Cornelius Nepos : Life of Dion

Translated by J.C. Rolfe (1929). Click on the L symbols to go to the Latin text of each chapter.   Click on ** to go to the translator's footnotes.


IX.   Conon   

  X.   DION   

  [1] L   Dion, son of Hipparinus, of Syracuse, sprung from a noble family, was connected with the tyranny of both the Dionysii; for the elder Dionysius married Aristomache, Dion's sister; by her he had two sons, Hipparinus and Niseis, and the same number of daughters, Sophrosyne and Arete. Of these daughters he gave the former in marriage to Dionysius, the son to whom he left his throne, the latter, Arete, to Dion.   

  2 Dion, however, besides that illustrious relationship and the distinguished renown of his ancestors, possessed many natural advantages, including a receptive mind, affability, and aptitude for the highest accomplishments; great personal dignity, which is not the least of recommendations; large means too, left him by his father, which he had himself increased through the gifts of the tyrant. 3 He was intimate with the elder Dionysius as much because of his character as their relationship; for although he disapproved of the tyrant's cruelty, yet his safety was dear to him on account of their kinship, and still more so for the sake of his own family. He assisted Dionysius in important matters of business, and the tyrant was strongly influenced by his advice, except when some especially ardent desire of his own had turned the scale. 4 In fact, all embassies of special distinction were conducted through Dion, and since he entered upon them with care and managed them scrupulously, he lessened the tyrant's reputation for cruelty by his own kindliness. 5 When he was sent by Dionysius to Carthage, he was so honoured that no native of Greece ever excited greater admiration. 

  [2] L   Now all this did not escape the notice of Dionysius, for he was aware of the honour conferred upon him by his relative. In consequence, he favoured Dion beyond all others and loved him like a son. 2 So when the report made its way to Sicily that Plato had come to Tarentum, he could not refuse the young man's request to invite the philosopher to his court, since Dion had an ardent longing to hear him. Therefore, he gratified the youth's desire and brought Plato to Syracuse in great state. 3 Him Dion so admired and loved that he devoted himself to him heart and soul. And, indeed, Plato for his part was no less delighted with Dion; so much so that, although he had been cruelly wronged by Dionysius, who had ordered him to be sold as a slave, he nevertheless returned to that same land, led once more by the entreaties of Dion.   

  4 Meanwhile Dionysius had fallen ill, and as he grew worse, Dion inquired of the physicians how he was, at the same time begging them, if the king chanced to be in greater danger, not to conceal it from him; for he said that he wished to confer with Dionysius about dividing the kingdom, believing that the sons of his own sister, as children of the king, ought to have a share in the realm. 5 This request the physicians did not keep secret, but reported what had been said to the younger Dionysius. The latter, disquieted by the information, compelled the physicians to give his father a soporific, in order that Dion might have no opportunity for a conference; and when the patient had taken the drug, he seemed to fall asleep and died without awakening.   

  [3] L   Such was the beginning of the hostility between Dion and Dionysius, and it was aggravated by many circumstances. At first, however, they remained friends outwardly for a time, and when Dion did not cease to beg Dionysius to summon Plato from Athens and avail himself of the philosopher's advice, the tyrant, who wished to follow his father's example in some particular, granted the request. 2 At the same time he recalled ** the historian Philistus to Syracuse, a man who was no more friendly to the tyrant than to tyrants in general. But about him I have given fuller particulars in the book which I wrote on the Greek historians. 3 As for Plato, such was his influence over the tyrant, and so great was the effect of his eloquence, that he persuaded Dionysius to put an end to his tyranny and restore their freedom to the Syracusans; but he was dissuaded by the advice of Philistus and began to show considerably greater cruelty than before.   

  [4] L   Since Dionysius perceived that he was surpassed by Dion in ability, in influence, and in the affections of the people, he feared that, if he kept his rival near him, he might furnish an opportunity for his own downfall. Accordingly, he gave him a trireme in which to sail to Corinth, explaining that he did so for both their sakes; for since they feared each other, there was danger that one might take advantage of the other. 2 Since that action excited widespread indignation and great hatred of the tyrant, Dionysius loaded all Dion's movable property into ships and sent it to him, wishing to give the impression that he had been actuated, not by hatred of his rival, but by regard for his own safety. 3 But when he learned that the exile was levying a force in the Peloponnese and planning to make war upon him, Dionysius gave Dion's wife, Arete, in marriage to another, and caused his son to be brought up under such conditions that, as the result of indulgence, he developed the most shameful passions. 4 For before he had grown up, the boy was supplied with courtesans, gorged with food and wine, and kept in a constant state of drunkenness. 5 When his father returned to his native land, the youth found it so impossible to endure the changed conditions of his life - for guardians were appointed to wean him from his former habits - that he threw himself from the top of his house and so perished. But I return to my subject.  

