three pairs of lovers with space


A dialogue from Xenophon's Hieron I 29-38

This work presumes to record a dialogue between Hieron, the tyrant (ruler) of Syracuse in Sicily from 478 to 467 BC, and the poet Simonides of Keos, who spent his last years in Sicily as his friend and confidant.  The translation and footnote are those of Thomas Hubbard in his Homosexuality in Greece and Rome (University of California Press, 2003), pp. 62-3.


Hieron is in the middle of explaining the disadvantages of being a tyrant as opposed to a private citizen:

"And the tyrant is at a disadvantage in the pleasures that come from making love to boys even more than in the pleasures that come from begetting children. For we all, presumably, know that making love is by far the most pleasurable if one does it with desire.[1] But desire, in general, comes to a tyrant less easily than to anybody. For desire does not like to aim at available things, but rather at hoped-for ones. Therefore, just as someone who is unacquainted with thirst would not enjoy drinking, in the same way someone who is unacquainted with desire is unacquainted with the sweetest forms of love.

That is what Hieron said, but Simonides, having had a laugh, said, "What is that you said, Hieron? You say that desire for boys isn't native to tyrants? How does it then come that you are in love with Daïlochos, whose nickname is 'the loveliest'"?

       Simonides of Keos

"Because, by Zeus, Simonides," he said, "I do not desire to get from him that which I could obviously have for the asking, but rather that which a tyrant is least likely of anyone to win. For certainly I love Daïlochos on account of those things which human nature compels us to seek from the beautiful. But I very much desire to get the things my love wants from a willing lover, and with friendship. And I think I would want to take them from him by force less than I would want to do myself harm. For I consider that to take from your enemy against his will is the sweetest of all things; but the sweetest of all charms, I think, are the charms of a boy who yields to you willingly. For when a boy loves you in return, how sweetly he looks back at you, how sweetly he asks questions, how sweetly he answers; and the sweetest of all and the most erotic is when he fights with you and argues. But to enjoy the charms of an unwilling boy," he said, "seems to me to be more like robbery than love-making. In fact, a robber at least gets some pleasure from his profits and from making his enemies unhappy; but for a man to take pleasure in the unhappiness of the person he loves and to be hated in return for his love and to force himself on someone he makes miserable: how could this not be a nasty, debasing experience? The private citizen, as soon as the boy he loves does him a favor, has proof that the boy is being kind to him out of love, because he knows that he is doing these things under no compulsion, while it is never possible for a tyrant to feel sure that he is loved. For we know that those who do things for one out of fear do everything they can to make it seem that they act out of friendship. Indeed plots are most often formed against tyrants by none other than those who claim to love them the best."


[1] The word translated as “desire” in this passage is erōs.