Dictatorships, Tyrants, and Kings

Hannah Arendt, Personal responsibility Under a Dictatorship 36

“Politically, the weakness of the argument has always been that those who choose the lesser evil forget very quickly that they chose evil.”

Call witnesses or live in a dictatorship.

Cicero, Letters to Quintus 19

“We have no small hope in our elections, but it is still uncertain. There is some suspicion of a dictatorship. We have peace in public but it is the calm of an old and tired state, not one giving consent.”

erat non nulla spes comitiorum sed incerta, erat aliqua suspicio dictaturae, ne ea quidem certa, summum otium forense sed senescentis magis civitatis quam acquiescentis

Philo, On Dreams 12.78

“Indeed, just as frightened horses raise their necks up high, in the same way all those devotees of empty glory raise themselves above everything else, above cities, laws, ancestral custom, and the affairs of individual citizens. As they move from demagoguery to dictatorship, they subdue some of their neighbors as they try to make themselves superior and upright–and then they plan to enslave however so many minds remain naturally free and unenslaved.”

τῷ γὰρ ὄντι καθάπερ οἱ γαῦροι τῶν ἵππων τὸν αὐχένα μετέωρον ἐξάραντες, ὅσοι θιασῶται τῆς κενῆς δόξης εἰσίν, ἐπάνω πάντων ἑαυτοὺς ἱδρύουσι, πόλεων, νόμων, ἐθῶν πατρίων, τῶν παρ᾿ ἑκάστοις πραγμάτων· εἶτα ἀπὸ δημαγωγίας ἐπὶ δημαρχίαν βαδίζοντες καὶ τὰ μὲν τῶν πλησίον καταβάλλοντες, τὰ δὲ οἰκεῖα διανιστάντες καὶ παγίως ὀρθοῦντες, ὅσα ἐλεύθερα καὶ ἀδούλωτα φύσει φρονήματα,

Zonaras, 7.13

“So, the dictatorship, as has been reported, was pretty much the same thing as a kingship, except that the dictator could not go on horseback…”

ἦν μὲν οὖν, ὡς εἴρηται, ἡ δικτατορία κατά γε τὴν ἐξουσίαν τῇ βασιλείᾳ ἰσόρροπος, πλὴν ὅτι μὴ ἐφ᾿ ἵππον ἀναβῆναι…

Cicero, Letters to Atticus

“This is no minor stink of dictatorship…”

et est non nullus odor dictaturae

Hannah Arendt, Personal responsibility Under a Dictatorship 45

“The dividing line between those who want to think and therefore have to judge by themselves, and those who do not, strikes across all social and cultural or educational differences. In this respect, the total moral collapse of respectable society during the Hitler regime may teach us that under such circumstances those who cherish values and hold fast to moral norms and standards are not reliable: we now know that moral norms and standards can be changed overnight, and that all that then will be left is the mere habit of holding fast to something. Much more reliable will be the doubters and skeptics, not because skepticism is good or doubting wholesome, but because they are used to examine things and to make up their own minds. Best of all will be those who know only one thing for certain: that whatever else happens, as long as we live we shall have to live together with ourselves.”

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.

Etymologicum Magnum

“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

s.v. Αἰσυμνητήρ

“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?

s.v. Βασιλεύς

“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

Etymologicum Gudianum

“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.

arrogant finger

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.

Dictatorships, Tyrants, and Kings

Hannah Arendt, Personal responsibility Under a Dictatorship 36

“Politically, the weakness of the argument has always been that those who choose the lesser evil forget very quickly that they chose evil.”

Call witnesses or live in a dictatorship.

Cicero, Letters to Quintus 19

“We have no small hope in our elections, but it is still uncertain. There is some suspicion of a dictatorship. We have peace in public but it is the calm of an old and tired state, not one giving consent.”

erat non nulla spes comitiorum sed incerta, erat aliqua suspicio dictaturae, ne ea quidem certa, summum otium forense sed senescentis magis civitatis quam acquiescentis

Philo, On Dreams 12.78

“Indeed, just as frightened horses raise their necks up high, in the same way all those devotees of empty glory raise themselves above everything else, above cities, laws, ancestral custom, and the affairs of individual citizens. As they move from demagoguery to dictatorship, they subdue some of their neighbors as they try to make themselves superior and upright–and then they plan to enslave however so many minds remain naturally free and unenslaved.”