  [5] L   After Dion arrived in Corinth, he found that Heraclides also had taken refuge there; he too had been banished by Dionysius, whose cavalry he had formerly commanded. The two exiles began to make active preparations for war, 2 but they did not accomplish much, since the rule of the tyrants was of so many years' standing ** that it was regarded as very powerful, and consequently few could be induced to share in so dangerous an undertaking. 3 Nevertheless Dion, relying less upon his own resources than on hatred of the tyrant, although he had but two transports, sallied forth with the greatest courage to attack a dynasty of fifty years' duration, defended by five hundred war-ships, ten thousand horsemen and a hundred thousand foot. And he so easily overthrew his opponents - a success which filled all nations with amazement - that two days after landing in Sicily he entered Syracuse; which goes to show that no rule is secure which is not founded upon the devotion of its subjects.   

  4 At that time Dionysius was away from home, awaiting the enemy's fleet in Italy; for he thought that no one would come against him without great forces. 5 But he was mistaken; for Dion with those very people who had been under the heel of his opponent broke the king's pride and gained possession of all that part of Sicily which Dionysius had ruled, as well as of the city of Syracuse, except the citadel and island ** that formed a part of the town. 6 So successful was he, in fact, that the tyrant consented to make peace on the following terms: Sicily was to fall to Dion, Italy ** to Dionysius, and Syracuse to Apollocrates, who was especially trusted by Dionysius. **   

  [6] L   This success, so great and so unexpected, was followed by a sudden change, since Fortune, with her usual fickleness, proceeded to bring down the man whom she had shortly before exalted. 2 First, she showed her cruelty in connection with the son of whom I have previously spoken; for when Dion had recovered his wife, who had been handed over to another, ** and was trying to recall his son from his abandoned wantonness to a life of virtue, he suffered in the death of that son the wound most painful for a father. 3 Next, dissension arose between him and Heraclides, who, unwilling to yield the first place to Dion, formed a party against him. Heraclides had no less influence with the aristocrats than Dion, and by them he was unanimously chosen to command the fleet, while Dion retained the land forces. 4 This situation Dion could not bear with patience, but quoted the well-known verse of Homer from his second book, ** of which the purport is, that a state cannot be well governed when there are many in authority. This saying of his, since it seemed to show that he aimed at supreme power, excited great dissatisfaction, 5 a dissatisfaction which he did not try to lessen by mildness, but to crush out by severity; and when Heraclides had come to Syracuse, he contrived to have him assassinated.   

  [7] L   That act filled all men with extreme fear; for after Heraclides had been killed, no one felt safe. But Dion, having rid himself of his rival, with still greater lawlessness divided among his soldiers the property of those whom he knew to be opposed to him. 2 After distributing that money, as his daily expenses were very great, he soon began to be in need of funds, and there was nothing on which he could lay his hands except the possessions of his friends. The result of his conduct was, that when he had won back the soldiers, he lost the support of the aristocracy. 3 The anxiety caused by these difficulties broke him down, and since he was not accustomed to criticism, he could not endure being thought ill of by those who but a short time before had exalted him to the skies with their praises. The common people too, now that he had lost the goodwill of the soldiers, spoke their minds more freely and insisted that a tyrant could not be tolerated.   

  [8] L   Dion, aware of all this discontent, not knowing how to allay it, and fearing its possible result, was approached by one Callicrates, ** a citizen of Athens, who had come with him to Sicily from the Peloponnese, a man both clever and skilled in deceit, utterly without scruple or sense of honour. He went to Dion and said: 2 "You are in great peril because of the ill-feeling of the people and the hostility of the soldiers. This you can escape in only one way, that is, by instructing some one of your friends to pretend to be your enemy. If you can hit upon the right man, it will be easy for him to acquaint himself with the feelings of the public and get rid of those who are hostile to you, since your foes will disclose their real sentiments to an enemy of yours."   

