Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics
 IT was with no common emotion that the young Athenian entered the great harbor of Syracuse. It was here that
the really fatal blow had been struck from which his country had never recovered. She had struggled gallantly
on for nearly ten years after she had lost the most magnificent armament that she had ever sent forth, but the
wound had been mortal. Thenceforward she had been as a man of whose life-blood a half had been drained away.
Callias had read, shortly before leaving Athens for the last time, the magnificent passage, then recently
published, in which the great historian of Athens had described the decisive battle in the harbor.
The sight of the place now enabled him to realize it to himself in the most vivid way. He seemed to see the
hostile fleets crowded together in a way for which there was no precedent, two hundred war galleys in a space
so narrow that maneuver was impossible, and nothing availed but sheer fighting and hard blows; while the shores
seemed alive again as they had been on that eventful day with a crowd of eager spectators, the armies of the
two contending powers, who looked on with passionate cries and gestures at such a spectacle as human eyes had
scarcely witnessed before, a mighty war-game in which their own liberties and lives were the stake. The heights
that ran above
 the harbor were scarcely less significant. There, its remains still visible, had been the Athenian line of
investment. If only a few yards more had been completed, the young man thought to himself, the whole course of
history might have been changed.
Not far away was the spot where the sturdy infantry of Thebes had withstood the fiery shock of his own
countrymen, and so, not for the first time, wrested from them the empire that seemed almost within their grasp.
And somewhere—no one knew where—his own father had fallen, one of the thousands of noble victims who had been
sacrificed to the greed and ambition of a restless democracy.
The noble house of which Callias was the representative had, of course, its hereditary guest-friend at
Syracuse. Naturally there had been very little intercourse between citizens of the two states in late years;
but the old tie remained unbroken, and Medon, for that was the Syracusan's name, was as ready to give a
hospitable welcome to the young Athenian, as if he had been a citizen of one of his country's allies, a
merchant prince of Corinth, or a scion of one of the two royal houses of Sparta. He insisted upon his guest
taking up his quarters in his house, and exerted himself to the utmost to supply and even anticipate every
"Now you have seen something of the outside of our city," said Medon to his friend as they sat together after
the evening meal on the third day after his arrival, "you should know something of its politics. But first let
me make sure that we are alone."
 The dining chamber in which the two were sitting had an anteroom. The door of this the Syracusan proceeded to
"Now," he said, "we shall have no eavesdroppers. Any inquisitive friend may listen at that other door, with all
this space between us and him, without getting much idea of what we are talking about. All the other walls are
outer walls, as you know, and unless a certain great personage has the birds of the air in his pay, we may talk
without reserve. You look surprised. Well, you will understand things a little better when you have heard what
I have to tell you. You know something, I suppose, of what has been happening here of late years. The fact is
we have been going through an awful time. No sooner were we free of the danger that you put us in—you must
pardon me for alluding to it—than we were confronted with another which was every whit as formidable. Another
wretched quarrel between two towns in the island—curiously enough the very same two that were concerned in your
expedition against us.
—brought in a foreign invader. This time it was the Carthaginians. They had had settlements in the island for
many years, had always coveted the dominion of the whole, and more than once had been very near getting it.
"They were not far from success this time. First they took Selinus and massacred every creature in it; then
they took Acragas;
then they utterly destroyed Himera. Something made them hold their hands, and we had a short breathing space.
Four years afterwards they came back in greater force than ever. Acragas was besieged; it held out bravely,
but at last the population had to leave it; only Syracuse was
 left. Again when in the full tide of victory, the Carthaginians held their hand. Do you ask me why? I cannot
tell you. But listen to the fourth article of the treaty of peace." In spite of the precautions that he had
taken against being overheard, Medon, at this point lowered his voice. "Syracuse is to be under the rule of
Dionysius. Yes; the secret is there; it was he that made it worth their while to go; and you may be sure that
it was worth his while to buy them off. I must allow that he was the only man who showed a grain of sense or
courage in the whole matter; the other generals as they were called were hopelessly imbecile. Well, they went,
and Dionysius became, shall we call it, 'commander-in-chief,' or perhaps as we are quite alone, 'tyrant?' He
had not an easy time of it at first; I don't suppose that he will ever have an easy time, tyrants seldom do.
