Friedrich Schiller's "Der Ring des Polykrates"
He stood on the ancient battlements,
Proudly gazing from the parapets
On Samos, over which he reigned.
“This vast realm bends under my firm yoke,”
He said to the Egyptian monarch.
“My fortune cannot be contained.”
“Truly, you’ve fared on fortunate seas;
Yours foes have been brought down to their knees—
Enemies once beloved by Gods.
Yet there remains one who seeks revenge—
I won’t call you blessed until you’ve purged
This final foe, against all odds.”
And while he lent Egypt’s king his ear,
A herald from Miletus appeared –
With tidings for Polycrates.
“Let us rejoice with your many lords
As we listen to these welcomed words
And hail your endless victories.
“Your faithful general Polydore
Has announced the defeat of the foe.
His army now retreats in fear.”
From a basket he retrieved a head,
Each one there looking on with dread
As the dead enemy’s face appeared.”
The Egyptian king stepped back in dread,
“True joy and fortune are never wed;
Recall your many fleets of ships
Now sailing over the restless seas—
How quickly Fortune’s grace may cease
When decreed from a stern God’s lips.”
But before he could finish his speech
Jubilant shouts were heard from the beach
Where one saw all the fleets arrive:
The pure white sails and great treasure stores
Were seen glittering upon the shores,
With all the soldiers still alive.
The Egyptian king then spoke with fear,
“You’ve had many a fortunate year,
But one should fear luck’s fickleness.
The Cretan army is approaching.
They’re prepared to launch death-exacting
Strikes on your realm, and nothing less.”
But as the words issued from his lips,
A vicious gale was seen striking their ships.
A thousand voices screamed “Victory!
The Cretan army has been vanquished
By the tempest, by the Gods punished—
They’ve sunk our final enemy!”
The king then exclaimed with great emotion
“Indeed, you’ve reaped the gifts of Fortune.
“But”, said he, “it appears a sign,
I fear the fate that waits upon you;
I think your fortune belies the true
Intention of the Gods who reign.”
“All of my endeavors have been blessed
By the hand of mighty Gods and graced
With unending fortune and fame,
Although I did once father a son,
He was seized from me without reason.
Thus, I’ve earned all that I’ve gained.”
“Therefore, if you wish to be shielded
From all woes, and be protected,
Pray for misfortune, for your own sake,
For no man is endlessly showered
With fortune, or like Gods empowered,
Without then answering to fate.”
“If the Gods refuse your entreaties,
Still take counsel from your faithful friend—
Seek out misfortune willingly:
What in this kingdom do you prize most,
Offer this to our immortal host.
Find it and throw it to the sea!”
The king, gripped by these foreboding words
Said, “Of all the treasures in this world,
This ring is what I hold most dear.
I will pledge my ring to the Furies
And hope this will quell all my worries.’’
He cast the ringlet to the sea.
But before the morning light appeared
In his royal eyes—by Fortune so endeared—
A fisherman arrived, boasting,
“My king, I have caught the rarest fish
Beyond the boldest seaman’s wish,
I offer it to you, fair king.’’
As the head cook opened the fish up
He marveled at what he discovered.
He jumped and screamed and loudly cheered.
“Your heinous, this is the self-same ring
In the fish, the one I saw you fling
Into the seas—it has appeared!”
His anxious friend turned around and said
“Forgive me, but I can only dread
The fate that waits on you, my friend.
The Gods are keen on your destruction
An end to your fortune is certain.”
The monarch spoke then quickly fled.
Translation © David B. Gosselin