Research Article written by London Swaminathan

Date: 13 December 2018

GMT Time uploaded in London – 20-56

Post No. 5777

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The story of Pythias and Damon is popular in the West. It has become an idiom in English. The two friends of Athens stand as the symbol of true friendship. It is said that they followed the friendship as propagated  by the Greek philosopher Pythagoras. That is what exactly the great Tamil poet Tiruvalluvar, author of Tamil Veda called Tirukkural said,

“Friendship requires neither common residence nor frequent meeting; spiritual kinship creates the right to friendship”-  Kural 785

“Friendship is not that which shines as a smile in the face; Friendship is that which shines as a joy in the soul within” – 786

Another translation of the same couplets runs like this,

“Identity of feelings alone count for close friendship for which,

Constant companionship is not really necessary”-785.

“A surface smile in the face is not friendship, genuine affection,

Springs from the heart and lights up the face”-786.

The story Of Pythias is as follows,

Pythias and Damon were great friends. Once they visited Syracuse where the tyrant Dionysius was ruling. The king suspected the intention of their visit and arrested Pythias for anti- state activities.  He passed a death sentence on him after rejecting all his arguments. His friend Damon felt very sad and tried to help him.

At the same time Pythias’ mother was suffering from serious illness. So Pythias asked permission to go and see her before he  dies. But Dionysius was not ready to believe him. He thought he would never come back. Damon, who was his true friend, told the king that he was ready to be a hostage in the place of Pythias. The tyrant agreed to that proposal. Damon was put in jail.

The days passed; now everyone was waiting anxiously from Pythias return. When the deadline was about to expire, Damon was taken to the execution platform. But Damon was dead sure that he would come back. At that time there was a great commotion when people saw Pythias running towards the place. He came in and asked for pardon for the delay and explained that untimely and unseasonal weather stopped his ship. He begged the king to release Damon and execute him as per the original order.

Whoever heard this started shedding tears and appreciated the great friendship between Pythias and Damon. It moved even the stony-hearted Dionysius and he ordered the release of both Pythias and Damon. From that time their name became proverbial for true friendship.

Similar Story in Tamil literature.

Pythias incident happened in the fifth century BCE. A few centuries later another story happened in Tamil Nadu in South India. There was a king by name Kopperum Chozan. He had problems with his sons about ruling the country. Sangam Tamil poets were honest and bold advisers. One of the poets advised the Choza king to hand over the kingdom to his wards and go to forest life—Vanaprastha—third stage in a Hindu’s life. The king said that he wanted to fast unto death. It is called ‘Prayopavesa’ in Sanskrit and found in the Kishkintha Kanda of Valmiki Ramayana. Whoever dies that way goes directly to heaven. They face the holy Northern Direction and starve to death. Several people used to join such a venture because they knew it is a ‘direct flight ticket’ to Heaven. As was the custom lot of scholars and poets joined the Choza king in the fast. One poet by name Pothiar was refused a seat in the hall by the king. He told him that the poet should go back home and can join only after the birth of a male child, which is required to go to heaven according to Hindu Law Books. He went back and came back after the death of the group and lamented. All this information is in Purananuru (verses 213-223), part of 2000 year old Sangam literature.

Here is the interesting bit.

Choza king asked his colleagues to reserve a seat for a poet named Pisir Anthaiar of the neighbouring Pandya kingdom. All other poets in the hall were surprised because the king and the poet never met. They told the king not to get disappointed by expecting him.

Then the king told them in a verse,

“There in the distant Pandya country

A poet from the town of Pisir is a very close friend.

Even if he does not come when I had lot of money, he would definitely come to see me when I am in distress” – Purananuru verse 215

The king’s words did not go waste. Pisir Anthaiyar came there just on time and sat with the king fasting until death.

This is an example for true friendship like the Pythias- Damon story.

Greek story of Pythias and Damon was made into films in several languages. Like Pisir- Choza story we have stories of Kuchela/Sudama – Krishna friendship. The very first chapter of Panchatantra fables is about true friendship.

Ancient Greeks believed in several virtues like Hindus. Pythias story shows,

1.His love for his mother; Hindus say Matha, Pitha , Guru are goods.

2.Pythias also kept his words like Hindus. All ancient foreign visitors said, ‘in India there is no written legal document and all is done by word of mouth’. Hindu myths say they are like the legendary Harischandra.

3. We have umpteen examples about true friendship. When Karna was insulted that he being a commoner, should not participate in Royal Olympic Games, Duryodana made him a king in a second. Karna was loyal to Duryodana till his last minute.

So we see many similarities between the legends of Hindus and Greeks. One is also reminded of the great sacrifice of Sydney Carton in the novel of A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.

Long Live True Friendship!!


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