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the rather that he was a great linguist and grammarian, and taught a school with good applause after his abdication (either he or his successor of the same name, it matters not whilk)—I have caused them to make a lugg up at the state-prison of the Tower yonder, more like a pulpit than a cathedral, my Lord Bishop-and communicating with the arras behind the Lieutenant's chamber, where we may sit and privily hear the discourse of such prisoners as are pent up there for state offences, and so creep into the very secrets of our enemies."* At which pawky exposé of pusillanimous kingcraft, Prince Charles casts a glance towards Buckingham, expressive of great vexation and disgust; and the duke shrugs his shoulders in appreciative response, but with a motion discreetly imperceptible, so far as James's goggle eyes are concerned.
But to return to Dionysius himself. The conditions of his existence -perpetual mistrust, danger even from the nearest kindred, enmity both to and from every dignified freeman, and reliance only on armed barbarians or liberated slaves—these are conditions which, in the language of Mr. Grote, “ beset almost every Grecian despot, and from which the greatest despot of his age enjoyed no exemption.” Yet, although philosophers emphatically insisted that such a man must be miserable, Dionysius himself, as well as the great mass of admiring spectatorsmob and majesty uniting in contempt of ideology men, and Messieurs les Philosophes—would probably feel, as the historian says, that the necessities of the king's position were more than compensated by its awe-striking grandeur, and by the full satisfaction of ambitious dreains.” But the Syracusans, over whom he ruled, enjoyed no such compensation for that which they suffered from his tax-gatherers- from his garrisons of Gauls, Iberians, and Campanians, in Ortygia—from his spies—his prison-and his executioners. For himself, again, were there not the
compensations of authorship, the consolations of literature ? Was not Dionysius also among the poets, even as was Saul also among the prophets? Woe to the wight that should be caught whispering to the contrary, in the Ear of Dionysius ! It was made a Star-Chamber business of, in Sicily, to mis-esteem or under-estimate the royal verses. Montaigne has a long paragraph on the phenomenon, yet a stubborn fact, that Dionysius valued himself upon nothing more than his poetry; and tells how, at the Olympic Games, with chariots surpassing all others in magnificence, he was represented by poets and musicians, who brought his majesty's verses thither wholesale, to be recited in the ravished ears of thousands on thousands. When the verses came to be declaimed by these “professionals,” with all the emphasis and discretion, all the fluent grace and effective accentuation of practised elocutionists, the people were at first pleased and plauditory. But it soon struck the listeners that the matter, the substance, to which these experts were thus doing a deal more than justice, was wishy-washy stuff-the utter worthlessness of which not even so artfully artistic a delivery could long conceal. Even a real maestro in operatic composition, aided by a star to warble his sweetest on the boards, will not always avail to save a twaddle of namby-pambyism in the libretto from condign
* The Fortunes of Nigel, vol. ii. ch. xvi.
perdition. The people who gave ear to the Dionysian lyrics, were first of all attracted by the masterly skill at recitative in the performers. Then the suspicion crept in that the words were a trifle rickety or so. Next came an entire conviction that the words were unmitigated and redemptionless trash. They laughed, and booted, and jeered, accordingly, to their hearts' content; and from derision they worked themselves up to wrath and vengeance, and in a frenzy of resentment the hooters proceeded to acts of riot, pulling down his majesty's royally gilt and tapestried pavilions, and tearing them to pieces, as the Roman mob was for doing to Casca the poet, in person, for his bad verses.
At any rate, the king had furnished the Olympic critics with sation" piece, and taught them a new Game to play, in that highly select circle of theirs. But Sicilia was in frowns when the ill news came.
