Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics
"AS RICH AS CRŒSUS"
 SOME thousands of years ago there lived in Asia a king
whose name was Crœsus. The country over which he ruled
was not very large, but its people were prosperous and
famed for their wealth. Crœsus himself was said to be
the richest man in the world; and so well known is his
name that, to this day, it is not uncommon to say of a
very wealthy person that he is "as rich as Crœsus."
King Crœsus had everything that could make him
happy—lands and houses and slaves, fine clothing to
wear, and beautiful things to look at. He could not
think of anything that he needed to make him more
comfortable or contented. "I am the happiest man in the
world," he said.
It happened one summer that a great man from across the
sea was traveling in Asia. The name of this man was
Solon, and he was the lawmaker of Athens in Greece. He
was noted for his wisdom; and, centuries after his
death, the highest praise that could be given to a
learned man was to say, "He is as wise as Solon."
Solon had heard of Crœsus, and so one day he
 visited him in his beautiful palace. Crœsus was now
happier and prouder than ever before, for the wisest
man in the world was his guest. He led Solon through
his palace and showed him the grand rooms, the fine
carpets, the soft couches, the rich furniture, the
pictures, the books. Then he invited him out to see his
gardens and his orchards and his stables; and he showed
him thousands of rare and beautiful things that he had
collected from all parts of the world.
In the evening as the wisest of men and the richest of
men were dining together, the king said to his guest,
"Tell me now, O Solon, who do you think is the happiest
of all men?" He expected that Solon would say,
The wise man was silent for a minute, and then he said,
"I have in mind a poor man who once lived in Athens and
whose name was Tellus. He, I doubt not, is the
happiest of all men."
This was not the answer that Crœsus wanted; but he hid
his disappointment and asked, "Why do you think so?"
"Because," answered his guest, "Tellus was an honest
man who labored hard for many years to bring up his
children and to give them a good education; and when
they were grown and able to do for themselves, he
joined the Athenian army and
 gave his life bravely in the defense of his country.
Can you think of any one who is more deserving of
"Perhaps not," answered Crœsus, half choking with
disappointment. "But who do you think ranks next to
Tellus in happiness?" He was quite sure now that Solon
would say "Crœsus."
"I have in mind," said Solon, "two young men whom I
knew in Greece. Their father died when they were mere
children, and they were very poor. But they worked
manfully to keep the house together and to support
their mother, who was in feeble health. Year after year
they toiled, nor thought of anything but their mother's
comfort. When at length she died, they gave all their
love to Athens, their native city, and nobly served her
as long as they lived."
Then Crœsus was angry. "Why is it," he asked, "that you
make me of no account and think that my wealth and
power are nothing? Why is it that you place these poor
working people above the richest king in the world?"
"O king," said Solon, "no man can say whether you are
happy or not until you die. For no man knows what
misfortunes may overtake you, or what misery may be
yours in place of all this splendor."
 Many years after this there arose in Asia a powerful
king whose name was Cyrus. At the head of a great army
he marched from one country to another, overthrowing
many a kingdom and attaching it to his great empire of
Babylon. King Crœsus with all his wealth was not able
to stand against this mighty warrior. He resisted as
long as he could. Then his city was taken, his
beautiful palace was burned, his orchards and gardens
were destroyed, his treasures were carried away, and he
himself was made prisoner.
"The stubbornness of this man Crœsus," said King Cyrus,
"has caused us much trouble and the loss of many good
soldiers. Take him and make an example of him for other
petty kings who may dare to stand in our way."
Thereupon the soldiers seized Crœsus and dragged him to
the market place, handling him pretty roughly all the
time. Then they built up a great pile of dry sticks and
timber taken from the ruins of his once beautiful
palace. When this was finished they tied the unhappy
king in the midst of it, and one ran for a torch to set
it on fire.
"Now we shall have a merry blaze," said the savage
fellows. "What good can all his wealth do him now?"
As poor Crœsus, bruised and bleeding, lay upon
 the pyre without a friend to soothe his misery, he
thought of the words which Solon had spoken to him
years before: "No man can say whether you are happy or
not until you die," and he moaned, "O Solon! O Solon!
It so happened that Cyrus was riding by at that very
moment and heard his moans. "What does he say?" he
asked of the soldiers.
"He says, 'Solon, Solon, Solon!' " answered one.
Then the king rode nearer and asked Crœsus, "Why do you
call on the name of Solon?"
Crœsus was silent at first; but after Cyrus had
repeated his question kindly, he told all about Solon's
visit at his palace and what he had said.
The story affected Cyrus deeply. He thought of the
words, "No man knows what misfortunes may overtake you,
or what misery may be yours in place of all this
splendor." And he wondered if some time he, too, would
lose all his power and be helpless in the hands of his
"After all," said he, "ought not men to be merciful
and kind to those who are in distress? I will do to
Crœsus as I would have others do to me." And he caused
Crœsus to be given his freedom; and ever afterwards
treated him as one of his most honored friends.