Letter VII 333a-337e — Fatos e conselhos

This was the language and these the exhortations given by us, the conspirators against Dionysios according to the charges circulated from various sources — charges which, prevailing as they did with Dionysios, caused the expulsion of Dion and reduced me to a state of apprehension. But when — to summarise great events which happened in no great time — Dion returned from the Peloponnese and Athens, his advice to Dionysios took the form of action.

To proceed — when Dion had twice over delivered the city and restored it to the citizens, the Syracusans went through the same changes of feeling towards him as Dionysios had gone through, when Dion attempted first to educate him and train him to be a sovereign worthy of supreme power and, when that was done, to be his coadjutor in all the details of his career. Dionysios listened to those who circulated slanders to the effect that Dion was aiming at the tyranny in all the steps which he took at that time his intention being that Dionysios, when his mind had fallen under the spell of culture, should neglect the government and leave it in his hands, and that he should then appropriate it for himself and treacherously depose Dionysios. These slanders were victorious on that occasion ; they were so once more when circulated among the Syracusans, winning a victory which took an extraordinary course and proved disgraceful to its authors. The story of what then took place is one which deserves careful attention on the part of those who are inviting me to deal with the present situation.

I, an Athenian and friend of Dion, came as his ally to the court of Dionysios, in order that I might create good will in place of a state war ; in my conflict with the authors of these slanders I was worsted. When Dionysios tried to persuade me by offers of honours and wealth to attach myself to him, and with a view to giving a decent colour to Dion’s expulsion a witness and friend on his side, he failed completely in his attempt. Later on, when Dion returned from exile, he took with him from Athens two brothers, who had been his friends, not from community in philosophic study, but with the ordinary companionship common among most friends, which they form as the result of relations of hospitality and the intercourse which occurs when one man initiates the other in the mysteries. It was from this kind of intercourse and from services connected with his return that these two helpers in his restoration became his companions. Having come to Sicily, when they perceived that Dion had been misrepresented to the Sicilian Greeks, whom he had liberated, as one that plotted to become monarch, they not only betrayed their companion and friend, but shared personally in the guilt of his murder, standing by his murderers as supporters with weapons in their hands. The guilt and impiety of their conduct I neither excuse nor do I dwell upon it. For many others make it their business to harp upon it, and will make it their business in the future. But I do take exception to the statement that, because they were Athenians, they have brought shame upon this city. For I say that he too is an Athenian who refused to betray this same Dion, when he had the offer of riches and many other honours. For his was no common or vulgar friendship, but rested on community in liberal education, and this is the one thing in which a wise man will put his trust, far more than in ties of personal and bodily kinship. So the two murderers of Dion were not of sufficient importance to be causes of disgrace to this city, as though they had been men of any note.

All this has been said with a view to counselling the friends and family of Dion. And in addition to this I give for the third time to you the same advice and counsel which I have given twice before to others — not to enslave Sicily or any other State to despots — this my counsel but — to put it under the rule of laws — for the other course is better neither for the enslavers nor for the enslaved, for themselves, their children’s children and descendants ; the attempt is in every way fraught with disaster. It is only small and mean natures that are bent upon seizing such gains for themselves, natures that know nothing of goodness and justice, divine as well as human, in this life and in the next.

These are the lessons which I tried to teach, first to Dion, secondly to Dionysios, and now for the third time to you. Do you obey me thinking of Zeus the Preserver, the patron of third ventures, and looking at the lot of Dionysios and Dion, of whom the one who disobeyed me is living in dishonour, while he who obeyed me has died honourably. For the one thing which is wholly right and noble is to strive for that which is most honourable for a man’s self and for his country, and to face the consequences whatever they may be. For none of us can escape death, nor, if a man could do so, would it, as the vulgar suppose, make him happy. For nothing evil or good, which is worth mentioning at all, belongs to things soulless ; but good or evil will be the portion of every soul, either while attached to the body or when separated from it.

And we should in very truth always believe those ancient and sacred teachings, which declare that the soul is immortal, that it has judges, and suffers the greatest penalties when it has been separated from the body. Therefore also we should consider it a lesser evil to suffer great wrongs and outrages than to do them. The covetous man, impoverished as he is in the soul, turns a deaf ear to this teaching ; or if he hears it, he laughs it to scorn with fancied superiority, and shamelessly snatches for himself from every source whatever his bestial fancy supposes will provide for him the means of eating or drinking or glutting himself with that slavish and gross pleasure which is falsely called after the goddess of love. He is blind and cannot see in those acts of plunder which are accompanied by impiety what heinous guilt is attached to each wrongful deed, and that the offender must drag with him the burden of this impiety while he moves about on earth, and when he has travelled beneath the earth on a journey which has every circumstance of shame and misery.

