Stories of the East From Herodotus - Alfred J. Church

Croesus, Wishing to Make War against the Persians, Consulteth the Oracles

For the space of two years did King Crœsus sit sorrowing for his son. But in the third year his thoughts were turned to other matters. For he heard that the kingdom of Astyages the son of Cyaxares had been overthrown by Cyrus the son of Cambyses, and that the power of the Persians increased day by day. For which reason it seemed good to him that he should prevent this people, if by any means he could, before they should become too mighty for him. And so soon as he had conceived this purpose in his heart, he made trial of all the oracles that are both in Europe and in Asia, sending messengers to Delphi, and to Abæ that belongeth to Phocis, and to Dodona. Also he sent to the oracles of Amphiaraüs, and of Trophonius, and of Branchidæ that is in Miletus. These are the oracles in the land of Greece of which he sent to enquire, and in Libya he sent to the oracle of Hammon. First he sent to make trial of all these whether they should be found to know the truth about a certain thing, purposing that if they should be so found he would send to them yet again and enquire whether he should take it in hand to make war against the Persians. Now he had given commandment to the messengers whom he sent to make trial of the oracles, that they should reckon the days diligently from the day whereon they set out from Sardis, and that on the hundredth day they should enquire of the oracles, saying, "What doth Crœsus the son of Alyattes, king of Lydia, chance to be doing this day?" and that they should write down the words of the oracle and bring them back to him. Now what the other oracles answered no man knows; but at Delphi, so soon as the Lydians were come into the temple to enquire of the god, the Pythia, for so they call the priestess that uttereth the mind of the god, spake, saying—

"I know the number of the sand,

I know the measures of the sea;

The dumb man's speech I understand,

Though nought he say, 'tis clear to me.

I smell a savour new and sweet;

Strange is the feast the Lydians keep;

Mingled in brazen caldron meet

The tortoise flesh and flesh of sheep;

Around the burning embers glow,

With brass above and brass below."

These words the Lydians wrote down from the mouth of the Pythia, and so departed, and went their way to Sardis. The other messengers also came, bringing with them the oracles that had been delivered to them. Then the King opened each and read the writing; and not one of them pleased him. But when he knew the answer that had been brought from Delphi, forthwith he prayed and received it with reverence, for he judged that there was no true oracle in the world save that of Delphi only, seeing that it had discovered the very thing that he was doing. For after that he had sent his messengers to the oracles, when the appointed day was come, he devised this device. He imagined something that could not, he thought, by any means be discovered; for he chopped up together the flesh of a tortoise and the flesh of a lamb, and cooked them himself in a brazen caldron, upon which he had put a lid of brass. This was the answer that came to Crœsus from Delphi; but as to the oracle of Amphiaraüs, the answer that it made to the messengers when they had duly enquired of it no man knows, yet did Crœsus think that this also was a true oracle.

Here shall be told the story of Alcmæon of Athens, to whom Crœsus sent bidding him come to Sardis, for that he had helped the King's messengers when they enquired of the god at Delphi, furthering their business with all diligence. And when Alcmæon was come, the King said to him that he should be permitted to go into his treasury, and take therefrom for himself all the gold that he could carry on his body. Then Alcmæon prepared himself for this business. First he clothed himself with a tunic, in which he made a great fold for a pocket; and next he got him the widest and biggest boots that he could find, and so went into the treasury. And lighting on a heap of dust of gold he filled his boots with it as much as they would contain, even up to his knees; and also the fold of his tunic he filled with gold; also into his hair he put so much of the dust as it would contain. Other gold he took into his mouth, and so made his way out of the treasury, but scarcely could he drag his boots after him; and indeed he seemed like to anything rather than to a man, for his mouth was filled out and swollen beyond all a man's semblance. And when Crœsus saw him he laughed, and gave him all that gold and as much more. This was the beginning of the wealth of the house of Alcmæon.

After this King Crœsus sought to propitiate the god that was in Delphi with many and great sacrifices. For first he sacrificed three thousand beasts of all such as it is lawful to offer to the Gods, and next he builded up a great pile of couches that were covered with gold and silver, and of cups of gold, and of purple garments and tunics, and set fire to the pile, for he thought that by so doing he should make the god a friend to him. And he gave commandment to the Lydians that they should sacrifice in like manner every one of them such things as they had. And when this sacrifice was ended, he melted a great store of gold, and made bricks of it. Of these the bigger sort were six hand-breadths in length, and the smaller three hand-breadths, and all of them a hand-breadth in height. There were one hundred and sixteen of these bricks in all, four of them being of pure gold, and weighing each one talent and half a talent, and the rest of gold that was mixed with alloy; these weighed two talents to the brick. Also he made the image of a lion of pure gold, ten talents in weight. This lion, when the temple of Delphi was burnt, fell down from the bricks (for it had been set up on them); and now it lieth in the treasury of the Corinthians, and weigheth seven talents and half a talent.

When Crœsus had finished casting these bricks, he sent them to Delphi and other things with them; to wit, two very great mixing bowls, of gold the one, and of silver the other. The bowl of gold lieth now in the treasury of the Corinthians, being in weight four talents and half a talent and twelve ounces. And the silver bowl lieth in the corner of the ante-chamber. It holdeth six hundred firkins; and the Delphians mix wine in it at the feast of the Showing of the Images. Also he sent four silver casks, that stand now in the treasury of the Corinthians, and two vessels for sprinkling water, of gold the one and of silver the other. On the gold bowl are written these words: "This the Lacedæmonians offered to the god." But these words are not true, for a certain man of Delphi (whose name, though it be known, shall not be mentioned in this place) engraved them, thinking to please the Lacedæmonians. Yet the boy, through whose hand the water flows, is an offering of the Lacedæmonians, but of the vessels themselves neither the one nor the other. Other offerings of no great account did Crœsus send to Delphi. Yet of one must mention be made; to wit, the golden statue of a woman three cubits in height. This the men of Delphi affirm to be the likeness of the bread-cutter of King Crœsus. Also the King offered to the god the necklace of his wife and her girdles also. He sent gifts likewise to the temple of Amphiaraüs.

