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Damion and Pythias
(4th cent. BC) Italy

Damion and Pythias

Sicilian lovers

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Damon and Pythias (more correctly spelled Phintias), were devoted friends and Pythagorean students. The two lovers were in Syracuse, Sicily, South of Italy, when Phintias was arrested on a baseless charge of spying and conspiring against the tyrant Dionysius who ordered his execution. The beautiful story is narrated by Valerius Maximus in his De Amicitiae Vinculo, book IV, chapter 7:

"Damon and Phintias, initiates in the Pythagorean mysteries, contracted so faithful a friendship towards each other, that when Dionysius of Syracuse intended to execute one of them, and he had obtained permission from the tyrant to return home and arrange his affairs before his death, the other did not hesitate to give himself up as a pledge of his friend's return.

[The two men lived together, and had their possessions in common].

"He whose neck had been in danger was now free; and he who might have lived in safety was now in danger of death. So everybody, and especially Dionysius, were wondering what would be the upshot of this novel and dubious affair.

"At last, when the day fixed was close at hand, and he had not returned, every one condemned the one who stood security, for his stupidity and rashness. But he insisted that he had nothing to fear in the matter of his friend's constancy. And indeed at the same moment and the hour fixed by Dionysius, he who had received leave, returned. The tyrant, admiring the courage of both, remitted the sentence which had so tried their loyalty, and asked them besides to receive him in the bonds of their friendship, saying that he would make his third place in their affection agreeable by his utmost goodwill and effort.

"Such indeed are the powers of friendship: to breed contempt of death, to overcome the sweet desire of life, to humanize cruelty, to turn hate into love, to compensate punishment by largess; to which powers almost as much veneration is due as to the cult of the immortal gods. For if with these rests the public safety, on those does private happiness defend; and as the temples are the sacred domiciles of these, so of those are the loyal hearts of men as it were the shrines consecrated by some holy spirit."

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