Tantalus and a Tyrant, A Living Corpse

Dio Chrysostom, 6.54-55 On Tyranny

“The more clearly a tyrant is afraid, the more people conspire against him because they despise his cowardice. He lives like a person  isolated in a small cage where swords are hanging above his head, pointing at him from every direction, some just grazing his skin.

They are fixed this close not just to his body but to the tyrant’s soul too, so much that Tantalos in Hades has an easier plight, the one they say: “fears the rock swinging over his head.” Tantalos, at least, doesn’t have to fear death any more, while the tyrant suffers alive what people say only happens to a corpse.”

ὅσῳ γὰρ ἂν ἐνδηλότερος ᾖ φοβούμενος ἀνὴρ τύραννος, τοσούτῳ μᾶλλον ἐπιβουλεύουσι καταφρονοῦντες τῆς δειλίας. ἔστιν οὖν ὁ βίος ὅμοιος ὥσπερ εἴ τις καθείρξειέ τινα ἐν εἱρκτῇ μικρᾷ, τῶν μὲν ἄνωθεν ξιφῶν κρεμαμένων, τῶν δὲ κυκλόθεν περιπεπηγότων, καὶ τούτων ἁπτομένων τοῦ χρωτός· οὕτως οὐ τῷ σώματι μόνον, ἀλλὰ τῇ ψυχῇ τοῦ τυράννου περιπέπηγε τὰ ξίφη, ὥστε τὸν ἐν Ἅιδου Τάνταλον, ὅν φασι  “κεφαλῆς4 ὑπερτέλλοντα δειμαίνειν πέτρον” πολὺ ῥᾷον διάγειν. οὐ γὰρ δὴ ἔτι φοβεῖται ὁ Τάνταλος μὴ ἀποθάνῃ· τῷ δὲ τυράννῳ ζῶντι τοῦτο ξυμβέβηκεν ὃ ἐκείνῳ νεκρῷ λέγουσιν.

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