Gyges of Lydia
Allegorical accounts of Gyges' rise to power
Authors throughout ancient history have told differing stories of Gyges's rise to power, which considerably vary in detail, but virtually all include that Gyges seized the throne, killed King Candaules and married Candaules' Queen.
According to Nicolaus of Damascus, Gyges soon became a favourite of Candaules and was dispatched by him to fetch Tudo, the daughter of Arnossus of Mysia, whom the Lydian king wished to make his queen. On the way Gyges fell in love with Tudo, who complained to Sadyates of his conduct. Forewarned that the king intended to punish him with death, Gyges assassinated Candaules in the night and seized the throne.
In his turn, the Lydian king took as his paidika Magnes, a handsome youth from Smyrna noted for his elegant clothes and fancy korymbos hairstyle which he bound with a golden band. One day he was singing poetry to the local women, which outraged their male relatives, who grabbed Magnes, stripped him of his clothes and cut off his hair.
In the account of Herodotus, which may be traced to the poet Archilochus of Paros, Gyges was a bodyguard of Candaules, who believed his wife to be the most beautiful woman on Earth. He insisted upon showing the reluctant Gyges his wife when disrobed as he wanted to show her beauty, which so enraged her that she gave Gyges the choice of murdering her husband and making himself king, or of being put to death himself.
Finally, in the more allegorical account of Plato (The Republic, II), a parallel account may be found. Here, Gyges was a shepherd, who discovered a magic ring of invisibility, by means of which he murdered the King and won the affection of the Queen. This account bears marked similarity to that of Herodotus.
According to Herodotus, he plied the Oracle with numerous gifts, notably six mixing bowls minted of gold extracted from the Pactolus river weighing thirty talents. The Oracle confirmed Gyges as the rightful Lydian King, gave moral support to the Lydians over the Asian Greeks, and also claimed that the dynasty of Gyges would be powerful, but due to his usurpation of the throne would fall in the fifth generation. This claim was later proven true, though perhaps by the machination of the Oracle's successor: Gyges's fourth descendant, Croesus, prompted by a prophecy of the later Oracle, attacked the Persian armies of Cyrus the Great and lost the kingdom as a result.
Reign and death
Once established on the throne, Gyges devoted himself to consolidating his kingdom and making it a military power, although exactly how far the Lydian kingdom extended under his reign is difficult to ascertain.
He captured Colophon, already largely Lydianized in tastes and customs and Magnesia on the Maeander, the only other Aeolian colony in the largely Ionian southern Aegean coast of Anatolia, and probably also Sipylus, whose successor was to become the city also named Magnesia in later records. Smyrna was besieged and alliances were entered into with Ephesus and Miletus. To the north, the Troad was brought under Lydian control.
The armies of Gyges pushed back the Cimmerians, who had ravaged Asia Minor and caused the fall of Phrygia. During his campaigns against the Cimmerians, an embassy was sent to Assur-bani-pal at Nineveh in the hope of obtaining his help against the Cimmerians. But the Assyrians were otherwise engaged, and Gyges turned to Egypt, sending his faithful Carians troops along with Ionian mercenaries to assist Psammetichus in shaking off the Assyrian yoke.
Gyges later fell in a battle against the Cimmerii under Dugdamme (called Lygdamis by Strabo i. 3. 21—"who probably mistook the Greek Delta Δ for a Lambda Λ"), who had previously advanced as far as the town of Sardis. Gyges was succeeded by his son Ardys II.
The mythical Gyges
Like many kings of early antiquity, including Midas of Phrygia and even the more historically documented Alexander III of Macedon ("the Great"), Gyges was subject to mythologizing. The motives for such stories are many; one possibility is that the myths embody religious beliefs or practices.
In the second book of Plato's philosophical work The Republic, Glaucon recounts the story of the Ring of Gyges to Socrates, using it to illustrate a point about human nature. Some scholars have suggested that Plato's story was based on a now-lost older version of the myth, while others argue that Plato invented it himself using elements from Herodotus's story of Gyges. It told of a man named Gyges who lived in Lydia, an area in modern Turkey. He was a shepherd for the king of that land. One day, there was an earthquake while Gyges was out in the fields, and he noticed that a new cave had opened up in a rock face. When he went in to see what was there, he noticed a gold ring on the finger of a former king who had been buried in the cave. He took the ring away with him and soon discovered that it allowed the wearer to become invisible. The next time he went to the palace to give the king a report about his sheep, he put the ring on, seduced the queen, killed the king, and took control of the palace.
