Herodotus, Histories 1.1-13

     This is the making public [apodexis] of the inquiry [historia] of Herodotus of Halicarnassus, so that what arises from human essence not become faded by time, and that great and wondrous deeds, some performed by the Hellenes, some by the barbarians, not lose their kleos, including for what cause [aitia] they waged war against each other.

     [1] The learned men [logioi] of the Persians say that the Phoenicians were responsible [aitioi] for the quarrel. When these men came from the sea called Red to this sea and settled in the place which they now inhabit,1 they immediately engaged in long voyages, carrying Egyptian and Assyrian cargoes and reaching, among other places, Argos. At that time Argos in all ways surpassed the people in what is now called Hellas. The Phoenicians arrived at this Argos and laid out their merchandise. On the fifth or sixth day after their arrival, when they had sold almost everything, there came down to the sea many women, including the daughter of the king. Her name was Io, daughter of Inakhos, and the Hellenes say the same thing. As they stood along the stern of the ship buying the merchandise they most desired, the Phoenicians gave the signal and rushed at them. Most of the women got away, but Io was carried off with some others. They put them aboard the ship and sailed away to Egypt.

     [2] The Persians say that Io came to Egypt in this way – but the Hellenes do not–and that this was the first of the injustices. They say that after this some of the Hellenes–they are unable to relate the names–landed at Tyre in Phoenicia and carried off Europa, the daughter of the king. These would be the Cretans. So they got even with each other, but afterwards the Hellenes were responsible [aitioi] for the second injustice. They sailed across to Aia in Colchis and to the river Phasis, and when they had accomplished the other things they had gone there for, they carried off Medea, the daughter of the king. The Colchian king sent a herald to Hellas and requested compensation [dikai] for the abduction and demanded back his daughter. The Hellenes answered that they had not been given compensation for the abduction of Argive Io, so they themselves would not give it.

     [3] They say that, in the second generation after this, Alexander the son of Priam heard of these things and wished to have a wife from Hellas by way of abduction, supposing that he would not pay the penalty, since they had not. So he stole Helen, and the Hellenes at first saw fit to send messengers and demand the return of Helen and compensation for the abduction. When they made these demands, they were reproached with the abduction of Medea: that they themselves had neither given compensation nor returned her when demanded, yet they wished to have compensation from others.

     [4] Up to this point there were only thefts of women from each other, but after this the Hellenes were greatly to blame [aitioi], for they invaded Asia before the Persians invaded Europe. The Persians say they consider carrying off women to be the work of unjust men, but only foolish men seriously seek vengeance for women who have been carried off. Reasonable [sphrones] men, they say, pay no heed at all to the abduction of women, for it is clear that they would not be abducted unless they wanted it. The Persians say that the men from Asia took no account of their women who had been abducted, but the Hellenes, because of a woman of Lacedaemon,2 mounted a great expedition, then came to Asia and destroyed the empire of Priam. From then on they have always considered the Hellenic nation to be their enemy. The Persians claim Asia and the barbarian nations inhabiting it as their own, but they consider Europe and the Hellenic nation as separate.

     [5] This is how the Persians say it was, and they find the sack of Troy to be the beginning of their hostility toward the Hellenes. The Phoenicians do not agree with the Persians about Io. They say that they did not resort to abduction when they carried her to Egypt, but that she had sex with the captain of the ship in Argos. When she learned that she was pregnant, out of respect [aids]for her parents she voluntarily sailed with the Phoenicians so that she not be found out. This is what the Persians and Phoenicians say. 1.5.3 Concerning these things, I am not going to say that they were so or otherwise, but I will indicate [smainein] the one who I myself know [oida] first began unjust [a-dika] deeds against the Hellenes. I will go on further in my account, treating equally of great and small cities of humankind, 1.5.4 for many of those that were great in the past have become small, and those that were great in my day were formerly small. Knowing that human good fortune [eudaimoni] never remains in the same state, I will mention both equally.

     [6] Croesus was Lydian in genos, the son of Alyattes, and turannos of the nations this side of the river Halys, which flows from the south between the Syrians and Paphlagonians and towards the north enters the sea called the Euxine.3 This Croesus was the first of the barbarians we know of [oida] to reduce some of the Hellenes to payment of tribute and to attach others to himself as philoi. He subdued the Ionians and Aeolians and Dorians in Asia, and made friends of the Lacedaemonians. Before the rule of Croesus all Hellenes were free. The expedition of the Kimmerians which reached Ionia before the time of Croesus was not a conquest of the cities, but plundering on the run.

     [7] In the following way the kingship belonging to the Herakleidai4 passed over to the lineage [genos] of Croesus, called the Mermnadai. Kandaules, whom the Hellenes call Myrsilos, was the turannos of Sardis and the descendant of Alkaios son of Herakles. Agron son of Ninos son of Belos son of Alkaios was the first of the Herakleidai to be king of Sardis, Kandaules son of Myrsos the last. The kings of this country before Agron were descendants of Lydos son of Atys, from whom the entire peopleis called Lydian; previously it was called Meian. From them the Herakleidai received the kingship and held sway due to an oracle. They were the offspring of Herakles and a female slave of Iardanos, and ruled for 22 generations, 505 years, son inheriting rule from his father, up to Kandaules son of Myrsos.

