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"'They have the right to do what they like,' says Helvetius; to 'change their constitution,' says Vattel; to 'revolt against injustice,' according to the contention of Glafey, Hotman, Mably, and others; and St. Thomas Aquinas authorises them to 'deliver themselves from a tyrant.' 'They are even,' says Jurieu, 'dispensed from being right.'"--Bouvard et Pécuchet (1881) by Gustave Flaubert

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A tyrant (Greek τύραννος, tyrannos) was originally one who illegally seized and controlled a governmental power in a polis. Tyrants were a group of individuals who took over many Greek poleis during the uprising of the middle classes in the sixth and seventh centuries BC, ousting the aristocratic governments.

Plato and Aristotle define a tyrant as, "one who rules without law, looks to his own advantage rather than that of his subjects, and uses extreme and cruel tactics—against his own people as well as others".

In common usage, the word "tyrant" carries connotations of a harsh and cruel ruler who places his or her own interests or the interests of an oligarchy over the best interests of the general population, which the tyrant governs or controls. The Greek term carried no pejorative connotation during the Archaic and early Classical periods but was clearly a bad word to Plato, and on account of the decisive influence of political philosophy its negative connotations only increased down into the Hellenistic period, becoming synonymous with "Authenteo" - another term which carried authoritarian connotations around the turn of the first century A.D.

During the sixth and seventh centuries BC, tyranny was often looked upon as an intermediate stage between narrow oligarchy and more democratic forms of polity. However, in the late fifth and fourth centuries, a new kind of tyrant, the military dictator, arose, specifically in Sicily.

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