in, and therefore became the target of spite and suspicion.
The hard chains of tyranny which Dionysius had inherited from his father were now soft from sloth. The court was occupied by clowns and dancing-girls, and the brains of the young fool were stupefied by intoxicants. Therefore, even though the toadies had turned the tyrant against him, the capable Dion became even more indispensable to Dionysius and continued to have access.
But Dion lacked tact and was too extreme in the severity of his manner. Even those who respected him found fault with his lack of diplomacy. Without Dion's administrative skills, however, the crumbling government might soon fall.
During his conversations with Dionysius about state affairs, Dion had a chance to pass on some wise sayings from Plato. Dionysius became interested in meeting Plato and learning from him first-hand. The heir of the tyranny had no education at all because his father had kept him locked up without any books or anything to do but make little toys out of wood. 6
Dion thought that education might make Dionysius into a decent ruler, so whenever he saw an opportunity, Dion exhorted Dionysius to study. Dion explained to Dionysius that just as nature evolves from chaos to order out of willing obedience to goodness, which is the divine model, the people of a nation voluntarily obey a ruler who personifies virtue. Syracuse and all of Sicily would come to perfect order and harmony through Dionysius' own good example. The people would willingly obey him as their father, whereas now they grudgingly yielded to him as their master. With such natural and joyful obedience, a ruler does not need paid spies and mercenary soldiers to stay in power. The love and zeal inspired by justice and gentleness would be the most secure foundation of a lasting government.
In addition to these arguments, Dion observed that a ruler should be ashamed to be no better than a bumpkin in his discourse, even though he might wear magnificent clothes and have all of the other trappings of royalty. Dionysius was eventually persuaded of his need for education, so he wrote to Plato and begged to become his student.
Plato was not at all eager to go back to Sicily, but the need for him was clear, and he was ashamed to pass up such an opportunity to put his philosophical theories of government into practice. 7
When Plato arrived in Sicily [367 B.C.], young Dionysius gave him a grand reception and sacrificed to the gods in thanksgiving for sending Plato to teach him wisdom. A passion for philosophy seized the palace. The floors were covered with sand from the many students of geometry and mathematics who worked their problems there. The citizens of Syracuse began to hope for a better future once they saw that their tyrant was beginning to be more kind and diligent.
Dionysius became more moderate in his pleasures, which alarmed the sycophants of his court. He was slipping out of their control as he left his old pastimes behind and devoted his attention to Plato. What the toadies feared most was that Dion might be given total control of the government so that Dionysius could become a full-time student of philosophy. Their jobs were at stake.
Therefore, in a concerted effort, they spread slander all over the city of Syracuse. Dion was accused of a deliberate plot to take over the tyranny by means of this Athenian sorcerer, who had bewitched Dionysius. The Athenians, said they, had not been able to conquer Syracuse with a huge fleet and army, but now just one Athenian sorcerer was about succeed by guile where force had failed.
The volume of this slander was impossible to ignore. Dionysius could not help but believe that there must be some fire where there was so much smoke. The tyrant became suspicious of Dion, and looked for bad motives in everything he did. With his mind thus prepared, the sycophants showed Dionysius a letter from Dion to the Carthaginians. In this letter, Dion advised the Carthaginians to consult with him first about peace proposals before they talked to Dionysius.
Dionysius and Dion had drifted apart, but now Dionysius pretended to want to mend their relationship. He invited Dion for a walk along the seashore. As they were walking, Dionysius produced the letter and accused Dion of treason, then immediately the guards forced Dion into a boat that was waiting there, and took him to Italy.
There was general outrage, especially among the women in the palace, over this treatment of Dion. The people of Syracuse began to hope that this disturbance might develop into a revolution that would end the tyranny and give them back their liberty. Dionysius offered the pretext that Dion had been sent away for his own protection. To smooth things over, he gave Dion's relatives two ships so that they could send Dion part of his property.
Dion was a very rich man, and out of what his friends and relatives sent to him, both of his own property and their gifts, he was able to live comfortably in Greece. Dionysius was not unhappy to hear of Dion's prosperity because he thought that it would enhance his own prestige to show the Greeks how rich even an exile from Syracuse might be.
