This oration, as well as Phalaris II, seems to be merely declamatory, written by Lucian as a rhetorical piece. It's object is to say as much in favour of the tyrant of Agrigentum, Phalaris, as possible given his tyrranical reputation. The piece can be considered as an argumentative oration not without merit as a rhetorical piece. Lucian pleads the cause with warmth and energy and supports Phalaris as best as a character like Phalaris can be.
We are sent to you, Priests of Delphi, by Phalaris our master, with instructions to present this bull to the God, and to speak the necessary words on behalf of the offering and its donor. Such being our errand, it remains for us to deliver his message, which is as follows:
‘It is my desire above all things, men of Delphi, to appear to the Greeks as I really am, and not in that character in which Envy and Malice, availing themselves of the ignorance of their hearers, have represented me: and if to the Greeks in general, then most of all to you, who are holy men, associates of the God, sharers (I had almost said) of his hearth and home. If I can clear myself before you, if I can convince you that I am not the cruel tyrant I am supposed to be, then I may consider myself cleared in the eyes of all the world. For the truth of my statements, I appeal to the testimony of the God himself. Methinks he is not likely to be deceived by lying words. It may be an easy matter to mislead men: but to escape the penetration of a God — and that God Apollo — is impossible.
‘I was a man of no mean family; in birth, in breeding, in education, the equal of any man in Agrigentum. In my political conduct I was ever public-spirited, in my private life mild and unassuming; no unseemly act, no deed of violence, oppression, or headstrong insolence was ever laid to my charge in those early days. But our city at that time was divided into factions: I saw myself exposed to the plots of my political opponents, who sought to destroy me by every means: if I would live in security, if I would preserve the city from destruction, there was but one course open to me — to seize upon the government, and thereby baffle my opponents, put an end to their machinations, and bring my countrymen to their senses. There were not a few who approved my design: patriots and men of cool judgement, they understood my sentiments, and saw that I had no alternative. With their help, I succeeded without difficulty in my enterprise.
‘From that moment, the disturbances ceased. My opponents, became my subjects, I their ruler; and the city was freed from dissension. From executions and banishments and confiscations I abstained, even in the case of those who had plotted against my life. Such strong measures are indeed never more necessary than at the commencement of a new rule: but I was sanguine; I proposed to treat them as my equals, and to win their allegiance by clemency, mildness, and humanity. My first act was to reconcile myself with my enemies, most of whom I invited to my table and took into my confidence.
‘I found the city in a ruinous condition, owing to the neglect of the magistrates, who had commonly been guilty of embezzlement, if not of wholesale plunder. I repaired the evil by means of aqueducts, beautified the city with noble buildings, and surrounded it with walls. The public revenues were easily increased by proper attention on the part of the fiscal authorities. I provided for the education of the young and the maintenance of the old; and for the general public I had games and spectacles, banquets and doles. As for rape and seduction, tyrannical violence or intimidation, I abhorred the very name of such things.
‘I now began to think of laying down my power; and how to do so with safety was my only concern. The cares of government and public business had begun to weigh upon me; I found my position as burdensome as it was invidious. But it was still a question, how to render the city independent of such assistance for the future. And whilst I— honest man! — was busied with such thoughts, my enemies were even then combining against me, and debating the ways and means of rebellion; conspiracies were forming, arms and money were being collected, neighbour states were invited to assist, embassies were on their way to Sparta and Athens. The torments that were in store for me, had I fallen into their hands, I afterwards learnt from their public confession under torture, from which it appeared that they had vowed to tear me limb from limb with their own hands. For my escape from such a fate, I have to thank the Gods, who unmasked the conspiracy; and, in particular, the God of Delphi, who sent dreams to warn me, and dispatched messengers with detailed information.
