Dionysius I was Tyrant of Syracuse, infamous for his cruelty and paranoia. He did, however, seek to surround himself with literary men, including Philoxenus, whose own life is of interest. He was enslaved by the Athenians and made his way into the household of the poet Melanippides, who educated and manumitted him. Evidently, his education included poetry, for Philoxenus was famous and skilled enough for no less than Alexander the Great to send for his poems while campaigning in Asia.
Once, though, Philoxenus criticized Dionysius’s poem, and for this crime, was sent to work in the quarries. After some time, Dionysius relented, encouraged by his friends, and allowed the poet to return to court. Dionysius recited a new poem and asked Philoxenus for his opinion.
Philoxenus replied, “Take me back to the quarries.”