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Writings: Damon and Pythias

The words friendship and friends are thrown around rather loosely nowadays. Social networks, like FaceBook, would have us believe that an acquaintance or a contact equals a friendship. Consequently, new generations are growing up with this terminology and to them the meaning of the word “friendship” may be truly lost.

Friendship and love – these words are sacred.

My son was watching an episode from his Greek Mythology cartoon DVD and it happened to be the story of Damon and Pythias. Sitting at my desk I could hear it, and it brought a tear to my eye.

This story, told by Aristoxenus, Cicero and others, has been a symbol for trust and loyalty in true friendship. Read it and see just how much we have downsized and degraded the meaning of that term…

Damon and Pythias had been the best of friends since childhood. Each trusted the other like a brother, and each knew in his heart there was nothing he would not do for his friend. Eventually the time came for them to prove the depth of their devotion. It happened this way.

Dionysius, the ruler of Syracuse, grew annoyed when he heard about the kind of speeches Pythias was giving. The young scholar was telling that no man should have unlimited power over another, and that absolute tyrants were unjust kings. In a fit of rage, Dionysius summoned Pythias and his friend. ” Who do you think you are, spreading unrest among the people? ” he demanded. ” I spread only the truth, ” Pythias answered.. ” There can be nothing wrong with that.” “And does your truth hold that kings have too much power and that their laws are not good for their subjects? ” ” If the king has seized power without permission of the people, then that is what I say.”

” This kind of talk is treason, ” Dionysius shouted. ” You are conspiring to overthrow me. Retract what you’ve said or face the consequences.” ” I will retract nothing, ” Pythias answered. ” Then you will die. Do you have any last requests? ” Yes, Let me go home long enough to say goodbye to my wife and children and to put household in order.” ” I see you not only think I am unjust, you think I’m stupid as well, ” Dionysius laughed scornfully. ” If I let you leave Syracuse, I have no doubt I will never see you again.” ” I will give you a pledge,” Pythias said ” What kind of pledge could you possibly give to make me think you will ever return? ” Dionysius demanded. At that instant Damon, who had stood quietly besides his friend, stepped forward.. ” I will be his pledge, ” he said. ” Keep me here in Syracuse, as your prisoner, until Pythias returns. Our friendship is well known to you.You can be sure Pythias will return so long as you hold me.”

Dionysius studied the two friends silently, ” Very well, ” he said at last. ” ” But if you are willing to take the place of your friend, you must be willing to accept his sentence if he breaks his promise. If Pythias does not return to Syracuse, you will have to die in his place. ” He will keep his word, ” Damon replied. ” I have no doubt of that.” Pythias was allowed to go free for a time, and Damon was thrown into prison. After several days, when Pythias failed to reappear, Dionysius’s curiosity got the better of him, and he went to the prison to see if Damon was yet sorry he had made such a bargain. ” Your time is almost up, ” the ruler of Syracuse sneered. ” It will be useless to beg for mercy. You are a fool to rely on your friend’s promise. Did you really think he would sacrifice his life for you or anyone else? ” ” He has merely been delayed, ” Damon answered steadily. ” The winds have kept him from sailing, or perhaps he has met with some accident on the road. But if it is humanly possible, he will be here on time. I am confident of his virtue as I am of my own existence. “

Dionysius was startled at the prisoner’s confidence. ” We shall soon see,” he said, and left Damon in his cell. The fatal day arrived. Damon was brought from prison and led before the executioner. Dionysius greeted him with a smug smile. ” It seems you friend has not turned up, ” he laughed. ” What do you think of him now? ” ” He is my friend,” Damon answered. ” I trust him. ” The story of Damon and Pythias Even as he spoke, the doors flew open, and Pythias staggered into the room. He was pale and bruised and half speechless from exhaustion. He rushed to the arms of his friend. ” You are safe, praise the gods,” he gasped. ” It seemed as though the fate was conspiring against us. My ship was wrecked in a storm, and then bandits attacked me on the road. But I refused to give up hope, and at last I’ve made it back on time. I am ready to receive my sentence of death.”

Dionysius heard his word with astonishment. His eyes and his heart were opened. It was impossible for his to resist the power of such constancy. ” The sentence is revoked,” he declared. ” I’ve never believed that such faith and loyalty could exist in friendship. You have shown me how wrong I was, and it is only right that you be rewarded with your freedom. But I ask that in return you do me one great service.” ” What service do you mean? ” the friends asked. ” Teach me how to be part of so worthy a friendship. “

Sabina Nore
September 2011

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