Primary Sources: Herodotus, CLIO part 6
And then the gods punished Croesus for his arrogance, says Herodotus, in a rare bit of editorializing. The gods sent him a prophetic dream, in which his son and heir, Atys, was slain with an iron spear-point. Croesus awoke confined of the reality of this prophecy.
“Step one, we get you a wife and you get her pregnant,” he told Atys. “Step two, no more of this fighting on the front lines for you. From now on you go to war from the safety of the palace!” Croesus looked around the palace. “Crap, no, this place is a death trap! Why do we even have swords hanging by a thread from the ceiling, ready to come slicing down at any moment? I’ve got to redecorate!”
And while Croesus was occupied getting all the javelins and lances and all such things which men use for fighting together and taken out of the men’s apartments and piled up in the inner bedchambers, for fear lest something hanging up might fall down upon his son, along came Adrastos son of Gordias son of Midas. Adrastos was your standard doomed Greek hero, laboring under a massive curse and seeking Croesus’s kingly curse-stymieing powers (Herodotus is nonspecific as to how that works). Adrastos finds Croesus and explains that he accidentally murdered his brother and his father exiled him and can he crash on Croesus’s sofa for a while?
“You’re my cousin or possibly cousin of someone else,” replied Croesus. “So welcome!”
Meanwhile a giant boar rampaged the countryside. Herodotus is going somewhere with this, never fear. The folk whose lands were getting ravaged had been conquered by Croesus, and so they sent him a polite request for him to send knights or heroes or hunters or something, since he was their liege. “Send us thy son and also a chosen band of young men with dogs,” was their best idea for dealing with this dire boar, but they were open to alternatives.
Croesus of course was utterly unwilling to let Atys go boar-hunting; it was far too dangerous. He ordered the envoys to under no circumstances tell Atys about any of this, and Croesus would send hunters (not his son!) to deal with the boar.
The envoys were wholly willing to accept these terms, but unluckily, Atys was standing directly behind Croesus when he gave that order! “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 have good repute; but now thou hast debarred me from both of these, although thou hast not observed in me any cowardly or faint-hearted spirit. And now with what face must I appear when I go to and from the market-place of the city? What kind of a 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 these things are better for me done as now they are.”
“Wow, that’s quite a speech.” But Croesus was unmoved! “Nevertheless, I have this evil prophecy I’m working against and I’d rather have a live son whose wife doesn’t respect him than a dead son whose widow he never got pregnant! Shouldn’t you be having sex right now?”
“What about my unnamed deaf-mute brother?”
“He doesn’t count!”
Harsh, Croesus, harsh.
Atys wouldn’t take no for an answer; he insisted on accompanying the hunters. So at last Croesus did what anyone would do under the circumstances: he found his cursed houseguest Adrastos, and sent him along as Arys’s personal bodyguard.
“After all,” reasoned Croesus, “if you can’t rely on a cursed royal fratricide to protect your son, who can you count on?”
NEXT: GUESS WHERE THIS IS GOING!!
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