105. Hiero by Xenophon (c.358 BC)

Plot:  Simonides the poet interviews Hiero, King of Syracuse, over the differences between being a king and a private citizen, and the expected benefits that come with the throne. Hiero feels that kings are worse off than private individuals in every possible way : from their inability to travel as they please ; the constant bombardment of insincere praise and lack of true love from his favourites ; the jaded appetite with delicacies which have lost their novelty and may be laced with poison ; and the constant fear of assassination, even from the paid mercenaries that guard him – sovereignty is but splendid misery.

Simonides urges Hiero in the final section to do everything in his power to ensure that the entire community benefits from his power and wealth, from rewarding meritorious acts and achievements in every sphere, to providing civic amenities and services; which will in turn make the King beloved by his subjects.

My copy is again part of the Minor Works by Xenophon published in 1888 by George Bell & Sons, London.

My thoughts: Despite its brevity, this work quickly becomes tiresome as Hiero bewails his situation. No matter which tack Simonides attempts to investigate, Hiero shuts down any suggestion of pleasure or benefit. Even the idea to abdicate and pass the troubles to another are rejected as Hiero is convinced he will still be a target and unable to defend himself. While much of what Hiero says is no doubt realistic, his dejection is difficult to appreciate.

The employment of foreign mercenaries as personal bodyguards is interesting. Hiero (and probably other rulers) did not feel they could trust their own countrymen, yet also feared that paid mercenaries could be paid more to turn on the King and kill him. Yet the presence of foreigners protecting the King spoke loudly to the citizens that they were not trusted by the King and might provoke anger and hatred. However, Simonides’ suggestion that the mercenaries be sent into the community to guard and protect citizens and their farms and property seems to me likely to cause greater opportunities for conflict and oppression of the public by unruly or poorly disciplined troops.

Another point to note is the term tyrant. In modern English it means a ruler who uses his position and power to rule oppressively, but the original meaning was a ruler who held absolute power over the state, regardless of how well he treated his subjects. The behaviour of the Thirty Tyrants in the days after Athens rejected democracy in the war with Sparta may have helped set the negative connotations to the term.

Favourite lines/passages:

Simonides’ (perhaps naïve) advice to Hiero :

“Esteem your country as your own family, your fellow-citizens as your friends, your friends as your children, and your children as your own life ; and study to surpass them all in acts of kindness. For if you go beyond your friends in kind offices, no enemies will be able to stand before you. And if you constantly pursue such a course of conduct, be certain that you will secure the most honourable and blissful possession attainable among mankind, for you will be happy.”                                Page 70.

Certainly seems to describe the kind of model king that Xenophon pictured Agesilaus.

Personal rating:3.

Next :  Finishing off Xenophon with the Constitution of the Spartans (Lacedaemons)


  1. Sounds not unlike our own beloved Royals. I always feel so sorry for the misery of their lives as they jet off on luxury holidays around the world, surrounded by servants to perform their every whim, cooks to prepare sumptious delicacies for them, nannies to look after their children for them, and bodyguards to keep the riff-raff away. Poor souls! 😉


  2. And think of all those unopened hospitals and schools!! 🙂 Actually I like the Royals – at least they get out and meet people and take an interest in something outside palaces. Its the psuedo-Royals like the Karcashians who are famous for being famous and think the rest of us want to see when the highlight of their week is getting a pedicure that I have trouble with.


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