The nobles and the heads of the democratic party leagued together against him, and drove him out. That did not
last long. Of course the conquerors used their victory most brutally. They were furious that Dionysius had
slipped out of their hands, and wreaked their vengeance on his poor wife. I can't tell you the horrible way in
which they killed her. She was the daughter, too, of Hermocrates, one of the very best and noblest men that
Syracuse ever had. Equally of course they quarrelled over the spoils. Naturally, before long they had nothing
left to quarrel over. Dionysius hired a force of Campanian mercenaries, the hardest hitters, by the way, that I
ever saw, and drove them out of the city. Now, I fancy, he is pretty firmly seated. The people like him; they
were never as fit, you must know, for popular government as yours are. He gives them plenty of employment and
amusements, wrings the money out of us with a tight hand, and scatters it among them with an open one. Of
course a dagger may reach him,
 and there are not a few that are kept ready sharpened for the chance. Barring that, he is likely to be master
here as long as he lives. And to tell you the truth, though personally I hate the idea, as any noble must—it is
the nobles that always hate a tyrant most—yet I do not see that anything could be better for Syracuse. The
Carthaginian danger is not over yet, and Dionysius is the very ablest soldier and administrator that we have.
Of course the pinch will come later. A ruler of this sort always becomes harder, more cruel, more suspicious as
he grows older. And if he has a son, brought up in the bad atmosphere of tyranny, the country has a terrible
time of it. Happily the son is generally a fool, and brings the whole thing down with a crash. But all this is
far off. Dionysius is still a young man, not more than twenty-six years old, I fancy. However, you shall see
him—we are very good friends in public—and judge for yourself."
Callias, who had the hereditary abhorrence of his race for anything like tyranny,
demurred at the proposed introduction to the despot. Medon was very urgent in over-ruling his objection. "Don't
mistake Sicily for Greece," he said; "we are half barbarous, and what would be monstrous with you is quite in
its right place here. I grant you that an honest man should have no dealings with a tyrant who should set
himself up at Thebes, or Corinth, or Argos. But it is different here. I am sure that the man governs us better
than we should be governed by the people, or, for the matter of that, by the nobles either."
At last the Athenian consented. "Very good," cried
 Medon, "you will go. Then we will lose no time about it. Depend upon it, Dionysius knows all about you; and if
you do not pay your respects to him without loss of time he will be suspicious. Suspicion is the bane of his
situation. Servant, friend, wife; he trusts nobody."
The next day Medon and his guest presented themselves at the palace. The Athenian had half turned back when he
found that he must be searched. No one was admitted into the presence until that precaution had been taken, and
his freeman's pride revolted. Medon simply shrugged his shoulders. "He is quite right," he whispered to his
indignant friend, "he would not live a month if he did not do it."
Dionysius was, or pretended to be, busy with his studies, when the two visitors were announced. A slave was
reading to him from a roll; and he was taking notes on a wax tablet. He welcomed the newcomers with much
"So, Medon, you have brought your Athenian friend at last. I hope that you have not been slandering me to him."
"My lord," answered Medon with a courtly bow, "I have told him the history of the last five years, and have
taken him to see Syracuse. That is not the way to slander you."
"Good," said Dionysius, "I shall have you a courtier yet." He then turned to the Athenian, asked him a few
questions, all with the nicest tact, about his movements, and finally named a time when he should be at leisure
to have some real conversation with him.
"Believe me," he said, "I honor the Athenians more than any other people in Greece; a strange thing you may
think for a Syracusan to say, but it is true."
Certainly when Callias presented himself at the appointed time, everything that his royal host had said seemed
to bear out this assurance. "After to-day," he said, "politics shall be
 banished from our talk. Don't suppose for a moment that if I had been a citizen of Athens, I should have
attempted, that I should even have wished, to be what I am here. But Syracuse is not capable of being what
Athens is. Even you find liberty a little hard to manage sometimes. Here it is a farce, only a very bloody
farce. Listen to what happened to my father-in-law, Hermocrates. There never was an abler man in the country.
If it had not been for him, I verily believe that you would have conquered us. He saved the city; and then, a
little time afterwards, because he did not do what ten years before no one would have dreamt of doing, that is,
conquer you Athenians in a sea-fight, they banished him. Can you imagine such ingratitude, such folly? Well; he
was not disposed to put up with it; he saw what I see, that the Syracusans are not fit to govern themselves,
and if it had not been for an accident, perhaps I ought rather to say his own reckless courage, he would have
been in my place now.
What he intended to do I have done. I saved Syracuse as he saved her from Athens; and I dare say that in a year
or two my grateful countrymen would have banished me as they banished him. Only I have been beforehand with
them. So much for politics; now let us talk of something more pleasant and more profitable.
"Tell me now, do you know one Socrates in your city, a very wise man they tell me?"
"Yes, I know him well."
"And he is wise?"
"Yes, indeed; there is no one like him; and so the god
 thought, for the Pythia declared him to be the wisest of men."
"I should dearly like to see him. Do you think it likely that he would come here, if I were to invite him? I
would make it worth his while."
