Doc #10: Solon’s Conversation with Croesus by Herodotus (c.440 BCE)

Directions:

  1. Paraphrase (in your own words, of course) Croesus’ argument. What is he saying about life (and how is it particularly Greek)?

In the course of Solon’s travels his prime destination was Sardis, where he was put up by Croesus of Lydia in the royal palace itself. Three or four days after his arrival, Croesus instructed some servants to give Solon a guided tour of the various treasuries and point out to him how splendid and sumptuous everything was. Then, after Solon had seen and inspected everything, Croesus took the opportunity to ask him a question. ‘We have head a good deal about you, my guest from Athens: you have a reputation as a wise and well-traveled man, as a philosopher indeed, one who has traveled the world and kept his eyes wide open. So here is the question I would like to put to you: have you ever come across anyone whose state of contentment would rank head an shoulders above that of everyone else?’ In asking this, of course, he took for granted that the answer would be himself. But Solon, rather than indulge in flattery, preferred instead to speak what he saw as the truth. ‘Yes, my lord,’ he answered. An Athenian by the name of Tellus.’ The reply took Croesus aback. ‘And why exactly,’ he demanded in a heated tone, ‘do you reckon this Tellus to have been so happy?’ ‘There are two reasons,’ Solon answered. ‘Firstly, he lived at a time when his city was particularly well-off, he had fit, upstanding sons, and he ended up a grandfather, with all of his grandchildren surviving into adulthood. Secondly, at a time when he was a man of considerable wealth, his life came to an end that was glorious as its course had been happy. This is how it happened: the Athenians were fighting a battle against their neighbors at Eleusis, when Tellus stepped into the breach in their crumbling line, and put the enemy to flight. It is true that he himself died, but his death was something beautiful, and the Athenians gave him a state funeral at the very spot where he fell, and awarded him great honor.

Questions:

  1. What decidedly Greek values do you see in Solon’s response?
  2. How does this conversation relate to Tyrtaeus’ poem ‘The Citizen Soldier’?

Now read ‘Solon’s Conversation’ pt2.

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