The Happiest Man: I
by Mark Kodama
Once upon a time,
In ancient Lydia, there ruled King Croesus,
A man famed for his riches and power.
Now, Croesus lived in his palace in Sardis,
Renown for its crenulated towers.
And its shaded verdant mountain bowers.
Lydian gold known throughout antiquity
Was valued for its purity and consistency.
King Croesus swallowed local states and cities,
Overeager to find some flimsy excuse
To add them to his royal menagerie.
He used any kind of pretext or ruse
To subject them to his theft and abuse.
Croesus was like a selfish holiday host
Who carved himself the best part of the roast.
Visitors traveled from near and from far,
To flatter the king perched on his gilded throne
For the ruler seemed an ascendant star
He thought there was nothing he should not own.
None could stop him from his Midian gold.
But Olympian gods on high are jealous
And good luck can make one’s life perilous.
One day, two Greeks came calling to Sardis
Solon the Athenian and Aesop the fabler,
To see King Croesus at his mountain palace.
Solon was one of the seven sages, the lawgiver.
Aesop was a famous storyteller.
The two Greeks asked for an audience
With the famous Lydian King Croesus.
Croesus dressed in the finest clothes he owned,
Mantled in gold crown and Tyrian robe,
Studded with the most rare and precious stones.
And sitting on his ostentatious throne.
Inlaid with gold and polished animal bone.
He displayed to them his vast treasury,
His military – cavalry and infantry.
They met Croesus’s eldest son Atys.
The good crown prince with manners so refined
The spitting image of handsome Adonis,
Ensuring the King Croesus’s royal line.
Croesus’s patron god must be benign.
The king asked Solon the Athenian
“Who is the world’s happiest man?”
Solon thought for a moment and said then:
“I once knew a man in Athens named Tellus.
He had a good life, health and great children.
But what I like best about good Tellus,
Is that his final death was glorious.
He died a hero fighting for Athens,
Much honored by his grateful countrymen.”
This answer annoyed the king to no end,
Since he expected Solon to proclaim,
That he, Croesus, was the happiest man
But he humored wise Solon just the same.
So Croesus asked the Athenian to name
The world’s penultimate happiest man.
So said wise Solon, the Athenian:
“Once upon a time I knew two young men
Their names were good Biton and Cleobis
They were definitely the next happiest men.
The men carried their mom by ox cart in Argos
To the Temple of Hera, queen of the goddesses.
So their mother asked Hera to reward them.
The men fell asleep, never to wake again.”
At this, Croesus became very angry.
“What about me? These men were commoners.
If you are wise, how can you not judge me
As happy as they or not happier?”
Solon said: “A rich man is not happier
Than men of a more modest variety.
Beware of gods jealous of your prosperity.
People are subject to changing circumstance,
Many rich men have seen their fortunes fade.
Often, the gods give a glimpse of happiness,
Before the unlucky man is betrayed.
Any man can be instantly unmade.
In a moment’s flash a man can lose all
In the most cataclysmic type of fall.
Until a man dies, he is only lucky.
It is not until he is dead and gone,
That we can truly call a man happy.
To call a living man a happy man,
Is like declaring the front-runner
Of a foot race the winner
Before the competition is over.”
At that, King Croesus dismissed the two men,
Annoyed that upon his court they had called,
Finally concluding the sage Solon
Was not really very wise at all.
As the two men left Croesus’s great hall
Aesop told Solon his lion and fox fable,
Of his stories, one of his most able.
“There was once a lion and a fox
Who hunted as a pair.
Sheep from the shepherd’s flocks
They did share,
Eating their meals in the lion’s lair.
The fox would find their victims,
And the lion would kill them.
“But the lion always got the lion’s share
And the fox ate the rest
And the fox thought this was not fair.
He was tired of being second best
So at his own behest,
He hunted alone
So back to the shepherd’s field he did return.
“He came upon the flock of sheep.
He spied a stray lamb
And at its throat he did leap
Realizing too late it was a trap set by man
And was slain in the scam.
Know your place Solon,” Aesop said.
“With mighty kings much is unsaid.”
“You need to either keep quiet
Or say what they want to hear.”
Solon replied: “With mighty kings, you either keep quiet
Or say what they need to hear.”