Stories of the East From Herodotus - Alfred J. Church

The Story of King Croesus

Croesus, the son of Alyattes, began to reign over Lydia, being thirty and five years old. This Crsus made war upon all the Greeks that dwelt in the western parts of Asia, seeking some occasion of quarrel with every city. And if he could find some great matter, he used it gladly; but if not, a little thing would serve his turn. Now, the first of all the cities which he fought against was Ephesus; and when the Ephesians were besieged by him they offered their city as an offering to the goddess Artemis, fastening a rope to the wall from her temple. (The space between the temple and the wall was seven furlongs.) All the cities of the Greeks that are on the mainland did Crsus subdue, so that they paid tribute to him. And when he had ended this business, he purposed in his heart to build ships, and to make war on the Greeks that dwelt in the islands. But when all things were now ready for the building of the ships, there came to Sardis a certain Greek, a man renowned for wisdom. Some say that this Greek was Bias, the wise man of Priene, and some that he was Pittacus of Mitylene. This Greek caused Crsus to cease from his shipbuilding, for when the King would know whether he had any news from Greece, he said to him, "O King, the islanders are buying ten thousand horses, that they may set riders upon them, and so march against thee and thy city of Sardis." When Crsus heard this he was glad, hoping that the man spake truth, and said, "Now may the Gods put this into the hearts of the islanders, that they should make war with horses against the sons of the Lydians." Then the Greek answered and said, "O King, I see that thou prayest with all thy heart that thou mayest find the islanders coming against thee here on the mainland with horses, and verily thou doest well. What then dost thou think that the islanders pray for now that they know thee to be building ships? Surely that they may find the Lydians coming against them on the sea, that so they may take vengeance on thee for their brethren on the mainland, whom thou hast brought into slavery." This saying pleased King Crsus mightily; and because the Greek seemed to him to speak truly, he ceased straightway from his shipbuilding, and made alliance with the Greeks that dwelt in the islands.

Now after certain years, when all Asia that lieth to the westward of the river Halys had been subdued by Crsus (only Lydia and Cilicia were not subdued), and his kingdom flourished with great wealth and honour, there came to Sardis all the wise men of the Greeks, as many as there were in those days. But the greatest of all that came was Solon of Athens. This Solon had made laws for the Athenians, for they would have him make them, and afterwards he dwelt abroad for ten years. And he said that he did this that he might see foreign countries; but in truth he departed that he might not be compelled to change any of the laws that he had made. For the Athenians themselves could not change any, having bound themselves with great oaths to Solon, that they would live for the space of ten years under the laws which he had made for them.

Solon therefore came to Sardis, and Crsus entertained him in his palace. And on the third or fourth day after his coming the King commanded his servants that they should show Solon all the royal treasures. So the servants showed him all the things that the King possessed, a very great store of riches. And when he had seen everything and considered it, and a fitting time was come, the King said to him, "Man of Athens, I have heard much of thee in time past, of thy wisdom and of thy journeyings to and fro, for they say that thou wanderest over many lands, seeking for knowledge. I have therefore a desire to ask of thee one question: 'Whom thinkest thou to be the happiest of all the men that thou hast seen?'" And this he said hoping that Solon would answer, "Thou, O King, art the happiest man that I have seen." But Solon flattered him not a whit, but spake the truth, saying, "O King, the happiest man that I have seen was Tellus the Athenian." Then Crsus, marvelling much at these words, said, "And why thinkest thou that Tellus the Athenian was the happiest of men?" Then Solon answered, "Tellus saw his country in great prosperity, and he had children born to him that were fair and noble, and to each of these also he saw children born, of whom there died not one. Thus did all things prosper with him in life, as we count prosperity, and the end of his days also was great and glorious; for when the Athenians fought with certain neighbours of theirs in Eleusis, he came to the help of his countrymen against their enemies, and put these to flight, and so died with great honour; and the whole people of the Athenians buried him in the same place wherein he fell, and honoured him greatly."

But when Solon had ended speaking to the King of Tellus, how happy he was, the King asked him again, "Whom, then, hast thou seen that was next in happiness to this Tellus?" For he thought to himself, "Surely now he will give me the second place." Then Solon said, "I judge Cleobis and Biton to have been second in happiness to Tellus."

