Candaules (Greek: Κανδαύλης, Kandaulēs), also known as Myrsilos (Μυρσίλος), was a king of the ancient Kingdom of Lydia from 735 BC to 718 BC. He succeeded Meles and was followed by Gyges. Herodotus claimed that his name meant 'dog throttler' among the Lydians. His name is the origin of the term candaulism, for a sexual practice attributed to him by legend.
Several stories of how the Heraclid dynasty of Candaules ended and the Mermnadae dynasty of Gyges began has been related by different authors throughout history, mostly in mythical tones. In Plato's Republic, Gyges used a magical ring to become invisible and usurp the throne, a plot device which reappeared in numerous myths and works of fiction throughout history. The earliest story, related by Herodotus in the 5th century BCE, has Candaules betrayed and executed by his wife, Nyssia, in a cautionary tale against pride and possession.
Herodotus – Candaules, his wife and Gyges
According to The Histories of Herodotus, Candaules bragged of his wife's incredible beauty to his favorite bodyguard, Gyges of Lydia. "It appears you don't believe me when I tell you how lovely my wife is," said Candaules. "A man always believes his eyes better than his ears; so do as I tell you - contrive to see her naked."
Gyges refused; he did not wish to dishonor the Queen by seeing her nude body. He also feared what the King might do to him if he did accept.
Candaules was insistent, and Gyges had no choice but to obey. Candaules detailed a plan by which Gyges would hide behind a door in the royal bedroom to observe the Queen disrobing before bed. Gyges would then leave the room while the Queen's back was turned.
That night, the plan was executed. However, the Queen saw Gyges as he left the room, and recognized immediately that she had been betrayed and shamed by her own husband. She silently swore to have her revenge, and began to arrange her own plan.
The next day, the Queen summoned Gyges to her chamber. Although Gyges thought nothing of the routine request, she confronted him immediately with her knowledge of his misdeed and her husband's. "One of you must die," she declared. "Either my husband, the author of this wicked plot; or you, who have outraged propriety by seeing me naked."
Gyges pleaded with the Queen not to force him to make this choice. She was relentless, and eventually he chose to betray the King so that he should live.
The Queen prepared for Gyges to kill Candaules by the same manner in which she was shamed. Gyges hid behind the door of the bedroom chamber with a knife provided by the Queen, and killed him in his sleep. Gyges married the Queen and became King, and father to the Mermnad Dynasty.
- "Candaules, whom the Greeks call Myrsilos..." Herodotus, 1.7.2
- Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon: "Κανδαύλης"
- Herodotus 1.7–13
- Herodotus, 1.8.2
- It should be stated that, although it would be taken more harshly when a queen was involved rather than an ordinary woman, seeing any one naked would be considered a shameful thing to do in all cases, as Herodotus states in 1.10.3: "For with the Lydians, and almost all Persians likewise, already seeing a man naked brings about great shame."
- Media related to King Candaules at Wikimedia Commons
- Translation of The Histories by Aubrey de Selincourt
- "Sadyattes/Myrsilus/Candaules" by Jona Lendering at www.livius.org
- Jean-Léon Gérôme, King Candaules, 1858 in the Dahesh Museum of Art, New York
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