To keep Plato from leaving, Dionysius had him locked up in the castle, but with every conceivable comfort. Dionysius still had a sincere affection for Plato, and even offered Plato the government if only he would not prefer Dion as a friend. Dionysius was an eager student -- so eager that he would not allow anyone else to enjoy the benefit of the philosopher's company. Offsetting this attraction to Plato was the equally strong suspicion, insinuated into Dionysius' mind by the sycophants, that this Athenian was rotting his mind and leading him into disaster. Dionysius was tortured by ambivalence, and Plato had to be patient through his student's storms of jealous love and suspicion.
Not long afterwards, a war broke out and Dionysius sent Plato back to Athens for his safety. Dionysius promised Plato that he would allow Dion to return as soon as there was peace, provided that Plato would not say bad things about Dionysius to the other Greeks. Plato agreed, and he took Dion with him to live at the Academy, where they both kept busy and quiet with their studies.
Dionysius tried to replace Plato with other philosophers. In his conversations, he tried to use what he recalled from Plato, but his sketchy knowledge only led to embarrassment. Getting Plato back became an obsession. Like a tyrant, violent and whimsical in his desires, he tried every persuasion he could think of, but Plato was not at all willing to return to Syracuse. Finally, Dionysius threatened that Dion would never be allowed to return to his home unless Plato came first.
And so, for the third time, Plato sailed to Syracuse. Dionysius gave Plato a lavish welcome and offered him lots of money, which Plato declined. All Plato wanted was to know when Dion would be allowed to return to his wife and family. Dionysius at first made excuses about delays, but finally he flatly refused to listen to any talk about Dion.
Plato was now aware that Dionysius was not a man of his word, but both men kept up a false front of friendship. Then Dionysius ordered all of Dion's property to be sold, and he kept the proceeds for himself. He also ordered that Plato must sleep in the barracks of the guards instead of in the palace, which put Plato into great danger because the guards hated this Athenian and all his talk about peace.
Fortunately, the tyrant changed his mind again soon. Dionysius allowed Plato to leave, and gave him many demonstrations of good will. One day, Dionysius revealed his deepest fear. "I suppose, Plato," he said, "that when you are back at the Academy you will complain about me and tell the philosophers all about my faults." Plato smiled and said: "The Academy, I am sure, will never be at such a loss for subjects to discuss that we will seek one in you."
* * *
Dion was angry about the loss of his property, and when Dionysius married off Arete, who was Dion's wife, to another man, against her will, Dion openly declared war. Plato tried to talk Dion out of this enterprise, but Dion listened instead to the other Syracusan exiles, who told him that only he could save them from the tyranny of Dionysius, and that many Sicilians were waiting to join him in the fight.
Dion was able to hire an army of 800 mercenaries, all warriors in excellent condition, well trained, and with combat experience. With this cadre, he landed in Sicily while Dionysius happened to be away in Italy. Fortunately, the messenger sent to tell Dionysius of Dion's arrival never delivered the message. 8 Dion marched triumphantly through Sicily, unopposed, while Timocrates, the commander that Dionysius had left in charge [also the man who had married Dion's wife], trembled in Syracuse, afraid to do anything until the tyrant gave his orders.
At the head of five thousand eager soldiers, Dion entered Syracuse, unopposed, and proclaimed liberty to all of the citizens. Timocrates had run away, and wherever he went, he magnified the might of Dion's army in order to excuse his own lack of opposition. So whoever might have supported the tyrant now became convinced through Timocrates that opposition to Dion was futile. The castle of Syracuse, however, was still occupied by Dionysius' mercenaries, who held Dion's wife and son as hostages.
Seven days after Dion entered Syracuse, Dionysius returned from Italy and managed to get into the castle. Dion surrounded the castle by a wall. One morning Dionysius' soldiers tried to break out, but through the personal courage of Dion they were forced to retreat after a hot and bloody fight.
Then messengers came from the castle with letters addressed to Dion. Over Dion's objection, one ostensibly from his son was opened and read aloud to the people of Syracuse. It was really not from his son at all, but from Dionysius, and it was cleverly designed to make Dion suspected. The letter reminded Dion of his previous service to Dionysius and his father, and then it mentioned threats of harm to Dion's family unless he would take the tyranny for himself and protect Dionysius. So now the Syracusans distrusted Dion, and they began to look for someone else to head the new government.
