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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces a section of
published in Vol. II
of the Loeb Classical Library edition,

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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(Vol. II) Herodotus

 p53  Book III: chapters 39‑60

The flags in the text are links to the Greek as printed on facing pages in the Loeb edition.
In the left margin, links to Rawlinson's translation (Vol. II, with valuable notes),
and to the running commentary by How and Wells.
Cartouches are links to in‑depth articles at Livius.Org or LacusCurtius.

[link to original Greek text] 39 Rawlinson p441 H & W While Cambyses was attacking Egypt, the Lacedaemonians too made war upon Samos and Aeaces' son Polycrates. He had revolted and won Samos,​1 and first, dividing the city into three parts, gave a share in the government to his brothers Pantagnotus and Syloson; but presently he put one of them to death, banished the younger, Syloson, and so made himself lord of all Samos; which done, he made a treaty with Amasis king of Egypt, sending and receiving from him gifts. Very soon after this Polycrates grew to such power that he was famous in Ionia and all other Greek lands; for all his warlike enterprises prospered. An hundred fifty-oared ships he had, and a thousand archers, and he harried all men alike, making no difference; for, he said, he would get more thanks if he gave a friend back what he had taken than if he never took it at all. He had taken many of the islands, and many of the mainland cities. Among others, he conquered the Lesbians; they had brought all their force to aid the Milesians, and Polycrates worsted them in a sea‑fight; it was they who, being his captives, dug all the fosse round the citadel of Samos.

[link to original Greek text] 40 Rawlinson p442 H & W Now Amasis was in some wise aware and took good heed of Polycrates' great good fortune; and this continuing to increase greatly, he wrote this letter and sent it to Samos: "From Amasis to Polycrates, these. It is pleasant to learn of the well-being of a friend and guest. But I like not these great successes of yours; for I know how jealous are  p55 the gods; and I do in some sort desire for myself and my friends a mingling of prosperity and mishap, and a life of weal and woe thus chequered, rather than unbroken good fortune. For from all I have heard I know of no man whom continual good fortune did not bring in the end to evil, and utter destruction. Therefore if you will be ruled by me do this to mend your successes: consider what you deem most precious and what you will most grieve to lose, and cast it away so that it shall never again be seen among men; then, if after this the successes that come to you be not chequered by mishaps, strive to mend the matter as I have counselled you."

[link to original Greek text] 41 Reading this, and perceiving that Amasis' advice was good, Polycrates considered which of his treasures it would most afflict his soul to lose, and to this conclusion he came: he wore a seal set in gold, an emerald, wrought by Theodorus son of Telecles of Samos; being resolved to cast it away, he embarked in a fifty-oared ship with its crew, and bade them put out to sea; and when he was far from the island, he took off the seal-ring in sight of all that were in the ship and cast it into the sea. This done, he sailed back and went to his house, where he grieved for the loss.

[link to original Greek text] 42 But on the fifth or sixth day from this it so befell that a fisherman, who had taken a fine and great fish, and desired to make it a gift to Polycrates, brought it to the door and said that he wished to be seen by Polycrates. This being granted to him, he gave the fish, saying: "O King, I am a man that lives by  p57 his calling; but when I caught this fish I thought best not to take it to market; it seemed to me worthy of you and your greatness; wherefore I bring and offer it to you." Polycrates was pleased with what the fisherman said; "You have done right well," he answered, "and I give you double thanks, for your words and for the gift; and I bid you to dinner with me." Proud of this honour, the fisherman went home; but the servants, cutting up the fish, found Polycrates' seal-ring in its belly; which having seen and taken they brought with joy to Polycrates, gave him the ring, and told him how it was found.​a Polycrates saw the hand of heaven in this matter; he wrote a letter and sent it to Egypt, telling all that he had done, and what had befallen him.

[link to original Greek text] 43 Rawlinson p444 H & W When Amasis had read Polycrates' letter, he perceived that no man could save another from his destiny, and that Polycrates, being so continually fortunate that he even found what he cast away, must come to an evil end. So he sent a herald to Samos to renounce his friendship, with this intent, that when some great and terrible mishap overtook Polycrates, he himself might not have to grieve his heart for a friend.

[link to original Greek text] 44 It was against this ever-victorious Polycrates that the Lacedaemonians now made war, being invited thereto by the Samians who afterwards founded Cydonia in Crete. Polycrates had without the knowledge of his subjects sent a herald to Cambyses son of Cyrus, then raising an army against Egypt, to ask that Cambyses should send to Samos too and require  p59 men from him. On this message Cambyses very readily sent to Samos, according Polycrates to send a fleet to aid him against Egypt. Polycrates chose out those townsmen whom he most suspected of planning a rebellion against him, and sent them in forty triremes, charging Cambyses not to send the men back.

