Back to Lecture 14
"According to our belief, there lived in Sparta three generations ago a man named Glaucus, the son of Epicydes; he was in every respect an admirable person, and had, in particular, a reputation for honest dealing beyond any other Spartan of his day. Time, however, had something in store for him that he did not expect - you shall hear the story as we tell it. One day, a man from Miletus came to Sparta and expressed a wish to talk to Glaucus. 'I am a Milesian,' he said, 'and I have come to you because I should like to profit by your honesty. People all over Greece - yes, and in Ionia, too - are always talking of your honesty, and that set me thinking. Ionia, I told myself, is never safe from sudden change - and property never stays long in the same hands; but the Peloponnese, on the contrary, is as steady as a rock. This led me to make a decision - namely, to realize one-half of my property and to put the money in your hands, in full confidence that it will be safe there. I ask you, therefore, to take the money and with it these tallies, which you must keep carefully. Then you can return the money to whomever brings you the corresponding halves.' Glaucus listened to what the stranger from Miletus said, and accepted the trust on the terms he proposed. Years went by, and one day there came to Sparta the sons of the Milesian who had made Glaucus his trustee. They sought an interview with him, produced their halves of the tallies, and asked for the money. 'But' said Glaucus, trying to put them off, 'I don't remember this transaction, and nothing you say has any effect in awakening my memory. Of course, when I do recollect it, I will act, as an honest man should: I will pay the money back properly, if I received it, and, if I did not, I will prosecute you according to the law of my country. I promise to settle the matter, one way or the other, in three months' time.'
"When the Milesians, supposing their money lost to them, had gone home in great disappointment, Glaucus visited Delphi to ask the oracle's advice; and his question - whether or not he should perjure himself and so rob the Milesians of their property - was met by the Priestess with a rebuke, in the following words:
'To-day, indeed, Glaucus, it is more profitable
To prevail by false-swearing and rob them of their money.
Swear if you will; for death awaits even the true-swearer.
Yet an oath has a son, nameless, without hands or feet,
But swift to pursue until he has seized and destroyed
Utterly the race and house of the perjured one.
The children of him who keeps his oath are happier hereafter.'
"Glaucus, upon hearing this answer, begged the god to forgive him for his question; but the Priestess told him that to seek the god's approval of a sin came to the same thing as committing it. So Glaucus sent for the Milesians and gave them their money back."
"And now, gentleman, I come to the real point of my story. Today, Glaucus has not a single living descendant; not a family in Sparta bears his name - all that belonged to him have vanished without a trace. That will show you how wise a thing it is, where covenants are concerned, not to hesitate, even in thought, to make a proper restitution."