Starting tomorrow a virtual conference “Teaching Leaders and Leadership Through Classics” is going live. (You can participate by registering). Part of the conversation there will be what ancient authors have to say about leadership and how their words resonate today. Over the past year, we have had many reasons to think about what influences our decisions to choose leaders. But that doesn’t mean we are any closer to understanding it.
So, here are some passages about tyranny, for no particular reason.
Why would some one choose an autocrat? Because he is awesome. That’s why.
Aristotle, Politics 1284b25-34
“But in the best state, there is an important question: what should be done when a man is conspicuous not for some other quality such as strength, wealth or networks of friends but for virtue? For, indeed, no one would claim it is right to exile or disenfranchise a man like this. Nor could you say that we should rule him. For if would be the same as if they should think it right to split up the duties and rule over Zeus. What is left, and what seems natural, is for everyone to obey a man like this happily in order to make this type of king revered in their cities.”
ἀλλ’ ἐπὶ τῆς ἀρίστης πολιτείας ἔχει πολλὴν ἀπορίαν, οὐ κατὰ τῶν ἄλλων ἀγαθῶν τὴν ὑπεροχήν, οἷον ἰσχύος καὶ πλούτου καὶ πολυφιλίας, ἀλλὰ ἄν τις γένηται διαφέρων κατ’ ἀρετήν, τί χρὴ ποιεῖν; οὐ γὰρ δὴ φαῖεν ἂν δεῖν ἐκβάλλειν καὶ μεθιστάναι τὸν τοιοῦτον· ἀλλὰ μὴν οὐδ’ ἄρχειν γε τοῦ τοιούτου· παραπλήσιον γὰρ κἂν εἰ τοῦ Διὸς ἄρχειν ἀξιοῖεν, μερίζοντες τὰς ἀρχάς. λείπεται τοίνυν, ὅπερ ἔοικε πεφυκέναι, πείθεσθαι τῷ τοιούτῳ πάντας ἀσμένως, ὥστε βασιλέας εἶναι τοὺς τοιούτους ἀιδίους ἐν ταῖς πόλεσιν.
Plato uses lycanthropy to describe a man’s transformation into a tyrant.
From Plato’s Republic, Book 8 (565d)
“What is the beginning of the change from guardian to tyrant? Isn’t clear when the guardian begins to do that very thing which myth says happened at the shrine of Lykaion Zeus in Arcadia?
Which is? He said.
That once someone tastes a bit of human innards mixed up with the other sacrifices he becomes a wolf by necessity? Haven’t you heard this tale?
Is it not something the same with a protector of the people? Once he controls a mob that obeys him, he cannot restrain himself from tribal blood, but he prosecutes unjustly, the sorts of things men love to do, and brings a man into court for murder, eliminating the life of a man—and with tongue and unholy mouth that have tasted the murder of his kind, he exiles, kills, and promises the cutting of debts and the redistribution of land. Is it not by necessity that such a man is fated either to be killed by his enemies or to become a tyrant, to turn into a wolf from a man?”