Just then, the news arrived that Heraclides was on his way to Syracuse. Heraclides was one of those who had been banished by Dionysius. Heraclides and Dion had quarrelled over the leadership of the liberation army, so Heraclides had recruited his own force, which he was now bringing to Syracuse.
Heraclides won the people to his side by flattering their bravery and wisdom. The Syracusans had never liked Dion's reserved and serious style, and they believed that Dionysius had too much power over Dion because of the hostages, so one day they gathered together in an irregular assembly and chose Heraclides to be the commander of their navy.
While pretending the greatest respect for Dion, Heraclides secretly continued to build opposition to him. He attracted the malcontents, and disturbed the others with his complaints.
Dion was faced with a dilemma. He could not allow Dionysius to leave, because that would only reinforce the suspicion that Dion was secretly friendly to the tyrant. But if he continued the siege, Dion would confirm the suspicion that he was only doing so to keep his position as the commander-in-chief over Heraclides and the Syracusans.
* * *
In Syracuse there was a character named Sosis, well-known for his bad conduct and impudence. The Syracusans liked Sosis because his free speech was entertaining and it assured them of the wide scope of their democratic liberties. If Sosis could get away with what he said and did, then certainly every citizen could express himself without worrying about the consequences.
One day, Sosis stood up in the assembly and gave a speech telling the citizens that they were fools to exchange the drunk and careless tyranny of Dionysius for the sober and strict tyranny of Dion. The next day, he ran through the streets as if he were being pursued. He had blood all over himself, and a cut on his head. After he had attracted a crowd, Sosis told them that one of Dion's men had attacked him. The anti-Dion party immediately joined in with loud complaints, saying that Dion was trying to take away their right of free speech by violent intimidation.
Before this disturbance could build into a riot, Dion appeared and spoke to the crowd. He reminded them that Sosis was a brother to one of Dionysius' guards, and probably had been sent by Dionysius to create a riot in the city to cover the tyrant's escape. Some surgeons examined the cut on Sosis' head, and they discovered no continuous wound, such as a sword would make, but a series of little cuts made by a razor. With this evidence, the crowd's mood changed and they sentenced Sosis to death.
* * *
Dionysius manage to get away from the besieged castle by ship. Heraclides, as the commander of the navy, should have stopped him. The people of Syracuse were angry at Heraclides' negligence, so he got one of their public speakers to change the subject to land reform, arguing that without equality of wealth there could be no liberty, and that poverty meant slavery. Naturally, the majority applauded this idea, and Heraclides stepped forward as their champion.
Dion offered a dissenting view. The people were not pleased, and they not only voted overwhelmingly in favor of land reform but also voted to stop all pay to Dion's soldiers and to elect new commanders. After their long sickness of despotism, the Syracusans tried to stand on their legs and act the part of free men, and they stumbled. Dion, like a wise doctor, tried to make the Syracusans wait until they had the strength for democracy, and for that they hated him.
When the Syracusans met in their assembly to choose new commanders, thunder and other bad omens made them postpone this business for a total of fifteen days. Finally a favorable day came. The popular leaders were proceeding to an election when suddenly an ox went wild, broke free of its cart, and rampaged through the theater where the assembly had gathered. They all ran out in a panic, and the ox followed them through all that part of the city which was later overrun by the mercenaries from the castle.
The Syracusans ignored this omen, and elected twenty-five captains, including Heraclides. They also tried to bribe Dion's men by offering to make them citizens of Syracuse if they would desert Dion. Dion's men, however, were offended by this offer, and to show their courage and loyalty they put Dion in the middle of their formation and moved to leave the city with their swords in their hands. Along the way, they did not injure anyone, but they loudly complained of the fickleness and ingratitude of the Syracusans.
When the Syracusans saw that they had Dion's men outnumbered, they tried to prevent them from exiting the city. Dion pleaded with the Syracusans to stand out of the way, and he pointed to the walls of the castle, where Dionysius' men were watching. But no reasoning could divert the impulse of the multitude, which was like the sea in a storm, driven by the breath of the demagogues.
Dion commanded his men to shout and bang their swords on their shields as they slowly advanced toward their tormentors. Immediately, the Syracusans panicked. Once the way was clear, Dion and his men marched out and went to the city of the Leontines. The Syracusans kept running all through the city, imagining that they were being pursued.
