The Ancient Library

Scanned text contains errors.


by Diodorus of the manner of Jiis death has every appearance of a fable, but is probably so far founded in fact that he perished by a sudden outbreak of the popular fury, in which it appears that Tele-machus, the ancestor of Theron, must have borne a conspicuous part. (Diod. exg. Vat. p. 25, 26 ; Tzetz. CM. v. 956 ; Cic. de Of. ii. 7 ; Schol. ad Find. 01. iii. 68.) The statement of lamblichus, who represents him as dethroned by Pythagoras (De Vit. Pyfh. 32. § 122. ed. KiessL), is wholly unworthy of credit.

No circumstance connected with Phalaris is more celebrated than the brazen bull in which he is said to have burnt alive the victims of his cruelty, and of which we are told that he made the first experiment upon its inventor Perillus. [pe­rillus.] This latter story has much the air of an invention of later times, and Timaeus even de­nied altogether the existence of the bull itself. It is indeed highly probable, as asserted by that writer, that the statue extant in later times — which was carried off from Agrigentum by the Carthaginians, and afterwards captured by Scipio at the taking of that city—was not, as pretended, the identical bull of Phalaris, but this is evidently no argument against its original existence, and it is certain that the fame of this celebrated engine of torture was inseparably associated witli the name of Phalaris as early as the time of Pindar. (Pind. Pyfh. i. 185 ; Schol. ad loc. ; Diod. xiii. 90 ; Polyb. xii. 25 ; Timaeus, fr. 116—118. ed. Didot; 119, 194 ; Plut. Parall. p. 315.) That poet also speaks of Phalaris himself in terms which clearly prove that his reputation as a barbarous tyrant was then already fully established, and all subsequent writers, until a very late period, allude to him in terms of similar import. Cicero in particular calls him " cru-delissimus omnium tyrannorum" ( in Verr. iv. 33), and uses his name as proverbial for a tyrant in the worst sense of the word, as opposed to a mild and enlightened despot like Peisistratus. (Cic. ad Ait. vii. 20 ; see also De Off. ii. 7, iii. 6, De Rep. i. 28, and other passages ; Polyb. vii. 7 ; Lucian. Ver. Hist. 23, Bis. Accus. 8 ; Plut. de ser. num. vind. p. 553.)

But in the later ages of Greek literature, there appears to have existed or arisen a totally different tradition concerning Phalaris, which represented him as a man of a naturally mild and humane dis­position, and only forced into acts of severity or occasional cruelty, by the pressure of circumstances and the machinations of his enemies. Still more strange is it that he appears at the same time as an admirer of literature and philosophy, and the patron of men of letters. Such is the aspect under which the character of the tyrant of Agrigentum is presented to us in two declamations commonly as­cribed to Lucian (though regarded by many writers as not the work of that author), and still more strikingly in the well-known epistles which bear the name of Phalaris himself. Purely fictitious as the latter undoubtedly are, it is difficult to con­ceive that the sophist who composed them would have given them a colour and character so entirely opposite to all that tradition had recorded of the tyrant, if there had not existed some traces of a wholly different version of his history.

The once celebrated epistles alluded to are now remembered chiefly on account of the literary con­troversy to which they gave rise, and the masterly dissertation in which Bentley exposed their spu-



riousness. The proofs of this, derived from the glaring anachronisms in which they abound—such as the mention of the cities of Tauromenium, Alaesa, and Phintias, which were not built till long after the death of Phalaris — the allusions to tragedies and comedies as things well known and of ordinary occurrence — the introduction of senti­ments and expressions manifestly derived from later writers, such as Herodotus, Democritus, and even Callimachus—and above all, the dialect of the epistles themselves, which is the later Attic, such as was the current language of the learned in the latter ages of the Roman empire — would ap­pear so glaring, that it is difficult to conceive how a body of men of any pretensions to learning could be found to maintain their authenticity. Still more extraordinary is it, that a writer of so much taste and cultivation as Sir William Temple should have spoken in the highest terms of their intrinsic merit, and have pronounced them unquestionably genuine on this evidence alone. (Essay on Ancient and Modern Learning, Works, vol. iii. p. 478.) Probably no reader at the present day will be found to look into them without concurring in the sentence of Bentley, that they are " a fardle of common-places." The epistle in which the tyrant professes to give the Athenians an account of his treatment of Perillus, and the reasons for it (Ep. v. of Lennep and Schaefer, it is Ep. ccxxii. of the older editions), would seem suf­ficient in itself to betray the sophist. The period at which this forgery was composed cannot now be determined. Politian ascribed the spurious epis­tles in question to Lucian, but there is certainly no ground for this supposition, and they are pro­bably the work of a much later period. The first author who refers to them is Stobaeus, by whom they are repeatedly quoted, without any apparent suspicion (Florileg. tit. 7. § 68, 49. §§ 16, 26, 86. § 17) ; but Photius alludes to them (Ep. 207), in terms that clearly intimate that he regarded them as spurious. At a later period they are mentioned with the greatest admiration by Suidas (s. v. <t>aAapi9), who calls them Sfav/naffias tto.vv. Tzetzes also has extracted largely from them, and calls Phalaris himself e/celV/os 6 Tcavvofyos. (Chil. i. 669, &c., v. 839—969.) After the revival of learn­ing also, they appear to have enjoyed considerable reputation, though rejected as spurious by Politian, Menage, and other eminent scholars. They were first given to the world in a Latin translation by Francesco Accolti of Arezzo, published at Rome in 1470, of which many successive editions appeared before the end of the fifteenth century. The ori­ginal Greek text was not published till 1498, \vhen it was printed at Venice, together with the epistles ascribed to Apollonius of Tyana and M. Brutus. They were afterwards inserted by Aldus in his collection of the Greek writers of epistles (Venet. 1499), and passed through several editions in the 16th and 17th centuries, but none of any note, until that printed at Oxford in 1695, which bore the name of Charles Boyle, and gave occasion to the famous dissertation of Bentley already referred to. For the literary history of this controversy, in which Bentley was opposed not only by Boyle, but by all the learning which Oxford could muster, as well as by the wit and satire of Swift and Atter-bury, the reader may consult Monk's Life of Bentley, chaps. 4—6, andDyce's preface to his edition of Bentley's works (8vo. Lond. 1836). Since this period only two editions of the Epistles of Phalaris

About | First



page #  
Search this site
All non-public domain material, including introductions, markup, and OCR © 2005 Tim Spalding.
Ancient Library was developed and hosted by Tim Spalding of