τῷ γὰρ ὄντι καθάπερ οἱ γαῦροι τῶν ἵππων τὸν αὐχένα μετέωρον ἐξάραντες, ὅσοι θιασῶται τῆς κενῆς δόξης εἰσίν, ἐπάνω πάντων ἑαυτοὺς ἱδρύουσι, πόλεων, νόμων, ἐθῶν πατρίων, τῶν παρ᾿ ἑκάστοις πραγμάτων· εἶτα ἀπὸ δημαγωγίας ἐπὶ δημαρχίαν βαδίζοντες καὶ τὰ μὲν τῶν πλησίον καταβάλλοντες, τὰ δὲ οἰκεῖα διανιστάντες καὶ παγίως ὀρθοῦντες, ὅσα ἐλεύθερα καὶ ἀδούλωτα φύσει φρονήματα,

Zonaras, 7.13

“So, the dictatorship, as has been reported, was pretty much the same thing as a kingship, except that the dictator could not go on horseback…”

ἦν μὲν οὖν, ὡς εἴρηται, ἡ δικτατορία κατά γε τὴν ἐξουσίαν τῇ βασιλείᾳ ἰσόρροπος, πλὴν ὅτι μὴ ἐφ᾿ ἵππον ἀναβῆναι…

Cicero, Letters to Atticus

“This is no minor stink of dictatorship…”

et est non nullus odor dictaturae

Hannah Arendt, Personal responsibility Under a Dictatorship 45

“The dividing line between those who want to think and therefore have to judge by themselves, and those who do not, strikes across all social and cultural or educational differences. In this respect, the total moral collapse of respectable society during the Hitler regime may teach us that under such circumstances those who cherish values and hold fast to moral norms and standards are not reliable: we now know that moral norms and standards can be changed overnight, and that all that then will be left is the mere habit of holding fast to something. Much more reliable will be the doubters and skeptics, not because skepticism is good or doubting wholesome, but because they are used to examine things and to make up their own minds. Best of all will be those who know only one thing for certain: that whatever else happens, as long as we live we shall have to live together with ourselves.”

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.

Etymologicum Magnum

“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

s.v. Αἰσυμνητήρ

“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?

s.v. Βασιλεύς

“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

Etymologicum Gudianum

“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.

Image result for ancient greek tyrant

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.

The Way of Kings: To Love and Hate Without Reason

Homer, Odyssey 4.687–693

“Did they not hear from you, when they were children,
What kind of a man Odysseus was among your parents,
He did nothing unfair nor said anything [unfair]
Among the people? This is the right of divine kings—
They can hate some people and love another.”

ὑμετέρων τὸ πρόσθεν ἀκούετε, παῖδες ἐόντες,
οἷος ᾿Οδυσσεὺς ἔσκε μεθ’ ὑμετέροισι τοκεῦσιν,
οὔτε τινὰ ῥέξας ἐξαίσιον οὔτε τι εἰπὼν
ἐν δήμῳ; ἥ τ’ ἐστὶ δίκη θείων βασιλήων·
ἄλλον κ’ ἐχθαίρῃσι βροτῶν, ἄλλον κε φιλοίη.

Scholia PQ ad. Hom. Od. 4.691

“this is the way of kings, to hate one person but love another. Etc. This line is presented gnomically about kings, because they hate some people but love another. This is not strictly applicable to Odysseus. Therefore line must be taken for use in this particular situation.”

ἥτ’ ἐστὶ δίκη] ὥσπερ τρόπος ἐστὶ τῶν βασιλέων τὸ ἄλλον μὲν μισεῖν, ἄλλον δὲ φιλεῖν. Καὶ ἄλλως. γνωμικὸς ὁ στίχος περὶ τῶν βασιλέων λεγόμενος, ὅτι τοὺς μὲν μισοῦσι, τοὺς δὲ φιλοῦσιν· ὅπερ οὐ προσῆν ᾿Οδυσσεῖ. καὶ αὐτὸν οὖν κατ’ ἰδίαν προενεκτέον τὸν στίχον. P.Q.

