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Have you ever had that frustrating feeling of being at a loss for words? You know what you want to say - the perfect idiom exists in your own language - but you're speaking English, and English sadly lacks the very turn of phrase you love so much! In this column, we present some of the "missing idioms" which we think ought to be introduced into European English. This time, Aleksandar Savić tells the story of a man who liked to throw the house through the window...

Croesus
Image: painting by Gerard van Honthorst (copyright free)
Croesus shows off his goosey money to Solon.

Seeking the roots of stories about wealth and money leads us to the very beginnings of European civilisation. From the quill of Herodotus, one of our faithful guides to the history of the ancient world, comes a rather interesting account of a certain Croesus, the ruler of Lydia, who has remained the synonym for wealth in many European languages to this very day. During the reigns of himself and his father, the kingdom started expanding in Asia Minor, subjugating even the Greeks who inhabited the western coast of the Aegean. As was customary, he burdened them with hefty taxes, robbing them blind (plēst baltu naudu), as the Latvians would say. Along with other resources, this income made the king as loaded as a ship (Serbian: pun kao brod), allowing him to spend all his goosey money (Spanish: pasta gansa) on making his capital Sardis one of the most fascinating cities of the time. For old Croesus it was all about money, dust (Czech: prachy), coal (German: Kohle), and it seemed rather unlikely that his enthusiasm could cease, until he was paid visit by another famous figure of the antiquity.

After passing a series of hardly orthodox measures in his hometown of Athens, the great reformer Solon, who wasn't a flatpocket (Dutch: platzak) himself, took a tour of the Mediterranean, and ended up at Croesus' court in Sardis. The showoff that he was, Croesus' goal was to give the renowned Greek the full impression that he was rolling in money (Latvian: naudas kā spaļu), yet Solon didn't seem to be that amazed. When the Lydian king asked him, rather tendentiously, who he thought was the most fortunate man of all, Solon named three Greeks who might have been poorer than the rats (Catalan: més pobre que les rates), but who were blessed with virtue and died as heroes in the eyes of their people. Ominously, he added that the fact he lived as a rich man didn't mean he would die as one.

Naturally, Croesus was rather displeased with the Athenian's judgment and dispatched him without a word. Yet, he became fearful, and a series of misfortunate events made him look for divine guidance. In his tradition of throwing the house through the window (Spanish: tirando la casa por la ventana), and knowing that he couldn't play pea-counter (German: Erbsenzähler) when addressing the gods themselves, he offered priceless gifts to major Greek oracles in order to get an insight of his fate. Although he was looking for answers, what he got was more riddles. Nevertheless, the puzzle seemed to have become rather obvious a few years later, when the Persian king Cyrus conquered his domain, sacked Sardis and had Croesus burned at the stake. It was then that he realised Solon had been right all along, and after the revelation, he called upon the gods to extinguish the fire. Legend has it that Apollo indeed sent rain to save the old king from the flames, leaving him with but two candles (Spanish: estar a dos velas – to be broke), since the Persian invasion stripped his wealth and city of their former glory.

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