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28-Jun-2017 17:20

Croesus also sent along two enormous krateres (wine-mixing bowls), one made of gold and one made of silver, situated on one side and the other of the entrance to the temple or Apollo.

At the time of Herodotus this was situated at the Treasury of the Corinthians in Delphi, but 3.5 talents lighter, as the priests had melted down part of it.

Solon goes on to explain that Croesus cannot be the happiest man because the fickleness of fortune means that the happiness of a man's life cannot be judged until after his death.

Sure enough, Croesus' hubristic happiness was reversed by the tragic deaths of his accidentally-killed son and, according to Critias, his wife's suicide at the fall of Sardis, not to mention his defeat at the hands of the Persians.

Croesus' wealth remained proverbial beyond classical antiquity: in English, expressions such as "rich as Croesus" or "richer than Croesus" are used to indicate great wealth to this day.

The earliest known such usage in English was John Gower's in Confessio amantis (1390): Croesus, secure in his own wealth and happiness, asked Solon who the happiest man in the world was, and was disappointed by Solon's response that three had been happier than Croesus: Tellus, who died fighting for his country, and the brothers Kleobis and Biton who died peacefully in their sleep after their mother prayed for their perfect happiness because they had demonstrated filial piety by drawing her to a festival in an oxcart themselves.

The interview is in the nature of a philosophical disquisition on the subject "Which man is happy? Thus the "happiness" of Croesus is presented as a moralistic exemplum of the fickleness of Tyche, a theme that gathered strength from the fourth century, revealing its late date.