Primary Sources: Herodotus, CLIO part 5
Once in office, Croesus invaded his neighbors, straight away. Specifically he attacked the Ephesians, because they handy, on some pretext Herodotus doesn’t bother to report. He attacked other city-states one after another, each time finding some excuse that put him in the right. Some of these pretexts were pretty flimsy, but the various city-states declined to unite and repel his invasion, instead just letting him take them down one by one.
During Croesus’s naval buildup (so he could conquer all the islands) either Bias of Priene or Pittacos of Mytilene visited his capital Sardis and warned him about an army of ten thousand cavalry, out on the islands, ready to repel his invasion and then counter-invade Lydia and occupy Sardis to boot.
“Crap,” said Croesus, and made peace with the islanders. Whether the islanders actually had an army of ten thousand cavalry Herodotus doesn’t say. But in this way his campaign of conquest ended, and he launched a campaign of nation-building and retrenchment in his occupied territories.
Solon of Athens, aka Solon the Lawgiver, came to visit one day. Solon had drafted Athens’s first code of laws and then left the city before anyone could talk him into editing them. Croesus was excited to host this statesman, and gave him all kinds of VIP tours of Sardis. At the close of one such tour, Croesus observed that Solon was a wise man.
“Reasonably wise, sure,” Solon responded cautiously.
“And you’ve seen a lot, all this traveling you’ve been doing.”
“Some amount of travel, yes.”
“So tell me: who’s the happiest man?” Croesus cleared his throat and pointed to himself, supposing that he himself was the happiest of men.
Solon didn’t take that bait, however. “The happiest man was my late friend Tellos of Athens, who was medium-rich, enjoyed life in a prosperous city-state, heroically defended his city against invaders, and buried with honors after he fell in battle.”
“Huh.” Croesus didn’t much care for this answer. “Who’s second-happiest, then? It’s me, right?”
“Nah. Second-happiest would be the brothers Cleobis and Biton of Argos. They were athletes, who died hauling a cart for a religious parade. Everyone saw them die very heroically, right there on the parade route! They made some statues to honor them.”
Croesus scowled. “Listen, buddy, I don’t know if you picked up on it but I was fishing for you to call me happy. What’s up with you not calling me happy?”
“Call no man happy until he is dead,” replies Solon, after listing off some dodgy statistics about lifespan that I think Herodotus cribbed from an ancient Greek actuarial table. “All kinds of dreadful things might happen in a man’s lifetime; you can’t judge whether his life is a pleasant one until it’s over. For many very wealthy men are not happy, while many who have but a moderate living are fortunate. In truth the very rich man who is not happy has two advantages only as compared with the poor man who is fortunate, whereas this latter has many as compared with the rich man who is not happy. Advantage one: the rich man can buy nicer things. Whoop de doo. We live in the Hellenic period; there is not much to buy. No amount of money that can buy an air conditioner, a bottle of vodka, a DVD player, or a car. Advantage two, the rich man has a better shot at recovering from some kind of catastrophe, like a fire or something. That’s a legit advantage, but we’ve established that we’re comparing him to a poor man who is happy, and the happy poor man has a big pile of advantages over the unhappy rich man.”
“That’s it! Out of my kingdom!” And Croseus kicked Solon out of Lydia, for making such a cogent argument that Croesus felt dumb.
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