Xenophontos Hierōn, ē Tyrannikos = Xenophontis Hiero sive De Regno

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by Xenophon

Xenophontos Hieron, e Tyrannikos
George Wythe bookplate.jpg
Title not held by The Wolf Law Library
at the College of William & Mary.
Author Xenophon
Published Glasguæ: in Aedibus Academicis Excudebat R. Foulis, Academiae Typographus
Date 1745
Language Greek and Latin
Volumes volume set

Xenophon (c.428-c.354 BCE) was an Athenian historian and disciple of Socrates who had a somewhat turbulent relationship with his home city. He was born into a wealthy family and supported the short-lived oligarchic government of Athens established in 411 BCE, which likely made it difficult for him when the democratic government was reinstated.[1] In 401, Xenophon joined a mercenary army and went on an expedition with the newly deceased Persian king’s son and commander Cyrus the Younger who attempted to take the throne from his older brother.[2] After the failure of that attempted coup and Cyrus’s death, Xenophon returned to Greece with the rest of Cyrus’s army, for whose "lawless behavior" Xenophon was made responsible[3] until he impressed and joined the service of Spartan king Agesilaus in 396 BCE and fought on the Spartan side against Athens and Boeotia in 394. Either for this treachery or earlier incidents, Xenophon was exiled from Athens and his property confiscated. The Spartans gave him an estate near Olympia and the position of entertaining visiting Spartans. For the next twenty years he did just that, while also writing his many books. Xenophon was forced from Olympia and moved to Corinth in 371 BCE, then back to Athens in 366 BCE after all Athenians were banished from Corinth. (His exile from Athens was likely revoked around 368 BCE).[4]

All known parts of the vast number of works that Xenophon produced have survived to the modern day. Most are in the three categories of long (quasi-) historical narratives, Socratic texts, and technical treatises."[5] The Hiero is a Socratic dialog between a wise poet, Simonides of Ceos, and Hiero, the tyrant of Syracuse. Although the text is written in the fourth century BCE, it portrays Hiero and Simonides who lived and reportedly met in the fifth century BCE. In Xenophon’s fictional account of the meeting, Simonides visits Hiero at his court in Syracuse. Simonides begins the discussion by questioning Hiero, who himself had previously lived as a private individual, on the relative happiness of private life compared to his current role as a tyrant. [6]

The Hiero is comprised of two major parts. In the first section, Hiero claims that a tyrant’s existence is remarkably unhappy due the burden of ruling. He attempts to convince Simonides of this viewpoint by making a series of comparisons between a tyrant’s worries and the lives of the ruled who are unconcerned with affairs of state. He even goes as far as to state that 'the tyrant can hardly do better than to hang himself.'[7] In the second, shorter section of the dialog, Simonides counters Hiero’s argument by asserting that the tyrant does in fact have a happier life than a private person because of the unique benefits and pleasures that only a ruler can experience. Simonides then gives Hiero advice on how to be a happy ruler, which entails being a ‘good king’ to the ruled. [8] Plato’s Republic, published in 380 BCE, also addresses the topic of the relative happiness between a tyrant and a private person. Although both works employ the Socratic style, The Hiero, unlike Plato's Republic, is not considered a regular Socratic dialog because it does not feature Socrates as a character in the text. [9]

Evidence for Inclusion in Wythe's Library

See also


  1. M.C. Howatson, ed., "Xe'nophon in The Oxford Companion to Classical Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).
  2. M.C. Howatson, ed., "Cȳrus" in The Oxford Companion to Classical Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).
  3. G.L. Cawkwell, "Agesilaus and Sparta," The Classical Quarterly, n.s., 26, no. 1 (1976): 64.
  4. Howatson, "Xe'nophon.”
  5. John Roberts, ed., "Xenophon" in Oxford Dictionary of the Classical World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).
  6. V. J. Gray, “Xenophon's Hiero and the Meeting of the Wise Man and Tyrant in Greek Literature,” The Classical Quarterly 36 (1986): 115-123. Accessed May 19, 2015. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0009838800010594.
  7. Leo Strauss, On Tyranny, rev. edn. (London: The Free Press of Glencoe, 1963), 29.
  8. Brian Jeffrey Maxson, "Kings and tyrants: Leonardo Bruni’s translation of Xenophon’s Hiero,” Renaissance Studies 24 (2010): 188-206. Accessed May 19, 2015. DOI: 10.1111/j.1477-4658.2009.00619.x.
  9. Gray, “Xenophon's Hiero and the Meeting of the Wise Man and Tyrant in Greek Literature.”