AmblesideOnline: Plutarch's Life of Dion

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Study Guide prepared for the AmblesideOnline Curriculum by Anne White

Lesson 1
Lesson 2
Lesson 3
Lesson 4
Lesson 5
Lesson 6
Lesson 7
Lesson 8
Lesson 9
Lesson 10
Lesson 11
Lesson 12

Note on the text used:

For reasons mostly of length, we will again be providing an abridged version of North's translation. (Plutarch's Dion is about the same length as Brutus).

Introduction to the story:

This story goes back to the mid-300's B.C., to the Greek city of Syracuse in Sicily. It's the story of two father-and-son tyrant kings, both named Dionysius (pronounced Die-oh-nee-see-us); and Dion (pronounced Dion as in Lion), who is a combination relative, mentor, and finally mortal enemy to the second Dionysius. Dion is also a good friend of the philosopher Plato, who is persuaded at one point to come and reform the worldly young king (in what I think is one of Plutarch's funniest passages). The second half of the story takes a serious turn, as Dion attempts to dethrone the king, and, once he is in power, becomes something of a tyrant himself.

What is a tyrant?

The idea of a "tyrant king" in Ancient Greece was somewhat different from the way we use the word "tyrant" today. It wasn't always used in a negative sense; it meant an absolute ruler and it wasn't a judgment about whether he was good or evil. If you'd like to read about how the Greek philosophers viewed tyranny, here are links to their writings on this, as well as a letter by Plato describing his side of the story.

Aristotle's description of tyranny
Plato's description of tyranny (archived)
Plato's Seventh Letter, describing his visits to Dionysius (original link archived here)

Where the story takes place:

Most of the story takes place in the city of Syracuse (also called Syracusa), on the island of Sicily (sometimes called Sicilia). There is a good map here: . This may seem a bit confusing since we normally associate Sicily with Italy rather than Greece, but at this time it was part of the ancient Greek world. Other places mentioned are Italy, Athens, Carthage, and the Isle of Aegina.

Major Characters from the first part of the story:

Dionysius the elder - Tyrant king of Syracuse; first married to the daughter of Hermocrates; later married to Doride/Doris and to Aristomache. Read more

Doride/Doris - second wife of Dionysius the elder, mother of Dionysius the younger

Aristomache - third wife of Dionysius the elder, daughter of Hipparinus; sister of Dion

Dion - brother of Aristomache, which made him brother-in-law to Dionysius the elder, and sort of a step-uncle to Dionysius the younger

Sophrosyne - daughter of Dionysius the elder and Aristomache; wife of Dionysius the younger

Arete - daughter of Dionysius the elder and Aristomache; married to her half-brother and later to Dion (her uncle)

Dionysius the younger (or Dionysius II) - He succeeded his father as king.
Read more:

Plato - famous Greek philosopher; good friend and teacher of Dion



The first purpose of this lesson is to introduce the tangled family tree of Dionysius and his family (see notes in the general introduction). The second is to introduce the main character, Dion, and to explain what motivates him.

In comparing Marcus Brutus and Dion, Plutarch notes that they were both students of PlatoBrutus indirectly, through Plato's writings (three hundred years later), and Dion directly. Brought up under the rule of a tyrant king, and angry about his low position and poverty, Dion should have been headed for a life of trouble or at least bitterness and unhappiness. However, along the way, he ran into Plato, who saw potential in this young man. This relationship changed the course of Dion's life.

In this section, Dion tries to pass along his enthusiasm for Plato and his teachings to King Dionysius, with less than successful results.


hap - luck, chance
fruit of her womb - children
was had in great estimation - was greatly esteemed, was respected
they made him acquainted withal - they informed him of that
magnanimity - nobility of spirit
a servile timorous life - a life lived in fear and slavery under a hard master
placing chief felicity in covetousness - having a chief goal of acquiring material goods
fortitude - bravery, courage
durst - dared


Dionysius the elder, after he had the government of Sicilia in his hands, he married the daughter of Hermocrates, a citizen of Syracusa. But yet not being thoroughly settled in his tyranny, the Syracusans did rebel against him, and did so cruelly and abominably treat his wife, that she willingly poisoned herself. So after he had established himself in his government with more surety than before, he married again two other wives together, the one a stranger of the city of Locres, called Doride: and the other of the country itself, called Aristomache, the daughter of Hipparinus the chiefest man of all Syracusa, and that had been companion with Dionysius, the first time he was chosen general. It was said that Dionysius married them both in one day, and that he made as much of the one, as he did of the other; though the Syracusans would have their own country-woman preferred before the stranger. Howbeit the strange woman had this good hap, to bring forth Dionysius his eldest son, which was a good countenance to defend her, being a foreigner. Aristomache in contrary manner, continued a long time with Dionysius, without fruit of her womb, although he was very desirous to have children by her: so that he put the Locrian woman's mother to death, accusing her that she had with sorceries and witchcraft kept Aristomache from being with child.

Dion being the brother of Aristomache, was had in great estimation at the first, for his sister's sake: but afterwards the tyrant finding him to be a wise man, he loved him then for his own sake. Insomuch, that among many sundry things and pleasures he did for him, he commanded his treasurers to let him have what money he asked of them, so they made him acquainted withal the selfsame day they gave him any. Now though Dion had ever before a noble mind in him by nature, yet much more did that magnanimity increase, when Plato by good fortune arrived in Sicily, and [became] acquainted with Dion, who was but a young man at that time, but yet had an apter wit to learn, and readier goodwill to follow virtue, than any young man else that followed Plato: as Plato himself writeth, and his own doings also do witness. For Dion having from a child been brought up with humble conditions under a tyrant, and acquainted with a servile timorous life, with a proud and insolent reign, with all vanity and curiosity, as placing chief felicity in covetousness, nevertheless, after he had felt the sweet reasons of philosophy, teaching the broad way to virtue, his heart was inflamed straight with earnest desire to follow the same. And because he found that he was so easily persuaded to love virtue and honesty, he simply thinking (being of an honest plain nature) that the selfsame persuasions would move a like affection in Dionysius, obtained of Dionysius, that being at leisure, he was contented to see Plato, and to speak with him.

When Plato came to Dionysius, all their talk in manner was of virtue, and they chiefly reasoned what was fortitude: where Plato proved that tyrants were no valiant men. From thence passing further into justice, he told him that the life of just men was happy, and contrarily the life of unjust men unfortunate. Thus the tyrant Dionysius perceiving he was overcome, durst no more abide him, and was angry to see the bystanders to make such estimation of Plato, and that they had such delight to hear him speak. At length he angrily asked him, what business he had to do there? Plato answered him, he came to seek a good man. Dionysius then replied again: 'What, in God's name, by thy speech then it seemed thou hast found none yet.'

Now Dion thought that Dionysius' anger would proceed no further, and therefore at Plato's earnest request, he sent him away in a galley with three banks of oars, the which Pollis, a Lacedaemonian captain, carried back again into Greece. Howbeit, Dionysius secretly requested Pollis to kill Plato by the way, as ever he would do him pleasure: if not, yet that he would sell him for a slave, howsoever he did. "For," said he, "he shall be nothing the worse for that: because if he be a just man, he shall be as happy to be a slave, as a freeman." Thus, as it is reported, this Pollis carried Plato into the Isle of Aegina, and there sold him. For the Aeginetes having war at that time with the Athenians, made a decree, that all the Athenians that were taken in their isle, should be sold.

This notwithstanding, Dionysius refused not to honour and trust Dion, as much as ever he did before, and did also send him ambassador in matters of great weight. As when he sent him unto the Carthaginians, where he behaved himself so well, that he won great reputation by his journey: and the tyrant could well away with his plain speech. For no man but he durst say their minds so boldly unto him, to speak what he thought good.

This Dionysius had by his Locrian wife three children, and by Aristomache four: of the which two were daughters, the one called Sophrosyne, and the other Arete. Of them, Dionysius' eldest son married Sophrosyne, and Arete was married unto his brother Thearides, after whose death Dion married her, being his niece.


After narrating this passage, discuss the following questions:

Why was Dion so enthusiastic about bringing Plato to meet Dionysius? Why do you think the relationship between Plato and Dionysius didn't really get off the ground? Has anything like that ever happened to you?

Explain the humor in Dionysius' comment that "if he be a just man, he shall be as happy to be a slave, as a freeman."

What does it say about Dion's character and reputation that Dionysius still respected and trusted him after the Plato incident?



In the first reading, we met Dionysius the elder. When he died, he left his son Dionysius as his successor, and state affairs somewhat tangled. If you've read Plutarch's life of Poplicola, you may remember that Poplicola was respected enough that he had a strong voice in Roman politics even before he was chosen to be consul. In the same way, Brutus was so respected by those around him that his leadership was essential to the plot to assassinate Julius Caesar. Dion's serious mindset and lifestyle do not please everyone; however, he continues to be respected and listened to in the government of Syracuse.


humour - moods, whims
avarice - greed, ambition
impair - (noun) an insult
trumpery and dissolute pastimes - nonsense; worthless amusements
divers of his very friends and familiars - several of his friends and associates


In the first council and assembly held by his friends, to consult about the state and affairs of the younger Dionysius, Dion moved matter so necessary and profitable for that present time, that by his wisdom he showed they were all but children, and by his bold and frank speech, made them know that they were but slaves of the tyranny: because they beastly and cowardly gave such counsel and advice, as might best please and feed the young tyrant's humour. But he made them most to wonder at him, when they fearing above all other things, the danger Dionysius' state was in, by reason of Carthage, he did promise them, that if Dionysius would have peace, he would then go forthwith into Africa, and find the means honourably to quench the wars: or if otherwise he better liked of war, that he would furnish him at his own proper costs and charges, fifty galleys ready to row.

Dionysius wondered greatly at the noble mind of Dion, and thanked him much for the goodwill he bore unto him, touching his estate. But all men else taking Dion's noble offer to be a reproach of their avarice, and. his credit and authority an impair unto theirs, they presently upon this liberal offer took occasion to accuse him, not sparing any reproachful words against him, to move Dionysius to be offended with him. For they complained of him, and said that he cunningly practised to possess the tyranny, making himself strong by sea, going about by his galleys to make the tyranny fall into the hands of the children of Aristomache his sister.

But the chiefest cause of all why they did malice and hate him, was his strange manner of life: that he neither would keep company with them, nor live after their manner. For they that from the beginning were crept in favour and friendship with this young evil brought up tyrant [Dionysius II], by flattering of him, and feeding him with vain pleasures, studied for no other thing, but to entertain him in love matters, and other vain exercises, as to riot and banquet, to keep light women company, and all such other vile vicious pastimes and recreations... sometime he would be three days together without intermission, still banqueting and drunk: and all that time his court gates were kept shut unto grave and wise men, and for all honest matters, and was then full of drunkards, of common plays, dancings, masques, and mummeries, and full of all such trumpery and dissolute pastimes.

And therefore Dion undoubtedly was much envied of them, because he gave himself to no sport nor pleasure: whereupon they accused him, and misnamed his virtues vices, being somewhat to be resembled unto them. As in calling his gravity, pride: his plainness and boldness in his oration, obstinacy: if he did persuade them, that he accused them: and because he would not make one in their fond pastimes, that therefore he despised them. For to say truly, his manners by nature had a certain haughtiness of mind and severity, and he was a sour man to be acquainted with: whereby his company was not only troublesome, but also unpleasant to this younger Dionysius, whose ears were so fine, that they could not away to hear any other thing but flattery.

And furthermore, divers of his very friends and familiars, that did like and commend his plain manner of speech and noble mind, they did yet reprove his sternness, and austere conversation with men. For it seemed unto them, that he spoke too roughly, and dealt overhardly with them that had to do with him, and more than became a civil or courteous man. And for proof hereof, Plato himself sometime wrote unto him (as if he had prophesied what should happen) that he should beware of obstinacy, the companion of solitariness, that bringeth a man in the end to be forsaken of everyone. This notwithstanding, they did more reverence him at that time, than any man else, because of the state and government, and for that they thought him the only man that could best provide for the safety and quietness of the tyranny, the which stood then in tickle state.

