The Hiero is an account in Socratic conversational form of a meeting between Simonides the poet and Hiero the tyrant of Syracuse; it was written by Xenophon of Athens in the fourth century b.c., but is set in the fifth, when the historical Simonides and Hiero lived and met. The subject they are portrayed discussing is the relative happiness of the tyrant and private individual. Plato also makes this a topic of discussion in his Republic. However, whereas Plato writes a regular Socratic dialogue, Xenophon does not, for though he represents his characters using Socratic conversation, Socrates himself does not appear; the characteros of the Hiero are Simonides and Hiero, poet and tyrant. This is the problem of the Hiero. It requires explanation.
The action of the Hiero is initiated by Simonides and begins in the following way:
Simonides the poet once came to the court of Hiero the tyrant. When they were both at leisure, Simonides said, ‘Would you be willing to tell me, Hiero, something you are likely to know better than I?’ And Hiero said, ‘What is it that I should know better than you, who are such a wise man?’ He replied, ‘I know that you were once a private individual and are now a tyrant. Since you have experienced both conditions, you are likely to know better than I how tyrannical life differs from private life in respect of men's pleasures and griefs’ (1.1–2).
The identification of Simonides as a wise man who nevertheless seeks wisdom from others establishes his Socratic nature from the start.