Image result for medieval manuscript evil king
Royal_ms_20_a_ii_f005r_detail from British Library

You Might Even Say It’s Good To Be King: Odysseus’ Geras

Odysseus on his geras, 11.174–176:

“Tell me of the father and son I left behind,
does my geras still belong to them or does some other man
already have it because they think I will not come home?”

εἰπὲ δέ μοι πατρός τε καὶ υἱέος, ὃν κατέλειπον,
ἢ ἔτι πὰρ κείνοισιν ἐμὸν γέρας, ἦέ τις ἤδη
ἀνδρῶν ἄλλος ἔχει, ἐμὲ δ’ οὐκέτι φασὶ νέεσθαι.

From Beekes 2010

geras

Telemachus on Eurymakhos, 15.518–522:

“… Eurymakhos, the shining son of sharp-minded Polyboios,
whom the Ithakans now look upon the way they would a god.
He is by far the best man remaining and the best
to marry my mother and receive my father’s geras.”

Εὐρύμαχον, Πολύβοιο δαΐφρονος ἀγλαὸν υἱόν,
τὸν νῦν ἶσα θεῷ ᾿Ιθακήσιοι εἰσορόωσι·
καὶ γὰρ πολλὸν ἄριστος ἀνὴρ μέμονέν τε μάλιστα
μητέρ’ ἐμὴν γαμέειν καὶ ᾿Οδυσσῆος γέρας ἕξειν.”

Antinoos on kingship, 1.383–387:

“Then Antinoos, the son of Eupeithes, answered him,
“Telemachus, the gods themselves have taught you
to be a big speaker and to address us boldly.
May Zeus never make you king in sea-girt Ithaca
which is your inheritance by birth.”

τὸν δ’ αὖτ’ ᾿Αντίνοος προσέφη, Εὐπείθεος υἱός·
“Τηλέμαχ’, ἦ μάλα δή σε διδάσκουσιν θεοὶ αὐτοὶ
ὑψαγόρην τ’ ἔμεναι καὶ θαρσαλέως ἀγορεύειν.
μὴ σέ γ’ ἐν ἀμφιάλῳ ᾿Ιθάκῃ βασιλῆα Κρονίων
ποιήσειεν, ὅ τοι γενεῇ πατρώϊόν ἐστιν.”

Telemachus on his geras, 1.388–398:

“Antinoos, even if you are annoyed at whatever I say,
I would still pray to obtain this should Zeus grant it.
Do you really think that this is the worst thing among people?
To be king is not at all bad. A king’s house grows rich quickly
and he is more honored himself. But, certainly, there are other kings of the Achaeans, too, many on sea-girt Ithaka, young and old,
who might have this right, since shining Odysseus is dead.
But I will be master of my household and my servants,
the ones shining Odysseus obtained for me.”

“᾿Αντίνο’, εἴ πέρ μοι καὶ ἀγάσσεαι ὅττι κεν εἴπω,
καί κεν τοῦτ’ ἐθέλοιμι Διός γε διδόντος ἀρέσθαι.
ἦ φῂς τοῦτο κάκιστον ἐν ἀνθρώποισι τετύχθαι;
οὐ μὲν γάρ τι κακὸν βασιλευέμεν· αἶψά τέ οἱ δῶ
ἀφνειὸν πέλεται καὶ τιμηέστερος αὐτός.
ἀλλ’ ἦ τοι βασιλῆες ᾿Αχαιῶν εἰσὶ καὶ ἄλλοι
πολλοὶ ἐν ἀμφιάλῳ ᾿Ιθάκῃ, νέοι ἠδὲ παλαιοί,
τῶν κέν τις τόδ’ ἔχῃσιν, ἐπεὶ θάνε δῖος ᾿Οδυσσεύς·
αὐτὰρ ἐγὼν οἴκοιο ἄναξ ἔσομ’ ἡμετέροιο
καὶ δμώων, οὕς μοι ληΐσσατο δῖος ᾿Οδυσσεύς.”