Even their women laughed at the Syracusan captains for this rout, so, stung with shame, they gave orders to catch up with Dion and stop him. Dion's men were crossing a river when the Syracusans arrived, but they quickly formed up for battle and charged. This time, the Syracusans were even worse cowards than before. Many of them died of exhaustion as they ran back to hide behind the walls of their city.
The Leontines gave Dion an honorable reception and gave money to his men, along with the freedom to enjoy the city. Meanwhile, the other cities of Sicily, along with the Leontines, sent messengers to the Syracusans to complain of their dealings with Dion.
But Syracuse was drunk on democracy. The newly liberated people were proud not to listen to any advice, and not to have any leaders except those who would fear and obey the voice of the people.
* * *
Dionysius sent a fleet from Naples with provisions and pay for his soldiers in the castle. The Syracusans sank four of the ships, then they got drunk and celebrated their victory. Dionysius' commander in the castle saw this general disorder and seized this opportunity to make another attempt to break out. This time, some of Dionysius' mercenaries were able to get through the surrounding wall and into the city.
People were slaughtered in their homes or in the streets, and many women and children were dragged, screaming, into the castle. The panic and confusion were so great that the captains of the Syracusans could do nothing.
Now the Syracusans realized that only Dion could save them. They sent messengers to beg Dion to forgive them and return. When these messengers arrived, they fell down breathless at Dion's feet and gasped out the sad story of what had just happened in Syracuse. Dion then led the way to the place of assembly, and in a short time all of his soldiers and the representatives of the Sicilian cities were present. The Syracusan messengers repeated their story, and they publicly apologized to Dion and his men for the treatment the Syracusans had given them. Then, there was a deep silence. Finally Dion stood up and made the following speech:
"I asked you all to come here to consider your own interests. As for myself, there is nothing for me to think about while Syracuse is dying, and although I might not be able to save my city from destruction I will hurry there nevertheless, and be buried in the ruins. If you can find it in your hearts to help me, you may to your eternal honor save this unfortunate and ungrateful city. But if the Syracusans can get no more help from you, then may the gods reward you for all that you have already done for them, and for me. Speak of me hereafter as one who did not desert you when you were injured and abused, nor afterwards deserted his fellow citizens in their misfortune."
Immediately the soldiers jumped up with a shout and demanded that he lead them to Syracuse. As soon as the noise had abated, Dion gave orders to pack up for the march and assemble there that night, ready to move out.
Back in Syracuse, the killing and plundering went on all day, but when the sun set, the mercenaries of Dionysius went back to their castle. Now the Syracusans imagined that the danger was over, and that the soldiers in the castle would not come out any more, so they changed their minds again about needing Dion. The democratic party took control of the gates and sent messengers to Dion to forbid him to come any closer. The aristocratic party, however, did not agree to this, and they sent their own messengers to beg Dion to hurry. Dion compromised by slowing down, but not stopping.
The next day, the soldiers in the castle came out again. This time there were more of them. Dionysius, their employer, had sent orders for them to burn the city and kill every one of its inhabitants. A tyrant to the end, Dionysius would destroy whatever he could not enjoy, just to prove he had power over it.
Fires spread all over Syracuse. Women and children were hacked to pieces in the streets. The frightened inhabitants ran through the streets to escape the fires, and were massacred by the soldiers of Dionysius.
Dion got word of this disaster when he was about seven miles away. He gave a short speech to his men, and they ran the rest of the way, passing through crowds of refugees who cheered them on. Even Heraclides and the other leaders of the democrats sent messengers to beg Dion for help.
First, Dion sent some lightly-armed soldiers ahead of the rest into the city, so that the soldiers of Dionysius would forget about setting fires and killing the citizens and would instead take measures for their own defense. When the people of Syracuse saw Dion's skilled fighters taking on their enemies, they joined in. This unexpected opposition made Dionysius' soldiers retreat back to the castle and wait until they could figure out what was happening. That gave Dion time to bring up his heavily-armored troops and arrange them for battle.