Narration and Discussion:

Explain what this means: Dion criticized the men of the assembly "because they beastly and cowardly gave such counsel and advice, as might best please and feed the young tyrant's humor." Why would that make them beastly and cowardly? What kind of counsel and advice does Dion prefer to give? Which way shows more true loyalty? You will find many sayings about this in the book of Proverbs. Here is one to get you started: "He that saith unto the wicked, Thou art righteous; him shall the people curse, nations shall abhor him: But to them that rebuke him shall be delight, and a good blessing shall come upon them."
(Prov. 24:24-25)

How does Dion's cold, serious manner sometimes work against his wisdom, loyalty and generosity? The "friends" of Dionysius are insulted by his reluctance to join in their parties and way of life; they basically call him a snob. Does he really think he is too good to hang around with them? How might this be an issue for Christians today? How would you deal with this if you were Dionysius, or in your own life? (Where do you draw the line?) Here's an even tougher one to think about: what would Jesus do? (Remember that some people accused him of going to too many parties and drinking too much wine.)

Give a character sketch of Dionysius II so far.



If you were bringing up a prince, how would you teach him to be a good and wise ruler? (Discuss this.) Dionysius the elder apparently did few or none of these things. He brought up his son to be self-centered, fearful, useless and powerless; to have no love for learning and to care only for entertainment. (It was a good way of making sure that he stayed in the background.) Seeing this, Dion pushes young Dionysius to bring Plato back to Syracuse, and hopes that this attempt to plant seeds of wisdom will be more successful than the attempt he made with his father. Can a tyrant's heart be changed by teaching him geometry? Dion is determined to find out.


There is a lot of difficult vocabulary in this passage. Much of it can be figured out by the context or by definitions that are given in the text (democratia, aristocratia). My suggestion would be to go over just a few of these beforehand, and then to come back and look up anything that still isn't clear.

liberal sciences - the study of philosophy, natural science, mathematics etc. such as Dion had studied with Plato
frame him to a civil life - to teach him to live a more virtuous life
a feeling and conceit of himself - a belief in his own power
he would go near to enter into practice - he would interfere with his father's rule, try to take on power and act himself
suffer - allow
timorous - fearful
marred - spoiled, ruined
the prince of all philosophers - Plato
graft in him - put into his head
vehement - strong
historiographer - an official writer of history (perhaps hired by the court)
dissolute and licentious - unrestrained, immoral
seigniory - rule, lordship


Now Dion knew well enough, that he was not so well taken and esteemed through the goodwill of the tyrant, as against his will, and for the necessity of the state and time.

So Dion supposing that ignorance and want of knowledge in Dionysius was the cause, he devised to put him into some honest trade or exercise, and teach him the liberal sciences, to frame him to a civil life, that thenceforth he should no more be afraid of virtue, and should also take pleasure and delight in honest things. For Dionysius of his own nature, was none of the worst sort of tyrants, but his father fearing that if he came once to have a feeling and conceit of himself, or that he companied with wise and learned men, he would go near to enter into practice, and put him out of his seat, he ever kept him locked up in a chamber, and would suffer no man to speak with him. Then the younger Dionysius having nothing else to do, gave himself to make little chariots, candlesticks, chairs, stools, and tables of wood. [Plutarch describes how the elder Dionysius feared and mistrusted everyone to the point that he wouldn't allow his own barber to use scissors on his head.]

Dion therefore seeing (as we have said) the younger Dionysius clean marred, and in manner cast away for lack of good education, persuaded him the best he could to give himself unto study, and by the greatest entreaty he could possibly make, to pray the prince of all philosophers to come into Sicily. And then when through his entreaty he were come, that he would refer himself wholly unto him, to the end that reforming his life by virtue and learning, and knowing God thereby (the best example that can be possible, and by whom all the whole world is ruled and governed, which otherwise were out of all order and confused), he should first obtain great happiness to himself, and consequently unto all his citizens also, who ever after through the temperance and justice of a father, would with goodwill do those things, which they presently unwillingly did for the fear of a lord, and in doing this, from a tyrant he should come to be a king.

Dion oftentimes rehearsing these exhortations unto Dionysius, and otherwhile interlacing between, some reasons he had learned of Plato, he graft in him a wonderful, and as it were a vehement desire to have Plato in his company, and to learn of him. So sundry letters came from Dionysius unto Athens, divers requests from Dion, and great entreaty made by certain Pythagorean philosophers, that prayed and persuaded Plato to come into Sicily, to bridle the light disposition of this young man, by his grave and wise instructions: who without regard of reason, led a dissolute and licentious life.

But Dion's enemies fearing the change and alteration of Dionysius, they persuaded him to call Philistus the historiographer home again from banishment, who was a learned man, and had been brought up and acquainted with the tyrant's fashions: to the end he should serve as a counterpiece, to withstand Plato and his philosophy. Philistus no sooner returned, but he stoutly began to defend the tyranny: and others in contrary manner, devised accusations to the tyrant against Dion, accusing him that he had practised with Theodotes and Heraclides, to overthrow the tyranny of Dionysius. For Dion, in my opinion, hoped by Plato's coming to bridle and lessen a little the overlicentious and imperious tyranny of Dionysius, and thereby to frame Dionysius a wise and righteous governor. But on the other side, if he saw he would not follow his counsel, and that he yielded not to his wise instructions, he then determined to put him down, and to bring the government of the commonwealth into the hands of the Syracusans: not that he allowed of democratia (to wit, where the people govern) but yet certainly thinking that democratia was much better than the tyranny, when they could not come unto aristocratia, to wit, the government of a few of the nobility.

Now things being in this state, Plato arrived in Sicily, where he was marvellously received and honoured by Dionysius. For when he landed on the shore, leaving his galley that brought him: there was ready for him one of the king's rich and sumptuous chariots to convey him to the castle: and the tyrant made sacrifice to give the gods thanks for his coming, as for some wonderful great good hap chanced unto his seigniory. Furthermore, the wonderful modesty and temperance that was begun to be observed in feasts and banquets, the court clean changed, and the great goodness and clemency of the tyrant in all things, in ministering justice to every man, did put the Syracusans in great good hope of change, and every man in the court was very desirous to give himself to learning and philosophy. So that, as men reported, the tyrant's palace was full of sand and dust, with the numbers of students that drew plates and figures of geometry.


"From a tyrant he should come to be a king." What does this mean; wasn't Dionysius a king already? For discussion of true kingship: look up Proverbs 31:3-9.

An interesting choice of words here: "But on the other side, if he saw he would not follow his counsel, and that he yielded not to his wise instructions, he then determined to put him down, and to bring the government of the commonwealth into the hands of the Syracusans" How does this remind you of the story of Brutus?

Dionysius the elder had little use for Plato's philosophy. How did Dionysius the younger react? This would be a wonderful scene to illustrate, or maybe to act out. You could write or act out a scene between two men in the court, discussing the strange change that has come over Dionysius the "party animal"; or write a letter from one character to another discussing the same thing. Or pretend you are Dionysius explaining to his court that from now on there are going to be a few changes...

(Cultural research note: why did the sudden fixation with math cause the palace to be so full of sand and dust?)

Why did Dion's enemies fear the change and alteration in Dionysius? Do you think the change will stick? Why or why not?

An essay or debate topic for older students:
Some people say that the key to improving everyone's lives, cutting down on crime and poverty etc., is education. Do you think it's true that sin comes out of ignorance? Can giving people a better education change society?



Have you ever read any Agatha Christie murder mysteries? The motive behind the crimes in her books is usually a common human emotion taken to extremessuch as jealousy of another person, wanting something that belongs to someone else, wanting to hang on to power. Those emotions are the same throughout human history, and they can cause the same amount of trouble whether the setting is 300 BC or 2003 AD.

This passage has a lot to say about the jealousy of Dionysius the younger and his demands for love, respect and power. Ironically, his decision to send Dion into exile gives Dion an increase in all those things, while Dionysius becomes increasingly insecure and out of control.


hugger mugger - secret
sophister - can mean a professional teacher of philosophy; can also mean an unsound reasoner
Carthagean - ancient city-state in North Africa
burdening him to have practised with the Carthaginians - accusing him of having plotted with the Carthaginians
pinnacea - light sailing vessel
Peloponnesusa - peninsula forming the southern part of Greece
he became in love with him - this is not meant in the romantic sense, more in a sense of friendship (although a very jealous, obsessive friendship)
incensed - furious
to allege many wise sayings - Dionysius keeps quoting things he learned from Plato


And therefore they now began, not one by one, nor in hugger mugger, but all of them with open mouth together to accuse Dion: and said, that it was easy to be seen, how he charmed and enchanted Dionysius through Plato's eloquence, to make him willing to resign his government, because he [Dion] would transfer it to the hands of the children of his sister Aristomache. Others seemed to be offended, for that the Athenians [previously] having come before into Sicilia with a great army, both by sea and land, they were all lost and cast away, and could not win the city of Syracusa: and that now by one only sophister, they utterly destroyed and overthrew the empire of Dionysius, persuading him to discharge the ten thousand soldiers he had about him for his guard, to forsake the four hundred galleys, the ten thousand horsemen, and as many more footmen, to go to the Academy to seek an unknown happiness never heard of before, and to make him happy by geometry.

By suchlike accusations and wicked tongues, Dionysius began first to mistrust Dion, and afterwards to be openly offended with him, and to frown upon him. In the meantime they brought letters Dion wrote secretly unto the governors of the city of Carthage, willing them that when they would make peace with Dionysius, they should not talk with him unless he [Dion] stood by: assuring them that he would help them to set things in quietness, and that all should be well again. When Dionysius had read these letters with Philistus, and had taken his advice and counsel what he should do, as Timaeus said, he deceived Dion under pretence of reconciliation, making as though he meant him no hurt, and saying that he would become friends again with him. So he brought Dion one day to the sea side under his castle, and showed him these letters, burdening him to have practised with the Carthaginians against him. And as Dion went about to make him answer, to clear himself, Dionysius would not hear him, but caused him to be taken up as he was, and put into a pinnace, and commanded the mariners to set him a-land upon the coast of Italy.

Dionysius gave his friends and the women of his palace comfortable words, telling them that he had not banished him, but was contented that he should absent himself for a time: being afraid, that in his sudden angry mood he might peradventure be compelled to do him some worse turn if he remained, because of his obstinacy and self-will. Furthermore, he gave unto Dion's friends two ships, to carry as much goods, money, and as many of Dion's servants as they would, and to convey them unto him unto Peloponnesus.

But now concerning Plato: when Dion was exiled, Dionysius caused him to be lodged in his castle, and by this means craftily placed, under cloak of friendship, an honourable guard about him, because he should not return into Greece to seek Dion, to tell him of the injury he had done unto him. Howbeit Dionysius often frequenting his company (as a wild beast is made tame by company of man), he liked his talk so well, that he became in love with him, but it was a tyrannical love. For he would have Plato to love none but him, and that he should esteem him above all men living, being ready to put the whole realm into his hands, and all his forces, so that he would think better of him, than of Dion. In a moment he would suddenly fall out with him, and straight again become friends, and pray him to pardon him.

In the meantime fell out war, and thereupon he sent Plato again away, promising him that the next spring he would send for Dion home. But he broke promise therein, and yet sent [Dion] his revenues: and prayed Plato to pardon him, though he had not kept promise at his time appointed. For he alleged the war was the cause, and that so soon as he had ended his war, he would send for Dion: whom in the meantime he prayed to have patience and not to attempt any stir or alteration against him, nor to speak evil of him among the Grecians.

This Plato sought to bring to pass, and brought Dion to study philosophy, and kept him in the Academy at Athens. [A man named] Speusippus kept him company, and was continually with him, more than any other friend he had in Athens, through Plato's counsel: who to soften and recreate Dion's manners, gave him the company of some pleasant conceited man, knowing that this Speusippus could modestly observe time and place to be pleasant and merry. [Plutarch tells how Dion also went to see the other cities of Greece, and grew to be generally beloved and esteemed of all men there; he was even made an honorary Spartan.]

