However much he is heroised by left-wingers, the Venezuelan ‘tyrant’ Nicolás Maduro must wonder what is in it for him. The soldier-historian Xenophon composed a dialogue in which Hiero, the Greek tyrant of Syracuse (478-476 bc), freely admitted what a nightmare a tyrant’s life was.
Hiero came clean when his court poet Simonides asked him how much more pleasurable his life must be than that of the ordinary citizen. Far from it, said H: citizens can go to festivals and travel freely abroad; not tyrants, for fear of assassination or a coup. S: But surely it is wonderful being praised to the heavens? H: Not when you know they do not mean it. S: What, however, of the food and drink you enjoy? H: When you are constantly served the best possible, it becomes a treat no longer. S: Surely you can have all the sex you want? H: There is no pleasure in favours from someone inferior to you, as every woman must be. As for boys, how do you know that you are being liked for yourself, rather than out of fear?
S: But you have power to do whatever you want! H: If only. A tyrant, always on the lookout for enemies or conquests, can have no peace in his life, either in his city or even in his own home. Citizens enjoy the public glory of killing enemies in battle. What glory is there in killing those conspiring against you? Friendship and affection bring a man more blessings than anything else, but even among his own family a tyrant cannot feel secure, as history proves.
As for trust, a tyrant is worse off than anyone else: a slave has to check his food for poison. Further, great honour is bestowed on a man who kills a tyrant, so he is never safe; and what honour is there for the tyrant, who steals from his people to feed his army? Only the weak-willed and immoral, never the good, support him, and he will never celebrate his country’s super-abundance, because he wants the population submissive. And where is the prestige, if the people hate him? Worst of all, he can never give up his position.
Poor old Maduro. Next week: Simonides solves the problem.