Cleobis and Biton were youths of the city of Argos. They had a livelihood such as sufficed them; and their strength was greater than that of other men. For not only did they win prizes of strength, but also they did this thing that shall now be told. The men of Argos held a feast to Her, who hath a great and famous temple in their city; and it must needs be that the mother of the two young men, being priestess of Her, should be drawn in a waggon from the city to the temple; but the oxen that should have drawn the waggon were not yet come from the fields. Then, as the time-pressed and the matter was urgent, the young men harnessed themselves to the waggon and dragged it, and their mother the priestess sat upon it. And the space for which they dragged it was forty and five furlongs; and so they came to the temple. And when they had done this in the eyes of all the assembly, there befell them such a death that nothing could be more to be desired; the Gods, indeed, making it manifest that it is far better for a man to die than to live. For indeed the thing fell out thus. When all the people of Argos came about the woman and her sons, and the men praised the youths for their great strength, and the women praised the mother that she had borne such noble sons, the mother in the joy of her heart stood before the image and prayed that the goddess would give to her sons, even Cleobis and Biton, that which the Gods judge it best for a man to have. And when the priestess had so prayed, and the young men had offered sacrifice, and made merry with their companions, they lay down to sleep in the temple, and woke not again, but so ended their days. And the men of Argos commanded the artificers that they should make statues of the young men, and these they offered to the god at Delphi.

But when Solon thus gave the second place of happiness to these young men, King Crsus was very wroth, and said, "Man of Athens, thou countest my happiness as nothing worth, not deeming me fit to be compared even with common men." Then Solon made answer, "O Crsus, thou askest me about mortal life to say whether it be happy or no, but I know that the Gods are jealous and apt to bring trouble upon men. I know also that if a man's years be prolonged he shall see many things that he would fain not see, aye, and suffer many things also. Now I reckon that the years of a man's life are threescore and ten, and that in these years there are twenty and five thousand days and two hundred. For this is the number, if a man reckon not the intercalated month. But if he reckon this, seeing that in threescore and ten years are thirty and five such months, and the days of these months are one thousand and fifty, then, the whole sum of the days of a man's life is twenty and six thousand two hundred and fifty. Now of these days, being so many, not one bringeth to a man things like to those which another hath brought. Wherefore, O King, the whole life of man is full of chance. I see indeed that thou hast exceeding great wealth and art king of many men. But as to that which thou askest of me, I call thee not happy, till I shall know that thou hast ended thy days prosperously. For the man that hath exceeding great riches is in no wise happier than he that hath sufficient only for the day, unless good fortune also remain with him, and give him all things that are to be desired, even unto the end of his days. For many men that are wealthy beyond measure are nevertheless unhappy, and many that have neither poverty nor riches have yet great happiness, and he that is exceeding rich and unhappy withal, excelleth him that hath moderate possessions with happiness in two things only, but the other excelleth in many things. For the first hath the more strength to satisfy the desires of his soul, and also to bear up against any misfortune that cometh upon him; but the second hath not this strength; and indeed he needeth it not, for his good fortune keepeth such things far from him. Also he is whole in body, and of good health, neither doth misfortune trouble him, and he hath good children, and is fair to look upon. And if, over and above these things, he also end his life well, then I judge him to be the happy man who thou seekest. But till he dies, so long do I hold my judgment, and call him not happy indeed, but fortunate. It is impossible also that any man should comprehend in his life all things that be good. For even as a country sufficeth not for itself nor produceth all things, but hath certain things of its own and receiveth certain from others, and as that country which produceth the most is counted the best, even so is it with men, for no man's body sufficeth for all things, but hath one thing and lacketh another. Whosoever, O King, keepeth ever the greatest store of things, and so endeth his life in a seemly fashion, this man deserveth in my judgment to be called happy. But we must needs regard the end of all things, how they shall turn out; for the Gods give to many men some earnest of happiness, but yet in the end overthrow them utterly.

These were the words of Solon. But they pleased not King Crsus by any means. Therefore the King made no account of him, and dismissed him as being a foolish and ignorant person, seeing that he took no heed of the blessings that men have in their hands, bidding them always have regard unto their end.