But Dionysius being incensed with envy against him, and fearing the goodwill the Grecians bore him: he kept back his revenue, and would no more send it him, and ceased all his goods, the which he gave to his receivers to keep. Furthermore, because he would clear himself of the infamy he had got amongst the philosophers for .Plato's sake, he sent for divers wise and learned men, and vainly coveting to excel them all in wisdom, he was driven improperly, and out of time, to allege many wise sayings he had learned of Plato. Thereupon he began again to wish for him, and to condemn himself, for that he had no wit to use him well when he had him at his commandment, and that he had not heard so much as he should have done of him: and like a tyrant as he was, madly carried away with light desires, and easily changing mind from time to time, a sudden vehement desire took him in the head, to have Plato again. So he sought all the means and ways he could devise, to pray Archytas the Pythagorean philosopher to tell him, that he might boldly come, and to be his surety unto him for that he would promise him: for first of all, they were acquainted together by his means. Therefore Archytas sent thither Arthidamus the philosopher. Dionysius also sent certain galleys, and some of his friends thither, to pray Plato to come to him: and he himself wrote specially, and plainly, that it should not go well with Dion, if Plato came not into Sicilia: but if he would be persuaded to come, that then he would do what he would have him.


After narrating this passage, discuss one or more of the following questions:

Discuss what makes up a healthy friendship, and compare it to the Dionysius-Plato relationship. Why did Dionysius send Plato away? Why did he want him back again? Why did he find himself constantly quoting Plato to the other "wise and learned men" that he brought in to take Plato's place? (Was he just trying to show off?)

How did Dionysius try to excuse his actions in sending Dion into exile, and to assuage his feelings of guilt?

What has happened to Dion in Athens? Do you think his manners really changed so much in Greece, or is it possible that the culture there was more accepting of his serious nature? What do you think it could mean in the future for him that he has won the goodwill of the Greeks?



Dionysius is a man of many insincere faces. Plato finally accepts his invitation to return to Syracuse (Dionysius threatens Dion into helping to persuade him). But it doesn't seem clear exactly what Dionysius does want with Plato. He welcomes him as a friend, offers to pay him well and even exempts him from the routine searches and palace metal detectors. But when Plato asks too many questions about Dion's absence, Dionysius (like his father) becomes vengeful and endangers Plato's life by forcing him to move in with his soldiers (who find Plato a threat). In the meantime, he has sold off Dion's goods and pocketed the money. One of Plato's friends arrives to take him back to Athens, and suddenly Dionysius is again a charming host: "Do you really have to be leaving so soon?"

Then Dionysius does something so throughly rotten that even Dion agrees it is time to prepare for a war.


affiance - a pledging of faith
to move him again of Dion - to try to persuade him again to bring Dion back
covertly - secretly
dissembled - concealed one's true feelings
prognosticate - foretell
silver talent - a certain amount of money
made port sale - sold off
Plato....lay the next court to his palace - Plato had rooms near the king's palace
upon his word and caution - (Plato came) at the king's invitation and under his protection
this one thing only so darkly - this one matter said in such a way that only Dionysius could understand it
levy men by other mens' means - hire soldiers, raise an army using other mens' money


Now Plato being arrived in Sicilia, he made Dionysius a great joyful man, and filled all Sicilia again with great good hope: for they were all very desirous, and did what they could, to make Plato overcome Philistus and the tyranny, with his philosophy. The women of Dionysius' court did entertain Plato the best they could: but above all, Dionysius seemed to have a marvellous trust and affiance in him, and more than in any other of all his friends. For he suffered Plato to come to him without searching of him, and oftentimes offered to give him a great sum of money: but Plato would take none of it. Therefore Aristippus Cyrenian being at that time in the tyrant's court in Sicilia, said that Dionysius bestowed his liberality surely. 'For, to us that ask much he giveth little, and much unto Plato that requireth nothing.' After Dionysius had given Plato his welcome, he [Plato] began to move him again of Dion. Dionysius on the other side, at the first did use him with fine delays, but afterwards he showed himself angry indeed: and at length fell out with Plato, but yet so covertly, that others saw it not. For Dionysius dissembled that, and otherwise in all other things he did him as much honour as he could devise, practising thereby to make him to forsake Dion's friendship.

Now Plato found him at the first, that there was no trust to be given to his words, and that all were but lies and devises he either said or did: howbeit he kept it to himself, and ever patiently bore all things, hoping for the best, and made as though he believed him. They too thus finely dissembling with each other, thinking to deceive all men, and that none should understand their secrets: Helycon Cyzicenian, one of Plato's friends, did prognosticate the eclipse of the sun. The same falling out as he had prognosticated, the tyrant esteemed marvellously of him, and gave him a silver talent for his labour. Then Aristippus sporting with other philosophers, said he could tell them of a stranger thing to happen than that. So when they prayed him to tell them what it was: 'I do prognosticate,' said he, 'that Plato and Dionysius will be enemies ere it be long.' In the end it came to pass, that Dionysius made port sale of all Dion's goods, and kept the money to himself, and lodged Plato that before lay the next court to his palace, among the soldiers of his guard, whom he knew maliced him [Plato] of long time, and sought to kill him, because he did persuade Dionysius to leave his tyranny and to live without his guard.

Plato being in this instant danger, Archytas sent ambassadors forthwith unto Dionysius, in a galley of thirty oars, to demand Plato again: declaring that Plato came again to Syracusa, upon his word and caution. Dionysius to excuse himself, and to show that he was not angry with him at his departure nom him, he made him all the great cheer and feasts he could, and so sent him home with great shows of goodwill. One day among the rest, he said unto Plato: 'I am afraid, Plato,' said he, 'that thou wilt speak evil of me, when thou art among thy friends and companions in the Academy.' Then Plato smiling, answered him again: 'The gods forbid that they should have such scarcity of matter in the Academy, as that they must needs talk of thee.' Thus was Plato's return, as it is reported, although that which he himself writeth agreeth not much with this report.

These things went to Dion's heart, so that shortly after he showed himself an open enemy unto Dionysius, but specially when he heard how he had handled his wife. Plato under covert words, sent Dionysius word of it by his letters. And thus it was. After Dion was exiled, Dionysius returning Plato back again, he willed him secretly to feel Dion's mind, whether he would not be angry that his wife should be married to another man: because there ran a rumour abroad (whether it were true, or invented by Dion's enemies) that he [Dion] liked not his marriage, and could not live quietly with his wife. Therefore when Plato was at Athens, and had told Dion of all things, he wrote a letter unto Dionysius the tyrant, and did set all other things down so plainly, that every man might understand him; but this one thing only so darkly, that he alone and none other could understand him, but him to whom he had written: declaring unto him, that he had spoken with Dion about the matter he wrote of, and that he did let him understand he would be marvellous angry, if Dionysius did it. So at that time, because there was great hope of reconciliation between them, the tyrant did nothing lately touching his sister [Dion's wife], but suffered her still to remain [living] with Dion's son. But when they were so far out, that there was no more hope to return in favour again, and that he had also sent home Plato in disgrace and displeasure, then he married his sister Arete (Dion's wife) against her will, unto one of his friends called Timocrates.

Dion from thenceforth disposed himself altogether unto war, against Plato's counsel and advice: who did his best endeavour to dissuade him from it, both for the respect of Dionysius' good entertainment he had given him, as also for that Dion was of great years. Howbeit on the other side, Speusippus, and his other friends did provoke him unto it, and did persuade him to deliver Sicilia from the slavery and bondage of the tyrant, the which held up her hands unto him, and would receive him with great love and goodwill. For whilst Plato lay at Syracusa, Speusippus keeping the citizens company more than Plato did, he knew their minds better than he. For at the first they were afraid to open themselves unto him [Speusippus], and frankly to speak what they thought, mistrusting he was a spy unto the tyrant, sent amongst them to feel their minds: but within a short time they began to trust him, and were all of one mind, for they prayed and persuaded Dion to come, and not to care otherwise for bringing of ships, soldiers nor horses with him, but only to hire a ship, and to lend the Sicilians his body and name against Dionysius. Speusippus reporting these news unto Dion, did put him in good heart again: whereupon he began secretly to levy men by other men's means, to hide his purpose and intent.


After narrating this passage, discuss these lines:

"Dionysius on the other side, at the first did use him with fine delays, but afterwards he showed himself angry indeed: and at length fell out with Plato, but yet so covertly, that others saw it not. For Dionysius dissembled that, and otherwise in all other things he did him as much honour as he could devise, practising thereby to make him to forsake Dion's friendship."

"Using him" is perhaps a significant phrase here. Explain how Dionysius uses people to get what he wants (although he may change his mind several times about what he wants). Does it seem that he is actually getting away with this? How does this attitude toward people (objects to be manipulated) contrast with a Christian viewpoint?



Dion prepares for war against Dionysius by hiring as many mercenary soldiers as he can; the plan is to take them to Syracuse and use them to raise up a Syracusan army. The soldiers are not overly enthusiastic about this mission at first; they believe that this is just a private grudge match between Dion and the king. But when Dion promises them that they will be captains over the Syracusans, and they realize that he has the support of wealthy and powerful friends, they seem to catch the spirit of the thing; especially with the help of some "good omens" like an eclipse. They head off for Sicily and, after a little trouble with the wind, manage to land in a city held by the Carthaginians and governed by a friend of Dion's.


mercenary - fighting for a cause merely for pay or other remuneration
Zacynthe - (in Greek, Zakynthos) a Greek island, off the west coast of Greece, now called Zante
corselet - defensive armor for the torso
poop - a superstructure at the stern of a vessel
partisan - a long axelike weapon, something like a halberd; picture here:

luff - sailing term: to set the helm of a vessel in such a way as to bring the head of the vessel into the wind


The place where they appointed to meet, was the Isle of Zacynthe, where they levied all their soldiers, that were not above eight hundred in all, but all of them brave soldiers, and valiant men, and excellently well trained in wars: and to conclude, such lusty men, as would encourage all the army Dion hoped of at his arrival in Sicily, to fight like valiant men with them.

These hired soldiers, the first time that they understood it was to go into Sicilia, to make war with Dionysius, they were amazed at the first, and misliked the journey, because it was undertaken rather of malice and spite that Dion had to be revenged, than otherwise of any good cause or quarrel, who having no better hope, took upon him desperate and impossible enterprises. Therefore the soldiers were offended with their captains that had pressed them, because they had not told them of this war before. But after that Dion by a notable oration had told them, how tyrannies have evil foundations, and are subject unto ruin, and that he led them not into Sicilia so much for soldiers, as he did to make them captains of the Syracusans, and the other Sicilians, who of long time desired nothing more than occasion to rise. And when after him also Alcimenes (a companion with him in this war, and the chiefest man of all the Achaians, both for nobility and estimation) did speak unto them in like manner, then they were all contented to go whither they would lead them. It was then in the heart of summer, and the wind blew called the Grecian wind, the moon being at the full, and Dion having prepared to make a sumptuous sacrifice unto the god Apollo, he led all his men armed with white corselets in procession into the temple: and after the sacrifice done, he made them a feast in the park or show place of the Zacynthians. There the tables were laid, and the soldiers wondered to see the great state and magnificence of the great number of pots of gold and silver, and such other furniture and preparation as passed a private man's wealth, then they thought with themselves, that a man being so old, and lord of so great a good, would not attempt things of such danger, without good ground, and great assurance of his friends' aid and help.

But after his oblations of wine, and common prayers made to the gods at feasts, suddenly the moon eclipsed. Dion thought it not strange to see an eclipse, considering the revolutions of the eclipses, and knowing very well it is a shadow that falleth upon the body of the moon, because of the direct interposition of the earth betwixt her and the sun. But because the soldiers that were afraid and astonished withal, stood in need of some comfort and encouragement, Miltas the soothsayer standing up in the midst amongst them, said unto them: 'My fellow soldiers, be of good cheer, and assure yourselves that we shall prosper: for God doth foreshow us by this sight we see, that some one of the chiefest things now in highest place and dignity shall be eclipsed. And at this present time what thing carrieth greater glory and fame, than the tyranny of Dionysius? Therefore you must think, that so soon as you arrive in Sicilia, yourselves shall put out his light and glory.' This interpretation of the eclipse of the moon, did Miltas the soothsayer make, before all the whole company.