[link to original Greek text] 45 Some say that these Samians who were sent by Polycrates never came to Egypt, but having got as far over the sea as Carpathus there took counsel together and resolved to sail no further; others say that they did come to Egypt and escaped thence from the guard that was set over them. But as they sailed back to Samos, Polycrates' ships met them and joined battle; and the returning Samians gained the day and landed on the island, but were there worsted in a land battle, and so sailed to Lacedaemon. There is another story, that the Samians from Egypt defeated Polycrates; but to my thinking this is untrue; for if they were able to master Polycrates by themselves, they had no need of inviting the Lacedaemonians. Nay, moreover, it is not even reasonable to suppose that he, who had a great army of hired soldiers and bowmen of his own, was worsted by a few men like the returning Samians. Polycrates took the children and wives of the townsmen who were subject to him and shut them up in the arsenal, with intent to burn them and the arsenal too if their men should desert to the returned Samians.

[link to original Greek text] 46 Rawlinson p446 When the Samians who were expelled by Polycrates came to Sparta, they came before the  p61 ruling men and made a long speech to show the greatness of their need. But the Spartans at their first sitting answered that they had forgotten the beginning of the speech and could not understand its end. After this the Samians came a second time with a sack, and said nothing but this: "The sack wants meal." To this the Spartans replied: "Your 'sack' was needless";​2 but they did resolve to help them.

[link to original Greek text] 47 The Lacedaemonians then equipped and sent an army to Samos; the Samians say that this was the requital of services done, they having first sent a fleet to help the Lacedaemonians against Messenia; but the Lacedaemonians say that they sent this army less to aid the Samians in their need to avenge the robbery of the bowl which they had been carrying to Croesus and the breastplate which Amasis King of Egypt had sent them as a gift. This breastplate had been stolen away by the Samians in the year before they took the bowl; it was of linen, decked with gold and cotton embroidery, and inwoven with many figures; but what makes the wonder of it is each several thread; it is delicate work, containing three hundred and sixty threads, each plainly seen. It is the exact counterpart of that one which Amasis dedicated to Athene in Lindus.

[link to original Greek text] 48 The Corinthians also helped zealously to further the expedition against Samos. They too had been treated in a high-handed fashion by the Samians a generation before this expedition, about the time of the robbery of the bowl. Periander son of Cypselus sent to Alyattes at Sardis three hundred boys, sons  p63 of notable men in Corcyra, to be made eunuchs. The Corinthians who brought the boys put in at Samos; and when the Samians heard why the boys were brought, first they bade them take sanctuary in the temple of Artemis, then they would not suffer the suppliants to be dragged from the temple; and when the Corinthians tried to starve the boys out, the Samians made a festival which they still celebrate in the same fashion; as long as the boys took refuge, mighty dances of youths and maidens were ordained to which it was made a custom to bring cakes of sesame and honey, that the Corcyraean boys might snatch these and so be fed. This continued to be done till the Corinthian guards left their charge and departed, and the Samians took the boys back to Corcyra.

[link to original Greek text] 49 Rawlinson p448 Now had the Corinthians after Periander's death been well disposed towards the Corcyraeans, they would not have aided in the expedition against Samos only for the reason given. But as it was, ever since the island was colonised they have been at feud with each other, for all their kinship. For these reasons the Corinthians bore a grudge against the Samians.

[image ALT: A stone herm of an old man with a rather elegant curly beard to match his full head of hair. He is the ancient Greek politician Periander, whose career is further detailed in the text of this webpage.]

Marble herm of Periander, Roman copy of a 4c B.C. Greek original. The inscription reads:

ΚΥΨΕΛΟΥ [son of] Cypselus
ΚΟΡΙΝΘΙΟΣ of Corinth

MVNificentia PII SEXTI Pontificis Maximi

By the munificence of Pope Pius VI

ΜΕΛΕΤΗ [ΤΟ] ΠΑΝ Take care of everything​b

Vatican Museums (Museo Pio Clementino), Rome.
Photo © Livius.Org | Marco Prins, by kind permission.

[link to original Greek text] 50 It was in vengeance that Periander chose the sons of the notable Corcyraeans and sent them to Sardis to be made eunuchs; for the Corcyraeans had first begun the quarrel by committing a terrible crime against him. For after killing his own wife Melissa, Periander suffered yet another calamity besides what  p65 had already befallen him. He had two sons by Melissa, one seventeen and one eighteen years old. Their mother's father, Procles, the despot of Epidaurus, sent for the boys and kindly entreated them, as was natural, seeing that they were his own daughter's sons. When they left him, he said as he bade them farewell: "Know you, boys, him who slew your mother?" The elder of them paid no heed to these words; but the younger, whose name was Lycophron, was struck with such horror when he heard them that when he came to Corinth he would speak no word to his father, as being his mother's murderer, nor would he answer him when addressed nor make any reply to his questions. At last Periander was so angry that he drove the boy from his house.

