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.

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

And now for the audience participation part of the show:

An inspiration for a limerick:

or

But the reigning monarch of this game is Andrea:

But this is good:

other proposed lines:

The Illegal, Murderous Rapist: Herodotus Subtweets a Tyrant

I covered a class for a colleague today and read this bit from Herodotus for the first time in many years. It was, well, just a little eerie.

Herodotus 3.80

“Otanês was first urging the Persians to entrust governing to the people, saying these things: “it seems right to me that we no longer have a monarchy. For it is neither pleasing nor good. For you all know about the arrogance of Kambyses and you were a party to the insanity of the Magus. How could monarchy be a fitting thing when it permits an unaccountable person to do whatever he pleases? Even if you put the best of all men into this position he might go outside of customary thoughts. For hubris is nurtured by the fine things present around him, and envy is native to a person from the beginning.

The one who has these two qualities possesses every kind of malice. For one who is overfilled does many reckless things, some because of arrogance and some because of envy. Certainly, it would be right for a man who is a tyrant at least to have no envy at all, since he has all the good things. Yet he becomes the opposite of this towards his citizens: for he envies those who are best around him and live, and he takes pleasure in the worst of the citizens—he is the best at welcoming slanders.

He becomes the most disharmonious of all people—for if you admire him only moderately, then he is upset because you do not support him ardently. But if someone supports him excessively, he is angry at him for being a toady. The worst things are still to be said: he overturns traditional laws, he rapes women, and kills people without reason.”

᾿Οτάνης μὲν ἐκέλευε ἐς μέσον Πέρσῃσι καταθεῖναι τὰ πρήγματα, λέγων τάδε· «᾿Εμοὶ δοκέει ἕνα μὲν ἡμέων μούναρχον μηκέτι γενέσθαι· οὔτε γὰρ ἡδὺ οὔτε ἀγαθόν. Εἴδετε μὲν γὰρ τὴν Καμβύσεω ὕβριν ἐπ’ ὅσον ἐπεξῆλθε, μετεσχήκατε δὲ καὶ τῆς τοῦ μάγου ὕβριος. Κῶς δ’ ἂν εἴη χρῆμα κατηρτημένον μουναρχίη, τῇ ἔξεστι ἀνευθύνῳ ποιέειν τὰ βούλεται; Καὶ γὰρ ἂν τὸν ἄριστον ἀνδρῶν πάντων στάντα ἐς ταύτην τὴν ἀρχὴν ἐκτὸς τῶν ἐωθότων νοημάτων στήσειε. ᾿Εγγίνεται μὲν γάρ οἱ ὕβρις ὑπὸ τῶν παρεόντων ἀγαθῶν, φθόνος δὲ ἀρχῆθεν ἐμφύεται ἀνθρώπῳ. Δύο δ’ ἔχων ταῦτα ἔχει πᾶσαν κακότητα· τὰ μὲν γὰρ ὕβρι κεκορημένος ἔρδει πολλὰ καὶ ἀτάσθαλα, τὰ δὲ φθόνῳ. Καίτοι ἄνδρα γε τύραννον ἄφθονον ἔδει εἶναι, ἔχοντά γε πάντα τὰ ἀγαθά· τὸ δὲ ὑπεναντίον τούτου ἐς τοὺς πολιήτας πέφυκε· φθονέει γὰρ τοῖσι ἀρίστοισι περιεοῦσί τε καὶ ζώουσι, χαίρει δὲ τοῖσι κακίστοισι τῶν ἀστῶν, διαβολὰς δὲ ἄριστος ἐνδέκεσθαι.

᾿Αναρμοστότατον δὲ πάντων· ἤν τε γὰρ αὐτὸν μετρίως θωμάζῃς, ἄχθεται ὅτι οὐ κάρτα θεραπεύεται, ἤν τε θεραπεύῃ τις κάρτα, ἄχθεται ἅτε θωπί. Τὰ δὲ δὴ μέγιστα ἔρχομαι ἐρέων· νόμαιά τε κινέει πάτρια καὶ βιᾶται γυναῖκας κτείνει τε ἀκρίτους.

 

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Image from here

A Tyranny Gained Through Luck

Sallust, Letter to Caesar 2.3

“While the courts just as in previous eras have been run by the three orders, those political factions still rule them: they give and take what they may, giving the innocent the runaround and heaping honors on their own. Neither crime nor shame nor public disgrace disqualifies them from office. They rob, despoil whomever they please. And finally, as if the city has been sacked, they rely on their own lust and excess instead of the laws.

And for me this would only be a source of limited grief if, in their typical fashion, they were pursuing a victory born from excellence. But the laziest of people whose total strength and excellence come from their tongue are arrogantly administering a tyranny gained through luck and from another person! For what treason or civil discord has obliterated so many families? Who whose spirit was ever so hasty and extreme in victory?”

Iudicia tametsi, sicut antea, tribus ordinibus tradita sunt, tamen idem illi factiosi regunt, dant, adimunt quae lubet, innocentis circumveniunt, suos ad honorem extollunt. Non facinus, non probrum aut flagitium obstat, quo minus magistratus capiant. Quos commodum est trahunt, rapiunt; postremo tamquam urbe capta libidine ac licentia sua pro legibus utuntur.

