Back to Herodotus and it’s just about time! When we last left good King Croesus, his name was synonymous with extreme wealth and power as in the now somewhat trite and old-fashioned saying “Rich as King Croesus”, which as a matter of fact, if I hadn’t read about this saying, I would not know it was ever used as I have actually never heard it. But. I’m going to start using it because.
Anyhow, recall that King Croesus (pronounced ‘Kree-Sus‘) was the king of Lydia an ancient kingdom in Asia Minor or today’s western Turkey from 560-547 BC. His kingdom pretty much controlled the Greeks settled along the coast of Asia Minor and the Greeks on the islands of the eastern Mediterranean – the so-called Ionian Greeks. Solon the Wise from Athens had visited our King in the previous installment, https://gregole.com/2014/11/09/old-king-croesus-was-a-merry-old-soul/, and King Croesus was a bit disappointed that Solon had not deemed him, King Croesus, as the happiest man in the world, because no one could possibly know about one’s ultimate happiness quotient until their life was at an end, because, you know, who knows what might happen?
King Croesus didn’t like Solon’s answer, and 86ed him. Fate was about to step in and hand King Croesus a series of very bad days.
First off, an exile, a stranger with the air of a man born under a dark star came to the court of King Croesus. He was a high-born Phrygian (the kingdom just north and east of Lydia), and here’s how Herodotus describes him:
“This man came the to the house of Croesus, and according to the customs which prevail in that land, made request that he might gain purification; and Croesus gave him cleansing. The manner of cleansing among the Lydians is the same almost as that which the Hellenes (Greek people) use. So when Croesus had followed custom, he asked of him whence he came and who he was, saying: “Man, who are you, and from what region of Phrygia did you come to sit upon my hearth? And whom of men or women did you slay?” And he replied: ” O king, I am the son of Gordias, the son of Midas and I am called Adrastos. I slew my own brother accidentally, and therefore am I here, having been driven forth by my father and deprived of all that I had.”
King Croesus pities him, takes him in, anyhow, he is acquainted with the Phrygian royal house – and you know how aristocrats are…always looking out for each other when they’re not plotting against, poisoning, murdering, intermarrying, warring or just plain hating on each other. Monarchs. I don’t miss them. But back to the story!
King Croesus had two sons, one a functioning idiot, mute and needing constant care; and another, Atys, who “far surpassed his companions of the same age in all things…”. He had had a bad dream in which Atys is killed by a blow from an iron spear point. So King Croesus arranges for him to marry one of the local talent, removes anything iron from anywhere near his son, and pretty much keeps him under constant protection.
About this time a group of locals show up at the palace and beseech (I’ve always wanted to use that word “beseech“; this is like, the first time for me! And I like it.) the king:
“O king, a boar of monstrous size has appeared in our land, which lays waste our fields; and we, desiring eagerly to take it, are not able. Therefore we ask you to send with us your son and also a chosen band of young men with dogs, that we may rid our land of it.”
Naturally, Croesus says “of course we’ll put together a band of our noble tough kids, noble dog pack, and whatever else needed to deal with pesky Mr. Boar, but not my son. He’s busy with that new wife I got him. Atys gets wind of this and is not at all pleased, after all, if he misses the hunt, there could be consequences:
“My father, in times past the fairest and most noble part was allotted to us, to go out continually to wars and to the chase and so gain repute; but now you have debarred me from both of these, although you have not observed in me any cowardly or fainthearted spirit. And now with what face must I appear when I visit the market-place of the city? What kind of man shall I be esteemed by the citizens, and what kind of a man shall I be esteemed by my newly-married wife? With what kind of a husband will she think that she is mated? Therefore either let me go to the hunt, or persuade me by reason that your plan is better for me.”
Croesus levels with the kid – you know the spear point? Atys replies that if the dream was death-by-tusk maybe he could see the point – but death by spear means an injury sustained in combat with other men. Croesus sees that preventing his son from the hunt could be bad and yes, the dream didn’t have anything to do with boar-hunting. But just to make sure his son is protected, he summons Adrastos and sends him along with the hunting party to make sure nothing bad happens to Atys.
…they…set forth provided with chosen young men and with dogs. And … they tracked the animal; and having found it and taken their stand round it in a circle, they were hurling against it their spears. Then the guest, he who had been cleansed of the manslaughter, whose name was Adrastos, hurling a spear at it missed the boar and struck the son of Croesus. So he, struck by the spear-point, fulfilled the saying of the dream.
Adrastos feels pretty bad about it and after getting back to the palace:
Taking his stand before the corpse he delivered himself up to Croesus, holding forth his hands and bidding the king to slay him over the corpse, speaking of his former misfortune and saying that in addition to this he had now been the destroyer of the man who had cleansed him of it; and that life for him was no more worth living.
King Croesus, filled with shock and grief at the death of his only healthy son, feels pity not rage and tells Adrastos:
“Guest, I have already received from you all the satisfaction that is due, seeing that you condemn yourself to suffer death; and not you alone are the cause of this evil, except insofar as you were the instrument of it against your own will, but some one, as I suppose, of the gods, who also long ago signified to me that outcome.”
So Croesus buried his son as was fitting; but Adrastos, the son of Gordias, the son of Midas, he who had been the slayer of his own brother and the slayer also of the man who had cleansed him, when all men had departed and silence came round about the tomb, recognizing that he was more grievously burdened by misfortune than all men of whom he knew, slew himself upon the grave.