1MAR2018 – Quote of the Day

Herodotus – Polycrates and the Curse of Too Much Good Luck

I actually believe in this myself.  I have always been blessed with extraordinary good luck.  By this I mean I have almost entirely avoided serious misfortune in my life.  My strongly held belief is that when this lucky streak ends it’s going to be a seismic event.  C’est la vie.

Now Pharaoh Amasis was somehow aware of Polycrates’ great good fortune; and as this continued to increase greatly, he wrote this letter and sent it to Samos: “Amasis addresses Polycrates as follows. [2] It is pleasant to learn that a friend and ally is doing well. But I do not like these great successes of yours; for I know the gods, how jealous they are, and I desire somehow that both I and those for whom I care succeed in some affairs, fail in others, and thus pass life faring differently by turns, rather than succeed at everything. [3] For from all I have heard I know of no man whom continual good fortune did not bring in the end to evil, and utter destruction. Therefore if you will be ruled by me do this regarding your successes: [4] consider what you hold most precious and what you will be sorriest to lose, and cast it away so that it shall never again be seen among men; then, if after this the successes that come to you are not mixed with mischances, strive to mend the matter as I have counselled you.” 41.

Reading this, and perceiving that Amasis’ advice was good, Polycrates considered which of his treasures it would most grieve his soul to lose, and came to this conclusion: he wore a seal set in gold, an emerald, crafted by Theodorus son of Telecles of Samos; [2] being resolved to cast this away, he embarked in a fifty-oared ship with its crew, and told them to put out to sea; and when he was far from the island, he took off the seal-ring in sight of all that were on the ship and cast it into the sea. This done, he sailed back and went to his house, where he grieved for the loss. 42.

But on the fifth or sixth day from this it happened that a fisherman, who had taken a fine and great fish, and desired to make a gift of it to Polycrates, brought it to the door and said that he wished to see Polycrates. This being granted, he gave the fish, saying: [2] “O King, when I caught this fish, I thought best not to take it to market, although I am a man who lives by his hands, but it seemed to me worthy of you and your greatness; and so I bring and offer it to you.” Polycrates was pleased with what the fisherman said; “You have done very well,” he answered, “and I give you double thanks, for your words and for the gift; and I invite you to dine with me.” [3] Proud of this honor, the fisherman went home; but the servants, cutting up the fish, found in its belly Polycrates’ seal-ring. [4] As soon as they saw and seized it, they brought it with joy to Polycrates, and giving the ring to him told him how it had been found. Polycrates saw the hand of heaven in this matter; he wrote a letter and sent it to Egypt, telling all that he had done, and what had happened to him. 43.

When Amasis had read Polycrates’ letter, he perceived that no man could save another from his destiny, and that Polycrates, being so continually fortunate that he even found what he cast away, must come to an evil end. [2] So he sent a herald to Samos to renounce his friendship, determined that when some great and terrible mischance overtook Polycrates he himself might not have to sadden his heart for a friend. 44.