Ac me quidem mediocris dolor angeret, si virtute partam victoriam more suo per servitium exercerent. Sed homines inertissimi, quorum omnis vis virtusque in lingua sita est, forte atque alterius socordia dominationem oblatam insolentes agitant. Nam quae seditio aut dissensio civilis tot tam illustris familias ab stirpe evertit? Aut quorum umquam in victoria animus tam praeceps tamque inmoderatus fuit?

 

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It’s Ok: Tyrants Don’t Get Real Pleasure from Sex

Xenophon, Hiero 1.29-30

“In his sexual relationships with boyfriends, much more even  than those activities for having children, a tyrant falls short of happiness. Certainly, we all understand that sexual pleasures are much increased under the influence of desire. But desire is certainly least willing to arise in a tyrant.

For lust does not take pleasure in aiming for things ready at hand, but instead for those things that are only hoped for. For this reason, a man who knows nothing of thirst gets no pleasure from drinking; and the man untested by desire is inexperienced of the sweetest sexual delights”

Ἐν δὲ τοῖς παιδικοῖς ἀφροδισίοις ἔτι αὖ πολὺ μᾶλλον ἢ ἐν τοῖς τεκνοποιοῖς μειονεκτεῖ τῶν εὐφροσυνῶν ὁ τύραννος. ὅτι μὲν γὰρ τὰ μετ᾿ ἔρωτος ἀφροδίσια πολὺ διαφερόντως εὐφραίνει, πάντες δήπου ἐπιστάμεθα. ὁ δὲ ἔρως πολὺ αὖ ἐθέλει ἥκιστα τῷ τυράννῳ ἐγγίγνεσθαι. οὐ γὰρ τῶν ἑτοίμων ἥδεται ὁ ἔρως ἐφιέμενος, ἀλλὰ τῶν ἐλπιζομένων. ὥσπερ οὖν οὐκ ἄν τις ἄπειρος ὢν δίψους τοῦ πιεῖν ἀπολαύοι, οὕτω καὶ ὁ ἄπειρος ὢν ἔρωτος ἄπειρός ἐστι τῶν ἡδίστων ἀφροδισίων.

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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.

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

Screaming and Intemperance of Words: A Cruel Reign

Seneca, De Clementia, 7

“A cruel reign is churning and dark with shadows; meanwhile, people shudder and grow pale at the surprising sound, even as the one who causes the confusion trembles too. Someone is forgiven more easily in private affairs for seeking vengeance for themselves. For they can be wounded and the sorrow comes from the injury and they fear being scorned. It seems that it is weakness for the wounded not to return the favor rather than mercy.

But the one for whom vengeance is easy earns certain praise for clemency once vengeance is dismissed. It is for people in a humble place to use force, to feud, to rush into a battle and to give a free rein to wrath. When blows fall among equals, they are light; but for a king, screaming and intemperance of words are ill-fit to his majesty.”

Crudele regnum turbidum tenebrisque obscurum est, inter trementes et ad repentinum sonitum expavescentes ne eo quidem, qui omnia perturbat, inconcusso. Facilius privatis ignoscitur pertinaciter se vindicantibus; possunt enim laedi, dolorque eorum ab iniuria venit; timent praeterea contemptum, et non rettulisse laedentibus gratiam infirmitas videtur, non clementia; at cui ultio in facili est, is omissa ea certam laudem mansuetudinis consequitur. Humili loco positis exercere manum, litigare, in rixam procurrere ac morem irae suae gerere liberius est; leves inter paria ictus sunt; regi vociferatio quoque verborumque intemperantia non ex maiestate est.

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Liber Floridus

Some Fragments on Tyrants

Stobaeus 3.5.42

“Gelôn the tyrant of Sicily had a rotting-mouth. When one of his friends told him, he got angry with his wife because she hadn’t informed him. But she said, “I was just imagining that the mouth of the rest of people smelled similarly.”

Γέλων ὁ Σικελίας τύραννος σαπρόστομος ἦν. ὡς οὖν τῶν φίλων τις εἶπεν αὐτῷ, ὠργίζετο τῇ γυναικὶ ὅτι οὐκ ἐμήνυσεν αὐτῷ· ἣ δὲ ἔφη, ‘ᾤμην γὰρ καὶ τῶν λοιπῶν
ὁμοίως ὄζειν τὸ στόμα.’

Euripides, fr. 76

“See how the tyrant flees as a childless old man.
It is wrong for one who is mortal to think so much of himself.”

῾Ορᾶτε τὸν τύραννον, ὡς ἄπαις γέρων
φεύγει· φρονεῖν δὲ θνητὸν ὄντ’ οὐ χρὴ μέγα.

fr. 171

“A tyrant must please the mob.”

Δεῖ τοῖσι πολλοῖς τὸν τύραννον ἁνδάνειν.

fr. 275

“May everyone who delights in a little tyranny
or monarchy in their state perish terribly .
Freedom is a word worth everything—
then even one with little is considered to have something great.”

Κακῶς δ’ ὄλοιντο πάντες, οἳ τυραννίδι
χαίρουσιν ὀλίγῃ τ’ ἐν πόλει μοναρχίᾳ.
τοὐλεύθερον γὰρ ὄνομα παντὸς ἄξιον,
κἂν μίκρ’ ἔχῃ τις, μεγάλ’ ἔχειν νομίζεται.

More posts on tyrants.

Why democracies vote for tyrants

Differences between tyrants and kings

Etymologies for Tyrants

Tyrant Compounds

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Douce Apocalypse, Satan’s army, 1270