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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
A Tyrant’s Fortune
By Herodotus (c. 484–425 B.C.)
 
From ‘The History’: Translation of George Rawlinson

THE EXCEEDING good fortune of Polycrates did not escape the notice of Amasis, who was much disturbed thereat. When therefore his success continued increasing, Amasis wrote him the following letter, and sent it to Samos:—“Amasis to Polycrates thus sayeth: It is a pleasure to hear of a friend and ally prospering, but thy exceeding prosperity does not cause me joy, forasmuch as I know that the gods are envious. My wish for myself, and for those whom I love, is to be now successful and now to meet with a check, thus passing through life amid alternate good and ill, rather than with perpetual good fortune. For never yet did I hear tell of any one succeeding in all his undertakings who did not meet with calamity at last, and come to utter ruin. Now therefore give ear to my words, and meet thy good luck in this way: bethink thee which of all thy treasures thou valuest most and canst least bear to part with; take it, whatsoever it be, and throw it away, so that it may be sure never to come any more into the sight of man. Then, if thy good fortune be not thenceforth checkered with ill, save thyself from harm by again doing as I have counseled.”  1
  When Polycrates read this letter, and perceived that the advice of Amasis was good, he considered carefully with himself which of the treasures that he had in store it would grieve him most to lose. After much thought he made up his mind that it was a signet ring which he was wont to wear, an emerald set in gold, the workmanship of Theodore son of Telecles, a Samian. So he determined to throw this away; and manning a penteconter, he went on board, and bade the sailors put out into the open sea. When he was now a long way from the island he took the ring from his finger, and in the sight of all those who were on board, flung it into the deep. This done, he returned home, and gave vent to his sorrow.  2
  Now it happened five or six days afterwards that a fisherman caught a fish so large and beautiful that he thought it well deserved to be made a present of to the King. So he took it with him to the gate of the palace, and said that he wanted to see Polycrates. Then Polycrates allowed him to come in, and the fisherman gave him the fish with these words following: “Sir King, when I took this prize I thought I would not carry it to market, though I am a poor man who live by my trade. I said to myself, It is worthy of Polycrates and his greatness; and so I brought it here to give it to you.” The speech pleased the King, who thus spoke in reply: “Thou didst right well, friend, and I am doubly indebted, both for the gift and for the speech. Come now and sup with me.”  3
  So the fisherman went home, esteeming it a high honor that he had been asked to sup with the King. Meanwhile the servants, on cutting open the fish, found the signet of their master in its belly. No sooner did they see it than they seized upon it, and hastening to Polycrates with great joy, restored it to him, and told him in what way it had been found. The King, who saw something Providential in the matter, forthwith wrote a letter to Amasis, telling him all that had happened, what he had himself done, and what had been the upshot; and dispatched the letter to Egypt.  4
  When Amasis had read the letter of Polycrates, he perceived that it does not belong to man to save his fellow-man from the fate which is in store for him; likewise he felt certain that Polycrates would end ill, as he prospered in everything, even finding what he had thrown away. So he sent a herald to Samos, and dissolved the contract of friendship. This he did, that when the great and heavy misfortune came, he might escape the grief which he would have felt if the sufferer had been his bond-friend.  5
 
 
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