Damon and Pythias – an ancient Greek friendship

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The Greek theater at Syracuse in Sicily

Places Damon and Pythias might have been: The Greek theater at Syracuse in Sicily

Best friends in Sicily

According to the Greek story, Damon and Pythias grew up in Sicily, and they were always best friends. One day when the two of them were visiting the city of Syracuse Pythias said some things against the king of Syracuse, and the king got very angry. The king had Pythias arrested and he was going to kill Pythias (PIH-thee-ahs).

Damon trusts his friend Pythias

Pythias said, “Couldn’t I just go home and tell my family what happened and get ready before I am killed?” But the king said, “Oh sure, like you would ever come back again to be killed.” Damon said, “I will stay with you while Pythias goes home to say goodbye. If he doesn’t come back, you can kill me instead.” The king couldn’t believe anyone would trust their friend so much. He thought this was really dumb. But he agreed to let Pythias go. He was supposed to be back in one month. If he wasn’t back by the end of the month, the king would kill Damon instead.

But pirates attack Pythias!

Pythias went home, and said goodbye to his family, and left to come back to the city and be killed. He wouldn’t leave Damon to be killed! But on the way back, his ship was attacked by pirates. Pythias tried to explain to the pirates that it was really important for him to get to Sicily, but they just threw him overboard. Pythias swam to shore, but then he didn’t have any money or a horse or any way of getting back to Damon. He was so worried that Damon would be killed! He started to run as fast as he could towards the king’s palace.

Damon never loses faith

Meanwhile the king was telling Damon, “See! Pythias has abandoned you. I told you he’d never come back.” But Damon knew his friend would never leave him to be killed. Damon knew Pythias would come back to be killed himself.

Black figure vase: a boy prepares to jump off a ship

Like Damon and Pythias: A Greek ship with a man standing on deck

On the last day, the king had Damon tied up and took him outside into the courtyard of the palace to be killed. But Damon was still not worried. He knew Pythias would come. And sure enough, just as Damon was about to be killed, Pythias came running in.

Pythias is honorable

Pythias was filthy dirty and his clothes were all in rags from swimming in the ocean. And he had lost his shoes and had to run barefoot the whole way, and his feet were all bloody. But he was so happy to have come on time! He cried out, “See! I have come back. Let Damon go! I am ready to be killed now.” And he put his own head on the block.

A happy ending

But the king was so impressed by this great friendship that he did not kill Pythias after all. Instead, he kept both the friends at his court so they could give him good advice.

(We know this story from Cicero, and from a book by a Roman named Valerius Maximus, called De Amicitiae Vinculo (On the Chains of Friendship), from about 25 AD)

Learn by doing: write about something you did for a friend
More stories from ancient Greece

Bibliography and further reading about Damon and Pythias:

More about Greek friendship
More about Greek tyrants
Ancient Greece
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By |2018-07-08T00:42:27+00:00July 9th, 2017|Greeks, Literature|12 Comments
Cite this page: Carr, K.E. Damon and Pythias – an ancient Greek friendship. Quatr.us Study Guides, July 9, 2017. Web. December 19, 2018.

About the Author:

Dr. Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Facebook, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.


  1. Nona flyer July 7, 2018 at 10:42 pm - Reply

    Why would you want to waste your time going to Greece. It was such a heathenistic society. How can anyone who has any intelligence brlieve in all the crap they did.

    • Karen Carr July 8, 2018 at 12:36 am

      Well, this story is fiction, so you aren’t supposed to believe it, Nona! But Greece is a lovely place to visit, and it has been Christian about as long or longer than anywhere else in the world, since St. Paul visited Corinth.

  2. Hanna May 22, 2018 at 12:38 pm - Reply

    I want to travel to Greece.

    • Karen Carr May 22, 2018 at 1:02 pm

      Me too! Greece is lovely! I hope you get to go!

  3. Sander April 15, 2018 at 5:18 am - Reply

    I have a quick question. This Damon is not Damon of Athens, the musicologist and advisor of Pericles, right? Just to be sure haha.

    • Karen Carr April 15, 2018 at 10:06 am

      No, this is just a fictional story. Not related. Good question, though!

  4. Kathy April 5, 2018 at 11:33 am - Reply

    Do you ever wonder if Damon felt the same way about the King of Syracuse and was also about to voice negative comments about him as Pythias had?

    • Karen Carr April 5, 2018 at 4:40 pm

      Oh, I think Damon did feel the same way! There’s no part of the story where he’s mad at his friend for saying something dumb.

  5. hinata February 21, 2018 at 10:11 am - Reply

    i love this bioghaph

    • Karen Carr February 21, 2018 at 10:19 am

      Cool! It’s just a story though; this didn’t really happen.

  6. Jennifer January 23, 2018 at 9:37 am - Reply

    This is amazing! My sister was a Greek Godest for Halloween. Me and my best friend are really close. We’re the Greek like that? Thanks and bye bye! ๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿ‘ณ๐Ÿ˜!!!!

    • Karen Carr January 23, 2018 at 9:54 am

      Yes, the Greeks valued friendship very highly, as this story shows.

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