But touching the swarm of bees that lighted on the poop of Dion's ship, he told him and his friends privately, that he was afraid his acts which should fall out famous and glorious, should last but a while, and flourishing a few days, would straight consume away. It is reported also, that Dionysius in like manner had many strange signs and wonderful tokens from above. Among others, there came an eagle that snatched the partisan out of the soldiers' hands, and carried it quite away with her, and then let it fall into the sea. The sea also beating against the walls of the castle, was as sweet to drink a whole day together, as any conduit or running water: as those that tasted of it, found it true. Furthermore, a sow farrowed pigs that lacked no parts of the body, but only their ears. This the soothsayers said did signify rebellion, and disobedience of his subjects: and that the citizens would no more hear him, nor obey his tyranny. Furthermore, they told also, that the sweetness of the salt water prognosticated to the Syracusans, change of cruel and evil time unto good and civil government: and that the eagle, Jupiter's minister, and the partisan, the mark and token of the kingdom and empire, did betoken that Jupiter the chief of all gods had determined to destroy and put down the tyranny. Theopompus reporteth this matter thus.

So Dion's soldiers were embarked into two great ships of burden, and another third ship that was not very great, and two pinnaces with thirty oars followed them. For their armour and weapon, beside those the soldiers had, he carried two thousand targets, a great number of bows and arrows, of darts, of pikes, and plenty of victuals: that they should lack nothing all the time they were upon the sea, considering that their journey stood altogether at the courtesy of the winds and sea, and for that they were afraid to land, understanding that Philistus rode at anchor in the coast of Apulglia, with a fleet of ships that lay in wait for their coming. So having a pleasant gale of wind, they sailed the space of twelve days together, and the thirteen day they came to the foreland of Sicilia called Pachynus. There the pilot thought it best they should land presently: for if they willingly luffed into the sea, and lost that point, they were sure they should lose also many nights and days in vain in the midst of the sea, being then summer time; and the wind at the south. But Dion being afraid to land so near his enemies, he was desirous to go further, and-so passed by the foreland of Pachynus. Then the north wind rose so big and great, that with great violence it drove back their ships from the coast of Sicilia. Furthermore, lightning and thunder mingled withal (because it was at that time when the star Arcturus beginneth to show) it made so terrible a tempest, and poured down such a sore shower of rain upon them, that all the mariners were amazed withal, and knew not whither the wind would drive them: till that suddenly they saw the storm had cast them upon the Isle of Cercina (which is on the coast of Libya), and specially where it is most dangerous to arrive for the rocks, for their ships were like to have run upon them, and to have made shipwreck. But with much ado they bore off the ships with the great long poles, and wandered up and down the sea, not knowing whither they went, until the storm ceased. Then they met a ship, whereby they knew that they were in the flat, which the mariners call the heads of the great Syrte. Thus they wandering up and down, being marvellous angry that the sea was calm, there rose a little South wind from the land, although they least looked for any such wind at that time, and little thinking it would so have changed: but seeing the wind rise bigger and bigger, they packed on all the sails they had, and making their prayers unto the gods they crossed the sea, and sailed from the coast of Libya directly unto Sicily, and had the wind so lucky, that at the fifth day they were near unto a little village of Sicilia, called Minoa, the which was subject to the Carthaginians.

Synalus Carthaginian, being at that time captain and governor of the town of Minoa, and Dion's friend, was there by chance at that present, who being ignorant of his enterprise and coming, did what he could to keep Dion's soldiers from landing. But they notwithstanding suddenly leapt a-land armed, but slew no man. For Dion had commanded them the contrary, for the friendship he bore the captain: and they following the townsmen hard that fled before them, entered the town, hand over head amongst them, and so won the market-place. When both the captains met, and that they had spoken together, Dion redelivered the town into Synalus' hands again, without any hurt or violence offered him. Synalus on the other side did endeavour himself all he could to make much of the soldiers, and help Dion to provide him of all things necessary.

Narration and Discussion:

Why were the mercenary soldiers at first reluctant to take part in Dion's "adventure"? (Think about what their reasons were for fighting.) How did Dion convince them that they would have a good chance of success?

Write a dialogue between Synalus and Dion as if you were writing a scene in a play.

LESSON 7: On a Roll


Dion and his army, having landed on Sicily (Sicilia) and feeling a little tired and "seabeaten," discover a fact that instantly re-energizes them: Dionysius is out of the country. Rumours of their march towards Syracuse reach Timocrates, who has been left in charge, but his panic-stricken letter to Dionysius ends up being eaten by mistake. The coincidences and good omens continue to pile up until Timocrates flees in fear and Dion marches in to liberate the city.


four score sail - eighty ships
superfluous - extra
lacked no goodwill to rebel - it wasn't that they weren't wanting to rebel against Dionysius, but they weren't sure if this was really their opportunity
portmanteau - bag (literally, cloak carrier)
advertisement - warning
popular state - a state governed by or belonging to the people


But this did most of all encourage the soldiers, because Dionysius at their arrival, was not then in Sicilia: for it chanced so, that not many days before he went into Italy, with four score sail. Therefore when Dion willed them to remain there a few days to refresh themselves, because they had been so sore seabeaten a long time together, they themselves would not, they were so glad to embrace the occasion offered them, and prayed Dion to lead them forthwith to Syracusa. Dion leaving all his superfluous armour and provision in the hands of Synalus, and praying him to send them to him when time served, he took his way towards Syracusa.

So by the way, two hundred horsemen of the Agrigentines, which dwell in that part called Ecnomus, came first to join with him, and after them, the Geloians. The rumour of their coming ran straight to Syracusa. Thereupon Timocrates that had married Arete, Dion's wife and Dionysius the father's sister [an error?should be his daughter?], and unto whom Dionysius the younger had left the charge and government of all his men and friends in the city, he presently dispatched a post with letters, to advertise Dionysius of Dion's coming. He himself also in the meantime had taken such order, that there rose no tumult nor mutiny in the city, though they all of them lacked no goodwill to rebel: but because they were uncertain whether this rumour was true or false, being afraid, every man was quiet.

Now there chanced a strange misfortune unto the messenger, that carried the letters unto Dionysius. For after he had passed the strait, and that he was arrived in the city of Rheggio of Italy's side, making haste to come to the city of Caulonia, where Dionysius was, he met by the way one of his acquaintance that carried a mutton but newly sacrificed. This good fellow gave him a piece of it, and the messenger spurred away with all the speed he could possible. But when he had ridden the most part of the night, he was so weary and drowsy for lack of sleep, that he was driven to lie down. So he lay down upon the ground, in a wood hard by the highway. The savour of this flesh brought a wolf to him, that carried away the flesh and the portmanteau it was wrapped in, and in the which also were his letters of advertisement, which he carried unto Dionysius. When he awoke out of his sleep, and saw that his portmanteau was gone, he enquired for it, and went wandering up and down a long time to seek it: howbeit all in vain, for he could never find it. Therefore he thought it was not good for him to go to the tyrant without his letters, but rather to flee into some unknown place where nobody knew him. Thus overlate received Dionysius advertisement by others of this war, which Dion made in Sicilia.

In the meantime, the Camarinians came and joined with Dion's army, in the highway towards Syracusa: and still there came unto him also a great number of the Syracusans that were up in arms, which were got into the field. On the other side, certain Campanians and Leontines, which were got into the castle of Epipoles with Timocrates, of purpose to keep it, upon a false rumour Dion gave out (and which came unto them) that he would first go against their towns, they forsook Timocrates, and went to take order to defend their own goods. Dion understanding that, being lodged with his army in a place called Macrae, he presently removed his camp being dark night, and marched forward till he came unto the river of Anapus, which is not from the city above ten furlongs off: and there staying a while, he sacrificed unto the river, and made his prayer, and worshipped the rising of the sun. At the selfsame instant also, the soothsayers came and told him, that the gods did promise him assured victory. And the soldiers also seeing Dion wear a garland of flowers on his head, which he had taken for the ceremony of the sacrifice: all of them with one self goodwill, took every man one of them (being no less than five thousand men that were gathered together by the way, and but slenderly armed with such things as came first to hand, howbeit supplying with goodwill their want of better furniture and armour), and when Dion commanded them to march, for joy they ran, and encouraged one another with great cries, to show themselves valiant for recovery of their liberty.

Now for them that were within the city self of Syracusa, the noblemen and chief citizens went to receive them at the gates in their best gowns. The common people on the other side ran and set upon them that took part with the tyrant, and spoiled them that were called the prosagogides (as much to say, the common promoters of men), the detestablest villains, hateful to the gods and men. For they like sycophants and busy tale bearers, would jet up and down the city, and mingle among the citizens, having an ear in every man's matter, being full of prittle prattle, and busy-headed, to know what every man said and did, and then to go carry it to the tyrant. These men were they that had their payment first of all, for they killed them with dry blows, beating them to death with staves.

When Timocrates could not enter into the castle with them that kept it, he took his horseback, and fled out of the city, and flying made all men afraid and amazed where he came, enlarging Dion's power by his report, because it should not seem that for fear of a trifle, he had forsaken the city. In the meantime, Dion came on towards the city with his men, and was come so near, that they might see him plainly from the city, marching foremost of all, armed with a fair bright white corselet, having his brother Megacles on his right hand of him, and Callippus Athenian on the left hand, crowned with garlands of flowers: and after him also there followed a hundred soldiers that were strangers, chosen for his guard about him, and the rest came marching after in good order of battle, being led by their captains. The Syracusans saw him coming, and went out and received him as a holy and blessed procession, that brought them their liberty and popular state again, the which they had lost the space of eight and forty years.

Narration and Discussion:

After narrating this passage, discuss this paragraph:

"The common people on the other side ran and set upon them that took part with the tyrant, and spoiled them that were called the prosagogides (as much to say, the common promoters of men), the detestablest villains, hateful to the gods and men. For they like sycophants and busy tale bearers, would jet up and down the city, and mingle among the citizens, having an ear in every man's matter, being full of prittle prattle, and busy-headed, to know what every man said and did, and then to go carry it to the tyrant. These men were they that had their payment first of all, for they killed them with dry blows, beating them to death with staves."

If you're still not sure what the prosagogides were, this phrase tells it all: "having an ear in every man's matter....[wanting] to know what every man said and did, and then to go carry it to the tyrant." Some of you may have read Joan Aiken's novel The Wolves of Willoughby Chase; if you have, you will remember the part about Bonnie and Sylvia being sent to a boarding school that turns out to be run more like a workhouse or a prison. The girls find out that it's impossible to even have a private conversation in this school, because the hungry students are rewarded with extra food for spying on and informing on each other. The situation in Syracuse was very much like this.

Why does Plutarch say that these people were hateful to the gods and men? Why did they receive the first and most violent retaliation for their actions? Should such people have been forgiven? Can you think of any other situations like this? (For example, I remember Corrie ten Boom telling about her struggle to forgive the man who informed on her family during World War II for hiding Jews. His actions caused their imprisonment and the deaths of her father and sister. At last she asked God to put His own forgiveness into her heart, since she admitted that she could not love or forgive this man in her own strength.)

LESSON 8: Never Stand on a Sundial


This section and the ones that follow it are something like a game of chess between two powerful players. Dion has made his opening move; Dionysius (who has returned to Syracusa) considers it and makes a countermove; Dion musters his army and forces a retreat; and Dionysius, devious as always, tries a different tacticraising a bit of sympathy for himself and very gently throwing in a few suggestions that may create suspicion against Dion. (If you've read Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, you might say that Dionysius plays his own Marc Antony here)


environed - surrounded
composition - agreement or compromise
they should pay no more subsidies and taxes - not that they should not pay their taxes, but that there would be no more taxes required
before he had dispossessed himself of his tyranny - until he had given up his throne
his mean - his agent or spokesman
he remembered him - he reminded him


When Dion was come into the city by the gate called Menitide, he caused his trumpeter sound to appease the rumour and tumult of the people. Then he commanded a herald to proclaim aloud, that Dion and Megacles, who were come to put down the tyranny, did set all the Syracusans at liberty, and all the other Sicilians also, from the bondage and subjection of the tyrant: and because Dion himself was desirous to speak unto the people, he went to the upper part of the town called Acradina. The Syracusans all the streets thorough as he passed by, had on either hand of him prepared sacrifices, and set up tables, and cups upon them: and as he passed by their houses, they cast flowers and fruits on him, and made prayers unto him, as if he had been a god.