As Dion's mercenaries moved through fire and blood toward the castle, the fickle Syracusans saluted them as them brothers and fellow-citizens, and called Dion their god and savior. In a fight outside the castle, they defeated Dionysius' men and pushed back inside. Then every Syracusan went to his own house to put out the fires.
By morning, the trouble-makers and demagogues had run away, confessing their guilt by their flight. Heraclides came to Dion and apologized. He made a speech to the effect that Dion should prove his noble nature by refusing to hold a grudge. Dion's soldiers implored him to let them deal with Heraclides and the evil men, and to extirpate the passion for popularity in this young democracy -- a disease as bad as tyranny. But Dion forgave Heraclides and the democrats who had betrayed him so often.
Dionysius' men had torn down the wall surrounding the castle, so Dion built it up again. Once this was done, and all of the fires had been put out, and all of the dead bodies had been collected and buried, Dion called a general assembly of the people. Heraclides made a motion that Dion should be declared commander-in-chief of both the army and navy. The aristocrats liked this proposal, but the democrats insisted that Heraclides keep command of the navy.
Dion gave in, and appointed his arch-enemy to be the admiral. Whatever Dion thought he might have gained by complying with the will of the majority on this matter, he lost when he opposed the proposal for land redistribution and annulled the confiscations of rich farms that had been done during the regime of Heraclides.
Heraclides also privately negotiated with Dionysius for a peace treaty. When this was found out, the soldiers distrusted the sailors. Dion, now that he had fortified against himself such a perverse and jealous and utterly corrupted man, now found himself become powerless to correct his mistake.
Heraclides conspired with one of the Carthaginian generals, Pharax, to double-cross both Dion and Dionysius. Pharax was then camped at Agrigentum, about ninety miles west of Syracuse on the southern coast of Sicily. Dion had decided to march out and destroy this Carthaginian force, but when he got there, he did not attack immediately, but waited for the right opportunity. Heraclides and the sailors then accused Dion of delaying only so that he could keep his command longer. So against his will, Dion gave the order to attack. The victory went to Pharax, but Dion's losses were not heavy, and his defeat was mainly due to the political turmoil in the Syracusan army. Dion put his forces back together and got ready for a second battle.
In the evening, Heraclides sailed back to Syracuse with the navy, hoping to take control of the city before Dion could get back there. Dion immediately rode back to Syracuse with his best men, covering ninety miles in one night, and he arrived just in time to stop Heraclides.
When Heraclides saw that his coup attempt had failed, he turned his ships out to sea again. As fate would have it, he encountered a ship coming from Sparta. On board was the Spartan general, Gaesylus, whom Sparta had sent to lead the Syracusans against Dionysius, just as they had sent Gylippus to lead the fight against the Athenians. 9
Heraclides used Gaesylus as his front man. Heraclides sent a messenger to summon the Syracusans to come and welcome their new commander, Gaesylus, the Spartan general. Gaesylus deferred to Dion in the command of the army, and he swore to Dion that he would personally administer the punishment if Heraclides ever betrayed him again. The Syracusans voted to disband their navy because it was expensive and rotten with treason.
Now Dion prosecuted the siege of the castle with new vigor. The Syracusans completely cut off the castle from all supplies coming in. Inside the castle, food and water were running out. Mutiny started among the garrison. The son of Dionysius, who was then in command, decided to ask for terms of peace. He offered to surrender the castle and all of the hostages if only he and his mercenaries could sail away from Syracuse. The Syracusans accepted these terms.
On the day the tyrant's soldiers left [357 B.C.], everyone in Syracuse was there to celebrate. The citizens congratulated each other and expressed pity for those who could not be there to witness this happy day, and see the sun shining on a free Syracuse after its long night of tyranny.
This expulsion of Dionysius is one of the most remarkable examples of Fortune's vicissitudes. How extraordinary the joy of the Syracusans must have been when they saw the most powerful tyranny known to history ended by such a small force.
Dion entered the castle and met his sister, Aristomache, and his wife, Arete. Aristomache came to him holding Dion's son by the hand. Arete lingered behind at a distance, weeping. She doubted that Dion would still have her, now that she had been polluted by another man. Dion greeted his sister, then his son, and Aristomache spoke:
"Ever since you were sent away into exile, we have been prisoners. Now your victorious return has enabled us to hold our heads up again. All except Arete, whom I had the misfortune to see married to another man by force, while her husband was still alive. So now that fortune has made you the judge of us all, what do you say about her hard fate? How would you like her to address you -- as her husband or as her uncle?" Tears came to Dion's eyes, and he gently took Arete by the hand and put their son's hand in hers. Then Dion told her to leave the castle and go to his home.
