Friday, September 16, 2011

Herodotus’ “Histories” of the Persian Wars (very liberally ‘translaparaphrased’): Book I sections 46 -52

46 (Wherein, Croesus grieves for his son, worries about the rising Persians, and gives some of his "bling" to the God Apollo)

For two years Croesus grieved uninterruptedly for his lost son. His mourning ceased with ominous news from Persia. Cyrus, the son of Cambyses had defeated the empire of Astyages and Persia’s power and reach was increasing. This gave Croesus cause for concern. He worried that he would not be able to check Persian advances before it was too late for him. With this matter foremost in mind he set about testing various oracles. He sent messengers to Delphi, Abae, (located in Phocis), Dodona, Amphiaraus, Trophonius, and Milesian Branchidae. However, he did not satisfy himself by consulting merely the Greek oracles of note. He also sent messengers to Ammon in Libya. He had in mind, to test these oracles’ ability to detect the truth. He believed that once he had satisfied himself of the oracles knowledge of the truth, he could send a second mission asking if he should initiate military action against Persia.


The Lydians Croesus sent to the oracles were given the following strict instructions: on the one hundredth day after having left Sardis they were to ask the oracles what Croesus, son of Alyattes, King of the Lydians was doing at that moment. The emissaries were to record the responses and bring them back. The responses of the oracles, save that of Delphi have been lost to us. There, however, the emissaries, after having arrived, entered the shrine for their audience with the Pythia. Her response to their query, delivered in hexameter verse was recorded as follows:

I number the grains of sand on the beach, and know the measure of the sea.
I understand the speech of those mute, and hear those without voice.
The odor has come to me of a hard-shelled tortoise.
The odor of its boiling and bubbling, along with lamb’s flesh, in a brazen pot:
The cauldron containing is of bronze as is the lid


The Lydians that had been sent out duly recorded every oracular response and delivered them home. Croesus opened the rolls and read them all. None made impression upon him, save that of the Pythia. As he heard the reading of her response, he accepted it with great awe, and declared Delphi as the only genuine oracle in the world. It succeeded in divining what he had been doing at the moment he had designated. It was clear that the Pythia had correctly divined his actions, for after Croesus had sent his emissaries, he had thought of something that would be difficult to guess at, and very carefully keeping to his pre-arranged date had cut up a tortoise, as well as a lamb, and had boiled them together in a bronze cauldron topped with a bronze lid.


According to accounts, that was the answer at Delphi. As to the answer from Amphiaraus, no answer was recorded, but I can report that there are indications that Croesus believed that oracle to have divined the truth as well.


Croesus now made great efforts to curry favor of Delphic Apollo, conducting magnificent sacrifices. He gathered and ritually killed 300 of every appropriate sort of beast, burnt in a huge pyre a great many valuable objects, among them, couches gilt in gold, silver. Golden and silver cups, tunics and richly adorned garments were also burnt, in hopes of binding the God more closely to Croesus. The King issued a proclamation that all Lydians were to sacrifice to the God according to their means. After his ceremony he melted down a vast amount of gold, pouring from that mass one hundred and seventeen ingots approximately 18 by 9 inches, and 3 inches thick. Four of the ingots were of purest gold, weighing 142 pounds each, while the others were alloys weighing about 114 pounds apiece. He also had the image of a Lion crafted from purest gold, weighing about 570 pounds. Later, when Delphi was sacked and burned, this statue fell from its base of golden bricks. Today it stands in the Corinthian treasury. It lost about 200 pounds of its weight in the fire, and now weighs 370 pounds.


This was by no means the limit of what Croesus sent to Delphi. He also sent two huge mixing bowls. One, crafted from gold was placed on the right hand of the entrance to the temple. The other, of silver was seated on the left. These two items also were moved at the time of the fire. The golden bowl, which weighs 500 pounds, now resides in the treasury of the Clazomenians. The silver bowl, with a capacity of 5000 gallons sits in the corner of the ante-chapel. Its capacity became known because the Delphians used it as a mixing bowl for wine at the festival called Theophania. The bowl is a remarkable piece of work. I suspect that the Delphians are correct in attributing it to Theodorus of Samos. In addition to all this Croesus sent four silver casks, which are now in the Corinthian treasury, two sprinklers for use with lustral water, one of gold, one of silver. The former now has the name of the Lacedaemonians carved upon it, and they also falsely claim to have presented it in the first place. Croesus presented it, along with all these other objects. The fact is, that some Delphian (whose name I know, but will not divulge) carved the name to gain favor of the Lacedaemonians. I fully admit that the statue of the boy through whose hand the waters run is Spartan in origin, but state emphatically that is not the case with either of the sprinklers. There were many other gifts of lesser significance, including some round silver basins, but I must not neglect to mention a remarkable figure of a woman, rendered in gold, 4 ½ feet high. It is said by the Delphians to be a statue of the woman who baked Croesus’ bread. To round things out, I must mention that he sent his own wife’s necklaces and girdles.


This then is the complete account of the offerings of Croesus to Delphi. He did also send to the shrine of Amphiaraus, earlier mentioned, and whose valor and misfortune he was well acquainted with, he sent a solid gold shield and spear. The spear was solid gold; shaft and point. In my own day these two objects are still in Thebes, resident in the temple of Ismenian Apollo.