Histories 1.30-1.32: Solon at the Court of Croesus Part 1 – the story of Tellos

This passage is incredibly iconic and embodies as much as it reinforces many conceits in the Greek and consequently the Western imagination: this is the archetypal dialogue between simplicity and wealth, wisdom and desire, the virtuous Greek and the haughty Lydian.  This passage, with its generic hagiographies of two Greeks, also very effectively codifies archaic and classical Greek values, especially the value of death over life, seen also notably in Pindar and Sophocles.  Solon’s belief in the mutability of fortune is also of interest in investigating the composition of Herodotus’ own work: this is clearly a belief that he shares, and it animates his treatment of successive Egyptian, Persian, Mede, and implicitly Greek powers.

Joshua Anthony

Solon arrived at Amasis in Egypt, and to Croesus in Sardis.  Arrived there, he was received in the palaces by Croesus; afterwards, on the third or fourth day, when Croesus bade, servants led Solon through the treasuries, and showed everything there, great and splendid things.
[2[ When he had seen everything and examined it as he had time, Croesus asked him this: “Athenian guest, your great fame has come to us on account of your wisdom and wandering: how, loving wisdom, you have come upon many lands to see them. [3]
So now a desire has come upon me to ask you if you have seen any whom you deem happiest of all.”
He, thinking himself to be the happiest of men, asked this.  But Solon, not at all flattering but using only the truth said:
“O King, Tellos the Athenian.”
Croesus, marveling that he said this, asked incredulously: “How do you judge Tellos to be the most happy?”

And he said: “Tellos, first, had a city in good health, had children noble and fine, and he saw them growing up from children and all survive.  His life was prosperous to us, and a brilliant end came to his life: when there arose a battle to the Athenians, against the neighboring city of Eleusis, he helped, and routed the enemy, and died beautifully, and the Athenians gave him a public funeral in the place where he fell, and greatly honored him.

ὁ Σόλων εἵνεκεν ἐς Αἴγυπτον ἀπίκετο παρὰ Ἄμασιν καὶ δὴ καὶ ἐς Σάρδις παρὰ Κροῖσον. ἀπικόμενος δὲ ἐξεινίζετο ἐν τοῖσι βασιληίοισι ὑπὸ τοῦ Κροίσου· μετὰ δὲ ἡμέρῃ τρίτῃ ἢ τετάρτῃ κελεύσαντος Κροίσου τὸν Σόλωνα θεράποντες περιῆγον κατὰ τοὺς θησαυρούς, καὶ ἐπεδείκνυσαν πάντα ἐόντα μεγάλα τε καὶ ὄλβια.
 [2] θεησάμενον δέ μιν τὰ πάντα καὶ σκεψάμενον ὥς οἱ κατὰ καιρὸν ἦν, εἴρετο ὁ Κροῖσος τάδε. «ξεῖνε Ἀθηναῖε, παρ᾽ ἡμέας γὰρ περὶ σέο λόγος ἀπῖκται πολλὸς καὶ σοφίης εἵνεκεν τῆς σῆς καὶ πλάνης, ὡς φιλοσοφέων γῆν πολλὴν θεωρίης εἵνεκεν ἐπελήλυθας· νῦν ὦν ἐπειρέσθαι με ἵμερος ἐπῆλθέ σε εἴ τινα ἤδη πάντων εἶδες ὀλβιώτατον.» [3]
ὃ μὲν ἐλπίζων εἶναι ἀνθρώπων ὀλβιώτατος ταῦτα ἐπειρώτα· Σόλων δὲ οὐδὲν ὑποθωπεύσας ἀλλὰ τῷ ἐόντι χρησάμενος λέγει
«ὦ βασιλεῦ, Τέλλον Ἀθηναῖον.» [4]
ἀποθωμάσας δὲ Κροῖσος τὸ λεχθὲν εἴρετο ἐπιστρεφέως· «κοίῃ δὴ κρίνεις Τέλλον εἶναι ὀλβιώτατον;»

ὁ δὲ εἶπε Τέλλῳ τοῦτο μὲν τῆς πόλιος εὖ ἡκούσης παῖδες ἦσαν καλοί τε κἀγαθοί, καί σφι εἶδε ἅπασι τέκνα ἐκγενόμενα καὶ πάντα παραμείναντα· τοῦτο δὲ τοῦ βίου εὖ ἥκοντι,
ὡς τὰ παρ᾽ ἡμῖν, τελευτὴ τοῦ βίου λαμπροτάτη ἐπεγένετο· [5] γενομένης γὰρ Ἀθηναίοισι μάχης πρὸς τοὺς ἀστυγείτονας ἐν Ἐλευσῖνι, βοηθήσας καὶ τροπὴν ποιήσας τῶν πολεμίων ἀπέθανε κάλλιστα, καί μιν Ἀθηναῖοι δημοσίῃ τε ἔθαψαν αὐτοῦ τῇ περ ἔπεσε καὶ ἐτίμησαν μεγάλως.» 

Solon before Croesus by Nicolaes Knüpfer
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