THE FAITHFUL FRIENDS
IONYSIUS the Elder was a young man who enlisted and fought in the army of
Syracuse. He was so brave and faithful that everybody liked and honored him,
and after a while he became general of that very army in which he had been a
That did not satisfy him; he wanted to be greater still, so by the help of
the army he made himself master of the city. For thirty-eight years he was
ruler, and showed himself wise and strong, though very harsh and severe.
He liked poetry and wrote poems, some of which took prizes at Athens. He
invited the wise and great Plato to come and live with him at Syracuse. But
the wise man's talk was too deep and solemn for Dionysius, and it is said
that he sold Plato for a slave. A friend afterwards bought him and set him
Two men were then living in Syracuse who were firm friends. Where one was
found the other could generally be seen, for they were almost always
together. One was named Damon, the other Pythias, or rather Phintias. Damon
had called Dionysius a tyrant, and had tried to kill him, that the land
might be free from his rule. Damon was arrested and orders were given that
he should be put to death. His wife and child were then at a
dis-  tance from Syracuse and he asked that he might be allowed to go and bid them
farewell. His friend Pythias is said, "I will stay in prison while he is
gone and if he is not back at the appointed time I will die in his place."
Dionysius consented, for he thought that Damon would stay away and Pythias
would be put to death, and so both these men would be out of his way.
Pythias went to prison and Damon set out upon his journey.
He saw his wife and child, stayed with them a little while, then kissed them
and said, "Good-by forever!"
He ordered a slave to bring his horse so that he might start on his return.
"Your horse, master?" said the trembling servant. "Did you say your horse?"
"Yes," cried Damon, "my horse, that I may hurry back to Syracuse. Why do you
tremble and look so pale? Has anything happened to the horse?"
"Yes, master," replied the boy. "Something has happened; he is dead."
"Dead?" said the master, turning pale as the boy "Then, traitor, you have
"O master," cried the lad, "I could not let you go to die! Think of my
mistress and the little boy. Stay with us! The tyrant will not follow you
"Murderer!" exclaimed Damon. "It is not my horse you have killed, it is my
friend. O Pythias, Pythias!"
"Stay, master, stay!" pleaded the youth. His master struck him a heavy blow,
crying, "Out of my way, traitor and murderer. I stay too long and Pythias
Then he rushed away on foot toward Syracuse. He
 came to a little river which generally could be easily crossed, but it had
risen into a raging torrent. He flung himself into the roaring water and
struggled through to the opposite bank. Then he ran again until his strength
was nearly gone. A merchant was riding easily along on a good horse.
"Friend," said Damon, "sell me your horse. I must reach Syracuse by sunset
and I cannot run any farther. Sell me your horse. I will give you any
"No," answered the merchant. "I need my horse. It is too far for me to walk
and if I go on foot robbers can easily overtake me."
"I cannot parley," cried Damon. "It is life or death for another as well as
for myself. Will you sell?" "No," replied the merchant.
Damon pulled the man from his horse, threw him a purse of money, mounted and
rode at full speed toward the distant city.
Sunset of the third day had nearly come. The block for execution was ready
outside one of the gates of Syracuse. Great crowds gathered, for it was
known that Damon had not returned and that Pythias must die for his friend.
He was led out of the prison and Dionysius said, "Your friend has not come
back to die. You foolishly thought he would keep his promise. I knew better.
Do not ask for mercy; none will be granted."
Pythias said, "I ask no mercy. Damon is either sick or dead, for he would
never break his word. He would be faithful to me as I am faithful to him."
 The sun sank down in the western sky. Pythias was led up the steps of the
platform, where the block stood on which he was to be beheaded. The people
were sorry, for he was brave and noble, but Dionysius was glad.
Suddenly there was a stir at the edge of the crowd. A shout arose from the
same direction. Everybody turned to look. A horse, gray with foam and dust,
burst through the ranks of people and Damon leaped from his back.
"Forgive me, Pythias," he cried. "I could not come sooner, but I am yet in
One long, loud cry went up from the crowded square.
Pardon, pardon for Damon," was the shout.
Dionysius bowed his proud head. "Release the prisoner," he ordered. "Let
there be three true friends," he said, "Damon and Pythias and myself."