Greek Legend: Alexander and the Pirate

The English word pirate is derived from the Greek word πειρατής (peirates), which meant a robber, especially a robber at sea. In ancient times, pirates sailed the Mediterranean, and many stories were told about those pirates. There is a famous legend about the god Dionysus and some pirates, for example, and there is also a famous story about Alexander the Great and a pirate named Diomedes.

Diomedes, so the story tells us, was a notorious pirate who had finally been captured and brought before the emperor for sentencing. Because of the pirate's many criminal deeds, everyone expected that Alexander would sentence the pirate to death.  Before he passed judgment, however, Alexander decided to interview the pirate.

"What could possibly give you the right to sail the seas, taking by force things that do not belong to you?" Alexander asked the pirate.

Diomedes boldly replied with some questions of his own. "O Emperor," he said, "what could possibly give you the right to travel the whole world, taking by force things that do not belong to you? What gave you the right to occupy the land of Egypt? Who made you king of Persia? By what authority did you invade the land of India?

Alexander stared at the man in amazement, and Diomedes went on speaking. "Because I use only my own boat," he said, "I am called a pirate. You, however, use your army and your navy, and so you are proclaimed an emperor. If you ask me who is the greater criminal, I cannot say. I do know, however, that if I had such weapons at my disposal, I would be an emperor too."

Alexander was so impressed by this reply that instead of punishing the pirate, he let him go, praising him for his boldness and insight.