Now under the castle there was a place called Pentapyla, a clock to know by the sun how the day went, the which Dionysius had caused to be made, and it was of a good pretty height. Dion got up upon it, and from thence made his oration to the people that were gathered round about him, exhorting and persuading his countrymen to do their endeavour to recover their liberty again, and to maintain it. They being in a marvellous joy withal, and desirous to please Dion, did choose him and his brother Megacles their lieutenants general, with absolute power and authority. Afterwards also, by the consent of Dion himself and his brother, and at their requests in like manner, they chose twenty other captains, of the which the most part of them had been banished by the tyrant, and were returned again with Dion. The soothsayers and prognosticators liked it well, and said it was a good sign for Dion, that he trod that sumptuous building and workmanship of the tyrant under his feet, when he made his oration: but because the hand of the dial did show the course of the sun, which never leaveth going, upon the which he got up when he was chosen lieutenant general with absolute power and authority, they were afraid again, that it was a sign Dion's affairs should have a sudden change of fortune.

After this, Dion having taken the castle of Epipoles, he set all the citizens at liberty which were kept there as prisoners in captivity by the tyrant, and environed the castle round about with a wall. Within seven days after, Dionysius returned by sea to the castle of Syracusa, and therewithal also came the carts laden with armour and weapon to Syracusa, the which Dion had left with Synalus: the which Dion caused to be distributed among the citizens of Syracusa that had none. Others did furnish themselves as well as they could, and showed that they had courage and goodwill to fight for the maintenance and defence of their liberty.

In the meantime, Dionysius sent ambassadors, first unto Dion privately, to see if he would yield to any composition. But Dion would not hear them, but bade them tell the Syracusans openly what they had to say, being men that were free, and enjoyed liberty. Then the ambassadors spoke in the behalf of the tyrant, unto the people of Syracusa, promising them with mild and gentle words, that they should pay no more subsidies and taxes, but very little, and should be no more troubled with wars, other than such as they themselves should like of. The Syracusans made a mockery at those offers, and Dion also answered the ambassadors, and willed Dionysius to send no more to the Syracusans, before he had dispossessed himself of his tyranny: and so that he would leave it, he would be his mean to obtain all things just and reasonable of the people. Dionysius liked very well of this good offer, and therefore sent his ambassadors again to pray the Syracusans that they would appoint some amongst them to come to the castle, to talk with him for the benefit and commodity of the commonwealth, that he might hear what they would allege, and they also what answer he would make. Dion chose certain whom he sent unto him.

Now there ran a rumour in the city among the Syracusans, which came from the castle: that Dionysius. would willingly of himself, rather than by reason of Dion's coming, depose himself of the tyranny. But this was but a false alarm, and crafty fetch of Dionysius, to entrap the Syracusans by. For those that were sent him from the city, he kept them prisoners every man of them: and one morning having made his soldiers drink wine lustily, which he kept in pay to guard his person, he sent them with great fury to assault the wall the Syracusans had built against the castle.

Now, because the Syracusans looked for nothing less than for the sudden assault, and for that these barbarous people [from the castle] with a wonderful courage and great tumult overthrew the wall, and others of them also did set upon the Syracusans, there was not a man of them that durst make head to fight with them, saving the soldiers that were strangers, whom Dion had brought with him. Who, when they heard the noise, ran straight to repulse them, and yet they themselves could not well tell what they should do upon that sudden. For they could hear nothing, for the great noise and hurly burly of the Syracusans which fled with great disorder, and came and mingled themselves amongst them. Till at length, Dion perceiving he could not be heard, to show them by deed what they should do, he went first himself against these barbarous people, and about him there was a cruel and bloody fight. For his enemies knew him as well as his own men, and they all ran upon him with great cries. Now for Dion himself, indeed because of his age, he was heavier than was requisite for one that should away with the pains of such battles: but he had such a valiant courage in him, that he went thorough withal lustily, and slew them that did assail him. Yet he had his hand also thrust thorough with a pike, and very hardly did his cuirasses hold out the blows of the darts and thrusts by hand which he received on them, they were so mangled and hacked with such a number of darts and pikes passed thorough his shield and broken on him, that in the end he was beaten down:. howbeit his soldiers rescued him straight.

Then he made Timonides their captain, and he himself took his horseback, and went up and down the city, staying and quieting the flying of the Syracusans. Then he sent for his soldiers the strangers, which he had put in garrison in that part of the city called the Acradine to keep it, and brought them being fresh, against the barbarous people of the castle that were wearied, and almost all of them discouraged to attempt any further enterprise. For they [the men of the castle] had made this sally out in hope to have taken all the city at the first onset, only running up and down: but when contrary to their expectation, they met these valiant soldiers and fresh supply, they then began to retire again unto the castle. And the Grecian soldiers on the other side, perceiving they gave back, they came the faster upon them, so that they were compelled to turn their backs, and were driven within their walls, after they had slain three score and fourteen of Dion's men, and lost a great number of their own. This was a noble victory, and therefore the Syracusans gave the soldiers that were strangers, an hundred silver minas, in reward for their good service: and they gave Dion their general, a crown of gold.

After this, there came letters to Dion by a trumpet from the castle, written from the women of his house: and among the packet of letters, there was one of them directed 'To my father': the which Hipparinus wrote unto him. For that was Dion's son's name, though Timaeus writeth he was called Areteus, after his mother's name Areta. But in such matters, methinks Timonides is better to be credited, because he was his friend and companion in arms. All the other letters that were sent, were openly read before the assembly of the Syracusans, and did only concern requests of these women unto Dion. The Syracusans would not have the supposed letter of his son to be openly read: but Dion against their minds opened it, and found that it was Dionysius' letter, who by words made the direction of it unto Dion, but in effect he spoke unto the Syracusans. For in sight, it seemed a manner of request and justification of himself: but in truth, it was written of purpose to accuse Dion. First of all he remembered him of the things he [Dion] had done before, for the establishing and preservation of the tyranny: and afterwards [he made] cruel threats against those whom he [Dion] should love best, as his wife, his son and sister: and last of all, full of most humble requests and entreaties with sorrow and lamentation. But .that which most moved Dion of all other was, that he required him not to destroy the tyranny, but rather to take it for himself, and not to set them at liberty that hated him [Dionysius], and would always remember the mischief he had done unto them: and that he [Dion] would himself take upon him to be lord, saving by that means the lives of his parents and friends.

Discussion and Narration:

Instead of narrating this section, write a title for each of the paragraphs. If a parent and student or two students are reading this lesson together, you might each write a set of titles and then compare them.

Why did the soothsayers feel it was both a good and a bad sign that Dion made his speech from the sundial? What do you think about this?

How did Dion show great leadership in the battle described here? What personal difficulties did he have to ignore?

Why did Dionysius make his letter to Dion appear to be written by Dion's son? Who was it really meant for? Why didn't he write directly to the people? Do you think it will serve its purpose?

LESSON 9: "We have seen the enemy, and he is us"


As the curtain opens on the next "act," Dionysius is still under siege in his castle. Dion is now the general, with a golden crown and absolute power and authority. But the people are grumbling about Dion and suspicious of the letter that was read to them; they seem to have forgotten who led the liberation of Syracuse. They call him "inflexible" rather than "constant," and begin to make noises about looking for new leadership. Into this scene sails...Heraclides.


(Note: there isn't a lot of difficult vocabulary in this section; any problems in understanding will probably come from Plutarch's long sentences and from the fact that this passage contains several mini-stories. You might want to stop occasionally to make sure everyone's on track.)

continue long in a mind - stick to one thing for any length of time
to sue to the people - to appeal to the people; to try to win their favour
they must move the Syracusans in it - they should ask the Syracusans what they wanted
preferred the law agraria - presented laws relating to the division of land
sedition - treason


This Heraclides was one of them that had been banished, a good soldier and captain, and well esteemed of for the charge and office he bore under the tyrants: howbeit a very inconstant man in everything, and would not continue long in a mind, and least constant in wars, where he had great charge of honour in hand. He had fallen out with Dion in Peloponnesus, wherefore he determined to come with a power by himself, and with his own fleet against the tyrant. So he arrived at length at Syracusa, with seven galleys, and three other ships, where he found Dionysius again shut up into his castle with a wall, and the Syracusans also to have the better hand of him. Then he began to curry favour with the common people all the ways he could possibly devise, having by nature a certain pleasing manner to win the common people, which seek nothing else but to be flattered. Furthermore, he found it the easier for him to win them, because the people did already mislike Dion's severity, as a man too severe and cruel to govern a commonwealth. For they had now their will so much, and were grown so strong-headed, because they saw themselves the stronger, that they would be flattered (as commonly the people be in free cities, where they only be lords, and do rule) before they were fully set at liberty.

Therefore first of all, not being called together by the authority of the governors, they all ran in a fury, of their own light heads, unto the place of common assemblies, and there chose Heraclides admiral. Then Dion understanding this, came to complain of the injury they had done him, declaring unto them, that to give this power now unto Heraclides, was to take that away which they had first given unto him: because he should no more be general, if they chose any other admiral by sea than himself. The Syracusans then, as it were against their wills, did revoke the power they had given unto Heraclides: but afterwards Dion sent for Heraclides, to pray him to come home to him. When he came, he rebuked him a little, and told him that it was not honestly nor profitably done of him, to sue to the people, and to contend for honour against him in so dangerous a time, when the least occasion in the world was enough to have marred all. Afterwards Dion himself called an assembly again of the city, and established Heraclides admiral: and persuaded the citizens to give him soldiers, as he had indeed. Heraclides outwardly seemed to honour Dion, and confessed openly that he was greatly bound unto him, and was always at his heels very lowly, being ready at his commandment: but in the meantime, secretly he enticed the common people to rebel, and to stir up those whom he knew meet men to like of change. Whereby he procured Dion such trouble, and brought him into such perplexity, that he knew not well what way to take. For if he [Dion] gave them advice to let Dionysius quietly come out of the castle, then they accused him; and said he did it to save his life. If on the other side, because he would not trouble them, he continued siege still, and did establish nothing, then they thought he did it of purpose to draw out the wars in length, because he might the longer time remain their chieftain general, and so to keep the citizens longer in fear.

[Plutarch tells here about a hoax played by one Sosis in Syracusa, a man noted among the Syracusans for his villainy and wickedness. After publically criticizing Dion, he appeared in the street with a bloodied head and blamed Dion's thugs for his injuries; but it turned out to be a self-inflicted wound.] Thus Sosis' devise had but evil success. For beside all these proofs and tokens, Dion's household servants came to be a witness against him that very early in the morning he. went abroad alone with a razor in his hand. Then they that before did burden and accuse Dion, knew not what to say to the matter, but shrunk away: whereupon the people condemning Sosis to death, they were quiet again with Dion. Yet were they always afraid of these soldiers that were strangers, specially when they saw the greatest conflicts they had with the tyrant, was by sea, after that Philistus [the historiographer who had opposed Plato] was come from the coast of Apuglia with a great number of galleys to aid the tyrant. For then they thought, that these soldiers the strangers being armed at all parts to fight by land, they would do them no more service by sea, because the citizens themselves were they that kept them in safety, for that they were men practised to fight by sea, and were also the stronger by means of their ships. But beside all this, the only thing that made them to be courageous again, was the good fortune they had at the battle by sea, in the which when they had overcome Philistus, they cruelly and barbarously [abused his body].

After Philistus' death, Dionysius sent unto Dion, to make him an offer to deliver him the castle, armour, munition, and soldiers that were in it, with money also to pay them for five months' space. For himself, he prayed that he might be suffered to go safely into Italy, and to lie there, to take the pleasure of the fruits of the country called Gyarta, which was within the territory of Syracusa, and lieth out from the sea towards the mainland. Dion refused this offer, and answered the ambassadors that they must move the Syracusans in it. They supposing they should easily take Dionysius alive, would not hear the ambassadors speak, but turned them away. Dionysius seeing no other remedy, left the castle in the hands of his eldest son Apollocrates, and having a lusty gale of wind, he secretly embarked certain of his men he loved best, with the richest things he had, and so hoist sail, unawares to Heraclides, the admiral of Syracusa.

The people were marvellously offended with Heraclides for it [for letting Dionysius slip away], and began to mutiny against him. But Heraclides, to pacify this tumult of the people suborned one Hippon an orator, who preferred the law agraria unto the people, for the division of all the island amongst them: and that the beginning of liberty was equality, and of bondage poverty, unto them that had. no lands. Heraclides giving his consent to this decree, and stirring the common people to sedition against Dion, that withstood it, persuaded the Syracusans not only to confirm he law Hippon had propounded, but also to discharge the hired strangers, to choose other captains and governors, and to rid themselves of Dion's severe government. But they supposing straight to have been rid from the tyranny, as from a long and grievous sickness, overrashly taking upon them like people that of long time had been at liberty, they utterly undid themselves, and overthrew Dion's purpose: who like a good physician was careful to see the city well ordered and governed.

