Cornelius Nepos : Life of Timoleon

Translated by J.C. Rolfe (1929). Click on the L symbols to go to the Latin text of each chapter.   Click on ** to go to the translator's footnotes.


XIX.   Phocion  


  [1] L   Timoleon, the Corinthian. Without doubt this man has shown himself great in the estimation of all. For he alone had the good fortune, which I am inclined to think fell to the lot of no one else, to free the land of his birth from a tyrant's oppression, to rescue the Syracusans, whom he had been sent to help, from long-continued slavery, and by his mere arrival to restore all Sicily to its former condition, after it had for many years been harassed by wars and subject to barbarians.   

  2 But in the course of these events he had to struggle with varied fortune, and he did what is regarded as especially difficult, that is, showed himself far wiser in prosperity than in adversity. 3 For when his brother Timophanes, who had been chosen general by the Corinthians, made himself tyrant with the aid of mercenary troops, ** although Timoleon might have shared in his power, so far was he from participating in the crime, that he valued the liberty of his fellow-citizens above his brother's life and considered obedience to its laws preferable to ruling over his country. 4 Owing to that feeling, through the aid of a soothsayer and of a relative by marriage, the husband of their own sister, he caused the death of the tyrant, his own brother. He himself not only did not lay hands upon him, but he did not wish even to look upon his brother's blood; for while the deed was being done he was some distance away, keeping guard to prevent any palace guard from coming to the tyrant's aid.   

  5 This glorious deed of his did not meet with equal approval from all; for some thought that he had been false to fraternal loyalty and through jealousy disparaged the glory of his exploit. As for his mother, after that act she would not admit her son to her presence, and she never saw him without calling him an impious fratricide and cursing him. 6 This treatment so affected Timoleon that he sometimes thought of ending his life, and, since men were ungrateful, of leaving their presence by death.   

  [2] L   In the meantime Dion had been killed at Syracuse and Dionysius had again gained possession of the city. ** His opponents sought aid from Corinth and asked for a leader to conduct the war. Timoleon was sent to them and with incredible good fortune drove Dionysius from all Sicily. ** 2 Although he might have put the tyrant to death, he did not choose to do so, but enabled him to reach Corinth in safety; for the Corinthians had often been aided by the power of the two Dionysii, and he wished the memory of that kindness to endure; moreover, he considered that the most glorious victory was one which was marked by greater mercy than cruelty. Finally, he wished men, not only to hear, but to see with their own eyes, what a tyrant he had overcome and from what great power to how humble a fortune he had reduced him. 3 After the departure of Dionysius, Timoleon made war upon Hicetas, who had been the tyrant's opponent; but that his hostility to Dionysius was due rather to ambition than to hatred of tyranny was shown by the fact that after the tyrant was driven from his throne, Hicetas refused to renounce the supreme power.   

  4 After overcoming Hicetas, Timoleon routed a huge force of Carthaginians at the river Crinissus and compelled them to be satisfied with being allowed to possess Africa, after they had for many years been masters of Sicily. He also made a prisoner of an Italian general called Mamercus, a warlike and powerful man, who had come to Sicily to aid the tyrants.   

  [3] L   After these exploits, seeing that because of the long duration of the war not only the country districts but also the cities were deserted, he first hunted up what Sicilians he could and then summoned settlers from Corinth, because in the beginning Corinthians had founded Syracuse. 2 To the former citizens he restored their property, to the new ones he distributed the estates that had become vacant as the result of war; he repaired the shattered walls of the cities and the deserted temples, and restored to the states their laws and liberty; after a terrible war he won such complete peace for the whole island, that he was regarded as the founder of those cities rather than the men who had first established the colonies. 3 The citadel of Syracuse, which Dionysius had fortified as a menace to the city, he destroyed from its foundations; the other strongholds of the tyranny he demolished, taking care that the fewest possible traces of slavery should survive.   

  4 Although Timoleon's power was so great that he might have ruled his fellow-citizens even against their will, and although he possessed the affection of all the Sicilians to such a degree that he might have mounted the throne without opposition, he preferred to be loved rather than feared. Therefore, as soon as he could, he laid down his office and lived the rest of his life as a private citizen of Syracuse. 5 And, indeed, he acted wisely in so doing; for the authority which others enjoyed by becoming kings he gained through good-will. There was no office that was not conferred upon him, and after that time no public action was taken at Syracuse without first learning what Timoleon thought about it. 6 Not only was no one's advice never preferred to his, but no one else's was ever even considered. And that was due less to good-will than to discretion.   

  [4] L   When he was already advanced in years, without suffering any disease he lost the sight of his eyes. This affliction he endured with such patience that no one ever heard him complain, nor did he because of it cease to busy himself with private and public affairs. 2 Moreover, he came to the theatre, when the assembly of the people was held there, riding behind a pair of mules because of his infirmity, and gave his opinion without leaving his carriage. And no one regarded this as arrogance on his part; for nothing either arrogant or boastful ever passed his lips. 3 In fact, when he heard his praises sounded, he never said but one thing, namely, that the main reason why he was particularly thankful to the gods and felt most grateful to them was this, that when they had resolved to restore Sicily, they had chosen him in preference to all others to be their instrument. 4 For he believed that nothing in human affairs happened without the design of the gods; and for that reason he had established in his house a shrine of Fortune, which he venerated most religiously.  

  [5] L   To the surpassing goodness of the man were added remarkable instances of good luck. Thus he fought his most important battles without exception on his birthday, and in consequence all Sicily celebrated that day as a public festival. 2 Once when a certain Laphystius, a quarrelsome and ungrateful fellow, wished to issue a summons against him, saying that he desired to go to law with him, many citizens had come together and were attempting to check the man's effrontery by force; but Timoleon begged them all to desist, saying that this was just the reason why he had undergone great toil and extreme danger, in order that Laphystius, or anyone else, might be allowed to do just that thing. For that was the ideal of liberty, when all were allowed to resort to law for any purpose that anyone wished. 3 Again, when a man like Laphystius, Demaenetus by name, in an assembly of the people had begun to disparage Timoleon's acts and made some attacks upon him, he declared that at last his vow was fulfilled; for he had always prayed the immortal gods to restore such liberty to the  Syracusans that anyone might be allowed with impunity to say what he wished on any subject he wished.   

  4 When he ended his life, he was buried it public expense by the Syracusans in the gymnasium called Timoleonteum, ** and all Sicily attended his funeral. 

XXI.   On Kings →



1.   365 or 364 B.C.   

2.   346 B.C. Dionysius the Younger is meant.   

3.   344 B.C.    

4.   He was buried in the agora, and the gymnasium was built afterwards at the place where he was interred; see Plut. Tim. 39.   

XXI.   On Kings →

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