Now Crœsus gave commandment to the Lydians that carried these offerings for him to Delphi and to the temple of Amphiaraüs, that they should enquire of the oracles whether or no he should make war against the Persians, and whether he should seek to gain for himself any allies that should help him. So when the Lydians that had been sent on this errand were come, they enquired of the oracles, saying, "Crœsus, king of the Lydians, and of other nations, holding these to be the only truth-speaking oracles that are among men, sendeth to you gifts that are worthy of your wisdom, and would now enquire of you whether he shall make war against the Persians, and also in what nations he shall seek for allies for himself." These are the things that the messengers of Crœsus enquired of the oracles, and the two agreed together in their answers; for first they said, "If Crœsus make war against the Persians, he shall bring to the ground a great empire," and next they counselled him to find out who of the Greeks were the most powerful at that season, and to make them his allies. This answer rejoiced the King exceedingly, for he made sure that he should bring the empire of Cyrus and the Persians to the ground. Wherefore he sent again to Delphi, and gave to every man two gold pieces, having first enquired how many men there were in the city; for which bounty the people of Delphi gave ill return to him and all other Lydians that they should have first approach to the oracle, and should be free of tribute, and should have the chief seat at feasts and games. Also that any man of Lydia might, if he so willed, be free of the city of Delphi.

After he had bestowed this bounty on the men of Delphi, Crœsus enquired of the oracle the third time; for now that he had assured himself that it spake the truth, he was instant in using of it. Therefore he enquired of it again; and this time he would fain know whether his kingdom should remain for many years. To this the oracle answered these words—

"Man of Lydia, when the mule

O'er the Medians' land shall rule,

Think of name and fame no more,

Fly by Hermus' stony shore."

And Crœsus, when he heard these words, was yet more exceedingly delighted, for he said to himself, "Surely now a mule shall never be king of the Medes in the place of a man. Wherefore this kingdom shall abide to me and my children after me for ever." After this he enquired what city of the Greeks was the most powerful at that season; and he found that there were two cities excelling in strength; to wit, Athens and Sparta, but that of these the city of Athens was much troubled by strife within itself, but that Sparta was prosperous exceedingly, and had of late years subdued unto itself the greater part of the island of Pelops, in which island it is. For these causes he sent messengers to Sparta with gifts, who spake after this manner, "Crœsus, king of Lydia and of other nations, hath sent us, saying, 'Men of Lacedæmon, the god, even Apollo, hath commanded me that I should make to myself friends of the Greeks, whomsoever I should find to be the strongest. Now, therefore, seeing that I find you to be the chiefest people in Greece, I do the bidding of the oracle, and come to you, and would have you for my friends and allies in all honesty and good faith.'" These words King Crœsus spake by the mouth of his messengers. And the thing pleased the Lacedæmonians well, for they also had heard the words of the oracle; and they made a treaty with Crœsus, and confirmed their friendship and alliance with an oath. And indeed there had been certain kindnesses done to their city by King Crœsus aforetime. For they had sent messengers to Sardis to buy gold for a certain statue that they would make; but when they sought to buy it, Crœsus gave it to them for a gift. For this cause the Lacedæmonians made alliance with Crœsus; also they were well pleased that he had chosen them out of all the Greeks to be his friends. So they made themselves ready to help him when he should call upon them; and they prepared a mixing bowl of brass, wrought on the outside of it with divers figures of beasts about the brim. This bowl held three hundred firkins; and the Lacedæmonians thought fit to give it to Crœsus in return for the things that he had given to them. Now the bowl came never to Sardis; but as to why it came not some say one thing and some say another. The Lacedæmonians say indeed that when the men that had charge of it were near to the island of Samos, the Samians came forth with ships of war, and assailed them, and took away the bowl from them. But the men of Samos say that they who had charge of it, when they found that the time had passed, Sardis being now taken by Cyrus, sold the bowl in Samos, and that certain persons bought it and offered it for an offering in the temple of Heré. Perchance the truth of the matter is this, that the men sold it indeed, yet affirmed when they were returned to Sparta that the Samians had taken it by force. And this is the story of the bowl.

After these things Crœsus marched with a great army into the land of Cappadocia, not reading the oracle aright, but hoping that he should bring to the ground the power of Cyrus and the Persians. And while he was yet making preparations for war there came to him a certain man of Lydia whose name was Sandanis. The man had been before accounted wise, but thenceforth had such renown for wisdom among the Lydians as had none beside. The man spake thus, "O King, the men against whom thou art preparing to make war have tunics of leather, and all their other garments also are of leather, and for food they have not what they would but what they can get, and the country wherein they dwell is rocky and barren. Also they use not wine, but drink water only; nor have they figs to eat, nor indeed any good thing, If therefore, O King, thou shalt conquer these men, what wilt thou take from them, for indeed they have nothing. But if they should prevail over thee, think what good things thou wilt lose. For when they have once tasted our good things they will hold fast by them, nor wilt thou drive them away. As for me, I thank the Gods that they have not put it into the hearts of the Persians to march against the land of Lydia." For it was so that the Persians before they conquered the Lydians had no good things of their own. For all that Sandanis prevailed not with King Crœsus to turn him from his purpose.