Some things to read

Elton Barker. Entering the Agôn: Dissent and Authority in Homer, Historiography and Tragedy. Oxford, 2009.

Colleen Chaston. “Three Models of Authority in the “Odyssey”.” CW 96 (2002) 3-19.

J. Halverson. “The Succession Issue in the Odyssey.” Greece and Rome 33 (1986) 119–28.

Johannes Haubold. Homer’s People: Epic Poetry and Social Formation. Cambridge: 2000.

Daniel Silvermintz. “Unravelling the Shroud for Laertes and Weaving the Fabric of the City: Kingship and Politics in Homer’s Odyssey.” Polis 21 (2004) 26-41.

The Frog-King: Another Frightening Fable for our Times

Aesop’s Fables, No. 44:

“The frogs, distressed by the anarchy prevailing among them, sent ambassadors to Zeus asking him to give them a king. He took note of their silliness and threw down a piece of wood into the pond. The frogs, terrified at first by the loud sound, submerged themselves in the depths of the pond.

Later, when the piece of wood was still, they came back up and rose to such a height of insolence that they mounted the wood and perched upon it. Deeming this king unworthy of them, they sent messengers to Zeus, asking him to change their king, because the first one was too lazy. Zeus was irritated by this, so he sent them a snake as king, by whom they were all snatched up and eaten.”

βάτραχοι λυπούμενοι ἐπὶ τῇ ἑαυτῶν ἀναρχίᾳ πρέσβεις ἔπεμψαν πρὸς τὸν Δία δεόμενοι βασιλέααὐτοῖς παρασχεῖν. ὁ δὲ συνιδὼν αὐτῶν τὴν εὐήθειαν ξύλον εἰς τὴν λίμνην καθῆκε. καὶ οἱ βάτραχοι τὸ μὲν πρῶτον καταπλαγέντες τὸν ψόφον εἰς τὰ βάθη τῆς λίμνης ἐνέδυσαν, ὕστερον δέ, ὡς ἀκίνητον ἦν τὸ ξύλον, ἀναδύντες εἰς τοσοῦτο καταφρονήσεως ἦλθον ὡς καὶ ἐπιβαίνοντες αὐτῷ ἐπικαθέζεσθαι. ἀναξιοπαθοῦντες δὲ τοιοῦτον ἔχειν βασιλέα ἧκον ἐκ δευτέρου πρὸς τὸν Δία καὶ τοῦτον παρεκάλουν ἀλλάξαι αὐτοῖς τὸν ἄρχοντα. τὸν γὰρ πρῶτον λίαν εἶναι νωχελῆ. καὶ ὁ Ζεὺς ἀγανακτήσας κατ’ αὐτῶν ὕδραν αὐτοῖς ἔπεμψεν, ὑφ’ ἧς συλλαμβανόμενοι κατησθίοντο.

In January, this website will see the first old-school publication to emerge from its pages alone. (Some posts have become pieces of articles, especially the translations). A few years ago, we published a translation and commentary of the Homeric Battle of Frogs and Mice in serial form. It will be coming out in print in January 2018.. This fable above is included as part of a note to line 17.

 

Image result for Fable frog and king medieval
“Frogs Desiring a King” by John Vernon Lord

 

The Difference Between Tyrants and Kings

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?

I have.

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;

Τίς; ἔφη.

῾Ως ἄρα ὁ γευσάμενος τοῦ ἀνθρωπίνου σπλάγχνου, ἐν ἄλλοις ἄλλων ἱερείων ἑνὸς ἐγκατατετμημένου, ἀνάγκη δὴ τούτῳ λύκῳ γενέσθαι. ἢ οὐκ ἀκήκοας τὸν λόγον;

῎Εγωγε.

῏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.

There may actually be physical evidence of human sacrifice in Arcadia now.

Where does the word tyrant come from?

