Many know what the phrase “these two are Damon and Phidias” means, but very few remember the historical origin of these two names and how they were established as the synonym of an invincible friendship that defied death. The basic facts of this story are not imaginary; on the contrary, they are historically accurate. References are found in the works of historians such as Cicero, Valerius Maximus, Porphyrios, Diodorus, Sicilian and others: Damon and Phidias were two Pythagorean philosophers who lived or found to live in the Syracuse during the time of the tyrannical Dionysius the Younger, between 367 and 343 BC According to historians, Phidias was accused of participating in a conspiracy to overthrow Dionysius, and was sentenced to death. The sentenced man asked for a few hours of freedom to catch up with his unfinished business before he died.
Dionysius agreed to temporarily let Phidias go, keeping his close friend, Damon, in his place. In some sources, that was an idea of Dionysius himself, knowing that Damon would definitely come back. Other sources tell us that Dionysius proposed this solution, seeking to prove that the famous friendship that the Pythagoreans displayed among themselves was in reality fake.
Whatever the source, however, Damon accepted to take his friend’s place on his own will, and was not forced to. The rest of this story is more or less well known. Phidias left, but as the hour of the execution was approaching, he was nowhere to be seen. Dionysius started to mock Damon by telling him that his friend turned him into ‘an Iphigenia’, sacrificing him while he escaped and was already enjoying life. But right at the time when Damon was led to be executed, Phidias appeared running. He immediately demanded to take his friends place and be executed.
Then right in the presence of Dionysius, the two friends started arguing!
Damon said he had to be executed since his friend had arrived late. Phidias on the other hand claimed that he had kept his word and therefore his friend had to be released and he had to be put to death instead as he was the one who had done the offense.
Dionysius after witnessing this scene was so moved that he decided to pardon them and asked to be accepted as their new friend.