De ring van Polycrates (Herodotus, Historiën 3.39-43) | Amsterdam University Press Journals Online
Volume 52, Issue 1
  • ISSN: 0165-8204
  • E-ISSN: 2667-1573



This paper offers a narratological close reading of one of Herodotus’ most celebrated stories. Special attention is paid to the recurrent Herodotean themes and story-patterns which shape it and thus can help to interpret it. For once the advice of a warner is heeded, but the return of the ring shows that Polycrates’ fate is already sealed and cannot be averted anymore. His great good fortune has brought Polycrates the envy of the gods, a concept which must be looked at in terms of the contemporary Ionian interest in ‘balance’ (of the bodily humours, of climate, of good fortune): the gods watch over the balance of the kosmos and when mortals threaten to disturb it (because of excessive power, riches or good fortune), these mortals are brought down. Most of the times these ‘excessive’ mortals also ‘earn’ their fate by committing crimes or making grave mistakes, and the quick account of Polycrates’ earlier career showed him killing one of his brothers and abusing the unwritten law of ξεινίη. When he faithfully executes Amasis’ advice and throws away his precious ring it is already too late and, as Amasis concludes, his fate cannot be changed anymore.


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