Now it came to pass after Solon had departed. from Sardis that there came great wrath from the Gods upon King Crsus, and this, doubtless, because he judged himself to be the happiest of all men. And it happened in this wise. He saw a vision in his sleep, that told him of the trouble that should come upon him with respect to his son. For the King had two sons; but the one was afflicted of the Gods, being dumb from his birth, but the other far surpassed his equals of age in all things. And the name of this son was Atys. Now the vision that he saw in his sleep showed him that Atys should be smitten with a spear-point of iron, and so die. Therefore when he woke from his sleep and considered the matter, being much terrified by the dream, he sought how he might best keep his son from this peril. First, then, he married him to a wife; and next, he suffered him not to go forth any more to battle, though he had been wont aforetime to be the captain of the host; and, besides all this, he took away all javelins and spears, and such like things that men are wont to use in battle, from the chambers of the men, and stored them elsewhere, lest perchance one of them should fall from its place where it hung upon the wall and give the youth a hurt.

Now it chanced that while the matter of the young man's marriage was in hand, there came to Sardis a certain stranger, upon whom there had come the great trouble of blood-guiltiness. The man was a Phrygian by birth, and of the royal house: and he came into the palace of Crsus, after the custom of that country, and sought for one that should cleanse him from his guilt; and Crsus cleansed him. (Now the manner of cleansing is the same, for the most part, among the Lydians as it is among the Greeks.) And when the King had done for him according to all that was prescribed in the law, he would fain know who he was, and whence he had come. Wherefore, he asked him, saying, "My friend, who art thou? and from what city of Phrygia—for that thou art a Phrygian I know—art thou come, taking sanctuary at my hearth? And what man or woman didst thou slay?" And the man answered, "O King, I am the son of Gordias, the son of Midas, and my name is Adrastus, and I slew my own brother, not wittingly. For this cause am I come to thee, for my father drave me out from my home, and I am utterly bereft of all things," To this King Crsus made reply, "Thou art the son of friends, and to a friend art thou come. Verily as long as thou abidest here thou shalt lack for nothing that I can give thee. And as for thy trouble, it will be best for thee to bear it as easily as may be." So the man lived thenceforth in the King's palace.

