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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Damon and Pythias, BFFs

The yearning for a BFF runs deep. When I was a child, one of my favorite stories from Ancient Greece was the legend of Damon and Pythias. I haven’t run across it in children’s literature for a long time, however, possibly because of homophobia – I’m not sure, really. All I can say is that it spoke directly to my soul when I was young and had a BFF, and we dreamed that nothing would be better than for us to live together forever, as only best friends can dream. We drew detailed floor plans of the house we would build, remodeling it constantly – at one point it had a room-sized aviary that would house all our parakeets and zebra finches. It was a dream of complete reasonableness for us.

          So, the legend of Damon and Pythias:

          Two men, Damon and Pythias, were the best of friends, loving each other and living as brothers, sharing everything in the greatest joy and confidence and mutual trust. The claim that each would be willing to lay down his life for the other was no exaggeration, for it was put to the test.

It happened that they were visiting the kingdom of Syracuse, and the tyrant king suspected Damon of making slanderous statements against the tyrant. For this crime, Damon was sentenced to death; but he begged leave to return to his home to say farewell to his family, promising to return and accept his punishment. The tyrant refused, saying that Damon would use the chance to escape, but Pythias stepped forward, offering himself as hostage. If Damon did not return one month from that day, the tyrant could execute Pythias instead.
               The cruel king thought Pythias was a fool, but agreed to the terms, and Damon departed. For the entire month, Pythias confidently awaited his friend’s return. Yet the day of execution arrived, and Damon had not come back. The king mocked Pythias’ misplaced loyalty, and told the executioner to make ready. Pythias never doubted his friend, however. He knew Damon would not abandon him, and that there must surely be a reason for the delay. He went to the place of execution without wavering in his trust and love for Damon.

             Almost at the last possible moment, Damon arrived on bleeding feet. He had been on his way back to Syracuse when his ship had been seized by pirates. After much struggle he had escaped, but with no money he had been forced to make his way the best he could, and walked night and day without rest to make the deadline. He wept with joy to see he had not been too late, and that his friend was still alive.

             The king, astonished by their self-sacrifice and courage, and humbled by a friendship that erased the fear of death itself, pardoned Damon, and the two friends returned to their own country.

            That kind of unwavering confidence in a friend takes a lot of emotional courage. Trust can be hard! But to have that confidence and be worthy of it in return is the ideal of the BFF. When I hear K. and B.  talk about how awesome it would be if our families bought a big house and lived there together so they would never have to part, I know the story of Damon and Pythias would make complete sense to them. It made sense to me.

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