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Polycrates (Greek: Πολυκράτης), son of Aeaces, was the tyrant of Samos from the 540s BC to 522 BC. He had a reputation as both a fierce warrior and an enlightened tyrant.



The Ring of Polycrates (1902)

Augustus Taber Murray, Greek Composition for Colleges (Chicago: Scott, Foreman & Co., 1902), pp. 152–160
  • Polycrates, tyrant of Samos, ruled over many islands and many cities of the mainland. These he had subdued with his ships and his bowmen; for it was said that he plundered friend and foe alike, and that he was successful in everything he undertook. Now he had a friend, Amasis, king of Egypt, who, when he heard of Polycrates's great prosperity, sent him a letter, saying that he feared that some great misfortune would come upon him, "For the gods," he said, "are jealous, and in the end destroy miserably all those who are prosperous in everything." So he bade him ponder which one of his possessions he held most valuable, and at the loss of which he would grieve most, and to throw this away in such wise that his eyes should never see it again. For he hoped that by this advice he might be able to save his friend, and that after this his good luck would alternate with misfortune.
    Now, when Polycrates read this letter, it seemed to him that Amasis gave him good advice; so he decided to throw away a seal-ring which he was wont to wear. It was an emerald set in gold, and he thought he would grieve most at the loss of this. So he manned a ship of fifty oars, and put out, and then, in the sight of all those with him, flung the ring into the sea. A few days after this a fisherman brought to the palace a huge fish, saying that it seemed to him too fine to be taken to market, but worthy rather to be given to the king. So Polycrates, pleased at the gift and at the man's words, invited him to dinner. Now one may well wonder at what I am about to tell; but in the belly of the fish was found this same ring. At this Polycrates was pleased and wrote to Amasis, telling him what he had done. But Amasis broke off his friendship with him, thinking that calamity was sure to come upon one so lucky.


  • Fill high the bowl with Samian wine!
      We will not think of themes like these!
    It made Anacreon’s song divine:
      He served—but served Polycrates—
    A tyrant; but our masters then
    Were still, at least, our countrymen.
    • Lord Byron, "The Isles of Greece" in Don Juan, Canto III
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