|Volume and Page:||Vol. 16 (1765), p. 784|
|Translator:||Thomas Zemanek [University of Michigan]|
|Original Version (ARTFL):||Link|
This text is protected by copyright and may be linked to without seeking permission. Please see http://quod.lib.umich.edu/d/did/terms.html for information on reproduction.
|Citation (MLA):||"Tyrant." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Thomas Zemanek. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2009. Web. [fill in today's date in the form 18 Apr. 2009 and remove square brackets]. <http://hdl.handle.net/2027/spo.did2222.0001.238>. Trans. of "Tyran," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, vol. 16. Paris, 1765.|
|Citation (Chicago):||"Tyrant." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Thomas Zemanek. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2009. http://hdl.handle.net/2027/spo.did2222.0001.238 (accessed [fill in today's date in the form April 18, 2009 and remove square brackets]). Originally published as "Tyran," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, 16:784 (Paris, 1765).|
Tyrant, by the word τιραννος, the Greeks referred to a citizen who had seized the sovereign authority in a free state, even if he governed it in accordance with the laws of justice and fairness; today by tyrant one understands, not only a usurper of sovereign power, but even a legitimate sovereign who abuses his power in order to violate the law, to oppress his people, and to make his subjects the victims of his passions and unjust desires, which he substitutes for laws.
Of all of the plagues that afflict humanity, there is none more fatal than that of a tyrant ; occupied solely with the objective of satisfying his passions, and those of the unworthy ministers of his power, he regards his subjects only as vile slaves, as beings of an inferior species, destined only to satisfy his caprices, and toward whom anything seems to him permissible; when pride and flattery have filled him with these ideas, the only laws he knows are those which he imposes; these absurd laws dictated by his interest and his fantasies, are unjust and vary according to his changes of heart. Because of the impossibility of exercising his tyranny on his own, and in order to force the people to submit to the yoke of his dissolute desires, he is forced to consort with corrupt ministers; his choice falls only upon wicked men who know justice only to violate it, virtue to transgress it, and laws to evade them. Boni quam mali suspectiores sunt, semperque his aliena virtus formidolosa est.  War being declared, as it were, between the tyrant and his subjects, he is obligated to remain ceaselessly on guard for his own preservation, he finds it only in violence, he entrusts it to his entourage, to whom he gives up his subjects and their possessions to satiate their greed and cruelty, to sacrifice for his safety the virtues at which he takes umbrage. Cuncta ferit, dum cuncta timet.  The ministers of his passions become themselves the objects of his fears, he cannot ignore that it is impossible to trust corrupt men. The suspicions, the guilt, and the terror besiege him from all directions; he knows no one worthy of his confidence, he has only accomplices, he has no friends. The people, exhausted, degraded, and demeaned by the tyrant , are insensitive to changes in him, the laws he has violated cannot help him; in vain he again appeals to the fatherland, but is there one where a tyrant reigns?
If the universe has seen a few happy tyrants enjoy peacefully the fruits of their crimes, such examples are rare, and nothing is more astonishing in history than a tyrant who dies in his bed. Tiber, after having flooded Rome with the blood of virtuous citizens, becomes odious to himself; he no longer dares to contemplate the walls which were witness to his proscriptions, he banishes himself from the society whose bonds he broke, he has only terror, shame, and guilt for company. Such is the triumph that he wins over law! Such is the happiness his barbarous politics procure for him. He leads a life a hundred times more terrible than the most cruel death. Caligula, Nero, and Domitian finished by widening themselves the rivers of blood that their cruelty had spread, the crown of the tyrant is for him who wishes to take it. Pliny said to Trajan,
“that, by the fate of his predecessors, the gods had made known that they favored only princes loved by men.”
1. The author is quoting Sallust: “The good are more suspected by kings than the bad, and virtue in other men is to them always a source of dread.” Jon R. Stone, The Routledge Dictionary of Latin Quotations: the Illiterati's Guide to Latin Maxims, Mottoes, Proverbs and Sayings (New York: Routledge, 2004), 312, (accessed October 17, 2009).
2. The author is quoting Claudian: “... he strikes everything, for he fears everything...” Claudius Claudianus, Claudian, Volume 1, trans. and ed. Maurice Platnauer (London: William Heinemann, 1922), 153, (accessed October 25, 2009).