     [8] This Kandaules conceived a passion for his own wife, and in his passion he considered his wife to be the most beautiful of all women. There was one of his bodyguard he was especially pleased with, Gyges son of Daskylos, and he used to share with this Gyges even his most important affairs, including great praise of the beauty of his wife, since he thought it so. After a little while – for it was fated to go badly for Kandaules – he said to Gyges: “I do not think you believe me when I talk of the beauty of my wife, since people trust their ears less than their eyes. Find a way to see her naked.” Gyges cried out loudly and said, “Master, what unsound word do you speak, commanding me to see my mistress naked? When a woman takes off her clothes she takes off her shame [aids] with them. Long ago men discovered many good things, from which it is necessary to learn. Among them is this one: let each look to his own. I believe that she is the most beautiful of all women, and I ask you not to request what is unlawful.”

     [9] He said this trying to get out of it, fearful that some evil might happen to him from it. Kandaules answered, “Take heart, Gyges. Do not be afraid of me, that I am making this speech to test you, nor of my wife, that she may harm you in some way. I will work it so that she will not even know that she has been seen by you. In the room in which we sleep, I will place you behind the open door. After I go in, my wife will also come to bed. There is a chair near the entrance, and on it she will put each of her clothes as she takes them off, giving you the opportunity to see her at your leisure. When she walks from the chair to the bed and has her back to you, take care then that she not see you going out the door.”

     [10] Since he could not get out of it, he was ready. When Kandaules felt it was time for bed, he led Gyges into the room. Immediately afterwards his wife came in, and Gyges watched her as she entered and took off her clothes. As she went to the bed, her back was to him and out he crept. But the woman saw him as he was going out. Understanding what her husband had done, she did not cry out, although disgraced, nor did she seem to notice, intending to punish Kandaules. Among the Lydians, as among almost all other barbarians, to be seen naked carries the greatest disgrace, even for a man.

     [11] She held her peace then as if she had noticed nothing. But as soon as it was day, she made ready those of her servants she considered most faithful to her and summoned Gyges. He did not think she knew anything of what had been done and came when summoned, for it was his custom even before this to attend on the queen whenever she called. When Gyges arrived, the woman said: “Now, Gyges, I offer you the choice of taking one of two roads open to you. Either kill Kandaules and take possession of both me and the kingship of the Lydians, or you yourself must die on the spot, so that you may not in the future obey Kandaules in everything and see what you should not see. Either he who planned this must perish, or you, who saw me naked and acted unlawfully.” For a while Gyges was astonished at what she had said, but then he pleaded with her not to bind him by the necessity of making such a choice. But he did not persuade her, and he saw the necessity truly before him either to kill his master or to himself be killed by others. He chose his own survival. He asked, “Since you compel me to kill my master against my will, come, let me hear in what way we will attack him.” She answered, “The onset will be from the same room in which he displayed me naked, and the attack will be in his sleep.”

    [12] They prepared the plot and night came on. Gyges was not released, and there was no escape for him at all: either he or Kandaules must die. He followed the woman into the chamber, and she gave him a dagger and hid him behind the same door. Later, when Kandaules was asleep, Gyges crept out and killed him, taking possession of his wife and his kingship. Archilochus of Paros, who lived at the same time, mentioned Gyges in an iambic trimeter.

     [13] He took possession of the kingship and was confirmed by the Delphic oracle. The Lydians were indignant at the death of Kandaules and took up arms, but the partisans of Gyges and the rest of the Lydians made an agreement that if the oracle answered that he was king of the Lydians then he would be king, but if not he would give the rule back to the Herakleidai. The oracle answered yes and in this way Gyges became king. But the Pythia5 added that vengeance would come on behalf of the Herakleidai in the fifth generation after Gyges. The Lydians and their kings took no account of this epos until it came to telos.

Translated by Lynn Sawlivich revised by Gregory Nagy.


1  Herodotus means that the Phoenicians came from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea and settled in the area of modern Lebanon. ^

2  Herodotus uses ‘Spartans’ and ‘Lacedaemonians’ almost interchangeably. Sparta is the leading city of Lacedaemonia. Lacedaemonia and Laconia are alternate names for the same region in the Peloponnese. ^

3  The basic idea is ‘friendly to xenoi‘. The Black Sea was given that name by the Hellenes in an effort to tame this hostile region. Compare the myth of the Symplegades, the crashing rocks at its entrance, in Euripides’ Medea^

4  Herakleidai means literally ‘sons of Herakles’. ^

5  Priestess of Apollo at Delphi. ^