* * *
At this time [357 B.C.], Dion was considered the greatest man alive for what he had accomplished and for the way he used his victory. He gave large rewards to his companions in the adventure, but as for himself he lived modestly and economically, just as if he were still at the Academy with Plato instead of with mercenary soldiers, who wallow in pleasure whenever they can get it, to make up for the hard work, pain, and danger of their lives.
Plato wrote to Dion that the eyes of the world were watching, and once again reminded him that "Self-will keeps house with solitude." Dion, however, did not heed this warning from Plato. When a little affability was necessary, Dion insisted on being stern and arbitrary. This was his natural temperament, and many years had confirmed him in it, so perhaps he could not have changed even if he had made the effort. Also, he believed that the Syracusans needed a firm ruler because they were so spoiled by license and caprice. In Dion's judgment, they were not ready to rule themselves responsibly, so he had to rule them strictly.
Heraclides yet again began to oppose Dion. When he was invited by Dion to be one of the members of a governing council, Heraclides refused, insisting that he would state his views only to an assemble of all the people. Permission to speak to the assembly was granted. Heraclides complained that Dion had not allowed the Syracusans to tear down the castle and to dig up the corpse of old Dionysius to take their revenge on it. He also objected to the fact that Dion had asked Corinth 10 to send counselors to help set up the government, thereby insulting the people of Syracuse.
Dion had hoped that with the help of the Corinthians he might establish a constitution that would control unlimited democracy -- which is not a government at all but, as Plato says, a market-place. Dion preferred something along the lines of the Spartan model, between a commonwealth and a monarchy. The Corinthians were governed by an oligarchy, and the ordinary people were only slightly concerned in public business.
Now it was finally clear to Dion that Heraclides was an inveterate adversary, and a very dangerous one. So Dion gave permission to those of his friends who had wanted for a long time to kill Heraclides. The death of this democratic leader, however, was resented by the people, even though Dion tried to pacify them by giving Heraclides an honorable funeral.
One of Dion's most trusted lieutenants was Calippus the Athenian. Dion's soldiers respected Calippus, who took note that most of Dion's close friends had died in the war, and that the democrats of Syracuse were now without a leader. Calippus got a large bribe from Dionysius to do away with Dion. With this bribe money, Calippus began to recruit some of Dion's soldiers into a conspiracy to assassinate him. With Dion dead, Calippus would be in control at Syracuse.
Calippus won Dion's trust by betraying some of the soldiers he had bribed, and thus he got permission to act as a secret agent to discover who in the army was plotting against Dion. Whenever any of the soldiers told Dion that Calippus was saying bad things about him, and enlisting mutineers, Dion only thought that Calippus was being a good spy.
As this conspiracy gathered around him, Dion had a horrible vision. He was sitting alone one night, when he heard a noise, and looking up he saw a monstrous old hag sweeping the floor with a broom. This vision frightened him so badly that he had his friends stay with him all night in case it happened again. Shortly afterwards, Dion's only son fell from a window and died.
Calippus spread a rumor about Dion -- who now had no children -- saying that Dion had sent a message to Dionysius' son Apollocrates [Dion's wife's nephew and his sister's grandson] inviting him to come and take over in Syracuse.
Dion's wife and sister began to find out what Calippus was up to, but Dion was so paralyzed by remorse over the death of Heraclides that he refused to do anything about the conspiracy of Calippus, saying he would rather die a thousand deaths than distrust his friends as well as his enemies.
The two women kept inquiring about Calippus, who feared that his conspiracy would soon be discovered. Calippus went to them with tears in his eyes and told them that they were wrong to suspect that he had any bad intentions against Dion. He also offered to prove his loyalty in any way they could think of. They required that Calippus swear the Great Oath, which was done in the following manner: the one who would swear went into the temple of Persephone, where, after some ceremonies, he put on the purple cloak of the goddess and held a lighted torch in his hand as he recited the words of his oath.
