In book 6 of Herodotus’ Histories, the Spartan king Leotychides tells the following story to the Athenians. Three generations ago, there was a Spartan by the name of Glaucus, who had a reputation all over the Greek world for being a particularly honest man. A stranger from Miletus once visited this Glaucus. The stranger called upon Glaucus’ honesty and handed over half his money for safekeeping. He also gave him some tallies and instructed him to release the funds only to whoever was able to produce the corresponding halves. Years passed. One day the sons of the Milesian stranger turned up at Sparta, showed the tokens and demanded the return of the money. Glaucus, however, denied any knowledge of the matter and sent the Milesians back home empty-handed. After their departure, he immediately set out for Delphi to ask the oracle whether he could keep the money, whereupon the Pythia allegedly gave the following response:
Γλαῦκ’ Ἐπικυδείδη, τὸ μὲν αὐτίκα κέρδιον οὕτω
ὅρκῳ νικῆσαι καὶ χρήματα ληίσσασθαι·
ὄμνυ, ἐπεὶ θάνατός γε καὶ εὔορκον μένει ἄνδρα.
ἀλλ’ Ὅρκου πάϊς ἔστιν, ἀνώνυμος οὐδ’ ἔπι χεῖρες
οὐδὲ πόδες· κραιπνὸς δὲ μετέρχεται, εἰς ὅ κε πᾶσαν
συμμάρψας ὀλέσῃ γενεὴν καὶ οἶκον ἅπαντα·
ἀνδρὸς δ’ εὐόρκου γενεὴ μετόπισθεν ἀμείνων.
Today, indeed, Glaucus, son of Epicydes, it is more profitable
To prevail by false-swearing and rob them of their money.
Swear if you will; for death awaits even the true-swearer.
Yet an oath has a son, nameless, without hands or feet,
But swift to pursue until he has seized and destroyed
Utterly the race and house of the perjured one.
The children of him who keeps his oath are happier thereafter.
When Glaucus heard this dreadful response, he immediately regretted his question and asked the Pythia for forgiveness. Yet the priestess responded that to ask something like this actually amounted to doing it. Glaucus sent for the Milesians and returned the funds, to no avail: the oracle's dreadful prediction still came true. And Leotychides takes great care to make sure that the point of the story is not lost on his Athenian audience: ‘And now, gentlemen, I come to the real point of my story. Today Glaucus has not a single living descendant; not a family in Sparta bears his name; it has been totally rooted out (ἐκτέτριπταί τε πρόρριζος).