As Rich as Croesus
Croesus was a king of fabulous wealth who ruled over a country called Lydia several thousand years ago. At that time Croesus was said to be the richest man in the world, and to this day we talk of a very wealthy person as being ‘as rich as Croesus’.
One day he was visited by a great man from Greece, Solon the law-maker of Athens. Croesus was pleased to be able to show off his sumptuous palace and grounds, and in the evening, as they dined together, he eagerly asked Solon: “Tell me, who do you think is the happiest of all men?” Rather than giving the expected answer, Solon was silent for a minute, then he gave the name of a poor and honest Athenian workman of his acquaintance. When pressed further, he again gave examples of the poor and selfless. Croesus was disappointed – in his blind and childish egotism he had been sure that this wise man would see and confirm his own status as the most fortunate man alive. When he angrily asked Solon why he disregarded the richest man in the world, Solon replied:
O King, 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 one day be yours in place of all this splendour.
Many years after this, Croesus’ kingdom was invaded by a marauding army. He put up a strong resistance but eventually was taken by the enemy, King Cyrus, who determined to make an example of him. He was dragged to the market place where enemy soldiers built up a great pile of timber taken from the ruins of his once beautiful palace. They tied the unfortunate Croesus in the midst of the pyre and prepared to set light to it.
As Croesus lay on the pyre, all his friends and entourage gone, all his possessions plundered, he thought of the words that Solon had spoken to him years before, and he began to moan, “O Solon, O Solon, O Solon.” It happened that King Cyrus was riding by at that very moment and heard his groans. “Why do you call on the name of Solon?” he asked curiously. Croesus was silent at first but after Cyrus had repeated his question, he brokenly told him of Solon’s visit to his palace and all that 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 the place of all this splendour.” And he realized that all men are brothers in that they share the same vulnerability to the winds of fortune.
“After all,” he said to himself, “ought not men to be merciful to each other? I will do to Croesus as I would have others do to me.” So he caused Croesus to be given his life and his freedom, gifts more precious than all the wealth in the world.
Based on a story in William Bennett’s The Book of Virtues
The inestimable wealth is within us all but can be gathered only after learning the technique from a perfect adept and practising it with love, faith and humility.
Maharaj Jagat Singh, The Science of the Soul