It was by urging these and other like truths that I convinced Dion, and it is I who have the best right to be angered with his murderers in much the same way as I have with Dionysios. For both they and he have done the greatest injury to me, and I might almost say to all mankind, they by slaying the man that was willing to act righteously, and he by refusing to act righteously during the whole of his rule, when he held supreme power, in which rule if philosophy and power had really met together, it would have sent forth a light to all men, Greeks and barbarians, establishing fully for all the true belief that there can be no happiness either for the community or for the individual man, unless he passes his life under the rule of righteousness with the guidance of wisdom, either possessing these virtues in himself, or living under the rule of godly men and having received a right training and education in morals. These were the aims which Dionysios injured, and for me everything else is a trifling injury compared with this.

The murderer of Dion has, without knowing it, done the same as Dionysios. For as regards Dion, I know right well, so far as it is possible for a man to say anything positively about other men, that, if he had got the supreme power, he would never have turned his mind to any other form of rule, but that, dealing first with Syracuse, his own native land, when he had made an end of her slavery, clothed her in bright apparel, and given her the garb of freedom, he would then by every means in his power have ordered aright the lives of his fellow-citizens by suitable and excellent laws ; and the thing next in order, which he would have set his heart to accomplish, was to found again all the States of Sicily and make them free from the barbarians, driving out some and subduing others, an easier task for him than it was for Hiero. If these things had been accomplished by a man who was just and brave and temperate and a philosopher, the same belief with regard to virtue would have been established among the majority which, if Dionysios had been won over, would have been established, I might almost say, among all mankind and would have given them salvation. But now some higher power or avenging fiend has fallen upon them, inspiring them with lawlessness, godlessness and acts of recklessness issuing from ignorance, the seed from which all evils for all mankind take root and grow and will in future bear the bitterest harvest for those who brought them into being. This ignorance it was which in that second venture wrecked and ruined everything.

And now, for good luck’s sake, let us on this third venture abstain from words of ill omen. But, nevertheless, I advise you, his friends, to imitate in Dion his love for his country and his temperate habits of daily life, and to try with better auspices to carry out his wishes — what these were, you have heard from me in plain words. And whoever among you cannot live the simple Dorian life according to the customs of your forefathers, but follows the manner of life of Dion’s murderers and of the Sicilians, do not invite this man to join you, or expect him to do any loyal or salutary act ; but invite all others to the work of resettling all the States of Sicily and establishing equality under the laws, summoning them from Sicily itself and from the whole Peloponnese — and have no fear even of Athens ; for there, also, are men who excel all mankind in their devotion to virtue and in hatred of the reckless acts of those who shed the blood of friends.

But if, after all, this is work for a future time, whereas immediate action is called for by the disorders of all sorts and kinds which arise every day from your state of civil strife, every man to whom Providence has given even a moderate share of right intelligence ought to know that in times of civil strife there is no respite from trouble till the victors make an end of feeding their grudge by combats and banishments and executions, and of wreaking their vengeance on their enemies. They should master themselves and, enacting impartial laws, framed not to gratify themselves more than the conquered party, should compel men to obey these by two restraining forces, respect and fear ; fear, because they are the masters and can display superior force ; respect, because they rise superior to pleasures and are willing and able to be servants to the laws. There is no other way save this for terminating the troubles of a city that is in a state of civil strife ; but a constant continuance of internal disorders, struggles, hatred and mutual distrust is the common lot of cities which are in that plight.

Therefore, those who have for the time being gained the upper hand, when they desire to secure their position, must by their own act and choice select from all Hellas men whom they have ascertained to be the best for the purpose. These must in the first place be men of mature years, who have children and wives at home, and, as far as possible, a long line of ancestors of good repute, and all must be possessed of sufficient property. For a city of ten thousand householders their numbers should be fifty ; that is enough. These they must induce to come from their own homes by entreaties and the promise of the highest honours ; and having induced them to come they must entreat and command them to draw up laws after binding themselves by oath to show no partiality either to conquerors or to conquered, but to give equal and common rights to the whole State.

When laws have been enacted, what everything then hinges on is this. If the conquerors show more obedience to the laws than the conquered, the whole State will be full of security and happiness, and there will be an escape from all your troubles. But if they do not, then do not summon me or any other helper to aid you against those who do not obey the counsel I now give you. For this course is akin to that which Dion and I attempted to carry out with our hearts set on the welfare of Syracuse. It is indeed a second best course. The first and best was that scheme of welfare to all mankind which we attempted to carry out with the co-operation of Dionysios ; but some chance, mightier than men, brought it to nothing. Do you now, with good fortune attending you and with Heaven’s help, try to bring your efforts to a happier issue.