So they chose five and twenty captains, of the which Heraclides was one: and secretly they sent to feel the hired soldiers, to see if they could entice them from Dion, to cause them to take their part, and made them large promises to make them free men, as themselves, of Syracusa. The soldiers would not be enticed from him, but faithfully and lovingly took Dion amongst them with their armour and weapon, and putting him in the midst of them, led him in this manner out of the city, and did no man hurt, but reproving their unthankfulness and villainy unto all those they met by the way. Then the Syracusans despising them for their small number: and because they did not first set upon them, but trusting on the other side to themselves for that they were the greater number, they came to assail them, supposing they should easily overcome them in the city, and kill every man of them.

Narration and Discussion:

Write a character sketch of Heraclides.

Discuss this quote: "When he came, he rebuked him a little, and told him that it was not honestly nor profitably done of him, to sue to the people, and to contend for honour against him in so dangerous a time, when the least occasion in the world was enough to have marred all." Do you believe that Dion is truly concerned most about Syracuse right now, or is he only trying to keep all the power for himself (and away from Heraclides)?

Plutarch never gives much credit to the "common people." In this passage he says that they only want to be flattered; that they don't know what to do with power when they get it; that they are easily led by emotion rather than wisdom (which is apparent, in Plutarch's viewpoint, by the fact that they don't properly appreciate Dion's leadership). Do you agree with his judgment? How has history shown this to be the case (or not)? (Are there any examples from the history of your own country?)

It may interest older students to know that Charlotte Mason, who lived in a very class-conscious society, also had some thoughts on this. She believed that "the infinite educability of persons of all classes [has been] disclosed to us as a nation at a time when an emotional and ignorant labouring class is a peculiar alert and informed mind leads to decency and propriety of living [and not] to the restless desire to subvert society for the sake of the chances offered by a general upheaval." (Philosophy of Education, pp. 179-180)


Introduction and background to this reading:

Did you catch that last paragraph in the last reading? Dion's enemies among the Syracusans tried to persuade his Peloponnesian soldiers to desert him, but they refused, and marched out of town with Dion protected in the midst of them. And the Syracusans followed them, planning to attack.

At first there was no battle; Dion tried to "pacify their fury and tumult", but was unsuccessful. He forbade his men to attack first, but they did rattle their weapons and yell in a way that scared the Syracusans back into their city...temporarily. Feeling ashamed of their cowardice, they marched out again and overtook Dion's army. Dion was much less patient with them this time and told his men to let them have it. It didn't take much of a fight to send them scurrying for home again.

Dion marched his mercenaries to the city of the Leontines, and had the Leontines sit in judgment over the Syracusan situation (kind of a Greek United Nations Council). Plutarch says, "it was judged that the Syracusans were to blame. Howbeit they would not stand to the judgment of their confederates, for they were now grown proud and careless, because they were governed by no man, but had captains that studied to please them, and were afraid also to displease them."

And with that...we arrive at the opening scene of Lesson 10. Another warrior sails into Syracuse, this one a supporter of Dionysius named Nypsius Neapolitan. He sees his opportunity to strike a major blow for the king's side; and his actions soon lead to complete disaster for the city.


bib and drink drunk - what it sounds like
hautboys - oboes
found their fault - realized their mistake
hardly gave present remedy - didn't do much about it anyway
garboyle - turmoil
no man moved it notwithstanding - nobody wanted to be the first to admit they should do it
requite - reward
whisht - hushed
Dion marched very softly at his ease - Some were pleading with Dion to hurry to Syracuse, others were pleading with him not to come at all; so he compromised and marched slowly. :-)
furlong about an eighth of a mile; three score furlong - sixty furlongs
straitness - narrowness


After that, there arrived certain galleys of Dionysius at Syracusa, of the which Nypsius Neapolitan was captain: which brought victuals. and money, to help them that were besieged within the castle. These galleys were fought with, and the Syracusans obtained victory, and took four of the tyrant's galleys with three banks of oars apiece: howbeit they fondly abused their victory. For they having nobody to command nor rule them, employed all their joy in rioting and banqueting, and in fond and dissolute meetings, taking so little care and regard to their business, that now when they thought the castle was sure their own, they almost lost their city. For Nypsius perceiving that every part of the city was out of order, and that the common people did nothing all day long unto dark night, but bib and drink drunk, dancing after their pipes and hautboys.... he [Nypsius] wisely took the occasion offered him, and scaled the wall which had shut up the castle, and won it, and overthrew it. Then he sent the barbarous soldiers [supporters of Dionysius] into the city, and commanded them to do with them they met, what they would or could. The Syracusans then too late found their fault, and hardly gave present remedy, they were so amazed and suddenly set on: for indeed they made a right sack of the city. Here men were killed, there they overthrew the wall, in another place they carried away women and little children prisoners into the castle, weeping and crying out: and lastly, they made the captains at their wits' end, who could give no present order, nor have their men to serve them against their enemies, that came hand over head on every side amongst them.

The city being thus miserably in garboyle, and the Acradine also in great hazard of taking, in the which they put all their hope and confidence to rise again, every man thought then with himself that Dion must be sent for, but yet no man moved it notwithstanding, being ashamed of their unthankfulness and overgreat folly they had committed, in driving him away. Yet necessity enforcing them unto it, there were certain of the horsemen and of their confederates that cried, they must send for Dion, and the Peloponnesians his soldiers, which were with him in the territory of the Leontines. [Plutarch says that many agreed with this and that representatives were sent to Dion.]

They told openly before the whole assembly [Dion, his soldiers, and the Leontines], the greatness of their misery, and requested the hired soldiers to come and aid the Syracusans, forgetting the injury they had received: considering that they had more dearly paid for their folly, than they themselves whom they had so injured, would have made them to have suffered.

When they had said their minds, there was a great silence through all the theatre: and then Dion rose up, and began to speak. But the great tears that fell from his eyes would not suffer him to speak: wherefore the hired soldiers being sorry to see him weep, prayed him not to trouble himself, but to be of good courage. Then Dion letting go the sorrow and grief he had conceived, he began to speak unto them in this manner: "My lords of Peloponnesus, and you also the confederates, I have called you together to consult with you, what you should do. For myself, it were no honesty for me to consult what I should do now, when the city of Syracusa standeth in peril of destruction: and therefore if I cannot save it from destruction, yet at the least I will bury myself in the fire and ruin of my country. But for you, if it please you once more to help us, unadvised and more unfortunate people, you shall by your means set the poor distressed city of Syracusa again afoot, which is your deed. Or if it be so, that remembering the injuries the Syracusans have offered you, you will suffer it to be destroyed: yet I beseech the gods that at the least they will requite your valiantness, fidelity, and good love you have borne me until this present, beseeching you to remember Dion, who neither forsook you at any time when you have been injured, nor his countrymen, when they were in trouble." So, going on still with his tale, the mercenary strangers stepped forth with great noise, and prayed him to lead them to aid Syracusa. Then the ambassadors also that were sent from the Syracusans, saluted and embraced them, and prayed the gods to bless Dion and them, with all the good hap that might be. So when all was whisht and quiet, Dion willed them forthwith to go and prepare themselves, and that they should be there ready armed after supper, determining the very same night to go to aid Syracusa.

But now at Syracusa, while daylight lasted, Dionysius' soldier and captains did all the mischief and villainy they could in the city: and when night came, they retired again, into their castle, having lost very few of their men. Then the seditious governors of the Syracusans took heart again unto them, hoping that the enemies would be contented with that they had done: and therefore began anew to persuade the citizens to let Dion alone, and not to receive him with his mercenary soldiers if they came to aid him, saying, that they themselves were honester men than the strangers, to save their city, and to defend their liberty without help of any other. So other ambassadors were sent again unto Dion, some from the captains and governors of the city, to stay them that they should not come: and others also from the horsemen, and noble citizens his friends, to hasten his journey. Whereupon by reason of this variance, Dion marched very softly at his ease.

Now by night, Dion's enemies within the city got to the gates, and kept them that Dion should not come in. Nypsius on the other side made a sally out of the castle with his mercenary soldiers, being better appointed, and a greater number of them than before: and with them he straight plucked down all the wall which they had built before the castle, and ran and sacked the city. At this sally out of the castle they did not only kill the men they met, but women and little children also, and stayed no more to spoil, but to destroy and put all to havoc. For, because Dionysius saw that he was brought to a strait and desperate case, he bore such mortal malice against the Syracusans, that if there was no remedy but that he must needs forgo his tyranny, he determined to bury it with the utter destruction and desolation of their city. And therefore, to prevent Dion's aid, and to make a quick dispatch to destroy all, they came with burning torches in their hands, and did set fire of all things they could come to: and further off, they fired their darts and arrows, and bestowed them in every place of the city. So, they that fled for the fire, were met withal, and slain in the streets by the soldiers, and others also that ran into their houses, were driven out again by force of fire. For there were a number of houses that were afire, and fell down upon them that went and came.

This misery was the chiefest cause why all the Syracusans agreed together, to set open the gates unto Dion. For when Dion heard by the way, that Dionysius' soldiers were gone again into the castle, he made no great haste to march forward: but when day was broken, there came certain horsemen from Syracusa unto Dion, who brought him news that the enemies had once again taken the city. Then also came other of his enemies unto him, and prayed him to make haste. Now their misery increasing still, and they being brought into hard state, Heraclides first sent his brother unto Dion, and then Theodotes his uncle, to pray him to come quickly, and help them. For now there was no man left to resist the enemies, because he himself was hurt, and the city also was in manner clean burnt and destroyed. When these news came to Dion, he was yet about three score furlong from the town. So he told his mercenary soldiers the danger the town was in, and having encouraged them, he led them no more fair and softly, but running towards the city, and meeting messengers one of another's neck as he went, that prayed him to make all the possible speed he could. By this means, the soldiers marching with wonderful speed and goodwill together, he entered the gates of the city at a place called Hecatompedon. First of all, he sent the lightest armed he had against the enemies, to the end that the Syracusans seeing them, they might take a good heart again to them: whilst he himself in the meantime did set all the other heavy-armed soldiers and citizens that came to join with him, in battle ray, and did cast them into divers squadrons, of greater length than breadth, and appointed them that should have the leading of them, to the end that setting upon the enemies in divers places together, they should put them in the greater fear and terror.

When he had set all things in this order, and had made his prayers unto the gods, and that they saw him marching through the city against their enemies, then there rose such a common noise and rejoicing, and great shout of the soldiers, mingled with vows, prayers, and persuasions of all the Syracusans, that they called Dion their god and saviour, and the mercenary soldiers their brethren and fellow citizens. Furthermore, there was not a Syracusan that so much regarded his own life and person, but he seemed to be more afraid of the loss of Dion only, than of all the rest. For they saw him the foremost man running through the danger of the fire, treading in blood, and upon dead bodies that lay slain in the midst of the, streets. Now indeed to charge the enemies, it was a marvellous dangerous enterprise: for they were like mad beasts, and stood beside in battle ray along the wall which they had overthrown, in a very dangerous place, and hard to win. Howbeit the danger of the fire did most of all trouble and amaze the strangers, and did stop their way. For, on which side soever they turned them, the houses round about them were all of a fire, and they were driven to march over the burnt timber of the houses, and to run in great danger of the walls of the house sides that fell on them, and to pass through the thick smoke mingled with dust, and beside, to keep their ranks with great difficulty. And when they came to assail the enemies, they could not come to fight hand to hand, but a few of them in number, because of the straitness of the place: howbeit the Syracusans with force of cries and shouts did so animate and encourage their men, that at length they drove Nypsius and his men to forsake the place. The most part of them got into the castle, being very near unto them: the other that could not get in in time, fled straggling up and down, whom the Grecian soldiers slew, chasing of them. The extremity of the time did not presently suffer the conquerors to reap the fruit of their victory, neither the joys and embracings meet for so great an exploit. For the Syracusans went every man home to his own house, to quench the fire, the which could scarcely be put out all the night.