Now about this time there was a mighty wild boar in Olympus, that is a mountain of Mysia. It had its den in the mountain, and going out thence did much damage to the possessions of the Mysians; and the Mysians had often sought to slay him, but harmed him not at all, but rather received harm themselves. At the last they sent messengers to the King; who stood before him, and said, "O King, a mighty monster of a wild boar hath his abode in our country and destroyeth our possessions, and though we would fain kill him we cannot. Now therefore we pray thee that thou wilt send thy son, and chosen youths with him, and dogs for hunting, that they may go with us, and that we may drive this great beast out of our land." But when they made this request Crsus remembered the dream which he had dreamed, and said, "As to my son, talk no more about him, for I will by no means let him go, seeing that the youth is newly married to a wife, and careth now for other things. But chosen youths of the Lydians shall go with you, and all the hunting dogs that I have; and I will bid them do their utmost to help you, that ye may drive this wild beast out of your land." This was the King's answer; and the Mysians were fain to be content with it. But in the meanwhile the youth came in, for he had heard what the Mysians demanded of his father; and he spake to the King, saying, "O my father, I was wont aforetime to win for myself great credit and honour going forth to battle and to hunting. But now thou forbiddest me both the one and the other, not having seen any cowardice in me or lack of spirit. Tell me, my father, what countenance can I show to my fellows when I go to the market, or when I come from thence? What manner of man do I seem to be to my countrymen? and what manner of man to the wife that I have newly married? What thinketh she of her husband? Let me therefore go to this hunting, or, if not, prove to me that it is better for me to live as I am living this day." To this Crsus made answer, "My son, I have seen no cowardice or baseness or any such thing in thee; but there appeared to me a vision in my sleep, and it stood over me and said that thy days should be few, for that thou shouldest die being smitten by a spear-point of iron. For this reason I made this marriage for thee, and send thee not forth on such occasions as I was wont to send thee on, keeping thee under guard, if so be that I may shield thee from thy fate at the least so long as I shall live. For thou art now my only son, for of him whom the Gods have afflicted, making him dumb, I take no count." To this the young man made answer, "Thou hast good reason, my father, to keep guard over me, seeing that thou hast had such a dream concerning me; yet I will tell thee a thing that thou hast not understood nor comprehended in the dream. Thou sayest that the vision told thee that I should perish by a spear-point of iron. Consider now, therefore, what hands hath a wild boar and what spear-point of iron, that thou shouldest fear for me? For if indeed the vision had said that I should perish by a tooth, or by any other thing that is like to a tooth, then thou mightest well do what thou doest; but seeing that it spake of a spear-point, not so. Now, therefore, that we have not to do battle with men, but with beasts, I pray thee that thou let me go." Then said King Crsus, "It is well said, my son; as to the dream, thou hast persuaded me. Therefore I have changed my purpose, and suffer thee to go to this hunting." When he had said this, he sent for Adrastus the Phrygian; and when the man was come into his presence, he spake, saying, "Adrastus, I took thee when thou wast afflicted with a grievous trouble, though indeed with this I upbraid thee not, and I cleansed thee from thy guilt, and received thee into my palace, and sustained thee without any cost of thine. Now, therefore, it is well that thou shouldest make me some return for all these benefits. I would make thee keeper of my son now that he goeth forth to this hunting, if it should chance that any robbers or such folk should be found on the way to do him hurt. Moreover, it becometh thee, for thine own sake, to go on an errand from which thou mayest win renown; for thou art of a royal house and art besides valiant and strong." To this Adrastus made answer, "O King, I had not indeed gone to this sport but for thy words. For he to whom such trouble hath come as hath come to me should not company with happy men; nor indeed hath he the will to do it. But now, as thou art earnest in this matter, I must needs yield to thy request. Therefore I am ready to do as thou wilt; be sure, therefore, that I will deliver thee thy son, whom thou biddest me keep, safe and unhurt, so far as his keeper may so do." So the young men departed, and chosen youths with them, and dogs for hunting. And when they were come to the mountain of Olympus they searched for the wild boar, and when they had found it, they stood in a circle about it, and threw their spears at it. And so it fell out that this stranger, the same that had been cleansed from the guilt of manslaying, whose name was Adrastus, throwing his spear at the wild boar and missing his aim, smote the son of Crsus. And the youth died of the wound, so that the vision of the King was fulfilled, that he should die by a spear-point. And straightway there ran one to tell the thing to Crsus. And when he had come to Sardis, he told the King how they had fought with the wild boar, and how his son had died.

Crsus was very grievously troubled by the death of his son; and this the more because he had been slain by the man whom he had himself cleansed from the guilt of blood. And in his great grief he cried out very vehemently against the Gods, and specially against Zeus, the god of cleansing, seeing that he had cleansed this stranger, and now suffered grievous wrong at his hands. He reproached him also as the god of hospitality and of friendship—of hospitality, because he had entertained this man, and knew not that he was entertaining the slayer of his own son; and of friendship, because he had sent him to be a keeper and friend to his son, yet had found him to be an enemy and destroyer. And when he had done speaking there came Lydians bearing the dead body of the young man, and the slayer followed behind. So soon, therefore, as the man was come into the presence of the King, he gave himself up, stretching forth his hands, and bidding the King slay him on the dead body. And he spake of the dreadful deed that he had done before, and that now he had added to it a worse thing, bringing destruction on him that had cleansed him; and he cried out that he was not fit to live. But when Crsus heard him speak, he pitied him, for all that he was in grievous trouble of his own, and spake to him, "I have had from thee, O my friend, all the vengeance that I need, seeing that thou hast pronounced sentence of death against thyself. But indeed thou art not the cause of this trouble, save only that thou hast brought it to pass unwittingly; some god is the cause, the same that long since foretold to me this very thing that hath now befallen me." So Crsus buried his son with all due rites. But Adrastus the son of Gordias the son of Midas, that had been the slayer of his own brother, and had now slain the son of him that had cleansed him, waited behind till all men had left the sepulchre, and then slew himself upon it; for he knew that of all the men in the world he was the most unhappy.