Now it happened that this Candaules [king of Lydia]
was in love with his own wife; and not only so, but thought her
the fairest woman in the whole world. This fancy had strange consequences.
There was in his bodyguard a man whom he specially favored, Gyges,
the son of Dascylus. All affairs of greatest moment were entrusted
by Candaules to this person, and to him he was accustomed to extol
the surpassing beauty of his wife. So matters went on for a while.
At length, one day, Candaules, who was fated to end ill, thus addressed
his follower: "I see you do not credit what I tell you of my
wife's loveliness; but come now, since men's ears are less credulous
than their eyes, contrive some means whereby you may behold her
naked." At this the other loudly exclaimed, saying, "What
most unwise speech is this, master, which you have spoken? Would
you have me behold my mistress when she is naked? Consider that
a woman, with her clothes, puts off her shame. Our fathers, in time
past, distinguished right and wrong plainly enough, and it is our
wisdom to submit to be taught by them. There is an old saying, 'Let
each look on his own.' I think your wife the fairest of all women.
Only, I beg you, ask me not to act wickedly."
Gyges thus endeavored to decline the king's proposal, trembling
lest some dreadful evil should befall him through it. But the king
replied to him, "Courage, friend; suspect me not of the design
to test you by this proposal; nor dread your mistress, lest mischief
befall you at her hands. Be sure I will so manage that she shall
not even know that you have looked upon her. I will place you behind
the open door of the chamber in which we sleep. When I enter to
go to rest she will follow me. There stands a chair close to the
entrance, on which she will lay her clothes one by one as she takes
them off. You will be able thus at your leisure to peruse her person.
Then, when she is moving from the chair toward the bed, and her
back is turned on you, take care that she does not see you as you
pass through the doorway."
Gyges, unable to escape, could but declare his readiness.
Then Candaules, when bedtime came, led Gyges into his sleeping-chamber,
and a moment after the queen followed. She entered, and laid her
garments on the chair, and Gyges gazed on her. After a while she
moved toward the bed, and her back being then turned, he glided
stealthily from the apartment. As he was passing out, however, she
saw him, and instantly divining what had happened, she neither screamed
as her shame impelled her, nor even appeared to have noticed anything,
purposing to take vengeance upon the husband who had so affronted
her. For among the Lydians, and indeed among the barbarians generally,
it is reckoned a deep disgrace, even to a man, to be seen naked.
No sound or sign of intelligence escaped her at the time. But in
the morning, as soon as day broke, she hastened to choose from among
her retinue such as she knew to be most faithful to her, and preparing
them for what was to ensue, summoned Gyges into her presence. Now
it had often happened before that the queen had desired to confer
with him, and he was accustomed to come to her at her call. He therefore
obeyed the summons, not suspecting that she knew anything of what
had occurred. Then she addressed these words to him: "Choose,
Gyges, of two courses which are open to you. Slay Candaules, and
thereby become my lord, and obtain the Lydian throne, or die this
moment in his room. So you will not again, obeying the behests of
your master, behold what is not lawful for you. It is necessary
either for him to perish by whose counsel this thing was done, or
for you to die, who saw me naked, and so did violate our customs."
At these words Gyges stood awhile in mute astonishment; recovering
after a time, he earnestly begged the queen that she not compel
him to so hard a choice. But finding he implored in vain, and that
necessity was indeed laid on him to kill or to be killed, he made
choice of life for himself, and replied by this inquiry: "If
it must be so, and you force me against my will to put my lord to
death, come, let me hear how you will have me do it." "Let
him be attacked," she answered, "on the spot where I was
by him shown naked to you, and let the assault be made when he is
All was then prepared for the attack, and when night
fell, Gyges, seeing that he had no retreat or escape, but must absolutely
either slay Candaules, or himself be slain, followed his mistress
into the sleeping-room. She placed a dagger in his hand and hid
him carefully behind the self-same door. Then Gyges, when the king
was fallen asleep, entered secretly into the chamber and struck
him dead. Thus did the wife and kingdom of Candaules pass into the
possession of Gyges.
Gyges was afterwards confirmed in the possession of
the throne by an answer of the Delphic oracle. Enraged at the murder
of their king, the people flew to arms, but after a while the partisans
of Gyges came to terms with them, and it was agreed that if the
Delphic oracle declared him king of the Lydians, he should reign;
if otherwise, he should yield the throne to the Heraclides. As the
oracle was given in his favor he became king. The Pythoness, however,
added that, in the fifth generation from Gyges, vengeance should
come for the Heraclides; a prophecy of which neither the Lydians
nor their princes took any account till it was fulfilled. Such was
the way in which the Mermnadae deposed the Heraclides, and themselves
obtained the sovereignty.
When Gyges was established on the throne, he sent
no small presents to Delphi, as his many silver offerings at the
Delphic shrine testify. Besides this silver he gave a vast number
of vessels of gold, among which the most worthy of mention are the
goblets, six in number, and weighing altogether thirty talents,
which stand in the Corinthian treasury, dedicated by him. I call
it the Corinthian treasury, though in strictness of speech it is
the treasury not of the whole Corinthian people, but of Cypselus,
son of Eetion. Excepting Midas, son of Gordias, king of Phrygia,
Gyges was the first of the barbarians whom we know to have sent
offerings to Delphi. Midas dedicated the royal throne whereon he
was accustomed to sit and administer justice, an object well worth
looking at. It lies in the same place as the goblets presented by
Gyges. The Delphians call the whole of the silver and the gold which
Gyges dedicated, after the name of the donor, Gygian.
As soon as Gyges was king he made an in-road on Miletus
and Smyrna, and took the city of Colophon. Afterwards, however,
though he reigned thirty-eight years, he did not perform a single
noble exploit. I shall therefore make no further mention of him,
but pass on to his son and successor in the kingdom, Ardys. . .
. (Book I, 1. 8-13).