"I fear there is no chance of it. He never leaves Athens; never has left it except when he served abroad with
the army, and as for money, he is quite careless about it."
"But he takes a fee for his teaching, I suppose."
"Not a drachma."
"Well, that astonishes me. Why, Georgias would not teach anyone for less than half a talent, and has got
together, I suppose, a pretty heap of money by this time. But, perhaps, if I could not get the great man
himself, I might get one of his disciples. Whom do men reckon to be the first among them?"
"I think that one Plato is the most famous. He was a poet when he was quite young, indeed he is young now, and
had a great reputation; but he has given up poetry for philosophy."
"That seems a pity. I don't see why a man should not be both poet and philosopher. I am a little of both
myself. Can you remember anything that he has written?"
"Yes; there was an epigram which everyone was repeating when I left Athens. It was written for the tomb of one
of his fellow disciples."
"Let me hear it."
"In life like Morning star thy shining head;
And now the star of Evening 'mid the dead."
"Very pretty indeed. I have something very like it of my own. Would you like to hear it?"
Callias of course politely assented and expressed as much
 admiration as his conscience permitted, possibly a little more, for the composition was vapid and clumsy.
But though Dionysius was an indifferent composer, he had really a very strong interest in literary matters.
Personal vanity had something to do with it, for he was fully convinced of his own abilities in this way; but
he had a genuine pleasure in talking on the subject. This was indeed the first of many conversations which the
young Athenian had with him. Politics were never mentioned again, but poetry, the drama, indeed every kind of
literary work, supplied topics of unfailing interest. The drama was, perhaps, the despot's favorite topic. He
had received not long before Callias' arrival, a copy of the play which was described in my first chapter, and
was never tired of asking questions about various points of interest in it. It soon became evident that his
special ambition lay in this direction.
"So, now that your two great men are gone," he said to the young Athenian, "you have no man of really the first
rank among your dramatists?"
"I should say not," replied Callias. "Some think well of Iophon, who is the son of Sophocles. Others say that
he would be nothing without his father. They declare that the old man helped him when he was alive, and that
what he has brought out since his father's death is really not his own."
"Well," said Dionysius, "the stock will be exhausted before long. And there is no one, you say, besides him?"
"No one, certainly of any reputation."
"Then there would be a chance for an outsider? But would a dramatist that was not an Athenian be allowed to
 I know nothing to the contrary. But I do not know that there has ever been a case. Anyhow it would be easy to
exhibit in the name of a citizen."
"An excellent idea! I shall certainly manage it somehow. The first prize at your festival would be almost as
well worth having as the tyranny itself."
It is not surprising that a ruler who cherished such tastes should have reckoned a library among the ornaments
which were to make Syracuse the most splendid among Greek cities. In his Athenian guest he believed himself to
have found a competent agent for carrying this purpose into effect; and Callias was in truth a well educated
person who knew what books were worth buying. He was well acquainted with the literature of his own country and
had a fairly competent knowledge of what had been produced elsewhere in Greece. For the next three years it was
his employment, and one, on the whole not uncongenial to his tastes, to collect volumes for Dionysius. In
Sicily there was little culture, but the Greek cities of Italy furnished a more fertile field. There was not
indeed much in the way of belles-lettres. Works of this kind had to be imported for the most part,
either from Athens, or from Lesbos, where the traditions of the school of Sappho and AlcŠus were not extinct,
but books on philosophy and science, could be secured in considerable numbers. At Croton, for instance, Callias
was fortunate enough to secure a valuable scientific library which had been for some years in the family of
Democedes, while at Tarentum he purchased a handsome collection of treatises by teachers of the school of
 This occupation was varied in the second year of his residence by an interesting mission to Rome. That city,
the rising greatness of which so keen an observer as Dionysius was able to discern, was at this time sorely
distressed by a visitation of famine, and had applied far and wide for help. The harvests of Sicily had been
remarkably abundant, and Dionysius sent a magnificent present of a hundred thousand bushels of wheat, putting
Callias in charge of the mission.
In spite of these honorable and not distasteful employments the young Athenian did not greatly like his
position. It would indeed have been scarcely endurable to a soul that had been reared in an atmosphere of
liberty, but for the fact that his work took him much away from Syracuse. Dionysius was all courtesy and
generosity in his dealings with him; but he was a tyrant; there was iron under his velvet glove. It was
therefore with a considerable feeling of relief that in the early spring of the third (or according to
classical reckoning the fourth) year after the fall of Athens, he received a missive from Xenophon couched in
the following terms.
"Meet me at Tarsus with all the speed you can. Great things lie before us, of which you will hear more at the
proper time. Farewell."
Leave of absence was obtained with some difficulty, and towards the end of June, Callias found himself at the