Continue reading “The Difference Between Tyrants and Kings”

The Frog King: Another Fable for Our Time

Phaedrus, Fabulae 1.2

“When Athens flourished with equal laws,
Heady freedom corrupted the state
And excess dissolved their ancient restraints.
As partisan conspiracies were inflamed,
The tyrant Pisistratus took the citadel.
While all the Attic demes mourned wretched slavery—
Not because he was savage, but because they were all
Unaccustomed to control—Aesop retold this tale.
The frogs who wandered free in their marshes
Sought from Jupiter a king with great acclamation,
One who would return their customs in decline.
He sent a small plank whose sudden appearance
Shocked the timid race with its movement and sound.
While it floated for some time on the surface
By chance one lifted his quiet head from the pond
And called all the rest to their newly found ‘king’.
With fear set aside, they swam to it bit by bit
And the raucous crowd climbed on the plank to dance!
Then their furies rang out all around,
As they asked Zeus for another king
Because the one he sent them was useless.
Then he sent them a water-snake who began
To snatch them one by one with savage teeth.
In vain they tried their useless flight; fear muted their voices.
Secretly they gave their pleas to Mercury for Jove,
That he might help the cursed. But the god responded:
“Because you did not want the good king you had,
You must now endure the bad. And you, too, Athenians
Endure this, lest you take in turn a greater evil.”

silver-stater
A Silver Stater from Seriphos

Athenae cum florerent aequis legibus,
Procax libertas civitatem miscuit
Frenumque solvit pristinum licentia.
Hic conspiratis factionum partibus
Arcem tyrannus occupat Pisistratus.
Cum tristem servitutem flerent Attici,
(Non quia crudelis ille, sed quoniam gravis
Omnino insuetis), onus et coepissent queri,
Aesopus talem tum fabellam rettulit.
Ranae vagantes liberis paludibus
Clamore magno regem petiere a Iove,
Qui dissolutos mores vi compesceret.
Pater deorum risit atque illis dedit
Parvum tigillum, missum quod subito vadi
Motu sonoque terruit pavidum genus.
Hoc mersum limo cum iaceret diutius,
Forte una tacite profert e stagno caput
Et explorato rege cunctas evocat.
Illae timore posito certatim adnatant
Lignumque supera turba petulans insilit.
Quod cum inquinassent omni contumelia,
Alium rogantes regem misere ad Iovem,
Inutilis quoniam esset qui fuerat datus.
Tum misit illis hydrum, qui dente aspero
Corripere coepit singulas. Frustra necem
Fugitant inertes, vocem praecludit metus.
Furtim igitur dant Mercurio mandata ad Iovem,
Afflictis ut succurrat. Tunc contra deus:
Quia noluistis vestrum ferre inquit bonum,
Malum perferte. — Vos quoque, o cives, ait,
Hoc sustinete, maius ne veniat malum.

People-devouring, Bribe-Swallowing, People-eating Kings

[Go here for etymologies for tyrant]

Plato, Republic  564a

“It is likely, I said, that tyranny emerges out of no other state except for democracy—the greatest and most savage servitude emerges, I suppose, from the greatest freedom.”

Εἰκότως τοίνυν, εἶπον, οὐκ ἐξ ἄλλης πολιτείας τυραννὶς καθίσταται ἢ ἐκ δημοκρατίας, ἐξ οἶμαι τῆς ἀκροτάτης ἐλευθερίας δουλεία πλείστη τε καὶ ἀγριωτάτη.

 

Hom. Il. 1.231

“You are a people-eating king who rules over nobodies”
δημοβόρος βασιλεὺς ἐπεὶ οὐτιδανοῖσιν ἀνάσσεις·

Apollonius Sophista

“People-eater: one who eats the people’s common goods”
δημοβόρος ὁ τὰ τοῦ δήμου κοινὰ κατεσθίων.

Photius

“People Eater: one who eats the common goods”
Δημοβόρος· ὁ τὰ δημόσια ἐσθίων.