Narration and Discussion

After narrating this passage (or part of it), discuss the following questions:

Why was it so difficult for Dion's soldiers to get through the city to the castle? How did they manage to win the victory? Why was the victory a bittersweet one?

What has Dion's role been in this situation? It has been said previously that Dion was not a young man anymore, not in top physical shape; did this seem to affect his leadership? How did others view him? Show examples from the passage. (This could also be a narration question.) (Do you think Plutarch goes too far by saying that the Syracusans called Dion their "god and saviour?")


Introduction (a summary):

This passage begins the morning after the great fire and massacre. Heraclides and Theodotes come to apologize to Dion for their part in the upheaval; their reasoning is that by forgiving them, Dion should show how much nobler he is than they are. (Is that reasonable?) Dion's friends try to persuade him against trusting the scheming Heraclides, but he takes the bait and preaches them a sermon about justice and mercy.

The friends and family of Dionysius, along with Syracusan hostages (including Dion's wife and sister), are still shut up inside the castle, and Dion continues the siege against them until at last he reaches an agreement with the son of Dionysius. The reading ends on a fairly positive note, as the supporters of Dionysius sail away and the Syracusans marvel at their success over tyranny. Dion is reunited with his wife (who had been given to another man) andshowing that he does practice what he preacheshe accepts her back unconditionally.

However, the storm clouds are gathering for a final showdown with Heraclides.


durst - dared
meeter - better, fairer
nuseled - I haven't found this in a dictionary, but I think it means "brought up" or "nursed"
(a variation of "nuzzled"?)
pale - a paling; a wall made of stakes or pickets, surrounding an enclosed area (such as a fort)
practised with Dionysius - conspired with Dionysius
composition - a deal, a compromise
thraldom - slavery


When day broke, there was none of these seditious flatterers of the people that durst tarry in the city, but condemning themselves, they fled to take their fortune. Heraclides and Theodotes came together of their own goodwills to yield themselves unto Dion, confessing that they had done him wrong, and humbly praying. him to show himself better unto them, than they had showed themselves unto him: and that it was more honourable for him, being every way unmatchable for his virtues, to show himself more noble to conquer his anger, than his unthankful enemies had done: who contending with him before in virtue, did now confess themselves to be far inferior unto him. This was the sum and effect of Heraclides' and Theodotes' submission unto Dion. But his friends did persuade him not to pardon two such wicked men, who did malice and envy his honour: and as he would do the strangers his soldiers any pleasure, that he should put Heraclides into their hands, to root out of the commonwealth of Syracusa his vile manner to flatter and curry favour with the people, the which was as dangerous and great a plague to a city, as the tyranny. Dion pacifying them, answered: 'Other generals of armies,' said he, 'do employ all their wits in martial exercise and wars': but for himself, that he had of long time studied, and learned in the school of the Academy, to overcome anger, envy, and all malice and contention. The noble proof whereof is most seen, not in using honest men and his friends moderately, but showing mercy also unto his enemies, and forgetting his anger against them that have offended him: and that for his part, he had rather overcome Heraclides, not in riches and wisdom, but in clemency and justice, for therein chiefly consisted excellency, since no man else in wars can challenge power and government, but fortune, that ruleth most. 'And though Heraclides,' said he, 'through envy hath done like a wicked man, must Dion therefore through anger blemish his virtue? Indeed by man's law it is thought meeter, to revenge an injury offered, than to do an injury: but nature showeth, that they both proceed of one self imperfection. Now, though it be a hard thing to change and alter the evil disposition of a man, after he is once nuseled in villainy, yet is not man of so wild and brutish a nature, that his wickedness may not be overcome with often pleasures, when he seeth that they are continually showed him.'

Dion answering his friends thus, he forgave Heraclides, and beginning again to shut up the castle with a wall round about, he commanded the Syracusans every man of them to cut down a stake, and to bring it thither. So, when night was come, setting his soldiers the strangers in hand withal, whilst the Syracusans slept and took their ease, by morning he had compassed the castle round about with a pale. The next day, they that saw the greatness and sudden expedition of this work, wondered much at it, as well the enemies as also the citizens: and when he had buried the dead bodies, and redeemed them that were taken prisoners (which were not much less then two thousand persons), he called a common council of the city, in the which Heraclides made a motion, that Dion should be chosen general of Syracusa, with absolute power and authority, both by sea and land. The chiefest men of the city liked very well of it, and would have had the people to have passed it. But the rabble of these mariners, and other mechanical people living by their labour, would not suffer Heraclides to be put from his admiralship, but fell to mutiny, thinking that though Heraclides did them no pleasure else, yet he would ever be a more popular man than Dion, and please the common people better. Dion granted their desire, and made Heraclides admiral again of the sea: howbeit he did anger them as much another way, when he did not only reject the earnest suit they made to have the law agraria pass for division of lands in equality amongst them, but did also cancel and revoke all that had been done before.

Wherefore Heraclides remaining at Messina, began thenceforth to enter into new practices again, and to flatter the soldiers and seafaring men he had brought thither with him, and to stir them up to rebel against Dion, saying, that he would make himself tyrant: and himself in the meantime secretly practised with Dionysius, by means of a Spartan called Pharax. The noblest men of the Syracusans mistrusted it, and thereupon there fell out great mutiny in their camp, whereby also followed great famine in Syracusa: so that Dion was at such a strait, that he could not tell what to say to it, and was reproved of all his friends for that he had again preferred to great authority against himself, so intractable a man, and so malicious and wicked a person as Heraclides was.

Now, when Pharax lay in camp with an army [still on the island of Sicily], in the marches of the Agrigentines, Dion did bring the army of the Syracusans into the field, [but] being yet determined not to fight with him till another time. But through Heraclides' and the seamen's crying out, that said he would not try this war by battle, but would draw it out in length because he would be still general, he was forced to give battle, and lost it. Howbeit the overthrow was not great, and happened rather because his men were at a jar among themselves, by reason of their faction and division, than otherwise. Dion therefore prepared to fight another battle, and gathered his men together again, encouraging them, when even at twilight word was brought him that Heraclides with all his fleet was under sail [racing back] towards Syracusa, meaning to take the city, and to shut Dion and his army out of it. Wherefore he presently took with him the chiefest men of authority in the city, and the most willingest men, and rode all night with them in such haste, that they were at the gates of Syracusa the next morning by nine of the clock, having ridden seven hundred furlong. Heraclides that had sailed with all the possible speed he could to prevent him with his ships, perceiving that he came short, he turned sail, and taking seas at all adventure, by chance he met with Gaesylus Lacedaemonian, who told him he was sent from Lacedaemon, to be general to the Sicilians in this war, as Gylippus was sent at other times before. He was glad he had met with him, to have such a remedy and defence against Dion, and boasted of it unto the friends and confederates of Syracusa, and sent a herald before unto the Syracusans, summoning them: to receive Gaesylus Lacedaemonian, who was sent to be their general. Dion made answer: that the Syracusans had governors enough, and though that their affairs did of necessity require a Lacedaemonian captain, yet that himself was he, for that he was made free in Sparta [my noteremember? Dion had been made an honorary Spartan.]. Then Gaesylus perceiving he could not obtain to be general, he went unto Syracusa, and came to Dion, and there made Heraclides and him friends again, by the great and solemn oaths he made, and because Gaesylus also swore, that he himself would be revenged of him for Dion's sake, and punish Heraclides, if ever after he did once more conspire against him.

After that, the Syracusans broke up their army by sea, because it did them then no service, and was beside chargeable keeping of it, and further did also breed sedition and trouble amongst their governors: and so went to lay straiter siege to the castle than ever they did, and built up the wall again, which the enemies had overthrown. Then Dionysius' son seeing no aid to come to him from any part, and that victuals failed them, and further, that the soldiers began to mutiny, being unable to keep them, he fell to a composition with Dion, and delivered up the castle into his hands, with all the armour and munition in it: and so took his mother and his sisters of Dion, and put them aboard upon five galleys, with the which he went unto his father, through the safe conduit of Dion. There was not a man at that time in all Syracusa, but was there to see this sight, or if by chance there were any absent, the other that were there called them thither as loud as they could cry, saying, that they did not see the goodliest day and sunshine, which the city of Syracusa might see then at her rising, the same being now restored again to her former liberty. If until this present day they do reckon the flying of Dionysius, for one of the rarest examples of fortune's change, as one of the greatest and notablest thing that ever was, what joy think we had they that drove him out, and what pleasure had they with themselves, that with the least mean that could be possible, did destroy the greatest tyranny in the world?

So when Apollocrates Dionysius' son was embarked, and that Dion was entered into the castle, the women within the castle would not tarry till he came into the house, but went to meet him at the gates, Aristomache leading Dion's son in her hand, and Areta following her weeping, being very fearful how she should call and salute her husband, having lain with another man. Dion first spoke to his sister, and afterwards to his son: and then Aristomache offering him Areta, said unto him: 'Since thy banishment, 0 Dion, we have led a miserable and captive life: but now that thou art returned home with victory, thou hast rid us out of care and thraldom, and hast also made us again bold to lift up our heads, saving her here, whom I wretched creature have by force (thyself alive) seen married unto another man. Now then, since fortune hath made thee lord of us all, what judgment givest thou of this compulsion? How wilt thou have her to salute thee, as her uncle, or husband?' As Aristomache spoke these words, the water stood in Dion's eyes: so he gently and lovingly taking his wife Areta by the hand, he gave her his son, and willed her to go home to his house where he then remained, and so delivered the castle to the Syracusans.

Narration and Discussion

Discuss this quote:

"Dion pacifying them, answered: 'Other generals of armies,' said he, 'do employ all their wits in martial exercise and wars': but for himself, that he had of long time studied, and learned in the school of the Academy, to overcome anger, envy, and all malice and contention. The noble proof whereof is most seen, not in using honest men and his friends moderately, but showing mercy also unto his enemies, and forgetting his anger against them that have offended him."

Christian teaching would agree that we should overcome anger with love and forgiveness. But is there a time when it is not wise to show mercy too quickly? Is there a difference between forgiving personal wrongs and excusing treasonous behavior? (Is Dion just too naive?) How should a Christian king or leader handle a situation like this, within the church or outside of it? (Think about people being excommunicated from the church.)

How did the Syracusans finally take over the castle and rid themselves of the tyranny? Imagine yourself there as the ships sailed away, and write a letter, a diary entry, a poem, or a conversation based on those events.


Introduction and Summary:

The tyranny is ended; the question is, what kind of a government should Syracuse have, and who will lead it? Dion is not interested in ruling solely by himself; his only personal goal is to live, as always, by the Athenian philosophical principles; and his greatest happiness is that he is admired by his own heroes in Athens. What he wants to set up is a ruling council of selected nobles (something like the Roman Senate later on?). He asks the leaders of Corinth for help in setting up this government. However, Dion is opposed in every way by Heraclides, and he finally decides that this longtime enemy must be disposed of. (You will have to decide whether this action is Dion's only real political mistake.)

A final important character enters the story here: Dion's trusted lieutenant, Callippus the Athenian. Heraclides is gone, but Dion's real enemy, Dionysius, is still plotting. He bribes Callippus to get rid of Dion, and from here on the story is as tangled and body-strewn as any of Shakespeare's tragedies.

Note to parents: this final passage is long (but important to the story!) and some parts of it may be upsetting for some students; I've left most of it as Plutarch wrote it, so please pre-read and edit for length or content as you see fit.


contenting him with anything that came first to hand - he ate whatever was around
for a certain light anger he had taken when he was but a boy - I am not clear on the meaning of this, but I think it refers to some chronic illness he had (possibly epilepsy?) or other condition (mental illness) that caused him to jump or fall from the roof
destitute of children - without children
divers sundry and manifest proofs - several different, convincing proofs
a fetch - a trick
a familiar - an intimate friend
wether - a castrated male sheep (used for sacrificial purposes); something like our "sacrificial lamb"


He having this prosperous success and victory, would not reap any present benefit or pleasure thereby, before he had showed himself thankful to his friends, given great gifts also unto the confederates of Syracusa, and specially, before he had given every one of his friends in the city, and his mercenary soldiers the strangers, some honourable reward according to their deserts, exceeding his ability with magnanimity of mind, when he himself lived soberly, and kept a moderate diet, contenting him with anything that came first to hand. Every man that heard of it, wondered at him, considering that not only all Sicilia and Carthage, but generally all Greece, looked upon his great prosperity and good fortune, thinking no man living greater than himself, nor that any captain ever attained to such fame and wonderful fortune, as he was come unto. This notwithstanding, Dion lived as temperately and modestly in his apparel, and also in his number of servants and service at his board, as if he had lived with Plato in the Academy at Athens, and had not been conversant amongst soldiers and captains, which have no other comfort nor pleasure for all the pains and dangers they suffer continually, but to eat and drink their fill, and to take their pleasure all day long. Plato wrote unto him, that all the world had him in admiration. But Dion, in my opinion, had no respect but to one place, and to one city (to wit, the Academy) and would have no other judges nor lookers into his doings, but the scholars of the same: who neither wondered at his great exploits, valiantness, nor victory, but only considered if he did wisely and modestly use this fortune he had, and could so keep himself within modest bounds, having done so great things.

