Doc #10B: Solon’s Conversation, pt2

‘And what about my own happiness, my Athenian friend?’ Croesus demanded. ‘Is it so beneath contempt that it is not even to be mentioned in the same breath as that of men without rank or title? ‘Croesus,’ Solon replied, ‘your question was one that touched on the lot of humanity. The longer the span of someone’s existence, the more certain he is to see and suffer much that he would rather have been spared. Now to be sure I can see that you are fabulously rich and that you are a king of a great number of people — and yet for all of that, I will not be able to say about you what you were anticipating me to say about you until I have learned that you died contentedly. Great wealth, after all, is no more guaranteed to bring a man happiness than is daily subsistence, unless good fortune enables him to keep all of his blessings intact and brings his life to a pleasant conclusion. But just as there are many men of moderate means who enjoy the most wonderful luck, so there are many wealthy men who suffer repeated misfortune. Someone who is rich but unlucky is only really better off than the luck man in two respects, whereas there are many ways in which a lucky man has the advantage of a rich man plagued by ill fortune. It is true that the millionaire is well placed to do whatever he likes and to ride out such disasters as befall him, while that man of moderate means is not. But the latter, if he is only lucky, is far more likely to avoid disasters in the first place, not to mention disfigurement, disease, and a whole host of other evils, as well as enjoying parenthood and good looks. And if, in addition to all these advantages, he dies as well as he lived, well, there you have the kind of man you are looking for: one who truly merits the epithet “happy”. But until he is dead, do not go leaping to any conclusions, for he is not truly happy, only fortunate. (Herodotus, trans. Holland, pp.16-17)

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