Mr. Grote says that, when we are told that the badness of the poems caused them to be received with opprobrious ridicule, it is easy to see that the hatred intended for the person of Dionysius was discharged upon his verses. That of course the hissers and hooters would make it clearly understood what they really meant, and would indulge in the full licence of heaping curses upon his name and acts. That neither the best reciters of Greece, nor the best poems even of Sophocles or Pindar, could have any chance against such predetermined antipathy. And that the whole scene would end in the keenest disappointment and humiliation, inflicted upon the Syracusan envoys as well as upon the actors, this being the only channel through which the retributive chastisement of Hellas
could be made to reach the author. “ Though not present in person at Olympia, the despot felt the chastisement in his inmost soul. The mere narrative of what had passed plunged him into an agony of sorrow, which for some time seemed to grow worse by brooding on the scene, and at length drove him nearly mad. He was smitten with intolerable consciousness of the profound hatred borne towards him, even throughout a large portion of the distant and independent Hellenic world. He fancied that this hatred was shared by all around him, and suspected every one as plotting against his life. To such an excess of cruelty did this morbid excitement carry him, that he seized several of his best friends, under false accusations, and surmises, and caused them to be slain."*
But Mr. Grote is noway disposed to let his voice swell the common cry of mockers at a despot's bad verses. He recognises in Dionysius not only a triumphant prince but a tragic poet ; competitor, as such, for that applause and admiration which no force can extort. Since none of his tragedies have been preserved, the historian can form no judgment of his own respecting them. But when he learns that Dionysius had stood second or third, and that one of his compositions gained even the first prize at the Lenæan festival at Athens in 368-367 B.C.--the favourable judgment of an Athenian audience is held, by the modern critic, to afford good reason for presuming that the despot's talents in poetry were considerable. It is freely allowed, however, that, at the vexatious time of the Olympic Games, which was some twenty years earlier, Dionysius the poet was not likely to receive an impartial hearing anywhere: for while on the one hand his own circle would applaud every word-on the other hand, a large proportion of independent Greeks would be biased against what they heard by their fear and hatred of the author. If we believed the anecdotes recounted by Diodorus, we should conclude not merely that the tragedies were contemptible compositions, but that the irritability of Dionysius in regard to criticism was exaggerated even to silly weakness.* Philoxenus, a dithyrambic poet of some mark, who was either visiting or residing at Syracuse, was asked his opinion, after hearing one of his majesty's tragedies privately recited. Philoxenus gave what he was asked for, his opinion; which, happening to be what it was, should have been the last thing for him to think of giving. So he thought, perhaps, when he found himself at the Quarries for speaking his mind. Next day, however, he was let out again : the more speedily, perchance, because Dionysius had a copy of verses to read to him, upon which the labour of the file had been so diligently exercised, that the despot was sanguine of propitiating the fastidious critic, this time. The story goes, that Philoxenus made for the palace, escorted by a body of guards, --in whose presence, then and there, the royal bard recited the poem on which he plumed himself-and, that done, forthwith desired Philoxenus to pronounce a true verdict. Instead of complying with a request that, to an honest man, would infallibly produce as ugly a sequel as before, and might bring something worse still, Philoxenas turned abruptly to the guards, and, with a dry air of decision that must have tickled all but the king, bade them take him back to the Quarries at once.
* Grote, XI. 46.
Haply, however, the king was tickled too; for it does not appear that the poet had a fresh term of imprisonment, with hard labour. contrary, he got on very well at court; having received a lesson for life, well learnt by heart; and thenceforth contriving as neatly, by “ delicate wit and double-meaning phrases,” to express an inoffensive sentiment without openly compromising himself, as the celebrated worthy in the “Spectator," who assumed such a very limited liability by the adjudicatory sentence, solemn and serene, that there was a great deal to be said on both sides of the question.
Mr. Grote, however, as we have seen, is not at all satisfied with the air of ridicule which Diodorus has cast over the Dionysiac émeute at the Olympic Games, and its effect on his majesty's mind, by recognising nothing except the despot's vexation at the ill success of his poem, as the cause of his mental suffering. It is improbable, the historian argues, that the poem of Dionysius—himself “a man of ability, and having every opportunity of profiting by good critics whom he had purposely assembled around him”-should have been so ridiculously bad as to disgust an impartial audience. Still more improbable is it, Mr. Grote thinks, that a simple poetical failure, though doubtless mortifying to him, should work with such fearful effect as to plunge him into anguish and madness. To unnerve thus violently a person like Dionysius-deeply stained with the great crimes of unscrupulous ambition, but remarkably exempt from infirmities--some more powerful cause is, in the historian's judgment, required. And to his critical scrutiny that cause stands out conspicuously, in the actual circumstances of the Olympic festival of 384 B.C.
* Grote, XI. 36.
Dionysius, then, we are to bear in mind, had accumulated for this occasion all the means of showing himself off
, “like Kroesus in his interview with Solon," as the most prosperous and powerful man in the Hellenic world; means beyond the reach of any contemporary, and surpassing even Hiero or Thero of former days, whose praises in the odes of Pindar he probably had in his mind. He counted, probably with good reason, Mr. Grote continues, “that his splendid legation, chariots, and outfit of acting and recitation for the poems, would surpass everything else seen on the holy plain; and he fully expected such reward as the public were always glad to bestow on such men who exhausted their purses in the recognised vein of Hellenic pious ostentation. In this high wrought state of expectation, what does Dionysius hear by his messengers returning from the festival? That their mission had proved a total failure; and even worse than a failure ; that the display had called forth none of the usual admiration, not because there were rivals on the ground equal or superior, but simply because it came from him ; that its very magnificence had operated to render the explosion of antipathy against him louder and more violent; that his tents in the sacred ground had been actually assailed, and that access to sacrifice, as well as to the matches, had been secured to him only by the interposition of authority. We learn, indeed, that his chariots failed in the field by unlucky accidents; but in the existing temper of the crowd, these very accidents would be seized as occasions for derisory cheering against him.” To this must be added explosions of hatred, yet more furious, elicited by his poems, putting the reciters to utter shame. At the moment when Dionysius expected to hear the account of an unparalleled triumph, he is thus informed, not merely of disappointment, but of insults to himself, direct and personal, the most poignant ever offered by Greeks to a Greek, amidst the holiest and most frequented ceremony of the Hellenic world. Never in any other case do we read of public antipathy, against an individual, being carried to the pitch of desecrating by violence the majesty of the Olympiac festival.