[link to original Greek text] 51 Having so done he questioned the other son, what their grandfather had said in converse to them. The boy told him that Procles had treated them kindly; but he made no mention of what he had said at parting; for he had taken no heed to it. Periander said it could not be but that Procles had given them some admonition; and he questioned his son earnestly; till the boy remembered, and told of that also. Being thus informed, Periander was resolved to show no weakness; he sent a message to those with whom his banished son was living and bade them not entertain him in their house. So the boy being driven forth and going to another house was ever rejected there too, Periander threatening all who received him and bidding them keep him  p67 out; so he would go, when driven forth, to some other house of his friends, who, though they were afraid, did yet receive him as being Periander's son.

[link to original Greek text] 52 Rawlinson p450 At the last Periander made a proclamation, that whosoever should receive him into their houses or address him should be held liable to a fine consecrated to Apollo, and he named the sum. In face of this proclamation none would address or receive the boy into his house; nor did the boy himself think well to try to defy the warning, but hardened his heart and lay untended in porches. After three days Periander saw him all starved and unwashed, and took pity on him: his anger being somewhat abated, he came near and said: "My son, which is the better way to choose — to follow your present way of life, or to obey your father and inherit my sovereignty and the good things which I now possess? You are my son, and a prince of wealthy Corinth; yet you have chosen the life of a vagrant, by withstanding and angrily entreating him who should least be so used by you. For if there has been any evil chance in the matter, which makes you to suspect me, 'tis on me that it has come and 'tis I that bear the greater share of it, inasmuch as the act was mine. Nay, bethink you how much better a thing it is to be envied than to be pitied, and likewise what comes of anger against parents and those that are stronger than you, and come away to my house." Thus Periander tried to win his son. But the boy only answered: "You have made yourself liable to the fine consecrated to the god by speaking to me." Then Periander saw that his son's trouble was past cure or constraint, and sent him away in a ship to Corcyra out of his sight; for Corcyra too  p69 was subject to him; which done, he sent an army against Procles his father-in‑law (deeming him to be the chief cause of his present troubles), and took Procles himself alive, besides taking Epidaurus.

[link to original Greek text] 53 As time went on, Periander, now grown past his prime and aware that he could no longer oversee and direct all his business, sent to Corcyra inviting Lycophron to be despot; for he saw no hope in his eldest son, who seemed to be slow-witted. Lycophron refused even to answer the messenger. Then Periander, greatly desiring that the young man should come, sent to him (as the next best way) his own daughter, the youth's sister, thinking that he would be likeliest to obey her. She came and said, "Brother, would you see the sovereignty pass to others, and our father's house plundered, rather than come hence and have it for your own? Nay, come away home and cease from punishing yourself. Pride is the possession of fools. Seek not to cure one ill by another. There be many that set reason before righteousness; and many that by zeal for their mother's cause have lost their father's possessions. Despotism is a thing hard to hold; many covet it, and our father is now old and past his prime; give not what is your estate to others." So, by her father's teaching, she used such arguments as were most likely to win Lycophron; but he answered, that he would never come to Corinth as long as he knew his father to be alive. When she brought this answer back, Periander sent a third messenger, offering to go to Corcyra himself, and  p71 to make Lycophron, when he came, despot in his place. The son consented to this; Periander made ready to go to Corcyra and Lycophron to go to Corinth; but when the Corcyraeans learnt of all these matters they put the young man to death, lest Periander should come to their country. It was for this that Periander desired vengeance upon them.

[link to original Greek text] 54 Rawlinson p452 H & W The Lacedaemonians then came with a great host, and laid siege to Samos. They assailed the fortress and made their way into the tower by the seaside in the outer part of the city; but presently Polycrates himself attacked them with a great force and drove them out. The foreign soldiery and many of the Samians themselves sallied out near the upper tower on the ridge of the hill, and withstood the Lacedaemonian onset for a little while; then they fled back, the Lacedaemonians pursuing and slaying them.

[link to original Greek text] 55 Now had all the Lacedaemonians there fought as valiantly that day as Archias and Lycopas, Samos had been taken. These two alone entered the fortress along with the fleeing crowd of Samians, and their way back being barred were then slain in the city of Samos. I myself have met in his native township of Pitana​3 another Archias (son of Samius, and grandson of the Archias afore-named), who honoured the Samians more than any other of his guest-friends, and told me that his father had borne the name Samius because he was the son of that Archias who was slain fighting gallantly at Samos. The reason of his honouring the Samians, he said, was that they had given his grandfather a public funeral.

 p73  [link to original Greek text] 56 Rawlinson p454 So when the Lacedaemonians had besieged Samos for forty days with no success, they went away to Peloponnesus. There is a foolish tale abroad that Polycrates bribed them to depart by making and giving them a great number of gilt leaden coins, as a native currency. This was the first expedition to Asia made by Dorians of Lacedaemon.4

