The Son of Croesus

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The Wild Boar that came for Croesus

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Croesus is the richest and happiest man alive - so he thinks - but the gods have other ideas.

Adapted from the Histories of Herodotus, the ancient Greek historian.

Written and read by Bertie.
Proofed by Jana.
Illustration by Shutterstock.

7. Herodotus ~ The Son of Croesus

Hello this is Bertie, and I’m here with the latest installment from the Histories of Herodotus.

First I would like to thank Audible, for sponsoring this episode, and at the end of this story I will recommend a free audiobook from Audible that fans of Herodotus will love to listen to. It’s a book that I’ve found fascinating and informative, so hang on for details.

I told you last time about King Croesus of Lydia, who was famous for being mega-mega rich. He himself, was certain that he was the happiest man alive, and you might think that he had good reason for his opinion.

But If you look at the story through Greek eyes, it was certain that something terrible was about to happen to Croesus after he boasted of his wealth to Solon, the wise man of Athens. In Greek myths and plays, people who become too big headed, always come to a sticky end.

Herodotus tells us bluntly:

“The anger of the gods was coming for Croesus, and this was clearly, because he had boasted that he was the happiest of people. And he soon had a dream which showed him the evil that was about to befall his eldest son. “

Croesus had two sons. One, whom Herodotus does not name, was deaf and mute.

The other, Atys, had it all - wealth, wit, looks and courage. He was the handsome prince from a fairy tale, and the pride and joy of his father.

But one night, Croesus dreamt that Atys was killed by an iron spear. He woke up in a great fright, certain that his dream was a sign from the gods.

Sometimes the stories of Herodotus play out a little like fairy tales. If you know the story of Sleeping Beauty, you will recall that a bad fairy predicted that Princess Talia would prick her finger on a spinning wheel. Her father tried to avoid this dreadful fate by ordering all the spinning wheels in the land to be destroyed.

After his terrible dream, Croesus had similar ideas to protect his son from fate.

He removed all weapons, especially spears from the men’s part of the palace, and instead stashed them away in the women’s quarters where there would be no risk of one of them accidently dropping onto his son.

And then the king forbade his son to go anywhere near the army, even though, he was one its leaders.

And finally, Croesus married Atys off to a nice girl, and told him to settle down and keep well away from spears.

You might think that these were sensible precautions, but, in Greek tales, anyone who tries to dodge their destiny like this, is always caught out.

I will give you an example from a famous myth. There was once a sea nymph called Thetis. Her son, Achilles was destined to lead a glorious but short life. Naturally, the mother wanted to save him from the fate of an early death, and so she dipped the baby Achilles in the River Styx. The waters of this river, which lead into the underworld, were supposed to make a person safe from any injury, but Thetis held onto the baby’s heal, and that part of his foot was not washed by the magical water. Achilles grew up to be the world’s mightiest warrior. But he could not escape destiny. Prince Paris of Troy fired a poisoned arrow that caught him on the back of his foot, and he died the early death fated by the gods. That’s where we get the phrase, “Achilles Heal”, which means a vulnerable spot.

So you get the idea. King Croesus was not able to save his son from destiny. It happened like this.

The land of Phrygia, where King Midas lived, was part of the Lydian empire. It so happened that the grandson of Midas, a young man called Adrastus, accidently killed his own brother. As a punishment, he was sent into exile. This unfortunate young man came to Croesus at his palace in Sardis, and begged for mercy. Croesus was generous hearted, and told him:

“Our families are allies. You are among friends here.”

They performed a ceremony to rid Adrastus of his blood guilt. Then he began his new life in the palace. Croesus treated him as one of his own sons.

Around this time, in another part of the empire of Lydia, a giant wild boar was causing trouble. This monster trampled the crops and terrified the local people. They sent to Croesus to ask for help.

Hunting wild boar was a noble and heroic passtime. It was just the job for a gutsy young prince. It seemed quite natural for Croesus to send Atys to finish off this troublesome pig. But Croesus refused to risk his son’s life. When Atys was told he had to sit at home, and not lead the hunt, he feared that people would call him a coward. Besides he was bored with life in the palace, and thirsted for adventure. He begged and begged his father to let him take up the challenge, saying:

“Father, I respect your concern for me, but fate did not decree that I would be killed by a crazy pig. What kind of boar fights with an iron spear? It’s a tusk that we have to contend with here.”

Eventually Croesus saw the logic of his son’s argument, but he was still concerned for his son’s safety. So he called Adrastus and said:

“I have took you in when your luck was down, I treated you as one of my family. Now please repay my favour. Be my son’s body guard. Watch over him every minute. Protect him from any attack by bandits or villains on this trip.”

Adrastus replied humbly, saying that he was not worthy of the honour, especially as he had accidently killed his own brother, but since Croesus insisted, he would of course follow his orders to the very best of his ability.

The young men and the hunting party travelled to the mountain where the boar was rampaging. They tracked the beast down and cornered him, but the fate of the gods could not be avoided. It so happened that Adrastus took aim at the wild boar with his spear, threw it, and missed the creature, instead hitting Atys, son of Croesus, and killing him

They returned to the city of Sardis with the body of the King’s son. Croesus was distraught. Adrastus, who had now twice killed someone by accident, was ready to die, but Croesus, understood that a greater power was responsible for the death of his son, and forgave him.

It seems that Croesus had some good qualities. He was generous and forgiving, even when he was stricken by grief.

And you might think that the gods had now punished Croesus enough for his boastfulness and pride, that fatal quality which the Greeks called Hubris. But in the next episode I will let you know how he was tricked once again by fate and predictions of the future.

If you’ve listened this far, you must be interested in the ancient world - and of course you like audiobooks too. Well my favourite author on the ancient world is Tom Holland. His book Persian Fire is particularly good on the origins of the incredible Persian empire. He also explains the origins of Greek civilisation, and tells the story of the Persian Wars in a compelling way. You can listen to his Persian Fire - for free. It’s read by excellent actor, Andrew Sachs. What you need to do is go to Audible.com/storynory or text “storynory” to 500-500. You need to live in the United States for this offer by the way. . You can sign up for a 30 day free trial. I’m sure Herodotus fans will particularly enjoy Tom Holland’s Persian Fire, but you can pick any book you like from audible’s massive selection. The details will be on our website, but a great place to start is audible.com/storynory or text Storynory to 500-500.