‘And now, men of Delphi, I would ask your advice. Imagine yourselves today in the perilous situation in which I then stood; and tell me what was my proper course. I had almost fallen unawares into the hands of my enemies, and was casting about for means of safety. Leave Delphi for a while, and transport yourselves in spirit to Agrigentum: behold the preparations of my enemies: listen to their threats; and say, what is your counsel? Shall I sit quietly on the brink of destruction, exercising clemency and long-suffering as heretofore? bare my throat to the sword? see my nearest and dearest slaughtered before my eyes? What would this be but sheer imbecility? Shall I not rather bear myself like a man of spirit, give the rein to my rational indignation, avenge my injuries upon the conspirators, and use my present power with a view to my future security? This, I know, would have been your advice.
‘Now observe my procedure. I sent for the guilty persons, heard their defence, produced my evidence, established every point beyond a doubt; and when they themselves admitted the truth of the accusation, I punished them; for I took it ill, not that they had plotted against my life, but that on their account I was compelled to abandon my original policy. From that day to this, I have consulted my own safety by punishing conspiracy as often as it has shown itself.
‘And men call me cruel! They do not stop to ask who was the aggressor; they condemn what they think the cruelty of my vengeance, but pass lightly over the provocation, and the nature of the crime. It is as if a man were to see a temple-robber hurled from the rock at Delphi, and, without reflecting how the transgressor had stolen into your temple by night, torn down the votive-offerings, and laid hands upon the graven image of the God, were to exclaim against the inhumanity of persons who, calling themselves Greeks and holy men, could yet find it in them to inflict this awful punishment upon their fellow Greek, and that within sight of the holy place;— for the rock, as I am told, is not far from the city. Surely you would laugh to scorn such an accusation as this; and your cruel treatment of the impious would be universally applauded.
‘But so it is: the public does not inquire into the character of a ruler, into the justice or injustice of his conduct; the mere name of tyranny ensures men’s hatred; the tyrant might be an Aeacus, a Minos, a Rhadamanthus,— they would be none the less eager for his destruction; their thoughts ever run on those tyrants who have been bad rulers, and the good, because they bear the same name, are held in the like detestation. I have heard that many of your tyrants in Greece have been wise men, who, labouring under that opprobrious title, have yet given proofs of benevolence and humanity, and whose pithy maxims are even now stored up in your temple among the treasures of the God.
‘Observe, moreover, the prominence given to punishment by all constitutional legislators; they know that when the fear of punishment is wanting, nothing else is of avail. And this is doubly so with us who are tyrants; whose power is based upon compulsion; who live in the midst of enmity and treachery. The bugbear terrors of the law would never serve our turn. Rebellion is a many-headed Hydra: we cut off one guilty head, two others grow in its place. Yet we must harden our hearts, smite them off as they grow, and — like lolaus — sear the wounds; thus only shall we hold our own. The man who has once become involved in such a strife as this must play the part that he has undertaken; to show mercy would be fatal. Do you suppose that any man was ever so brutal, so inhuman, as to rejoice in torture and groans and bloodshed for their own sake, when there was no occasion for punishment? Many is the time that I have wept while others suffered beneath the lash, and groaned in spirit over the hard fate that subjected me to a torment more fierce and more abiding than theirs. For to the man who is benevolent by nature, and harsh only by compulsion, it is more painful to inflict punishment than it would be to undergo it.
‘Now I will speak my mind frankly. If I had to choose between punishing innocent men, and facing death myself, believe me, I should have no hesitation in accepting the latter alternative. But if I am asked, whether I had rather die an undeserved death than give their deserts to those who plotted against my life, I answer no; and once more, Delphians, I appeal to you: which is better — to die when I deserve not death, or to spare my enemies who deserve not mercy? [Footnote: Apparently the speaker intended to repeat the last pair of alternatives in different words: instead of which, he gives us one of those alternatives twice over. Lucian’s tautologic genius fails him for once.] No man surely can be such a fool that he would not rather live than preserve his enemies by his death. Yet in spite of this how many have I spared who were palpably convicted of conspiring against me; such were Acanthus, Timocrates, and his brother Leogoras, all of whom I saved out of regard for our former intercourse.
