The Story of the Greeks
Dionysius, in the mean while, had been amusing himself by taunting Damon, constantly telling him that he was a fool to have risked his life for a friend, however dear. To anger him, he also insisted that Pythias was only too glad to escape death, and would be very careful not to return in time.
Damon, who knew the goodness and affection of his friend, received these remarks with the scorn they deserved, and repeated again and again that he knew Pythias would never break his word, but would be back in time, unless hindered in some unforeseen way.
The last hour came. The guards led Damon to the place of crucifixion, where he again asserted his faith in his friend, adding, however, that he sincerely hoped Pythias would come too late, so that he might die in his stead.
Just as the guards were about to nail Damon to the cross, Pythias dashed up, pale, bloodstained, and disheveled, and flung his arms around his friend's neck with a sob of relief. For the first time Damon now turned pale, and began to shed tears of bitter regret.
In a few hurried, panting words, Pythias explained the cause of his delay, and, loosing his friend's bonds with his own hands, bade the guards bind him instead.
Dionysius, who had come to see the execution, was so touched by this true friendship, that for once he forgot his cruelty, and let both young men go free, saying that he would not have believed such devotion possible had he not seen it with his own eyes.[Pg 208]
This friendship, which wrung tears from the grim executioners, and touched the tyrant's heart, has become proverbial. When men are devoted friends, they are often compared to Damon and Pythias, whose story has been a favorite with poets and playwrights.
Dionysius, tyrant of Syracuse, was not happy, in spite of all his wealth and power. He was especially haunted by the constant fear that some one would murder him, for he had been so cruel that he had made many bitter enemies.
We are told that he was so afraid, that he never went out unless surrounded by guards, sword in hand, and never walked into any room until his servants had examined every nook and corner, and made sure that no murderer was hiding there.
The tyrant even carried his caution so far, that no one was allowed to come into his presence until thoroughly searched, so as to make sure that the visitor had no weapon hidden about his person. When his barber once jokingly said that the tyrant's life was daily at his mercy, Dionysius would no longer allow the man to shave him.
Instead of the barber, Dionysius made his wife and daughter do this service for him, until, growing afraid of them also, he either did it himself or let his beard grow.
Suspicious people are never happy; and, as Dionysius thought that everybody had as evil thoughts as himself,[Pg 209] he was always expecting others to rob or murder or injure him in some way.