“Here, then,” the historian concludes, “ were the real and sufficient causes—not the mere ill success of his poem-which penetrated the soul of Dionysius, driving him into anguish and temporary madness. Though he had silenced the Vox Populi at Syracuse, not all his mercenaries, forts, and ships in Ortygia, could save him from feeling its force, when thus emphatically poured forth against him by the free-spoken crowd at Olympia.”*
But even granting that chagrin merely at the failure of a poem cost him so dear, by entailing the loss of reason, a long-subsequent success in another poem cost him yet dearer, by entailing the loss of life. Grant that the mortification of the Olympiac festival in the year 384 B.C. drove him mad. Extremes meet. The rapture he felt at gaining the first prize for tragedy, at the Lenæan festival of Athens, in 367 B.C., made an end of him altogether. Dionysius offered sacrifice to the gods when the good news reached him, and something more substantial than “happy man" was the dole of the messenger. The king made a great feast, and bade
Grote, XI. 50 sq., cf. pp. 35 89., 44 89.
æan year, 367.
many; and with them he rejoiced and made merry, and not only drank more than he was used to, but more than he could away with ; for the more was enough to make away with him. He died of wine and excitement and post hoc, propter hoc) of fever, after a reign of eight-andthirty years, in that fatal
Advisedly said we, more wine than he was used to. For Dionysius the Elder was notably a temperate man. His sobriety and continance were beyond impeachment. And in this regard, his good example became the more note-worthy, because it was not followed by those who came after him. We find that of all the princes descended from him, not one inherited the temperance which had contributed so much to his success. * Not one of them but has a bad name for lechery and sottishness; rakes and revellers all.
It may well be said, as respects the hurried-on termination of the elder despot's course, that, after all, thirty-eight years, of a career so full of effort as his, must have left a constitution sufficiently exhausted to give way easily before acute disease. Throughout this long period, says Mr. Grote, he had never spared himself :-he was a man of restless energy and activity, bodily as well as mental; always personally at the head of his troops in war-keeping a vigilant eye and a decisive hand upon all the details of his government at home-yet employing spare time (which Philip of Macedon was surprised that he could find) in composing tragedies of his own, to compete for prizes fairly adjudged.
It is one of Plutarch's anecdotes, that one day, when Philip of Macedon and Dionysius the Younger were mellow with drink, the former, with a soupçon of sneer in his face and tone, introduced some remarks on the odes and tragedies which Di senior had left behind him, and affected to doubt how the old gentleman could possibly find leisure for that idle trade. When could such things have been written by him? Di junior answered, with a spirit, “They were written in the time which you and 1, and other jolly good fellows, spend over the bowl.”+
Notwithstanding his bondage of fear against any attempts on his life, the personal bravery of the head of the family was beyond dispute. Twice we hear of his being severely wounded in leading his soldiers to assault. The historian has to note, as remarkable features in the character of Dionysius, his effective skill as ambitious politician-his military resource as a commander-and the long-sighted care with which he provided implements of offence as well as of defence before undertaking war.
We find the Roman Scipio Africanus singling out Dionysius and Agathocles, both of them despots of Syracuse, with an interval of half a century, as the two Greeks of greatest ability for action known to him-men who combined, in the most memorable degree, daring with sagacity. This criticism, coming, as Mr. Grote says, from an excellent judge, is borne out by the biography of both, so far as it comes to our knowledge. No other Greek, he observes, can be pointed out, who, starting from a position humble and unpromising, raised himself to so lofty a pinnacle of dominion at home, achieved such striking military exploits abroad, and preserved his grandeur unimpaired throughout the whole of a long life. Dionysius boasted that he bequeathed to his son an empire fastened by Grote, XI. 186, 273.
† Plutarch, Life of Timoleon. May-VOL. CXXVIII. NO, DIX.