‘If you would learn more of me, apply to any of the strangers who have visited Agrigentum; and see what account they give of the treatment they received, and of my hospitality to all who land on my coasts. My messengers are waiting for them in every port, to inquire after their names and cities, that they may not go away without receiving due honour at my hands. Some — the wisest of the Greeks — have come expressly to visit me, so far are they from avoiding intercourse with me. It was but lately that I received a visit from the sage Pythagoras. The account that he had heard of me was belied by his experience; and on taking his departure he expressed admiration of my justice, and deplored the circumstances which made severity a duty. Now is it likely that one who is so benevolent to strangers should deal unjustly with his fellow citizens? is it not to be supposed that the provocation has been unusually great?
‘So much then in defence of my own conduct; I have spoken the words of truth and justice, and would persuade myself that I have merited your approbation rather than your resentment. And now I must explain to you the origin of my present offering, and the manner in which it came into my hands. For it was by no instructions of mine that the statuary made this bull: far be it from me to aspire to the possession of such works of art! A countryman of my own, one Perilaus, an admirable artist, but a man of evil disposition, had so far mistaken my character as to think that he could win my regard by the invention of a new form of torture; the love of torture, he thought, was my ruling passion. He it was who made the bull and brought it to me. I no sooner set eyes on this beautiful and exquisite piece of workmanship, which lacked only movement and sound to complete the illusion, than I exclaimed: “Here is an offering fit for the God of Delphi: to him I must send it.” “And what will you say,” rejoined Perilaus, who stood by, “when you see the ingenious mechanism within it, and learn the purpose it is designed to serve?” He opened the back of the animal, and continued: “When you are minded to punish any one, shut him up in this receptacle, apply these pipes to the nostrils of the bull, and order a fire to be kindled beneath. The occupant will shriek and roar in unremitting agony; and his cries will come to you through the pipes as the tenderest, most pathetic, most melodious of bellowings. Your victim will be punished, and you will enjoy the music.”
‘His words revolted me. I loathed the thought of such ingenious cruelty, and resolved to punish the artificer in kind. “If this is anything more than an empty boast, Perilaus,” I said to him, “if your art can really produce this effect, get inside yourself, and pretend to roar; and we will see whether the pipes will make such music as you describe.” He consented; and when he was inside I closed the aperture, and ordered a fire to be kindled. “Receive,” I cried, “the due reward of your wondrous art: let the music-master be the first to play.” Thus did his ingenuity meet with its deserts. But lest the offering should be polluted by his death, I caused him to be removed while he was yet alive, and his body to be flung dishonoured from the cliffs. The bull, after due purification, I sent as an offering to your God, with an inscription upon it, setting forth all the circumstances; the names of the donor and of the artist, the evil design of the latter, and the righteous sentence which condemned him to illustrate by his own agonized shrieks the efficacy of his musical device.
‘And now, men of Delphi, you will be doing me no more than justice, if you join my ambassadors in making sacrifice on my behalf, and set up the bull in a conspicuous part of the temple; that all men may know what is my attitude towards evil-doers, and in what manner I chastise their inordinate craving after wickedness. Herein is a sufficient indication of my character: Perilaus punished, the bull consecrated, not reserved for the bellowings of other victims. The first and last melody that issued from those pipes was wrung from their artificer; that one experiment made, the harsh, inhuman notes are silenced for ever. So much for the present offering, which will be followed by many others, so soon as the God vouchsafes me a respite from my work of chastisement.’
Such was the message of Phalaris; and his statement is in strict accordance with the facts. You may safely accept our testimony, as we are acquainted with the circumstances, and can have no object in deceiving you on the present occasion. Must entreaty be added? Then on behalf of one whose character has been misrepresented, and whose severities were forced upon him against his will, we implore you,— we who are Agrigentines, Greeks like yourselves and of Dorian origin — to accept his offer of friendship, and not to thwart his benevolent intentions towards your community and the individuals of which it is composed. Take the bull into your keeping; consecrate it; and offer up your prayers on behalf of Agrigentum and of Phalaris. Suffer us not to have come hither in vain: repulse not our master with scorn: nor deprive the God of an offering whose intrinsic beauty is only equalled by its righteous associations.