In The Republic, Glaucon argues that men are inherently unjust, and are only restrained from unjust behavior by the fetters of law and society. In Glaucon's view, unlimited power blurs the difference between just and unjust men. "Suppose there were two such magic rings," he tells Socrates, "and the just [man] put on one of them and the unjust the other; no man can be imagined to be of such an iron nature that he would stand fast in justice. No man would keep his hands off what was not his own when he could safely take what he liked out of the market or go into houses and lie with anyone at his pleasure, or kill or release from prison whom he would, and in all respects be like a god among men. Then the actions of the just would be as the actions of the unjust; they would both come at last to the same point." Socrates concludes, however, that a truly just man is not a slave to his appetites, so that the opportunities afforded by the ring would not tempt him to abandon his principles.
Influence on modern works
- Théophile Gautier wrote a story entitled "Le roi Candaule" (published in 1844), which was translated by Lafcadio Hearn.
- "Tsar Kandavl" or "Le Roi Candaule" is a grand ballet with choreography by Marius Petipa, and music by Cesare Pugni, with a libretto by Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges, based on the Herodotus version. It was first presented by the Imperial Ballet in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1868, with Henriette D'or as Queen Nisia, Felix Kschessinsky as King Candaules/Tsar Candavl, Lev Ivanov as Gyges and Klavdia Kantsyreva as Claytia.
- "Le Roi Candaule" is also the title of a comedy by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, loosely based on the ancient tale and presenting light sketches of Parisian life in the 1860s and 1870s.
- German playwright Friedrich Hebbel's 1856 tragedy Gyges und sein Ring ("Gyges and his Ring").
- In the novel The English Patient, and the film based on it, Count Almásy (himself a disciple of Herodotus), falls in love with a married woman (Katherine Clifton) as she tells Herodotus' version of the Gyges story around a campfire. The story is harbinger of their own tragic path.
- In the novel Hyperion by Dan Simmons, one of the four evil constructs created by the Core and named by Councillor Albedo is called Gyges.
- One of the chapters in Robertson Davies' novel Fifth Business is called "Gyges and King Candaules". The protagonist, scholar Dunstan Ramsay; his lifelong "friend and enemy", the tycoon Percy "Boy" Staunton; and Staunton's wife Leola who had been Ramsay's childhood sweetheart are throughout the book compared with, respectively, Gyges, King Candaules and the Queen of Lydia. In particular, in one scene where Staunton insists upon showing Ramsay nude photos of his wife, Ramsay tells him the ancient story as a warning (which Staunton ignores).
- In 1990 Frederic Raphael published The Modern I, A Myth Revised, a retelling of the story of Lydia, King Candaules and Gyges.
- Initiation in ancient Greek rituals and narratives, By David Brooks Dodd, Christopher A. Faraone, p. 121.
- Later tradition associated the campaign on Smyrna with ill-treatment received by a poet of the city named Magnes who had composed verses celebrating Lydian victories and who was a favorite of Gyges.
- Richard Seaford, Money and the Early Greek Mind (Cambridge University Press, 2004), p. 114 ff., limited preview.
- Danzig, Gabriel (2008). "Rhetoric and the Ring: Herodotus and Plato on the Story of Gyges as a Politically Expedient Tale". Greece & Rome 55 (2): 169–192. doi:10.1017/S001738350800051X.
It is usually thought that these two stories are based on older sources, either two different versions of the story of Gyges or, as K. F. Smith argued, one single longer version of the story, which served as the source for both authors. A third possibility has also been raised: Andrew Laird has recently argued that Plato largely invented his version of the story, inspired primarily by his reading of Herodotus’ version.
- The Modern I, A Myth Revised, bookfever.com
- Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Gyges". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- Livius.org: Gyges of Lydia
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