King Candaules


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Gyges initially refused as he did not wish to dishonor the queen. Nevertheless, Candaules was insistent and Gyges had no option but to obey his king. So Gyges hid in Candaules' bedroom and, when the queen entered, watched her undress.

As she was getting into bed, he quietly left the room, but the queen saw him and realised what had happened. The queen silently swore revenge for her shame. Next day, she summoned Gyges to her chamber. Gyges thought it was a routine request, but she confronted him immediately and presented him with two choices. One was to kill Candaules and seize the throne with Nyssia as his wife.

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The second was to be executed immediately by her trusted servants. Gyges pleaded with her to relent but she would not. He decided to take the first course of action and assassinate the king. The plan was that he should hide in the royal bedroom as before but this time from the king. But she did not betray the shame she felt by screaming, or even let it appear that she had noticed anything.

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Candaules, his wife, and Gyges

Instead she silently resolved to have her revenge. There was nothing unusual in his being asked to attend upon the queen; so Gyges answered the summons without any suspicion that she knew what had occurred on the previous night. Kill Candaules and seize the throne, with me as your wife; or die yourself on the spot, so that never again may your blind obedience to the king tempt you to see what you have no right to see. One of you must die: For a time Gyges was too astonished to speak.

In Defence of King Candaules

At last he found words and begged the queen not to force him to make so difficult a choice. But it was no good: He made his choice - to live. Night came, and he followed her into the bedroom. She put a knife into his hand, and hid him behind the same door as before. Then, when Candaules was asleep, he crept from behind the door and struck. After a little while, Candaules, doomed to misfortune, spoke to Gyges thus: Nyssia, having surmised all of this, sent for Gyges at dawn the next morning and presented him with a choice: Gyges pleaded with Nyssia to reconsider, but he soon found this to be a hopeless cause, and reluctantly agreed to kill his master.

In Defence of King Candaules

They murdered Candaules in his bed on the very next night. After being named king, Gyges legitimised his hold on power, which was still precarious, by securing a favourable declaration from a Delphic oracle. The prophecy proved true, but by that time Gyges was dead. In recognition of the oracular endorsement, Gyges had a hoard of gold and silver sent to the shrine at Delphi.

The delivery included, we are told, six golden mixing-bowls that weighed nearly kg when taken all together see Footnote 2. No further details on the life of Nyssia are recorded.

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Modern scholarly opinion has Herodotus drawing on dramatic rather than historical sources, and it has been speculated that his story is based on a tragedy in five acts with three actors and a chorus [3]. Many alternative versions of the story circulated in antiquity. In this telling, Gyges is made to be a common shepherd who discovers a ring of invisibility while out pasturing his flocks. With the fear of being apprehended and punished for immoral behaviour removed, the once loyal subject, conspires with Nyssia to murder Candaules and takes the throne for himself.

Candaules, King of Lydia, Shews his Wife by Stealth to Gyges, One of his Ministers, as She Goes to B

Various oddities surrounding the discovery of the ring that I have omitted are summarised by James Adam [5]; for the other versions of the story see Wikipedia [6]. As for Candaules, his legacy is wrongly coloured by an association with the eponymous sexual practice of Candaulism. The term was coined by the 19th century psychiatrist Richard von Krafft-Ebing to describe the practice in which a man reveals his female partner, or images of her, to others for their voyeuristic delight. While this certainly applies to the fictional Candaules, there is no reason to suppose that it is also true of the historical one.

The historical Candaules, supposing he even existed, was probably overthrown and murdered by Gyges. Any speculation beyond that is liable to enter into the realm of fantasy. The distinction between the fictional and historical Candaules is clear among classicists and Wikipedians alike, but the same cannot be said for the swinger community. Indeed, a quick perusal of swinger websites and message boards reveals that this distinction is not clear. In all fairness, they can hardly be blamed for being ignorant of the etymological subtleties surrounding a term that was introduced as a label for a largely obscure swinger pastime.

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