Schol. ad Il. bT ad. Il. 1.231ex

“This [comment] disturbs the masses. For the most serious accusation is making the common goods your own…”

ex. δημοβόρος: κινητικὰ ταῦτα τοῦ πλήθους· μεγίστη γὰρ κατηγορία τὸ σφετερίζεσθαι τὰ κοινά. b(BCE3E4)T

Eustathius, Commentary on the Iliad 1.143.27

“The insult “people-devouring king” is aimed especially at moving the people and provoking Agamemnon to Anger. Just as the term “gift-devourer” emphasizes the evil of taking bribes, just so here the term dêmoboros highlights the injustice which is more subtly announced in the phrase “deprive one of gifts”. Note as well that Agamemnon is maligned not just for drinking [being “wine-heavy”] but also for eating.”

σφόδρα δὲ κινητικὸν τοῦ δήμου τὸ δημοβόρος βασιλεύς καὶ ἐρεθιστικὸν εἰς θυμόν. ὥσπερ δὲ παρ’ ῾Ησιόδῳ τὸ δωροφάγοι ἐπιτείνει τὸ κακὸν τοῦ δωροληπτεῖν, οὕτω κἀνταῦθα τὴν ἀδικίαν τὸ δημοβόρον, ὃ ἠρέμα ὑπελαλήθη καὶ ἐν τῷ «δῶρ’ ἀποαιρεῖσθαι». ὅρα δὲ καὶ ὅτι οὐ μόνον οἰνοβαρὴς ὁ ᾿Αγαμέμνων σκώπτεται ἀλλὰ καὶ βορός.

Eustathius, Commentary to the Iliad 4.448.7

“For the allies of the Trojans eat the public goods of the people and the leaders of the Argives drink the public goods. It has already been shown that, when a division of spoils was made, some portion was granted from the common shares to the king and for the symposia of the best men—the misuse of this makes the king a “people-eater”—by which this means a “consumer of the people’s things. For to claim that dêmoboros is the same as cannibalism [anthropo-phagy], that he eats the people, is both bitter to the thought and harmful to the sense. For it is clear that this is not what is being criticized, because it is not the people [demos] rather than the things of the people, the public goods, as is clear from other compounds like demiopratôn, which Kômikos brings up, or also from the Homeric dêmioergôn.”

οἵ τε γὰρ τῶν Τρώων ἐπίκουροι δήμια ἤσθιον τὰ τῶν λαῶν ἔδοντες, καὶ οἱ τῶν ᾿Αργείων ἡγήτορες δήμια ἔπινον. δεδήλωται γὰρ ἤδη ὅτι δασμοῦ γινομένου μερὶς ἐδίδοτό τις τῷ βασιλεῖ ἐκ τῶν κοινῶν καὶ εἰς τὰ τῶν ἀριστέων συμπόσια, ὧν ἡ παράχρησις δημοβόρον τὸν βασιλέα ποιεῖ, ταὐτὸν δ’ εἰπεῖν δημιοβόρον. [Φάναι γὰρ δημοβόρον τὸν δίκην ἀνθρωποφάγου αὐτὸν τὸν δῆμον ἐσθίοντα δριμὺ μὲν τῇ ἐννοίᾳ, πάνυ δὲ ἀτηρὸν τῇ τροπῇ. Σημείωσαι δὲ καὶ ὅτι ἔκπαλαι μὲν οὐ ψεκτὸν ἦν, ὥσπερ οὐδὲ ὁ δῆμος, οὕτως οὐδὲ ὁ δήμιος οὐδὲ τὸ δήμιον, ὡς δῆλον ἔκ τε τῶν δημιοπράτων, ὧν μέμνηται καὶ ὁ Κωμικός, καὶ ἐκ τῶν ῾Ομηρικῶν δημιοεργῶν.

Theognis 1179-1182

“Kyrnus, revere and fear the gods. For this restrains a man
From doing or saying anything sinful.
Put a people-eating tyrant to rest however you want—
No criticism will come from the gods for that.”

Κύρνε, θεοὺς αἰδοῦ καὶ δείδιθι· τοῦτο γὰρ ἄνδρα
εἴργει μήθ’ ἕρδειν μήτε λέγειν ἀσεβῆ.
δημοφάγον δὲ τύραννον ὅπως ἐθέλεις κατακλῖναι
οὐ νέμεσις πρὸς θεῶν γίνεται οὐδεμία.