Τίς ἀρχὴ οὖν μεταβολῆς ἐκ προστάτου ἐπὶ τύραννον; ἢ δῆλον ὅτι ἐπειδὰν ταὐτὸν ἄρξηται δρᾶν ὁ προστάτης τῷ ἐν τῷ μύθῳ ὃς περὶ τὸ ἐν ᾿Αρκαδίᾳ τὸ τοῦ Διὸς τοῦ Λυκαίου ἱερὸν λέγεται;
῾Ως ἄρα ὁ γευσάμενος τοῦ ἀνθρωπίνου σπλάγχνου, ἐν ἄλλοις ἄλλων ἱερείων ἑνὸς ἐγκατατετμημένου, ἀνάγκη δὴ τούτῳ λύκῳ γενέσθαι. ἢ οὐκ ἀκήκοας τὸν λόγον;
῏Αρ’ οὖν οὕτω καὶ ὃς ἂν δήμου προεστώς, λαβὼν σφόδρα πειθόμενον ὄχλον, μὴ ἀπόσχηται ἐμφυλίου αἵματος, ἀλλ’ ἀδίκως ἐπαιτιώμενος, οἷα δὴ φιλοῦσιν, εἰς δικαστήρια ἄγων μιαιφονῇ, βίον ἀνδρὸς ἀφανίζων, γλώττῃ τε καὶ στόματι ἀνοσίῳ γευόμενος φόνου συγγενοῦς, καὶ ἀνδρηλατῇ καὶ ἀποκτεινύῃ καὶ ὑποσημαίνῃ χρεῶν τε ἀποκοπὰς καὶ γῆς ἀναδασμόν, ἆρα τῷ τοιούτῳ ἀνάγκη δὴ τὸ μετὰ τοῦτο καὶ εἵμαρται ἢ ἀπολωλέναι ὑπὸ τῶν ἐχθρῶν ἢ τυραννεῖν καὶ λύκῳ ἐξ ἀνθρώπου γενέσθαι;
In ancient Greek myth, Lykaon (Lycaon, related to lúkos, “wolf”) was a king of Arcadia. According to Pausanias (8.31-5) , Lykaon sacrificed a newborn child to Zeus. In other sources he offers the infant mixed up with other food to test Zeus’ divinity (although some attribute the deed to his sons, see Apollodorus, 3.8.1). Zeus killed the sons with lightning; Lykaon was transformed into a wolf.
Where does the word tyrant come from?
From the Suda:
“Tyrannos: The poets before the Trojan War used to name kings (basileis) tyrants, but later during the time of Archilochus, this word was transferred to the Greeks in general, just as the sophist Hippias records. Homer, at least, calls the most lawless man of all, Ekhetos, a king, not a tyrant. Tyrant is a a name that derives from the Tyrrenians because these men were quite severe pirates.* None of the other poets uses the name tyrant in any of their works. But Aristotle in the Constitution of the Cumaeans says that tyrants were once called aisumnêtai, because this name is a bit of a euphemism.”
Τύραννος: οἱ πρὸ τῶν Τρωϊκῶν ποιηταὶ τοὺς βασιλεῖς τυράννους προσηγόρευον, ὀψέ ποτε τοῦδε τοῦ ὀνόματος εἰς τοὺς Ἕλληνας διαδοθέντος κατὰ τοὺς Ἀρχιλόχου χρόνους, καθάπερ Ἱππίας ὁ σοφιστής φησιν. Ὅμηρος γοῦν τὸν πάντων παρανομώτατον Ἔχετον βασιλέα φησί, καὶ οὐ τύραννον. προσηγορεύθη δὲ τύραννος ἀπὸ Τυρρηνῶν: χαλεποὺς γὰρ περὶ λῃστείας τούτους γενέσθαι. οὐδεὶς δὲ οὐδὲ ἄλλος τῶν ποιητῶν ἐν τοῖς ποιήμασιν αὐτοῦ μέμνηται τὸ τοῦ τυράννου ὄνομα. ὁ δὲ Ἀριστοτέλης ἐν Κυμαίων πολιτείᾳ τοὺς τυράννους φησὶ τὸ πρότερον αἰσυμνήτας καλεῖσθαι. εὐφημότερον γὰρ ἐκεῖνο τὸ ὄνομα. ὅτι καὶ ἕτεροι ἐτυράννησαν, ἀλλ’ ἡ τελευταία καὶ μεγίστη κάκωσις πάσαις ταῖς πόλεσιν ἡ Διονυσίου τυραννὶς ἐγένετο.
For Aristotle’s distinctions, see Politics, book 3 (1285a)
*According to Louise Hitchcock and Aren Maeir (“Yo-ho, Yo-ho: A Seren’s Life For me.” World Archaeology 46:4, 624-640) the Philistines used the word seren to mean leader; this word may have been related to Hittite tarwanis and was possibly circulated by the ‘sea peoples’. Greek tyrannos may have developed from this. Chaintraine notes that the etymology of turannos is unclear but that it may be related to Etruscan turan or Hittite tarwana.
