Herodotus’ story retold in Plato? ROAM 3

Herodotus and Plato readers,

Interesting tidbit – early in Republic II (the second book of Plato’s Republic), Plato’s character Glaucon brings up the story of Gyges of Lydia.

The Gyges story starts in Herodotus 1.8 and is the famous story of Gyges – the bodyguard of Kandaules – being ordered by the King to see the King’s wife naked (so the King can prove her beauty to Gyges). When the Queen foils their plot and see Gyges secretly seeing her naked, she says nothing until the next day when she informs Gyges she must either kill Kandaules and take his place as King or be killed.

Gyges chooses to kill Kandaules (surprise, surprise?) and then seeks oracular legitimacy leading to the Oracle of Delphi’s pronouncement that he is legitimate but his line will extend down only 5 generations. Gyges accepts and seals Croesus’ fate five generations later. Croesus is the one who asks the Oracle what of his invasion of Persia…and the Oracle famously says “a great empire will fall”. Of course, that empire is Lydia and not Persia and King Croesus cries to Apollo from his funeral pyre what of all his wonderful gifts to the god. Apollo replies his gifts bought him three extra years. And so the story goes in Herodotus.

Plato retells this story – or, rather Plato’s character Glaucon retells it. This time it’s Gyges’ ancestor, a shepherd, who acquires a magical ring. This ring has the property of allowing the ringbearer to become invisible. Sound familiar? did Tolkien read Plato? No doubt.

And this ancestor of Gyges (not Gyges himself) arranges to go see the king and “when he arrived there, he seduced the King’s wife, attacked the King with her help, killed him, and took over the kingdom.”

Wow. Quite a different way of understanding the story. No oracular involvement. No coercion from the King to the bodyguard. Instead, the shepherd (not the bodyguard) is the prime mover, seducing, killing and taking over.

Herodotus readers go check this out in Plato (about 2 pages in to Republic II).

Plato readers go refersh your memories of Herodotus’ version – section 1.8 in the first book of Herodotus.

For those of you coming to ROAM 3, I look forward to seeing you tomorrow, Friday at 2:45pm at the Met. Among other things, we’ll enjoy seeing artifacts from King Croesus’ Lydia.



07. August 2008 by Arrian
Categories: Commentary, Commentary, Herodotus, Plato | Tags: , | 1 comment

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