Hes. Works and Days 219-223

“Oath runs immediately from crooked judgments.
And a roar rises from wounded Justice where men strike,
Bribe-eating men who apply the law with crooked judgments.

αὐτίκα γὰρ τρέχει ῞Ορκος ἅμα σκολιῇσι δίκῃσιν·
τῆς δὲ Δίκης ῥόθος ἑλκομένης ᾗ κ’ ἄνδρες ἄγωσι
δωροφάγοι, σκολιῇς δὲ δίκῃς κρίνωσι θέμιστας·

263-266

“Guard against these things, kings, and straighten your stories,
Bribe-eaters, forget about your crooked rulings completely.
Who fashions evil for another man brings it on himself.
The vilest end comes for the man who has made evil plans.”

ταῦτα φυλασσόμενοι, βασιλῆς, ἰθύνετε μύθους,
δωροφάγοι, σκολιέων δὲ δικέων ἐπὶ πάγχυ λάθεσθε.
οἷ αὐτῷ κακὰ τεύχει ἀνὴρ ἄλλῳ κακὰ τεύχων,
ἡ δὲ κακὴ βουλὴ τῷ βουλεύσαντι κακίστη.

Schol ad Hes. Prolg. 125

“He says this educationally, answering to the kings who should make a great effort to make people prosperous even though some of them take bribes. Not only this, he says clearly that if the kingly right is bestowed by the gods to do good, then it is right that kingly men be givers of wealth, and to expunge wrong doing, including a desire for money, for which they should be leaders for others according to the will of the gods.”

ΠΛΟΥΤΟΔΟΤΑΙ. Τοῦτο παιδευτικῶς εἶπεν, ἀποκρινόμενος πρὸς τοὺς βασιλεῖς, οἳ πολλοῦ δέουσιν εὐπόρους ποιεῖν τοὺς ἀνθρώπους δωροφάγοι τινὲς ὄντες. Μονονουχὶ λέγει σαφῶς, εἰ γέρας ἐστὶ βασιλικὸν προτεινόμενον ὑπὸ τῶν θεῶν τὸ ἀγαθοποιεῖν, καὶ πλουτοδότας εἶναι δεῖ τοὺς βασιλικοὺς ἄνδρας, καθαρεύειν τε πάσης κακουργίας, καὶ τῆς τῶν χρημάτων ἐπιθυμίας, ὧν εἰσιν ἄλλοις χορηγοὶ κατὰβούλησιν τῶν θεῶν. PROCLUS.

Image result for ancient greek king vase

Poets and Kings, Pausanias, 1.2.2-4

 

“Even in that time poets lived with kings as in earlier generations Anacreon was at the home of the tyrant Polykrates in Samos or Aeschylus and Simonides traveled to see Hieron in Syracuse. Dionysus, who ruled in Sicily later, entertained Philoxenos and Antagoras of Rhodes was at the court of Antigonus the king of Macedon along with Aratus the Solean.

Hesiod and Homer either did not win the friendship of kings or they willfully looked down on it—the former because he was too rustic and reluctant to travel, and Homer, though he traveled far, wished more for repute among the masses than help getting money from kings (even though in Homer’s poems we find Demodocus present at Alkinoos’ court and the fact that Agamemnon left a poet behind to advise his wife).”

 