“This is likely formed from Tursennians*. Or it derives from Gyges who was from a Turran city in Lykia, and he was the first one who was a tyrant. Others claim it is from truô [“to distress, wear out, afflict”], that it was truanos and that the rho and nu switched places through pleonasm. Ancients used to use the word Turannos for kings. There was a time when they used a call the tyrant ‘king’.
Τύραννος: ῎Ητοι ἀπὸ τῶν Τυρσηνῶν· ὠμοὶ γὰρ οὗτοι· ἢ ἀπὸ Γύγου, ὅς ἐστιν ἀπὸ Τύρρας πόλεως Λυκιακῆς, τυραννήσαντος πρῶτον. ῎Αλλοι δὲ ἀπὸ τοῦ τρύω, τὸ καταπονῶ, τρύανος· καὶ ὑπερβιβασμῷ τοῦ ρ, τύραννος, κατὰ πλεονασμὸν τοῦ ν. Τύραννον δὲ οἱ ἀρχαῖοι καὶ ἐπὶ βασιλέως ἔτασσον· ἔσθ’ ὅτε δὲ καὶ τὸν τύραννον βασιλέα ἔλεγον.
*A name for Etruscans
“An aisiomêtês is one who has proper plans. A tyrant is the opposite.”
ὁ αἰσιομήτης, ὁ αἴσια βουλευόμενος· ὁ γὰρ τύραννος τοὐναντίον.
What’s the difference between a king and a tyrant?
“For, a king must truly do noble things. One who does evil, he’s a tyrant.”
δεῖ γὰρ ἀληθῶς βασιλέα καλοποιεῖν· ὁ δὲ κακοποιῶν, τύραννος
“Tyranny: It differs from a kingship and a tyrant is different from a king. For a kingship is something that exercises power according the law. But a tyranny is a force without reason, following its own law. A king is someone who rules according to just laws; but a tyrant, who can never rule justly nor without the boundaries of the law, he steps outside of the laws.”
Tyrannos: from some tyrant, the one who first ruled badly, from the city of Tyre. It means two things: a kind and the man as a tyrant.”
Τυραννὶς, βασιλείας διαφέρει, καὶ τύραννος βασιλέως· βασιλεῖα μὲν γάρ ἐστι κατὰ νόμους ἄρχουσα ἐξουσία τίς· τυραννὶς δὲ ἡ ἄλογος ἐξουσία, αὐτωνομίᾳ χρωμένη· βασιλεύς ἐστιν ὁ κατὰ νόμους δικαίους ἄρχων· τύραννος δὲ, ὁ μήτε δικαίως ἄρχων, μήτε νομίμως, ἀλλὰ καὶ τοὺς νόμους ἐκπατῶν.
Τύραννος, ἀπὸ τυράννου τινὸς, πρώτου κακῶς διακειμένου, ἀπὸ Τύρου τῆς πόλεως· σημαίνει δὲ δύο, τὸν βασιλέα καὶ τὸν ἄνθρωπον τύραννον.
Aristotle, Politics 1285a
“Citizens guard their kings with arms; foreigners protect tyrants. This is because kings rule according to the law and with willing citizens while tyrants rule the unwilling. As a result, kings have guards from their subjects and tyrants keep guards against them.”
οἱ γὰρ πολῖται φυλάττουσιν ὅπλοις τοὺς βασιλεῖς, τοὺς δὲ τυράννους ξενικόν: οἱ μὲν γὰρ κατὰ νόμον καὶ ἑκόντων οἱ δ᾽ ἀκόντων ἄρχουσιν, ὥσθ᾽ οἱ μὲν παρὰ τῶν πολιτῶν οἱ δ᾽ ἐπὶ τοὺς πολίτας ἔχουσι τὴν φυλακήν.