Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Gyges: jeez, what a guy

Wikipedia summarises Plato's version:
According to the legend, Gyges of Lydia was a shepherd in the service of King Candaules of Lydia. After an earthquake, a cave was revealed in a mountainside where Gyges was feeding his flock. Entering the cave, Gyges discovered that it was in fact a tomb with a bronze horse containing a corpse, larger than that of a man, who wore a golden ring, which Gyges pocketed. He discovered that the ring gave him the power to become invisible by adjusting it. Gyges then arranged to be chosen as one of the messengers who reported to the king as to the status of the flocks. Arriving at the palace, Gyges used his new power of invisibility to seduce the queen, and with her help he murdered the king, and became king of Lydia himself.
I appreciate that the point of the story is didactic, by way of elaborating Plato's thesis that it is our sense of what other people think, say and might do that keeps us on the straight and narrow (and that if we could render ourselves invisible, even the most upstanding of us would do terrible things) ... still: that's some rapid, underpants-gnomesish elision at the end of that story. He seduced the Queen because, er, Queens famously find invisible men sexually irresistible? The magic ring enabled him to kill the king because no monarch has ever been assassinated by a visible man? What?

1 comment:

David Moles said...

According to Herodotus (who omits the magic ring, rather restrained for him), the queen instigated the plot after catching Gyges spying on her at her husband's behest:

When Gyges came, the lady addressed him thus: “Now, Gyges, you have two ways before you; decide which you will follow. You must either kill Candaules and take me and the throne of Lydia for your own, or be killed yourself now without more ado; that will prevent you from obeying all Candaules' commands in the future and seeing what you should not see. One of you must die: either he, the contriver of this plot, or you, who have outraged all custom by looking on me uncovered.”