ὁ ἰχθύς, -ύος – a fish
κάλλιστον καὶ ἔνδοξον μῦθον διηγεῖται ἡμῖν ὁ Ἡρόδοτος περὶ τὴν τοῦ Πολυκράτους σφραγῖδος ἣ ἐν ἰχθύι ηὑρέθη·
„Πολυκράτης τύραννος ἦν τῆς νήσου ἣ καλεῖται Σάμος· ἡ δὲ εὐτυχία αὐτοῦ ἔνδοξος ἦν ἐν πάσῃ τῇ Ἑλλάδι. ὁ δὲ Ἄμασις, ὁ βασιλεὺς τῆς Αἰγύπτου, ξένος* ὢν τοῦ Πολυκράτους ἔγραψεν αὐτῷ τήνδε τὴν ἐπιστολήν·
»Ἄμασις τῷ Πολυκράτει τάδε λέγει· Καλὸν μέν ἐστι πυθέσθαι ἄνδρα φίλον εὖ πράττοντα. Ἐμοὶ δὲ αἱ σαὶ μεγάλαι εὐτυχίαι οὐκ ἀρέσκουσι· ἐπίσταμαι γάρ ὡς τὸ θεῖόν ἐστι φθονερόν· καὶ αὐτὸς βούλομαι τότε μὲν εὐτυχεῖν, τότε δὲ δυστυχεῖν, μᾶλλον ἢ ἀεὶ εὐτυχεῖν. Οὐδένα γάρ γιγνώσκω, ὅς καλῶς ἐτελεύτησε, εἰ ἐν τῷ βίῳ ἀεὶ ηὐτύχει. Σὺ οὖν πείθου μοι καὶ ποίησον τάδε· φρόντισον, τί μάλιστα φιλεῖς, καὶ τοῦτο ἀπόβαλε· οὕτως βοηθήσεις σεαυτῷ.«
Ὁ οὖν Πολυκράτης ταῦτα ἀναγιγνώσκων ἐφρόντιζεν, τί μάλιστα φιλεῖ · φροντίζων δὲ ηὗρε τόδε· ἦν αὐτῷ σφραγὶς χρυσῆ, ἣν ἔφερε, σὺν σμαράγδῳ λίθῳ· ταύτην οὖν ἐβούλετο ἀποβαλεῖν. εἰσῆλθεν εἰς ναῦν, εἶτα δὲ ἐκέλευσεν ἀναγαγεῖν εἰς τὴν θάλατταν· ὡς δὲ πόρρω ἀπὸ τῆς νήσου ἐγένετο, ἔρριψεν τὴν σφραγῖδα εἰς τὴν θάλασσαν· τοῦτο δὲ ποιῆσας οἴκαδε ἀπέπλει.
Οὐ πολὺν δὲ χρόνον μετὰ τοῦτο ἐγένετο τάδε· ἀνὴρ ἁλιεὺς λαβὼν ἰχθὺν μέγαν καὶ καλὸν ἐνόμισεν αὐτὸν ἄξιον τοῦ βασιλέως· ἐνεγκὼν δὴ αὐτὸν ἐπὶ τὰ βασίλεια εἶπεν τῷ Πολυκράτει·
»Ὦ βασιλεῦ, ἐγὼ τόνδε τὸν ἰχθὺν ἑλὼν οὐ βούλομαι φέρειν αὐτὸν εἰς ἀγορὰν, καίπερ πένης ὤν, ἀλλά μοι δοκεῖ σοῦ εἶναι ἄξιος· σοὶ οὖν φέρω αὐτόν.«
Ὁ δὲ Πολυκράτης χαίρων τοῖς λόγοις ἀπεκρίνατο·
»Εὖ ἐποίησας, καὶ χάρις ἔσται σοι τῶν τε λόγων σου καὶ τοῦ δώρου· ἐπὶ οὖν δεῖπνον καλέσω σε.«
Ὁ μὲν δὴ ἁλιεὺς χαίρων ἦλθεν εἰς τὴν οἰκίαν· οἱ δὲ θεράποντες τέμνοντες τὸν ἰχθὺν ηὗρον ἐν τῇ γαστρὶ αὐτοῦ τὴν τοῦ Πολυκράτους σφραγῖδα. Λαβόντες δὲ αὐτὴν ἤvεγκον παρὰ τὸν βασιλέα καὶ διηγοῦντο, τίνι τρόπῳ ηὗρον. τῷ δὲ Πολυκράτει θεῖον ἐδόκει τὸ πρᾶγμα, καὶ ἔγραψεν πάντα τῷ ξένῳ τῷ ἐν τῇ Αἰγύπτῳ.
Ἀναγνοὺς δὲ ὁ Ἄμασις τὴν ἐπιστολὴν κατέμαθε, ὅτι ἀδύνατόν ἐστι σῴζειν ἄνθρωπον ἐκ τοῦ μέλλοντος πράγματος καὶ ὅτι ὁ Πολυκράτης οὐ μέλλει εὖ τελευτᾶν· οὕτως γὰρ ηὐτύχησε ὥστε καὶ ηὗρεν ὃ αὐτὸς ἀπέβαλε. πέμψας οὖν ἄγγελον εἰς Σάμον ἔφη ὁ Ἄμασις διαλύεσθαι τὴν ξενίαν· οὐ γὰρ ἐβούλετο πάσχειν τὴν ψυχὴν ὅτε δεινὴ συμφορὰ γίγνεται τῷ ξένῳ ἀνδρί.“
* ξένος = a guest-friend, somebody with whom one is connected through ξενία (a sort of mutual friendship/ a relationship of offering and receiving hospitality)
The text is adapted from Herodotus, 3.39-43. You can find the original version here: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Hdt.+3.39&fromdoc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0125
Herodotus tells us a very beautiful and famous story about the „Ring of Polycrates“ that was found in a fish:
„Polycrates was the tyrant over the island of Samos: His good fortune was famous throughout all of Greece. Amasis, the King of Egypt, was Polycrates’ guest-friend and wrote to him the following letter:
„Amasis to Polycrates: It is good to hear that a friend is doing well. However, I don’t like your great successes because I know how mischievous the divine is: I myself would want to live sometimes well, sometimes bad, rather than always having luck. For I know no one who ended up well after having always been successful in his life. So trust me and do the following: Think about what you love the most and throw it away. In this manner you will help yourself.“
Having read this Polycrates thought about what he loves most. Thinking about his he came to the following conclusion: He had a golden ring he used to wear, with a smaragd. So he decided to throw it away. He boarded a ship and ordered it to go off to the sea: When he was far away from the island, he threw the ring into the sea. Having done this he sailed back homewards.
Not much later after this the following happened: A fisherman having caught a big and beautiful fish thought that it was worthy of the king. So he brought it to the palace and said to Polycrates:
„O King! Having caught this fish I don’t want to bring it to the market, even though I am poor, but it seems to me worthy of you: So I bring it to you.“
Polycrates, glad about these words, answered:
„You did well, and you will receive my thanks for these words and this gift: I will invite you to dinner with me!“
The fisherman was glad and went into the house. But the servants upon cutting the fish found in its stomach the ring of Polycrates. Taking it they brought it to the king and told him, how they have found it. Polycrates thought that this must be a divine sign, and he wrote everything to his friend in Egypt.
Having read the letter, Amasis realized that it is impossible to safe a man from his destiny and that Polycrates will come to an evil end: For he was so fortunate that he even found something he himself had thrown away. So he sent a herald to Samos and said to renounce the friendship: For he did not want to suffer in his soul when some terrible calamity would come over his friend.“