Damon and Pythias
once lived two men, called Damon and Pythias. They were both lovers of truth and
integrity and in all the city of Syracuse they could find no one who upheld these
principles so well as each other.
Dionysius was at that time the ruler of Syracuse; he wielded complete
authority and very often abused his power, for he was hot-tempered and imperious
and anyone who angered him was put to death.
One day he was informed that a young man named Pythias had been heard
complaining against the cruelty of Dionysius; no one was allowed to criticise
the ruler, and Dionysius condemned the youth to die.
When Pythias learnt of his fate, he begged to be allowed to return home to set
his affairs in order.
“How far away is your home?” enquired Dionysius suspiciously, “and how may
I be certain you will return?”
“My home is many miles distant,” replies Pythias, “but I have a friend,
Damon, who is willing to take my place while I am away.”
There was a stir
amongst the bystanders and a man stepped to Pythias’s side.
“I am Damon, my lord” he said. “I will give myself up as a pledge
of my friend’s return, and if any accident befalls him I will die in his
The tyrant was amazed by this generosity, and gave Pythias leave to depart,
fixing on the day and hour of his return, and warning that he would not fail to
exercise justice on his friend, if he did not arrive back in time.
The days passed and the morning dawned on which Pythias was to have been
executed – still, Pythias did not appear, and the people of Syracuse said that
Damon would surely be killed.
Everyone was agreed in condemning his behaviour as rash and foolhardy; but Damon
himself was the happiest man in the prison. He was filled with hope that his
friend would not return in time, and he was led out to execution with a cheerful
face. Dionysius had come to see him meet his death, and called out to him in
“So, Damon, where is your friend, of whom you were so
confident? I fear you have allowed him to take advantage of your simplicity.”
impossible for me to doubt my friend’s constancy,” replied Damon. “Perhaps
he has met with some accident along the way.”
At that moment a horse broke through the crowd, and Pythias,
travel-stained and weary, half fell out of his saddle, and ran to embrace his
“I am come – in time,” he gasped. “My horse – was killed, and I could
not find another. Thank heaven I am in time to save you!”
But Damon did not want Pythias to die. He pleaded with him to allow the
execution to continue, and Dionysius watched in disbelief as each friend eagerly
sought to give up his life for the other.
“Cease, cease these debates,” he exclaimed, stepping forward and
taking their hands. “I hereby set both of you free. Never in my life have I
seen such loyalty; nor did I dream such a thing could exist. I beg you will
accept my pardon and allow me to share in your friendship.”
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