After he had denied his treachery under this most solemn oath, Calippus went ahead immediately and stabbed Dion to death.
It is indeed true of Athens that the good men she produces are the best, but the bad men are the worst. Once Calippus had the government in his hands, he wrote to Athens and bragged about what he had done. He ordered that Dion's pregnant wife and his sister be put in prison, where Arete gave birth to Dion's son. By this time Calippus was already in trouble, so the guards allowed Arete to keep the child.
The unjust prosperity of Calippus did not last long. He went out on an expedition to conquer Catana, and while he was gone, the city of Syracuse revolted against him. Then he tried to take Messina, but there his army was broken, and most of his men died. With those that were left, he wandered around Sicily, shunned by every city, until finally his starving soldiers killed him with the same knife he had used on Dion.
When Arete and her baby were let out of prison, Hicetes -- who had been one of Dion's friends -- took them into his house and set himself up as their protector. However, Hicetes had been bribed by Dion's enemies. He got a ship to take his guests to safety in Greece, but he commanded the sailors to throw them overboard once they were out at sea.
Hicetes also got the punishment he deserved for his wickedness. He was taken alive by Timoleon and put to death, and the Syracusans, to revenge Dion, killed the children of Hicetes as well. 11
1. Dionysius the Elder became tyrant of Syracuse in 405 B.C. The Syracusans had a democratic government after the Athenian expedition of 415 B.C. (see the life of Nicias), but the invasion of the Carthaginians in 409 B.C. gave the general Dionysius the pretext to seize power. He claimed to be a democrat, and he accused the other Syracusan generals of treachery. By angering the poor against the rich he became the most powerful general. A plague caused the Carthaginians to leave, but Dionysius held on to his authority. He gave land to his followers and to slaves, and he built a strong fortress for himself and his soldiers. Soon, there was no one in Syracuse who would dare to oppose Dionysius. For 38 years, his word was the law there, and he took whatever he wanted until he died in 367 B.C.
2. Syracuse was a Corinthian settlement on the eastern coast of Sicily. The eastern half of the island was occupied by Greek colonists, and the western half by settlers from Carthage. Syracuse was the largest and most prosperous city in Sicily.
3. Arete, in English, means something like "virtue" and "excellence". The knightly code of chivalry is similar to the Greek idea of arete, but to the Greeks the concept had more metaphysical significance.
4. The Academy was a college founded by Plato in a garden called Academus around 385 B.C.
5. Plato (427 - 347 B.C.) was a student of the famous Athenian philosopher Socrates. He was a prolific writer, and has left us such classics as The Republic and his Dialogues, which recall conversations with Socrates and other philosophers on certain subjects. To Plato, the highest good was "loyalty in danger." Laws, I, 630.
6. Plutarch tells us some other examples of the life of a tyrant. Dionysius the Elder was so suspicious of everyone that he would not allow anyone to come into his apartment wearing their own clothes. First they were stripped and searched, then new clothes were given to them for the meeting. Dionysius said that the wiser his friends were, the more he suspected them, because, being wise, they would prefer to have the tyranny themselves than to be ruled by a tyrant. Dionysius would not even let barbers come near him with sharp instruments; instead, he had his hair singed with a coal. Says Plutarch: "He was a miserable slave to his fears, and yet he was angry with Plato for not considering him the bravest man alive."
Once a courtier named Damocles congratulated Dionysius on his good fortune in being such a powerful man. The tyrant then invited Damocles to a banquet. Directly over the chair of Damocles was a sword suspended by a hair. As the trembling courtier tried to enjoy himself under the sword, Dionysius said to him: "Now you have some idea what it is like to live the life of a tyrant."
7. Plato had planned an ideal government in The Republic and later in his Laws.
8. The messenger sent to warn Dionysius of the arrival of Dion went to sleep along the way, and a wolf stole the sack where he had put the warning letter along with his lunch. He did not dare to go to Dionysius after this mistake, so he disappeared.
9. See the Life of Nicias for the story of the Athenian invasion of Sicily.
10. Syracuse was a Corinthian colony.
11. See the Life of Timoleon for the story of the later liberation of Syracuse and Sicily.
The events in Syracuse at this time have been fictionalized in Mary Renault's The Mask of Apollo (New York: Pantheon Books, 1966).