[link to original Greek text] 57 When the Lacedaemonians were about to abandon them, the Samians who had brought an army against Polycrates sailed away too, and went to Siphnus; for they were in want of money; and the Siphnians were at this time very prosperous and the richest of the islanders, by reason of the gold and silver mines of the island. So wealthy were they that the treasury dedicated by them at Delphi, which is as rich as any there, was made from the tenth part of their revenues; and they made a distribution for themselves of each year's revenue. Now when they were making the treasury they enquired of the oracle if their present well-being was like to abide long; whereto the priestess gave them this answer:

"Siphnus, beware of the day when white is thy high prytaneum,

White-browed thy mart likewise; right prudent then be thy counsel;

Cometh an ambush of wood and a herald red to assail thee."

At this time the market-place and town-hall of Siphnus were adorned with Parian marble.

[image ALT: missingALT. It is zzz.]

Apollo and Artemis fighting against the Titans, shown as a line of hoplites. This relief was part of the Treasury of the Siphnians in Delphi mentioned by Herodotus.

Archaeological Museum, Delphi.
Photo © Livius.Org | Jona Lendering, by kind permission.

 p75  [link to original Greek text] 58 Rawlinson p456 They could not understand this oracle either when it was spoken or at the time of the Samians' coming. As soon as the Samians put in at Siphnus, they sent ambassadors to the town in one of their ships; now in ancient times all ships were painted with vermilion;​5 and this was what was meant by the warning given by the priestess to the Siphnians, to beware of a wooden ambush and a red herald. The messengers, then, demanded from the Siphnians a loan of ten talents; which being refused, the Samians set about ravaging their lands. Hearing this the Siphnians came out forthwith to drive them off, but they were worsted in battle, and many of them were cut off from their town by the Samians; who presently exacted from them a hundred talents.

[link to original Greek text] 59 Then the Samians took from the men of Hermione, instead of money, the island Hydrea which is near to Peloponnesus, and gave it in charge to men of Troezen; they themselves settled at Cydonia in Crete, though their voyage had been made with no such intent, but rather to drive Zacynthians out of the island. Here they stayed and prospered for five years; indeed, the temples now at Cydonia and the shrine of Dictyna are the Samians' work; but in the sixth year came Aeginetans and Cretans and overcame them in a sea‑fight and made slaves of them; moreover they cut off the ships' prows, that were shaped like boars' heads, and dedicated them in the temple of Athene in Aegina. This the Aeginetans did out of a grudge against the Samians, who had begun the quarrel; for when  p77 Amphicrates was king of Samos they had sent an army against Aegina, whereby now the Samians and now the Aeginetans had suffered great harm. Such was the cause of the feud.

[link to original Greek text] 60 H & W I have written thus at length of the Samians, because they are the makers of the three greatest works to be seen in any Greek land. First of these is the double-mouthed channel pierced for an hundred and fifty fathoms through the base of a high hill; the whole channel is seven furlongs long,​6 eight feet high and eight feet wide; and throughout the whole of its length there runs another channel twenty cubits deep and three feet wide, wherethrough the water coming from an abundant spring is carried by its pipes to the city of Samos. The designer of this work was Eupalinus son of Naustrophus, a Megarian. This is one of the three works; the second is a mole in the sea enclosing the harbour, sunk full twenty fathoms, and more than two furlongs in length. The third Samian work is the temple, which is the greatest that I have seen; its first builder was Rhoecus son of Philes, a Samian. It is for this cause that I have written at length more than ordinary of Samos.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Probably in 532 B.C.

2 It would have been enough (the Lacedaemonians meant) to say ἀλφίτων δέεται, without using the word θύλακος.

3 A part of the town of Sparta; Herodotus calls it by the Attic name of δῆμος; the Peloponnesian word would be κώμα.

4 Not the first expedition, that is, made by any inhabitants of Laconia, Achaeans from that country having taken part in the Trojan war.

5 μιλτοπάρῃοι is one of the Homeric epithets of ships.

6 Remains of this work show that the tunnel was only 1100 feet long.

Thayer's Notes:

a Herodotus' Greek, σμαράγδου, is here translated as "emerald"; the word can also mean some other green stone, as for example malachite. Leading off a section of his Natural History on famous gemstones, Pliny the Elder reports (XXXVII.3‑4) that the stone was a sardonyx — which is not green but mostly red — and says that in his time this very ring was to be found in a golden horn given by Augustus to the temple of Concord — "if we believe it".

b Melete to pan, literally translated as "Take care of everything", often interpreted as "Practice makes perfect" or even "God is in the details", was the Delphic watchword ascribed by the ancients to Periander (Diog. Laërt. Periander, I.99).

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Page updated: 16 Dec 18