Banning Even the Freedom of the Eyes: The Moral Tale of the Tyrant of Troezen

Aelian Varia Historia 14.22

“There’s a story of the tyrant of Troezen. Because he wanted to get rid of any plots and conspiracies against him, he ordered that no one could talk to anyone else in public or private. This was an impossible and harsh matter. But the people circumvented the tyrant’s command: they were nodding to each other and using hand gestures too. They also used angry, calm, or bright facial expressions. Each person was clear to all in his emotions, showing the suffering in his spirit on his face by grimacing at bad news or implacable conditions.

These actions caused the tyrant annoyance too—for he was believing that even silence accompanied by plentiful gestures was contriving something bad for him. So, he stopped this too.

One of those who was burdened and troubled by this absurdity was longing to end the monarchy. A group rose up with him and stood together sharing their tears. A report came to the tyrant that no one was using gestures any longer, because, instead, they were trafficking in tears. Because he was eager to stop this, he was proclaiming not only slavery of the tongue and gestures, but he was even trying to ban the freedom of the eyes we get from nature. So he went there without delay with his bodyguards to stop the tears. But as soon as the people saw him they took away his bodyguards’ weapons and killed the tyrant.”

Ὅτι Τροιζήνιός τις τύραννος βουλόμενος ἐξελεῖν τὰς συνωμοσίας καὶ τὰς κατ᾿ αὐτοῦ ἐπιβουλὰς ἔταξε τοῖς ἐπιχωρίοις μηδένα μηδενὶ διαλέγεσθαι μήτε κοινῇ μήτε ἰδίᾳ. καὶ ἦν τὸ πρᾶγμα ἀμήχανον καὶ χαλεπόν. ἐσοφίσαντο οὖν τὸ τοῦ τυράννου πρόσταγμα, καὶ ἀλλήλοις ἔνευον καὶ ἐχειρονόμουν πρὸς ἀλλήλους, καὶ ἐνεώρων δριμὺ καὶ αὖ πάλιν γαληναῖον καὶ βλέμμα φαιδρόν· καὶ ἐπὶ τοῖς σκυθρωποῖς καὶ ἀνηκέστοις ἕκαστος αὐτῶν συνωφρυωμένος ἦν δῆλος, τὸ τῆς ψυχῆς πάθος ἐκ τοῦ προσώπου τῷ πλησίον διαδεικνύς. ἐλύπει τὸν τύραννον καὶ ταῦτα, καὶ ἐπίστευε τέξεσθαί τι αὐτῷ πάντως κακὸν καὶ τὴν σιωπὴν διὰ τὸ τῶν σχημάτων ποικίλον. ἀλλ᾿ οὖν ἐκεῖνος καὶ τοῦτο κατέπαυσε. τῶν τις οὖν ἀχθομένων τῇ ἀμηχανίᾳ καὶ δυσφορούντων καὶ τὴν μοναρχίαν καταλῦσαι διψώντων. περιέστησαν οὖν αὐτὸν καὶ περιῆλθον τὸ πλῆθος καὶ ὀδυρμῷ κἀκεῖνοι συνείχοντο. ἧκεν ἀγγελία παρὰ τὸν τύραννον ὡς οὐδεὶς αὐτῶν χρῆται νεύματι οὐκέτι, δάκρυα δὲ αὐτοῖς ἐπιχωριάζει. ὁ δὲ ἐπειγόμενος καὶ τοῦτο παῦσαι, μὴ μόνον τῆς γλώττης καταγινώσκων δουλείαν μηδὲ μόνον τῶν νευμάτων ἀλλ᾿ ἤδη καὶ τοῖς ὀφθαλμοῖς τὴν ἐκ φύσεως ἀποκλείων ἐλευθερίαν, ᾗ ποδῶν εἶχεν ἀφίκετο σὺν τοῖς δορυφόροις, ἵνα ἀναστείλῃ τὰ δάκρυα. οἱ δὲ οὐκ ἔφθασαν ἰδόντες αὐτὸν καὶ τὰ ὅπλα τῶν δορυφόρων ἁρπάσαντες τὸν τύραννον ἀπέκτειναν.

YatesThompson47_f54rDetail

John Lydgate, Life of St Edmund and St Fremund, England (Bury St Edmunds?), 1461-c. 1475, Yates Thompson MS 47, f. 54r

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