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Phalaris ( ) was the tyrant of Acragas (Agrigentummarker) in Sicily, from approximately 570 to 554 BC.


History

He was entrusted with the building of the temple of Zeus Atabyrius in the citadel, and took advantage of his position to make himself despot . Under his rule Agrigentum seems to have attained considerable prosperity. He supplied the city with water, adorned it with fine buildings, and strengthened it with walls. On the northern coast of the island the people of Himeramarker elected him general with absolute power, in spite of the warnings of the poet Stesichorus . According to the Suda he succeeded in making himself master of the whole of the island. He was at last overthrown in a general uprising headed by Telemachus, the ancestor of Theron (tyrant c. 488-472 BC), and burned in his brazen bull.

Phalaris was renowned for his excessive cruelty. Among his alleged atrocities is cannibalism: he was said to have eaten suckling babies.

In his brazen bull, invented, it is said, by Perillus of Athensmarker, the tyrant's victims were shut up and, a fire being kindled beneath, were roasted alive while their shrieks represented the bellowing of the bull. Some scholars of the early 20th century proposed a connection between Phalaris's bull and the bull-images of Phoenicianmarker cults (cf. the Biblical golden calf), and hypothesized a continuation of Eastern human sacrifice practices. This idea has subsequently fallen out of favor, however, although the original arguments have not been refuted .

The story of the bull cannot be dismissed as pure invention. Pindar, who lived less than a century afterwards, expressly associates this instrument of torture with the name of the tyrant. There was certainly a brazen bull at Agrigentum that was carried off by the Carthaginians to Carthagemarker, when it was again taken by Scipio a.k.a. Scipio - the Elder, and restored to Agrigentum circa 200 BC. However, it is more likely that Scipio Aemilianus Africanus, a.k.a. Scipio - the Younger, returned this bull and other stolen works of art to the original Sicilian cities, after his total destruction of Carthage circa 146 BC, which ended the Third Punic War.

Some four centuries later, however, a new tradition prevailed that Phalaris was a naturally humane man and a patron of philosophy and literature. He is so described in the declamations ascribed to Lucian (who was himself of Phoenician or Syrian heritage), and in the letters which bear his own name (but which Richard Bentley proved to have been written centuries later, around this time of Phalaris' rehabilitation, possibly by Adrianus of Tyre who was secretary to the infamous Commodus around 190 AD). Plutarch, writing around 100 AD amidst this change of tradition, though he takes the unfavourable view, yet mentions that the Sicilians referred to Phalaris' severity as "justice" and "hatred of crime".

References

  1. Aristotle, Politics, v. 10
  2. Aristotle, Rhetoric, ii. 20
  3. Tatian. "Tatian's Address to the Greeks", Chapter XXXIV.


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