Monday, March 11, 2013

Yosef Mokir Shabbos and Polycrates

There is a germara in Shabbat 119a:
Joseph-who-honours-the-Sabbaths had in his victory a certain gentile who owned much property. Soothsayers17  told him, 'Joseph-who-honours-the-Sabbaths will consume all your property.18  — [So] he went, sold all his property, and bought a precious stone with the proceeds, which he set in his turban. As he was crossing a bridge the wind blew it off and cast it into the water, [and] a fish swallowed it. [Subsequently] it [the fish] was hauled up and brought [to market] on the Sabbath eve towards sunset. 'Who will buy now?' cried they. 'Go and take them to Joseph-who-honours-the-Sabbaths,' they were told, 'as he is accustomed to buy.' So they took it to him. He bought it, opened it, found the jewel therein, and sold it for thirteen roomfuls19  of gold denarii.20  A certain old man met him [and] said, 'He who lends to the Sabbath,21  the Sabbath repays him.'
In a recent post at On the Main Line, there is a humorous ode to chulent from 1899, which contains the following line:
As to fishes, I shall remark that the legend about the ring and the fish ('the ring of Polycrates') already appears in the Talmud.
This is a reference to a story told by Herodotus ('father of history, father of lies', [c. 484 – 425 BCE]). According to Wikipedia
Polycrates (GreekΠολυκράτης), son of Aeaces, was the tyrant of Samos from c. 538 BC to 522 BC.
He took power during a festival of Hera with his brothers Pantagnotus and Syloson, but soon had Pantagnotus killed and exiled Syloson to take full control for himself. He then allied with Amasis IIpharaoh of Egypt, as well as the tyrant of Naxos Lygdamis...
According to Herodotus, Amasis thought Polycrates was too successful, and advised him to throw away whatever he valued most in order to escape a reversal of fortune. Polycrates followed the advice and threw a jewel-encrusted ring into the sea; however, a few days later, a fisherman caught a large fish that he wished to share with the tyrant. While Polycrates' cooks were preparing the fish for eating, they discovered the ring inside of it. Polycrates told Amasis of his good fortune, and Amasis immediately broke off their alliance, believing that such a lucky man would eventually come to a disastrous end.
Herodotus probably predates the story told in the gemara. There is also the following two midrashim telling of Shlomo Hamelech and a ring of power swallowed by a fish, which (according to one of the midrashim) is later recovered by Shlomo.

First this:
Solomon's ejection from the throne is stated in Ruth R. ii. 14 as having occurred because of an angel who assumed his likeness and usurped his dignity. Solomon meanwhile went begging from house to house protesting that he was the king. One day a woman put before him a dish of ground beans and beat his head with a stick, saying, "Solomon sits on his throne, and yet thou claimest to be the king." Giṭṭin (l.c.) attributes the loss of the throne to Asmodeus, who, after his capture by Benaiah, remained a prisoner with Solomon. One day the king asked Asmodeus wherein consisted the demons' superiority over men; and Asmodeus replied that he would demonstrate it if Solomon would remove his chains and give him the magic ring. Solomon agreed; whereupon Asmodeus swallowed the king (or the ring, according to another version), then stood up with one wing touching heaven and the other extending to the earth, spat Solomon to a distance of 400 miles, and finally seated himself on the throne. Solomon's persistent declaration that he was the king at length attracted the attention of the Sanhedrin. That body, discovering that it was not the real Solomon who occupied the throne, placed Solomon thereon and gave him another ring and chain on which the Holy Name was written. On seeing these Asmodeus flew away (see Asmodeus, and the parallel sources there cited). Nevertheless Solomon remained in constant fear; and he accordingly surrounded his bed with sixty armed warriors (comp. Cant. iii. 7).
And then this:
This legend is narrated in "'Emeḳ ha-Melek" (pp. 14d-15a; republished by Jellinek,l.c. ii. 86-87) as follows: "Asmodeus threw the magic ring into the sea, where it was swallowed by a fish. Then he threw the king a distance of 400 miles. Solomon spent three years in exile as a punishment for transgressing the three prohibitive commandments [see above]. He wandered from city to city till he arrived at Mashkemam, the capital of the Ammonites. One day, while standing in a street of that city, he was observed by the king's cook, who took him by force to the royal kitchen and compelled him to do menial work. A few days later Solomon, alleging that he was an expert in cookery, obtained the cook's permission to prepare a new dish.The king of the Ammonites was so pleased with it that he dismissed his cook and appointed Solomon in his place. A little later, Naamah, the king's daughter, fell in love with Solomon. Her family, supposing him to be simply a cook, expressed strong disapproval of the girl's behavior; but she persisted in her wish to marry Solomon, and when she had done so the king resolved to kill them both. Accordingly at his orders one of his attendants took them to the desert and left them there that they might die of hunger. Solomon and his wife, however, escaped starvation; for they did not remain in the desert. They ultimately reached a maritime city, where they bought a fish for food. In it they found a ring on which was engraved the Holy Name and which was immediately recognized by Solomon as his own ring. He then returned to Jerusalem, drove Asmodeus away, and reoccupied his throne."

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