The Story of the Greeks
Page: 93His sleep, even, was haunted by fear; and, lest some one should take him unawares, he slept in a bed surrounded by a deep trench. There was a drawbridge leading to the bed, which he always drew up himself on his own side, so that no one could get at him to murder him in his sleep.
Among the courtiers who daily visited Dionysius there was one called Dam´o-cles. He was a great flatterer, and was never weary of telling the tyrant how lucky and powerful and rich he was, and how enviable was his lot.
Dionysius finally grew tired of hearing his flattery; and when he once added, "If I were only obeyed as well as you, I should be the happiest of men," the tyrant offered to take him at his word.
By his order, Damocles was dressed in the richest garments, laid on the softest couch before the richest meal, and the servants were told to obey his every wish. This pleased Damocles greatly. He laughed and sang, ate and drank, and was enjoying himself most thoroughly.
By chance he idly gazed up at the ceiling, and saw a naked sword hanging by a single hair directly over his head. He grew pale with terror, the laughter died on his lips, and, as soon as he could move, he sprang from the couch, where he had been in such danger of being killed at any minute by the falling sword.
Dionysius with pretended surprise urged him to go back to his seat; but Damocles refused to do so, and pointed to the sword with a trembling hand. Then the tyrant[Pg 210] told him that a person always haunted by fear can never be truly happy,—an explanation which Damocles readily understood.
Since then, whenever a seemingly happy and prosperous person is threatened by a hidden danger, it has been usual to compare him to Damocles, and to say that a sword is hanging over his head.
When Dionysius the tyrant died at last, he was succeeded by his son, a lazy, good-for-nothing young man, who was always changing his mind. Every day he had some new fancy, admired something new, or rode some new hobby. As the son's name was the same as the father's, the latter is now sometimes known as Dionysius the Elder, while the son is generally called Dionysius the Younger.
The new tyrant had a brother-in-law named Di´on, a good and studious man, who had received an excellent education. Like most rich young Greeks of his day, Dion had gone to Athens to finish his studies; and there he had been a pupil of Plato, the disciple of Socrates.
As Dion was modest, truthful, and eager to learn, he soon became a favorite of Plato, who took great interest in him, and spared no pains to make him a fine scholar and philosopher.
When Dion came back to Syracuse, he often spoke[Pg 211] with great warmth of his teacher. This so excited the curiosity of Dionysius, the new tyrant, that he longed to see Plato himself. He therefore begged Dion to invite Plato to Syracuse to teach him also.