Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics
THE TYRANT OF SYRACUSE
YOU have seen what a cruel man Alexander was. He was
not the only tyrant in those days, however; for the
city of Syracuse in Sicily, which Alcibiades had hoped
to conquer, was ruled by a man as harsh and mean as
 This tyrant, whose name was Dionysius, had seized
power by force, and kept his authority by exercising
the greatest severity. He was always surrounded by
guards, who at a mere sign from him were ready to put
any one to death.
Dionysius was therefore feared and hated by the people
whom he governed, but who would have been very glad to
get rid of him. No honest man cared to come near such a
bloodthirsty wretch, and there were soon none but
wicked men to be found in his court.
These men, hoping to win his favor and get rich gifts,
used to flatter him constantly. They never told him the
truth, but only praised him, and made believe to admire
all he said and did.
Of course, even though they were wicked too, they could
really admire him, but secretly hated and despised him.
Their praise, therefore, was as false as they, and
their advice was always as bad as bad could be.
Now, Dionysius was as conceited as he was cruel, and
fancied that there was nothing he could not do. Among
other things, he thought he could write beautiful
poetry. Whenever he wrote a poem, therefore, he read it
aloud to all his courtiers, who went into raptures over
it, although they made great fun of it behind his back.
Dionysius was highly flattered by their praise, but
thought he would like to have it confirmed by the
philosopher Philoxenus, the most learned man of
He therefore sent for Philoxenus, and bade him give his
candid opinion of the verse.
Now, Philoxenus was far too noble a man to tell a lie:
and whenever he was
 consulted by Dionysius, he always
boldly told the truth, whether it was agreeable or not.
When the tyrant asked his opinion about the poems,
therefore, he unhesitatingly answered that they were
trash, and did not deserve the name of poetry at all.
This answer so angered Dionysius, and so sorely wounded
his vanity, that he called his guards, and bade them
put the philosopher into a prison hewn out of the living
rock, and hence known as "The Quarries."
Here Philoxenus was a prisoner for many a day, although
his only fault was having told the tyrant an unwelcome
truth when asked to speak.
The philosopher's friends were indignant on hearing
that he was in prison, and signed a petition asking
Dionysius to set him free. The tyrant read the
petition, and promised to grant their request on
condition that the philosopher would sup with him.
Dionysius' table was well decked, as usual, and at
dessert he again read aloud some new verses which he
had composed. All the courtiers went into ecstasies
over them, but Philoxenus did not say a word.
Dionysius, however, fancied that his long imprisonment
had broken his spirit, and that he would not now dare
refuse to give a few words of praise: so he pointedly
asked Philoxenus what he thought of the poem. Instead
of answering, the philosopher gravely turned toward the
guards, and in a firm voice cried aloud, "Take me back
to The Quarries!" thus showing very plainly that he
preferred suffering to telling an untruth.
The courtiers were aghast at his rashness, and fully
expected that the tyrant would take him at his word and
 put him in prison, if nothing worse; but Dionysius was
struck by the moral courage which made Philoxenus tell
the truth at the risk of his life, and he bade him go
home in peace.