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Phalaris

Phalaris, was tyrant of Acragas (Agrigentum) in Sicily, c. 570[?]-554 BC.

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 (Aristotle, Politics, v. 10). 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 Himera[?] elected him general with absolute power, in spite of the warnings of the poet Stesichorus (Aristotle, Rhetoric, ii. 20). According to Suidas he succeeded in making himself master of the whole of the island. He was at last overthrown in a general rising headed by Telemachus, the ancestor of Theron[?] (tyrant c. 488 BC-472 BC), and burned in his brazen bull.

Phalaris has become renowned for his excessive cruelty. In his brazen bull, invented, it is said, by Perillus of Athens, 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. Perillus himself is said to have been the first victim. There is hardly room to doubt that we have here a tradition of human sacrifice in connection with the worship of the Phoenician Baal (Zeus Atabyrius) such as prevailed at Rhodes; when misfortune threatened Rhodes the brazen hulls in his temple bellowed. The Rhodians brought this worship to Gela[?], which they founded conjointly with the Cretans, and from Gela it passed to Agrigentum.

Human sacrifices to Baal were common, and, though in Phoenicia proper there is no proof that the victims were burned alive, the Carthaginians had a brazen image of Baal, from whose downturned hands the children slid into a pit of fire; and the story that Minos had a brazen man who pressed people to his glowing breast points to similar rites in Crete, where the child-devouring Minotaur must certainly be connected with Baal and the favourite sacrifice to him of children.

The story of the bull cannot be dismissed as pure invention. Pindar (Pythia, i. 185), 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, which was carried off by the Carthaginians to Carthage, whence it was again taken by Scipio[?] and restored to Agrigentum. In later times the 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, and in the letters which bear his own name. Plutarch, too, though he takes the unfavourable view, mentions that the Sicilians gave to the severity of Phalaris the name of justice and a hatred of crime. Phalaris may thus have been one of those men who combine justice and even humanity with religious fanaticism.

This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.



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