Tyrants

“Then the time has come for you to take the last step. You must love Big Brother. It is not enough to obey him: you must love him” {Orwell 324}.

How could you be expected to love someone you do not know? A man who is only a face on a poster, another dictator with a moustache: like Hitler, Stalin and Saddam Hussein. This narcissistic attitude is typical of many an autocrat in history, societies in which the common people have lived under the system called tyranny. The Greek word turannos merely meant an absolute ruler unlimited by law or constitution {Etymonline}, but the cruel excesses of many of these rulers has turned it into quite a dirty word.

The ancient Athenians experimented with many forms of government, including the legendary and now revered demokratia. Before this, they were ruled by a tyrant named Pisistratus. He was considered mild, but his son Hippias was quite harsh, especially after the assassination of his brother by Harmodious and Aristogeiton. He was eventually deposed, and then a democratic system was established by Clisthenes in about 508BC {Livius}.

Greek philosopher Socrates had a lot to say about tyrants, still relevant today:

“Some of those who joined in setting him up, and who are in power, speak their minds to him and to one another, and the more courageous of them cast in his teeth what is being done.

“Yes, that may be expected.

“And the tyrant, if he means to rule, must get rid of them; he cannot stop while he has a friend or an enemy who is good for anything.

“He cannot.

“And therefore he must look about him and see who is valiant, who is high-minded, who is wise, who is wealthy; happy man, he is the enemy of them all, and must seek occasion against them whether he will or no, until he has made a purgation of the State.

“Yes, he said, and a rare purgation.

“Yes, I said, not the sort of purgation which the physicians make of the body; for they take away the worse and leave the better part, but he does the reverse” {Plato Republic VIII}.

He could have been talking about Stalinism, and the purges of the 1930s.

Socrates had a lot more to say, about the nature of a tyrant:

“How then does a protector begin to change into a tyrant? Clearly when he does what the man is said to do in the tale of the Arcadian temple of Lycaean Zeus.

“What tale?

“The tale is that he who has tasted the entrails of a single human victim minced up with the entrails of other victims is destined to become a wolf. Did you never hear it?

“Oh, yes.

“And the protector of the people is like him; having a mob entirely at his disposal, he is not restrained from shedding the blood of kinsmen; by the favourite method of false accusation he brings them into court and murders them, making the life of man to disappear, and with unholy tongue and lips tasting the blood of his fellow citizen; some he kills and others he banishes, at the same time hinting at the abolition of debts and partition of lands: and after this, what will be his destiny? Must he not either perish at the hands of his enemies, or from being a man become a wolf –that is, a tyrant?” {Plato Republic IX}

Many tyrants in history fit the description of the ancient philosophers, comparing them to werewolves. He, and occasionally she, seems to wish to enslave people not only physically, but also mentally, making them live in fear. Bloodbaths inevitably follow in the wake of these tyrants, but only sometimes a revolution.

Orwell captured life under a modern tyranny in 1984. It seems to be the recurring pattern, whether the tyrant is from the left or right side of politics, or perhaps neither in some Middle Eastern countries. The methods are forever going to be frighteningly the same.

WORKS CITED

Harper, Douglas. Online Etymology Dictionary. 2001-2015. Retrieved from: http://etymonline.com/index.php?term=tyrant&allowed_in_frame=0

“Harmodius and Aristogeiton”. Livius.org. 2005. Retrieved from: http://www.livius.org/articles/person/harmodius-and-aristogeiton/

Plato. The Republic. The Internet Classics Archive. 360 BCE. Retrieved from: http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/republic.html

Orwell, George. 1984. London: Penguin Classics, 1954.

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