Alcibiades, an ambitious man who was a taught by Socrates in the Peloponnesian War, claimed that Athens should invade Syracuse instead of Sparta, its main enemy. Athens dispatches the largest fleet ever to Syracuse, which resulted in a defeat and became the critical factor behind Athen’s downfall.
The expedition impacts Syracuse as well. Syracuse initially considered surrendering to Athens, intimidated by its fleet, but decided to fight aligning with Hermocrates’ decision. Hermocrates led victory and became a hero. Naturally, he gained power. Syracuse had to endure dictatorship in return for defeating Athens. Dionysius, the son-in-law of Hermocrates, abused power of his father-in-law to expand his power. As general, he defended Carthage’s invasion, became a national hero, a tyrant and eventually the king.
There is a rock named Dionysius’ ear in Syracuse, known as a prison, where Dionysius placed his enemies and tortured them. He was a notorious dictator, yet competent and skilled in politics. He tried to portray himself as a literary and philosopher king, yet he despised democracy following Socrates’ death, and even summoned Plato, who was seeking for a new political order, to Syracuse. Plato taught Dionysius’ son based on ideals of philosopher king, but Dionysius, the conspirator and realist, became aghast at Plato’s ideals and sold him off as a slave.
Two thoughts come to my mind as I view the life of Dionysius: when you lose a war, you become a slave of your opponent; if you win, you become a slave of your own as a hero. There are many cases in history where a war hero becomes a perilous ruler, which is not entirely caused by the war or the hero himself, but how the public views the hero as one who can save the situation and hopes of an ultimate power resolving everything. Perhaps this is why dictatorship essentially involves techniques of knowing how to instigate others.