συνῆσαν δὲ ἄρα καὶ τότε τοῖς βασιλεῦσι ποιηταὶ καὶ πρότερον ἔτι καὶ Πολυκράτει Σάμου τυραννοῦντι ᾿Ανακρέων παρῆν καὶ ἐς Συρακούσας πρὸς ῾Ιέρωνα Αἰσχύλος καὶ Σιμωνίδης ἐστάλησαν· Διονυσίῳ δέ, ὃς ὕστερον ἐτυράννησεν ἐν Σικελίᾳ, Φιλόξενος παρῆν καὶ ᾿Αντιγόνῳ Μακεδόνων ἄρχοντι ᾿Ανταγόρας ῾Ρόδιος καὶ Σολεὺς ῎Αρατος. ῾Ησίοδος δὲ καὶ ῞Ομηρος ἢ συγγενέσθαι βασιλεῦσιν ἠτύχησαν ἢ καὶ ἑκόντες ὠλιγώρησαν, ὁ μὲν ἀγροικίᾳ καὶ ὄκνῳ πλάνης, ῞Ομηρος δὲ ἀποδημήσας ἐπὶ μακρότατον καὶ τὴν ὠφέλειαν <τὴν> ἐς χρήματα παρὰ τῶν δυνατῶν ὑστέραν θέμενος τῆς παρὰ τοῖς πολλοῖς δόξης, ἐπεὶ καὶ ῾Ομήρῳ πεποιημένα  ἐστὶν ᾿Αλκίνῳ παρεῖναι Δημόδοκον καὶ ὡς ᾿Αγαμέμνων καταλείποι τινὰ παρὰ τῇ γυναικὶ ποιητήν.

Hesiod on Justice and the Corruption of Power (Works and Days, 256-273)

“Justice is a maiden who was born from Zeus.
The gods who live on Olympus honor her
and whenever someone wrongs her by bearing false witness
she sits straightaway at the feet of Zeus, Kronos’ son
and tells him the plans of unjust men so that the people
will pay the price of the wickedness of kings who make murderous plans
and twist her truth by proclaiming false judgments.
Keep these things in mind, bribe-swallowing kings:
whoever wrongs another also wrongs himself;
an evil plan is most evil for the one who makes it.
The eye of Zeus sees everything and knows everything
and even now, if he wishes, will look on us and not miss
what kind of justice the walls of our city protects.
Today, I wouldn’t wish myself to be a just man among men
nor my son, since it bad to be a just man
If anyone who is more unjust has greater rights.
But I hope that Zeus, the counselor, will not let this happen.”

 

ἡ δέ τε παρθένος ἐστὶ Δίκη, Διὸς ἐκγεγαυῖα,
κυδρή τ’ αἰδοίη τε θεοῖς οἳ ῎Ολυμπον ἔχουσιν,
καί ῥ’ ὁπότ’ ἄν τίς μιν βλάπτῃ σκολιῶς ὀνοτάζων,
αὐτίκα πὰρ Διὶ πατρὶ καθεζομένη Κρονίωνι
γηρύετ’ ἀνθρώπων ἀδίκων νόον, ὄφρ’ ἀποτείσῃ
δῆμος ἀτασθαλίας βασιλέων οἳ λυγρὰ νοεῦντες
ἄλλῃ παρκλίνωσι δίκας σκολιῶς ἐνέποντες.
ταῦτα φυλασσόμενοι, βασιλῆς, ἰθύνετε μύθους,
δωροφάγοι, σκολιέων δὲ δικέων ἐπὶ πάγχυ λάθεσθε.
οἷ αὐτῷ κακὰ τεύχει ἀνὴρ ἄλλῳ κακὰ τεύχων,
ἡ δὲ κακὴ βουλὴ τῷ βουλεύσαντι κακίστη.
πάντα ἰδὼν Διὸς ὀφθαλμὸς καὶ πάντα νοήσας
καί νυ τάδ’, αἴ κ’ ἐθέλῃσ’, ἐπιδέρκεται, οὐδέ ἑ λήθει
οἵην δὴ καὶ τήνδε δίκην πόλις ἐντὸς ἐέργει.
νῦν δὴ ἐγὼ μήτ’ αὐτὸς ἐν ἀνθρώποισι δίκαιος
εἴην μήτ’ ἐμὸς υἱός, ἐπεὶ κακὸν ἄνδρα δίκαιον
ἔμμεναι, εἰ μείζω γε δίκην ἀδικώτερος ἕξει.
ἀλλὰ τά γ’ οὔπω ἔολπα τελεῖν Δία μητιόεντα.

 

Although he holds out the promise of a world governed by just and wise rulers in the Theogony, Hesiod laments the failure of those in power to uphold justice and judge those beneath them fairly in the Works and Days. Those in power or favored by power structures, it seems, have always had their own interests in mind.