Furthermore, touching the gravity he had when he spoke to anybody, and his inflexible severity which he used towards the people, he determined never to alter or change it: notwithstanding that his affairs required him to show courtesy and lenity, and that Plato also reproved him for it, and wrote, that severity and obstinacy (as we said before) was the companion of solitariness. But it seemeth to me that Dion did use it for two respects. The first, because nature had not framed him courteous and affable to win men: secondly, he did what he could to draw the Syracusans to the contrary, who were over-licentious, and spoiled with too much flattery: for Heraclides began again to be busy with him.

[If you wish to shorten this passage for younger students, the following paragraph may be skipped.]
First of all, Dion sending for him to come to council, he sent him word he would not come: and that being a private citizen, he would be at the common council amongst others when any was kept. Afterwards he [Heraclides] accused him [Dion], for that he had not overthrown and razed the castle: and also because he would not suffer the people to break open the tomb of Dionysius the elder, to cast out his body: and because he sent for counselors to Corinth, and disdained to make the citizens his companions in the government of the commonwealth. Indeed to confess a truth, Dion had sent for certain Corinthians, hoping the better to stablish the form of a commonwealth, which he had in his mind, when they were come. For his mind was utterly to break the government of democratia (to wit, the absolute government and authority of the people in a city, not being as it were a commonwealth, but rather a fair and market where things are sold, as Plato saith) and to establish the Laconian or Cretan commonwealth, mingled with a princely and popular government: and that should be, aristocratia, to wit, the number of a few noblemen that should govern and direct the chiefest and weightiest matters of state. And for that purpose, he thought the Corinthians the meetest men for him to frame this commonwealth, considering that they governed their affairs more by choosing a few number of the nobility, than otherwise, and that they did not refer many things to the voice of the people.

And because he was assured that Heraclides would be against him in it all that he could, and that otherwise he knew he was a seditious, a troublesome, and light-headed fellow, he then suffered them to kill him who had long before done it, if he had not kept them from it: and so they went home to his [Heraclides'] house, and slew him there. The murder of Heraclides was much misliked of the Syracusans: howbeit Dion caused him to be honourably buried, and brought his body to the ground, followed with all his army. Then he made an oration himself to the people, and told them, that it was impossible to avoid sedition and trouble in the city, so long as Dion and Heraclides did both govern together.

At that time there was one Callippus an Athenian, a familiar of Dion's, who (as Plato saith) came not acquainted with Dion through the occasion of his study in philosophy, but because he had been his guide to bring him to see the secret mysteries and ceremonies of the sacrifices, and for such other like common talk and company. This notwithstanding, Callippus did accompany him in all this war, and was very much honoured of him, and was one of the first of all his friends that entered into Syracusa with him, and did valiantly behave himself in all the battles and conflicts that were fought. This Callippus seeing that Dion's best and chiefest friends were all slain in this war, and that Heraclides also was dead, that the people of Syracusa had no more any head [leader], and besides, that the soldiers which were with Dion did love him better than any other man, he became the unfaithfullest man and the veriest villain of all other, hoping that for reward to kill his friend Dion, he should undoubtedly come to have the whole government of all Sicilia, and as some do report, for that he had taken a bribe of his enemies of twenty talents for his labour to commit this murder. So he began the practice, to bribe, and to suborn certain of the mercenary soldiers against Dion, and that by a marvellous crafty and subtle fetch.

For, using commonly to report unto Dion certain seditious words, spoken peradventure by the soldiers indeed, or else devised of his own head: he won such a liberty and boldness by the trust Dion had in him, that he might safely say what he would to any of the soldiers, and boldly speak evil of Dion by his own commandment: to the end he might thereby understand the better whether any of the soldiers were angry with him, or wished his death. By this policy, Callippus straight found out those that bore Dion grudge, and that were already corrupted, whom he drew to his conspiracy. And if any man unwilling to give ear unto him, went and told Dion, that Callippus would have enticed him to conspire against him: Dion was not angry with him for it, thinking that he did but as he had commanded him to do.

Now as this treason was practising against Dion, there appeared a great and monstrous ghost or spirit unto him. By chance sitting late one evening all alone, in a gallery he had, and being in a deep thought with himself, suddenly he heard a noise: and therewith casting his eye to the end of his gallery, (being yet daylight) he saw a monstrous great woman, like unto one of the furies showed in plays, and saw her sweeping of the house with a broom. This vision so amazed and affrighted him, that he sent for his friends, and told them what a sight he had seen: and prayed them to tarry with him all night, being as it were a man beside himself, fearing lest the spirit would come to him again if they left him alone, of the which notwithstanding he never heard more afterwards. Howbeit shortly after, his son being grown to man's state, for a certain light anger he had taken when he was but a boy, he cast himself headlong down from the top of the house, and so was slain.

Dion being in this state [of grief], Callippus went on still with his treason, and spread a rumour abroad among the Syracusans, that Dion seeing himself now destitute of children, was determined to send for Apollocrates, Dionysius' son, to make him his heir and successor, being cousin germane to his wife, and his sister's daughter's son. Then began Dion, his wife, and sister to mistrust Callippus' practices, and they were told of it by divers sundry and manifest proofs. But Dion being sorry (as I suppose) for Heraclides' death, and inwardly taking that murder in very evil part, as a foul blot to his life and doings, he said he had rather die a thousand deaths, and to offer his throat to be cut to any that would, rather than he would live in that misery, to be compelled to take heed as well of his friends, as of his enemies.

[But] as Dion was set in his chamber talking with his friends, where there were many beds to sit on, some compassed the house round about, others came to the doors and windows of his chamber, and they that should do the deed to dispatch him, which were the Zacynthian soldiers, came into his chamber in their coats without any sword. But when they were come in, they that were without did shut the doors after them, and locked them in, lest any man should come out: and they that were within, fell upon Dion, and thought to have strangled him. But when they saw they could not, they called for a sword. Never a man that was within, durst open the doors, though there were many with Dion. For they thought every man to save their own lives, by suffering him to be killed, and therefore durst not come to help him. So the murderers tarried a long time within, and did nothing. At length there was one Lycon a Syracusan, that gave one of these Zacynthian soldiers a dagger in at the window, with the which they cut Dion's throat, as [if he was] a wether they had holden a long time in their hands, even dead for fear.

The murder being executed, they cast his sister and wife, great with child, into prison, and there the poor lady was pitifully brought to bed of a goodly boy: the which they [the women] rather determined to bring up, than otherwise to do anything with the child. Their keepers that had the charge of them, were contented to let them do it, because Callippus began then a little to grow to some trouble.

For at the first, after he had slain Dion, he bore all the whole sway for a time, and kept the city of Syracusa in his hands: and wrote unto Athens, the which next unto the immortal gods he was most afraid of, having defiled his hands in so damnable a treason. And therefore, in my opinion, it was not evil spoken, that Athens is a city of all other that bringeth forth the best men when they give themselves to goodness, and the wickedest people also, when they do dispose themselves to evil: as their country also bringeth forth the best honey that is, and hemlock in like manner that quickly dispatcheth a man of his life. Howbeit the gods, and fortune, did not suffer this treason [sic] and wicked man to reign long, having come to the government of a realm by so damnable a murder: but shortly after they gave him his payment he had deserved. For Callippus going to take a little town called Catana, he lost the city of Syracusa: whereupon he said that he had lost a city, and got a cheese-knife. Afterwards he went to assail the Messenians, and there he lost a great number of his men, and amongst them were slain those that killed Dion. Now Callippus finding no city in all Sicilia, that would receive him, but that they all did hate and abhor him, he went to take the city of Rhegio in Italy. There being in great distress and need of all things, and not able to maintain his soldiers, he was slain by Leptines and Polyperchon, with the selfsame dagger wherewith Dion before was slain: the which was known by the fashion, being short after the Laconian daggers, and also by the workmanship upon it, that was very excellently wrought. And thus was the end and death of Callippus.

Now for Aristomache and Areta, they were taken out of prison: and Icetes Syracusan, that sometimes had been one of Dion's friends, took them home to his own house, and used them very well and faithfully for a certain time, but afterwards was won and corrupted by Dion's enemies. So he caused a ship to be provided for them, and bore them in hand that he would send them into Peloponnesus: but he gave them charge that carried them away, to kill them as they went, and to throw them overboard into the sea. Some say, that the two women, and the little young boy, were cast alive into the sea. But this reward of the sinful act that he committed, returned again upon himself, as it had done before unto others. For he was taken by Timoleon that put him to death: and besides, the Syracusans did also kill two of his daughters in revenge of the unfaithfulness he had showed unto Dion.

Narration and Discussion:

This meaning of this part may not be clear at first: "For, using commonly to report unto Dion certain seditious words, spoken peradventure by the soldiers indeed, or else devised of his own head: he won such a liberty and boldness by the trust Dion had in him, that he might safely say what he would to any of the soldiers, and boldly speak evil of Dion by his own commandment: to the end he might thereby understand the better whether any of the soldiers were angry with him, or wished his death. By this policy, Callippus straight found out those that bore Dion grudge, and that were already corrupted, whom he drew to his conspiracy. And if any man unwilling to give ear unto him, went and told Dion, that Callippus would have enticed him to conspire against him: Dion was not angry with him for it, thinking that he did but as he had commanded him to do."   Callippus is in a perfect position with Dion: as Dion's special "snitch," he reports any instances of negative or treasonous talk among his soldiers; and to get extra information out of them, he has permission to "feel people out" and pretend to be planning a conspiracy himself. So of course if anyone reports that Callippus is plotting treason...Dion just thanks them nicely and thinks Callippus is doing his job.

How do you think that Callippus was able to bribe the Zacynthian soldiers, who had always been extremely loyal to Dion, to participate in the assassination? Do you think they trusted him less after the death of Heraclides, or was it simply the power of a bribe? (Here are some Scriptures describing what bribes can do: Deuteronomy 16:19, Proverbs 17:23, Micah 7:3.)

What led to Dion's downfall? Was there a mistake he made that he could have avoided? Or was he acting in wisdom even when he ordered the death of Heraclides? (Would it have been juster or wiser to have acted sooner?) (Those of you who have studied Queen Elizabeth I might find a parallel here with her struggle over the decision to execute Mary Queen of Scots; what were the results of that decision for Elizabeth?)

For older students:

"For his mind was utterly to break the government of democratia (to wit, the absolute government and authority of the people in a city, not being as it were a commonwealth, but rather a fair and market where things are sold, as Plato saith) and to establish the Laconian or Cretan commonwealth, mingled with a princely and popular government: and that should be, aristocratia, to wit, the number of a few noblemen that should govern and direct the chiefest and weightiest matters of state. And for that purpose, he thought the Corinthians the meetest men for him to frame this commonwealth, considering that they governed their affairs more by choosing a few number of the nobility, than otherwise, and that they did not refer many things to the voice of the people."

Write a short essay discussing the positive and negative aspects of a government where everyone has a voice, vs. one where a small group of people (such as the nobles) make most of the decisions. (Or discuss this with someone else.)

Final Notes:

This is the end! If you don't like to end the story of Dion on a down note, you may want to read Plutarch's comparison of Brutus and Dion, and discuss what positive traits they shared as well as their weaknesses. If you have the Wordsworth Classics paperback Plutarch, the comparison is included; or you can find a workable version in most online texts of Plutarch. (The translation doesn't matter too much for this.)

Stay tuned for Pericles in September 2003.