  3 This plan was approved, and Callicrates himself took the proposed part and armed himself at the expense of Dion's heedlessness. To bring about his death, he sought accomplices, addressed himself to Dion's enemies, and secured their loyalty by an oath. 4 The plot, since many were implicated in it, was revealed and came to the ears of Aristomache, Dion's sister, and of his wife, Arete. The two women, filled with terror, went to find the man for whose safety they feared; but he said that Callicrates was not plotting against him, but was acting in accordance with his directions. 5 In spite of that, the women took Callicrates to the temple of Proserpina and forced him to swear that Dion would be in no danger from him. But the conspirator, far from being turned from his purpose by such an oath, was urged to greater haste, for fear that his design should be disclosed before he had accomplished his purpose.   

  [9] L   With that end in view, on a holiday which soon followed, ** when Dion had remained at home to avoid the crowd and had lain down in an upper room, Callicrates delivered to his accomplices the more strongly fortified parts of the town, surrounded the palace with guards, and chose trusty men to keep constant watch at the doors. 2 He then equipped a trireme with armed men and committed it to his brother Philostratus, with orders to row up and down in the harbour, as if he were engaged in training his oarsmen, so that if by any chance Fortune thwarted his purpose, he might have the means of saving himself by flight. 3 Then from the number of his followers he chose some young men from Zacynthus, who were both very daring and very strong, and directed them to go to Dion unarmed, so that it might appear that they were coming to pay him a visit. The youths, since they were acquaintances, were admitted; 4 but no sooner had they crossed his threshold than they locked the door, rushed upon Dion as he lay in bed, and held him fast. The noise that they made could be heard outside.   

  5 In this instance too, as has often been said before, ** the hatred of absolute power and the wretched life of those who prefer to be feared rather than loved was readily apparent to all; 6 for Dion's own guards, ** if they had been well disposed, might have broken open the door and saved him, since he was still alive in the hands of his assailants, who were unarmed and calling for a weapon from without. But when no one came to his help, one Lycon, a Syracusan, passed a sword through the windows, ** and with it the tyrant was slain.   

  [10] L   After the murder had been committed and a crowd had flocked in to see the sight, several men were killed by mistake, in the belief that they had done the deed. For the rumour that violence had been offered to Dion quickly spread, and many hastened to the spot to whom such a crime was abhorrent. These it was who, misled by suspicion, slew the innocent in place of the guilty. 2 No sooner was Dion's death made known than the sentiment of the people changed in a remarkable manner. For those who had called him a tyrant while he was alive now insisted that he had saved his country and freed it from a tyrant. Hence, on a sudden, pity succeeded to hatred, and the people would have redeemed him from Acheron, had it been possible, at the price of their own blood. 3 And so he was buried in the most frequented part of the city at public expense, and the place of his burial was marked by a monument. He died at the age of about fifty-five, three years after returning from the Peloponnese to Sicily. 

XI.   Iphicrates →



1.   He had been banished by the elder Dionysius; see Plutarch, Dion, 13 ff.   

2.   Dionysius I had reigned thirty-eight years, from 406 to 367 B.C., and his son, so far, ten years.   

3.   That is, Ortygia. The citadel was on this island, which was joined to the rest of the city by a mole.   

4.   That is, the part of southern Italy which had fallen into the power of the Dionysii.   

5.   'Dion' in the MSS ; a lacuna before or after 'Dion' is suspected by many.  

6.   See 4. 3.  

7.   That is, Iliad ii. 204. The word rhapsōdia meant originally 'a recital of Epic poetry,' but was applied by the Romans to the books of Homer.   

8.   The man's name was really Callippus.   

9.   It was the festival of Proserpina, the goddess by whom Callicrates had sworn.   

10.   Cf. 6. 3. The other instances probably appeared in the lost books De Regibus.   

11.   These guards are obviously not the same as those mentioned in 9. 1. That Dion had guards outside his door is shown by the fact that the Zacynthian youths had to be recognised before they were admitted.   

12.   Since Dion was in an upper room, the sword must have been passed from the window of an adjacent house; hence fenestras, instead of fenestram. It is true that the account of Plutarch (Dion 57) differs from that of Nepos. 

XI.   Iphicrates →

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