Xenophon. Hiero

Translation by H. G. Dakyns

Xenophon the Athenian was born 431 B.C. He was a pupil of Socrates. He marched with the Spartans, and was exiled from Athens. Sparta gave him land and property in Scillus, where he lived for many years before having to move once more, to settle in Corinth. He died in 354 B.C.

The Hiero is an imaginary dialogue, c. 474 B.C., between Simonides of Ceos, the poet; and Hieron, of Syracuse and Gela, the despot.


Once upon a time Simonides the poet paid a visit to Hiero the 'tyrant,'[1] and when both obtained the liesure requisite, Simonides began this conversation:

[1] Or, 'came to the court of the despotic monarch Hiero.' For the 'dramatis personae' see Dr. Holden's Introduction to the 'Hieron' of Xenophon.

Would you be pleased to give me information, Hiero, upon certain matters, as to which it is likely you have greater knowledge than myself?[2]

[2] Or, 'would you oblige me by explaining certain matters, as to which your knowledge naturally transcends my own?'

And pray, what sort of things may those be (answered Hiero), of which I can have greater knowledge than yourself, who are so wise a man?

I know (replied the poet) that you were once a private person,[3] and are now a monarch. It is but likely, therefore, that having tested both conditions,[4] you should know better than myself, wherein the life of the despotic ruler differs from the life of any ordinary person, looking to the sum of joys and sorrows to which flesh is heir.

[3] Or, 'a common citizen,' 'an ordinary mortal,' 'a private individual.'

[4] Or, 'having experienced both lots in life, both forms of existence.'

Would it not be simpler (Hiero replied) if you, on your side,[5] who are still to-day a private person, would refresh my memory by recalling the various circumstances of an ordinary mortal's life? With these before me,[6] I should be better able to describe the points of difference which exist between the one life and the other.

[5] Simonides is still in the chrysalis or grub condition of private citizenship; he has not broken the shell as yet of ordinary manhood.

[6] Lit. 'in that case, I think I should best be able to point out the 'differentia' of either.'

Thus it was that Simonides spoke first: Well then, as to private persons, for my part I observe,[7] or seem to have observed, that we are liable to various pains and pleasures, in the shape of sights, sounds, odours, meats, and drinks, which are conveyed through certain avenues of sense--to wit, the eyes, ears, nostrils, mouth. And there are other pleasures, those named of Aphrodite, of which the channels are well known. While as to degree of heat and cold, things hard and soft, things light and heavy, the sense appealed to here, I venture to believe, is that of the whole body;[8] whereby we discern these opposites, and derive from them now pain, now pleasure. But with regard to things named good and evil,[9] it appears to me that sometimes the mind (or soul) itself is the sole instrument by which we register our pains and pleasures; whilst at other times such pains and pleasures are derived conjointly through both soul and body.[10] There are some pleasures, further, if I may trust my own sensations, which are conveyed in sleep, though how and by what means and when precisely, are matters as to which I am still more conscious of my ignorance. Nor is it to be wondered at perhaps, if the perceptions of waking life in some way strike more clearly on our senses than do those of sleep.[11]

[7] Or, 'if I may trust my powers of observation I would say that common men are capable of pains and pleasures conveyed through certain avenues of sense, as sight through our eyes, sounds through our ears, smells through our noses, and meats and drinks through our mouths.'

[8] Cf. Cic. 'de N. D.' ii. 56, S. 141.

[9] Reading {edesthai te kai lupeisthai . . .} or if with Breit reading {ote d' au lupeisthai}, transl. 'then as to good and evil we are affected pleasurably or painfully, as the case may be: sometimes, if I am right in my conclusion, through the mind itself alone; at other times . . .'

[10] Or, 'they are mental partly, partly physical.'

[11] Lit. 'the incidents of waking life present sensations of a more vivid character.'

To this statement Hiero made answer: And I, for my part, O Simonides, would find it hard to state, outside the list of things which you have named yourself, in what respect the despot can have other channels of perception.[12] So that up to this point I do not see that the despotic life differs in any way at all from that of common people.

[12] i.e. 'being like constituted, the autocratic person has no other sources of perception: he has no claim to a wider gamut of sensation, and consequently thus far there is not a pin to choose between the life of the despot and that of a private person.'

Then Simonides: Only in this respect it surely differs, in that the pleasures which the 'tyrant' enjoys through all these several avenues of sense are many times more numerous, and the pains he suffers are far fewer.

To which Hiero: Nay, that is not so, Simonides, take my word for it; the fact is rather that the pleasures of the despot are far fewer than those of people in a humbler condition, and his pains not only far more numerous, but more intense.

That sounds incredible (exclaimed Simonides); if it were really so, how do you explain the passionate desire commonly displayed to wield the tyrant's sceptre, and that too on the part of persons reputed to be the ablest of men? Why should all men envy the despotic monarch?

For the all-sufficient reason (he replied) that they form conclusions on the matter without experience of the two conditions. And I will try to prove to you the truth of what I say, beginning with the faculty of vision, which, unless my memory betrays me, was your starting-point.

Well then, when I come to reason[13] on the matter, first of all I find that, as regards the class of objects of which these orbs of vision are the channel,[14] the despot has the disadvantage. Every region of the world, each country on this fair earth, presents objects worthy of contemplation, in quest of which the ordinary citizen will visit, as the humour takes him, now some city [for the sake of spectacles],[15] or again, the great national assemblies, [16] where sights most fitted to entrance the gaze of multitudes would seem to be collected.[17] But the despot has neither part nor lot in these high festivals,[18] seeing it is not safe for him to go where he will find himself at the mercy of the assembled crowds;[19] nor are his home affairs in such security that he can leave them to the guardianship of others, whilst he visits foreign parts. A twofold apprehension haunts him:[20] he will be robbed of his throne, and at the same time be powerless to take vengeance on his wrongdoer.[21]

[13] {logizomenos}, 'to apply my moral algebra.'

[14] {en tois dia tes opseos theamasi}. See Hartman, 'An. Xen. Nova,' p. 246. {theamasi} = 'spectacular effects,' is perhaps a gloss on 'all objects apprehensible through vision.' Holden (crit. app.) would rather omit {dia tes opseos} with Schneid.

[15] The words are perhaps a gloss.

[16] e.g. the games at Olympia, or the great Dionysia at Athens, etc.

[17] Omitting {einai}, or if with Breit. {dokei einai . . . sunageiresthai}, transl. 'in which it is recognised that sights are to be seen best fitted to enchain the eyes and congregate vast masses.' For other emendations see Holden, crit. app.; Hartm. op. cit. p. 258.

[18] 'Religious embassies'; it. 'Theories.' See Thuc. vi. 16; 'Mem.' IV. viii. 2.

[19] Lit. 'not stronger than those present.'

[20] Or, 'The dread oppresses him, he may be deprived of his empire and yet be powerless.'

[21] Cf. Plat. 'Rep.' ix. 579 B: 'His soul is dainty and greedy; and yet he only of all men is never allowed to go on a journey, or to see things which other free men desire to see; but he lives in his hole like a woman hidden in the house, and is jealous of any other citizen who goes into foreign parts and sees things of interest' (Jowett).

Perhaps you will retort: 'Why should he trouble to go abroad to seek for such things? They are sure to come to him, although he stops at home.' Yes, Simonides, that is so far true; a small percentage of them no doubt will, and this scant moiety will be sold at so high a price to the despotic monarch, that the exhibitor of the merest trifle looks to receive from the imperial pocket, within the briefest interval, ten times more than he can hope to win from all the rest of mankind in a lifetime; and then he will be off.[22]

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