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This classic tale of friendship is set in Sicily in the fourth century B.C.E. Dionysius, a "cruel ruler," surrounds himself with bodyguards, reigns with an iron fist, and sneers at the idea of trusting others. Pythias speaks out publicly against the tyrant and is sentenced to death for treason. The young man's request to journey home to bid his parents farewell is granted only after his good friend Damon steps forward and offers to take Pythias's place in prison, vowing to die in his stead should Pythias not return in a month. The traveler is delayed, and Damon prepares to accept his fate. Pythias arrives just in time, and their heartfelt reunion inspires Dionysius to revoke the sentence and ask the two young men for a "favor": "Might I be the third in your friendship?" Johnson's realistic artwork evokes the setting and time period with rich detail, alternating landscapes and city scenes with close-ups of the characters' faces. The paintings glow with deep apricot and jewel tones, while darker colors underscore powerful emotions. The text reads aloud smoothly with strong dialogue and vivid similes. While Dionysius's instantaneous turnaround from harsh oppressor to humble supplicant might be a bit abrupt and simplistic, it is in the spirit of this ancient fable. Share this offering to launch discussions of friendship, faith, and trust.-Joy Fleishhacker , School Library Journal
Long ago in Sicily, there lived a cruel ruler named Dionysius. He believed in friendship no more than he believed in mermaids or dragons.
"A friend?" Dionysius said. "A friend is only someone who will trick you into trusting him and then betray that trust."
Dionysius lived in a palace outside the city of Syracuse. Five strong gates and a thousand bodyguards protected him. At night he slept behind a locked door in a bed surrounded by a small moat. It could only be crossed by a drawbridge that he alone controlled.
People called him the Tyrant of Syracuse, and he was known to show no mercy to anyone who spoke against him.
Dionysius did not believe in friendship, but in Syracuse there lived two young men who did. Their names were Damonand Pythias. They were best friends and shared nearly everything, including doubts about their ruler.
One day Pythias gave a speech in the marketplace. He spoke against Dionysius, saying he was a bad ruler.
Suddenly thebodyguards of Dionysius appeared. "Run!" people shouted. "Hide!" But it was already too late. The soldiers marched Pythias off to their master to be sentenced for treason.
Damon joined the crowd following the soldiers. He slipped through the five gates to find a place in the courtyard where he could hear his friend's fate.
"Kneel," commanded Dionysius as the youth was brought before him.
Pythias refused. "I bow only to my betters," he said.
Damon watched in horror as Dionysius' face grew red with anger.
"Am I no better than a peasant?" the ruler demanded. "I will show you my power! I find you guilty of treason. You shall be executed in a month." He turned to the guards. "Take him to prison!"
Excerpted from Damon, Pythias, and the Test of Friendship by Teresa Bateman. Copyright © 2009 Teresa Bateman. Excerpted by permission of ALBERT WHITMAN & Company.
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