King Rhampsinitus and the Thief – Herodotus (484—424 B.C.)
Herodotus, the Father of History, is celebrated as a teller of tales. These he introduced into his History partly for purposes of elucidation and example, but partly also because he enjoyed writing them. The story that follows is, according to Professor Murray “all but pure fairy” tale, and is probably based on an Indian original. For the first time in Greek literature we have a short story as unified and free from unessential details as the most rigid modern critic could desire.
The present version, which comprises Chapter CXXI of the Second Book of the History, is from the standard translation by George Rawimson, first published in 1858. There is no title in the original.
King Rhampsinitus and the Thief
King Rhampsinitus was possessed, they said, of great riches in silver—indeed to such an amount, that none of the princes, his successors, surpassed or even equaled his wealth. For the better custody of this money, he proposed to build a vast chamber of hewn stone, one side of which was to form a part of the outer wall of his palace. The builder, therefore, having designs upon the treasures, contrived, as he was making the building, to insert in this wall a stone which could easily be removed from its place by two men, or even one. So the chamber was finished, and the king’s money stored away in it.
Time passed, and the builder fell sick; when finding his end approaching, he called for his two sons, and related to them the contrivance he had made in the king’s treasure-chamber, telling them it was for their sakes he had done it, so that they might always live in affluence. Then he gave them clear directions concerning the mode of removing the stone, and communicated the measurements, bidding them carefully keep the secret, whereby they would be Comptrollers of the Royal Exchequer so long as they lived. Then the father died, and the sons were not slow in setting to work; they went by night to the palace, found the stone in the wall of the building, and having removed it with ease, plundered the treasury of a round sum.