Stories of the Ancient Greeks - Charles D. Shaw

The Faithful Friends

Dionysius the Elder was a young man who enlisted and fought in the army of Syracuse. He was so brave and faithful that everybody liked and honored him, and after a while he became general of that very army in which he had been a private soldier.

That did not satisfy him; he wanted to be greater still, so by the help of the army he made himself master of the city. For thirty-eight years he was ruler, and showed himself wise and strong, though very harsh and severe.

He liked poetry and wrote poems, some of which took prizes at Athens. He invited the wise and great Plato to come and live with him at Syracuse. But the wise man's talk was too deep and solemn for Dionysius, and it is said that he sold Plato for a slave. A friend afterwards bought him and set him free.

Two men were then living in Syracuse who were firm friends. Where one was found the other could generally be seen, for they were almost always together. One was named Damon, the other Pythias, or rather Phintias. Damon had called Dionysius a tyrant, and had tried to kill him, that the land might be free from his rule. Damon was arrested and orders were given that he should be put to death. His wife and child were then at a distance from Syracuse and he asked that he might be allowed to go and bid them farewell. His friend Pythias is said, "I will stay in prison while he is gone and if he is not back at the appointed time I will die in his place."

Dionysius consented, for he thought that Damon would stay away and Pythias would be put to death, and so both these men would be out of his way. Pythias went to prison and Damon set out upon his journey.

He saw his wife and child, stayed with them a little while, then kissed them and said, "Good-by forever!"

He ordered a slave to bring his horse so that he might start on his return.

"Your horse, master?" said the trembling servant. "Did you say your horse?"

"Yes," cried Damon, "my horse, that I may hurry back to Syracuse. Why do you tremble and look so pale? Has anything happened to the horse?"

"Yes, master," replied the boy. "Something has happened; he is dead."

"Dead?" said the master, turning pale as the boy "Then, traitor, you have killed him."

"O master," cried the lad, "I could not let you go to die! Think of my mistress and the little boy. Stay with us! The tyrant will not follow you here."

"Murderer!" exclaimed Damon. "It is not my horse you have killed, it is my friend. O Pythias, Pythias!"

"Stay, master, stay!" pleaded the youth. His master struck him a heavy blow, crying, "Out of my way, traitor and murderer. I stay too long and Pythias will die."

Then he rushed away on foot toward Syracuse. He came to a little river which generally could be easily crossed, but it had risen into a raging torrent. He flung himself into the roaring water and struggled through to the opposite bank. Then he ran again until his strength was nearly gone. A merchant was riding easily along on a good horse.

"Friend," said Damon, "sell me your horse. I must reach Syracuse by sunset and I cannot run any farther. Sell me your horse. I will give you any price."

"No," answered the merchant. "I need my horse. It is too far for me to walk and if I go on foot robbers can easily overtake me."

"I cannot parley," cried Damon. "It is life or death for another as well as for myself. Will you sell?" "No," replied the merchant.

Damon pulled the man from his horse, threw him a purse of money, mounted and rode at full speed toward the distant city.

Damon and Pythias


Sunset of the third day had nearly come. The block for execution was ready outside one of the gates of Syracuse. Great crowds gathered, for it was known that Damon had not returned and that Pythias must die for his friend.

He was led out of the prison and Dionysius said, "Your friend has not come back to die. You foolishly thought he would keep his promise. I knew better. Do not ask for mercy; none will be granted."

Pythias said, "I ask no mercy. Damon is either sick or dead, for he would never break his word. He would be faithful to me as I am faithful to him."

The sun sank down in the western sky. Pythias was led up the steps of the platform, where the block stood on which he was to be beheaded. The people were sorry, for he was brave and noble, but Dionysius was glad.

Suddenly there was a stir at the edge of the crowd. A shout arose from the same direction. Everybody turned to look. A horse, gray with foam and dust, burst through the ranks of people and Damon leaped from his back.

"Forgive me, Pythias," he cried. "I could not come sooner, but I am yet in time."

One long, loud cry went up from the crowded square.

Pardon, pardon for Damon," was the shout.

Dionysius bowed his proud head. "Release the prisoner," he ordered. "Let there be three true friends," he said, "Damon and Pythias and myself."