Periander (//; Greek: Περίανδρος), also known as Periander The Great, was the Second Tyrant of the Cypselid dynasty that ruled over Corinth. Born in 625 B.C.E. in Corinth Greece, Periander’s rule brought about a prosperous time in Corinth’s history as his administrative skill made Corinth one of the wealthiest and most relevant city states during the 6th and 5th centuries B.C.E. Several accounts state that Periander was a cruel and harsh ruler, but others claim him to have been a fair and just king who worked to ensure the distribution of wealth in Corinth was more or less even. He is often considered one of the Seven Sages of Greece, men of the 6th century B.C.E., who were renowned for centuries following for their wisdom. The other Seven Sages were most often considered to be Thales, Solon, Cleobulus, Chilon, Bias, Pittacus.
Periander (died c. 587 BCE) was the second tyrant of Corinth and the son of Cypselus, the founder of the Cypselid dynasty of Corinth. Cypselus’s wife was named Cratea and there were rumors that she fell in love with her son and she and Periander had an illicit affair. Periander married Lyside, who he often referred to as Melissa, the daughter of Procles and Eristenea. They had two sons Cypselus, known to be weak of the mind, and Lycophron, a man of intelligence. According to the book Lives of the Eminent Philosophers, Periander, in a fit of rage, kicked his wife or threw her down a set of stairs so hard that’s she was killed. This drove his son Lycophron away to Corcyca, where he could grieve away from his father. When Periander was much older and looking to have his successor at his side, he sent for Lycophron . When the people of Corcyca heard of this, they killed Lycophron, who had been appointed governor of Corcyca. The people did not want him to leave and succeed his father. The death of his son caused Periander to fall into a great despondency that eventually led to his death at eighty years old. Periander was succeeded by his nephew, Psammetichus, who ruled for just three years and was the last of the Cypselid Kings.
Periander, during his reign, built Corinth into one of the major trading centers in Ancient Greece. This created many positive influences that bolstered the economy of Corinth. Periander established colonies at Potidaea in Chalcidice and at Apollonia in Illyria to promote trade for Corinth. He conquered Epidaurus, formed positive relationships with Miletus and Lydia, and annexed Corcyca, where his son lived much of his life. He is credited with inventing the first railway system, known as the Diolkos, across the Isthmus of Corinth which in turn made Corinth a major hub for merchant traffic in the Mediterranean. Tolls from goods entering Corinth’s port were so high that it accounted for nearly all of government revenues. He used this money to create temples and public works, for he did not want idleness in his citizens. He also used the money to promote the spread of literature and arts. He had the poet Arion come from Lesbos to Corinth for an arts festival in the city. Additionally he conquered Epidaurus and the trading center of Corcyra which helped to further Corinth’s commercial success. Periander also saw to it that Corinth became a cultural hub. He held many festivals and supported poets such as Arion in his court. In Corinth he built many buildings in the Doric style which was the favorite architectural design of Greek buildings during his time. The Corinthian style of Architecture, named for Corinth, had yet to be developed during Periander’s reign and would not appear until the late 5th century B.C.E. In addition the Corinthian style of pottery was developed by an artisan during his rule.
Writing and Philosophy
Periander was said to be a patron of literature, who both wrote and appreciated early philosophy, including writing a 2000 line didactic poem. The following is a list of sayings commonly attributed to him:
- Never do anything for money; leave gain to trades pursued for gain.
- Who wished to wield absolute power in safety, should be guarded by the good will of their countrymen, and not by arms.
- It is as dangerous to retire voluntarily as to be dispossessed.
- Rest is beautiful.
- Rashness has its perils.
- Gain is ignoble.
- Democracy is better than tyranny.
- Pleasures are transient, honours are immortal.
- Be moderate in prosperity, prudent in adversity.
- Be the same to your friends whether they are in prosperity or in adversity.
- Whatever agreement you make, stick to it.
- Betray no secret.
- Correct not only the offenders but also those who are on the point of offending.
- Practice makes perfect.
- Be farsighted with everything.
- Nothing is impossible to industry.
- Live according to your income.
- The mind still longs for what it has missed, and loses itself in the contemplation of the past.
- He who assists the wicked will in time rue it.
- He who has once made himself notorious as utterly unprincipled, is not credited even when he speaks the truth.
- He who trusts himself for safety to the care of a wicked man, in seeking succour meets with ruin.
- However exalted our position, we should still not despise the powers of the humble.
- Judge of a tree by its fruit, not by its leaves.
- Liars pay the penalty of their own misdeeds.
- Relaxation should at times be given to the mind, the better to fit it for toil when resumed.
- Success brings many to ruin.
- The soft speeches of the wicked are full of deceit.
- The success of the wicked tempts many to sin.
- Those who plot the destruction of others often perish in the attempt.
- To counsel others, and to disregard one's own safety, is folly.
- Unless your works lead to profit, vain is your glory in them.
- Witty remarks are all very well when spoken at a proper time: when out of place they are offensive.
- The useful and the beautiful are never separated.
Periander is referenced by many of his contemporaries in relation to philosophy and leadership. Most commonly he is mentioned as one of the Seven Sages of Ancient Greece, a group of philosophers and rulers from early Greece, but some authors leave him out of the list. In Lives of the Eminent Philosophers, Diogenes Laertius, a philosopher from the 3rd Century AD, lists Periander as one of these seven sages. Ausonius also refers to Periander as one of the seven sages in his work The Masque of the Seven Sages. One complicated aspect of Periander’s legacy is that some think there was a ruler named Periander and a separate sage also named Periander who lived during a similar time in Greece. Sayings attributed to the ruler Periander may be confused with those from the sage, if there were in fact two separate men. Plato is one of those who did not include Periander as one of the Seven Sages.
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- Dietsch, Deborah. "Greek Architecture: Doric, Ionic, or Corinthian?".
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- Ausonius. "The Masque of the Seven Sages".
- Pausanias. "Description of Greece".