The Richest Man in Babylon

Seven Cures for a Lean Purse

George S. Classon
George S. Classon

The glory of Babylon endures. Down through the ages its reputation comes to us as the richest of cities, its treasures as fabulous. Yet it was not always so. The riches of Babylon were the results of the wisdom of its people. They first had to learn how to become wealthy.

When the Good King, Sargon, returned to Babylon after defeating his enemies, the Elamites, he was confronted with a serious situation. The Royal Chancellor explained it to the King thus: “After many years of great prosperity brought to our people because your majesty built the great irrigation canals and the mighty temples of the Gods, now that these works are completed the people seem unable to support themselves.

“The laborers are without employment. The merchants have few customers. The farmers are unable to sell their produce. The people have not enough gold to buy food.”

“But where has all the gold gone that we spent for these great improvements?” demanded the King.

“It has found its way, I fear,” responded the Chancellor, “into the possession of a few very rich men of our city. It filtered through the fingers of most our people as quickly as the goat’s milk goes through the strainer. Now that the stream of gold has ceased to flow, most of our people have nothing to for their earnings.”

The King was thoughtful for some time. Then he asked, “Why should so few men be able to acquire all the gold?”

“Because they know how,” replied the Chancellor. “One may not condemn a man for succeeding because he knows how. Neither may one with justice take away from a man what he has fairly earned, to give to men of less ability.”

“But why,” demanded the King, “should not all the people learn how to accumulate gold and therefore become themselves rich and prosperous?”

“Quite possible, your excellency. But who can teach them? Certainly not the priests, because they know naught of money making.”

“Who knows best in all our city how to become wealthy, Chancellor?” asked the King.

“Thy question answers itself, your majesty. Who has amassed the greatest wealth, in Babylon?”

“Well said, my able Chancellor. It is Arkad. He is richest man in Babylon. Bring him before me on the morrow.”

Upon the following day, as the King had decreed, Arkad appeared before him, straight and sprightly despite his three score years and ten.

“Arkad,” spoke the King, “is it true thou art the richest man in Babylon?”

“So it is reported, your majesty, and no man disputes it”

“How becamest thou so wealthy?”

“By taking advantage of opportunities available to all citizens of our good city.”

“Thou hadst nothing to start with?”

“Only a great desire for wealth. Besides this, nothing.”

“Arkad,” continued the King, “our city is in a very unhappy state because a few men know how to acquire wealth and therefore monopolize it, while the mass of our citizens lack the knowledge of how to keep any part of the gold they receive.

“It is my desire that Babylon be the wealthiest city in the world. Therefore, it must be a city of many wealthy men. Therefore, we must teach all the people how to acquire riches. Tell me, Arkad, is there any secret to acquiring wealth? Can it be taught?”

“It is practical, your majesty. That which one man knows can be taught to others.”

The king’s eyes glowed. “Arkad, thou speaketh the words I wish to hear. Wilt thou lend thyself to this great cause? Wilt thou teach thy knowledge to a school for teachers, each of whom shall teach others until there are enough trained to teach these truths to every worthy subject in my domain?”

Arkad bowed and said, “I am thy humble servant to command. Whatever knowledge I possess will I gladly give for the betterment of my fellowmen and the glory of my King. Let your good chancellor arrange for me a class of one hundred men and I will teach to them those seven cures which did fatten my purse, than which there was none leaner in all Babylon.”

A fortnight later, in compliance with the King’s command, the chosen hundred assembled in the great hall of the Temple of Learning, seated upon colorful rings in a semicircle. Arkad sat beside a small taboret upon which smoked a sacred lamp sending forth a strange and pleasing odor.

“Behold the richest man in Babylon,” whispered a student, nudging his neighbor as Arkad arose. “He is but a man even as the rest of us.”

“As a dutiful subject of our great King,” Arkad began, “I stand before you in his service. Because once I was a poor youth who did greatly desire gold, and because I found knowledge that enabled me to acquire it, he asks that I impart unto you my knowledge. “I started my fortune in the humblest way. I had no advantage not enjoyed as fully by you and every citizen in Babylon.

“The first storehouse of my treasure was a well-purse. I loathed its useless emptiness. I desired it be round and full, clinking with the sound of gold. Therefore, I sought every remedy for a lean purse. I found seven.

“To you, who are assembled before me, shall I explain the seven cures for a lean purse which I do recommend to all men who desire much gold. Each day for seven days will I explain to you one of the seven remedies.

“Listen attentively to the knowledge that I will impart. Debate it with me. Discuss it among yourselves. Learn these lessons thoroughly, that ye may also plant in your own purse the seed of wealth. First must each of you start wisely to build a fortune of his own. Then wilt thou be competent, and only then, to teach these truths to others.

“I shall teach to you in simple ways how to fatten your purses. This is the first step leading to the temple of wealth, and no man may climb who cannot plant his feet firmly upon the first step.

“We shall now consider the first cure.”