The Richest Man In Babylon

In old Babylon there once lived a certain very rich man named Arkad. Far
and wide he was famed for his great wealth. Also was be famed for his
liberality. He was generous in his charities. He was generous with his
family. He was liberal in his own expenses. But nevertheless each year his
wealth increased more rapidly than he spent it.
And there were certain friends of younger days who came to him and said:
“You, Arkad, are more fortunate than we. You have become the richest man
in all Babylon while we struggle for existence. You can wear the finest
garments and you can enjoy the rarest foods, while we must be content if
we can clothe our families in raiment that is presentable and feed them as
best we can.
“Yet, once we were equal. We studied under the same master. We played in
the same games. And in neither the studies nor the games did you outshine
us. And in the years since, you have been no more an honorable citizen than
“Nor have you worked harder or more faithfully, insofar as we can judge.
Why, then, should a fickle fate single you out to enjoy all the good things of
life and ignore us who are equally deserving?”
Thereupon Arkad remonstrated with them, saying, “If you have not
acquired more than a bare existence in the years since we were youths, it is
because you either have failed to learn the laws that govern the building of
wealth, or else you do not observe them.
“Fickle Fate’ is a vicious goddess who brings no permanent good to anyone.
On the contrary, she brings ruin to almost every man upon whom she
showers unearned gold. She makes wanton spenders, who soon dissipate all
they receive and are left beset by overwhelming appetites and desires they
have not the ability to gratify. Yet others whom she favors become misers
and hoard their wealth, fearing to spend what they have, knowing they do
not possess the ability to replace it. They further are beset by fear of robbers
and doom themselves to lives of emptiness and secret misery.
“Others there probably are, who can take unearned gold and add to it and
continue to be happy and contented citizens. But so few are they, I know of
them but by hearsay. Think you of the men who have inherited sudden
wealth, and see if these things are not so.
“His friends admitted that of the men they knew who had inherited wealth
these words were true, and they besought him to explain to them how he
had become possessed of so much prosperity, so he continued: “In my youth
I looked about me and saw all the good things there were to bring happiness
and contentment. And I realized that wealth increased the potency of all
these. “Wealth is a power. With wealth many things are possible.
“One may ornament the home with the richest of furnishings. “One may sail
the distant seas.
“One may feast on the delicacies of far lands.
“One may buy the ornaments of the gold worker and the stone polisher.
“One may even build mighty temples for the Gods.
“One may do all these things and many others in which there is delight for
the senses and gratification for the soul.
“And, when I realized all this, I decided to myself that I would claim my
share of the good things of life. I would not be one of those who stand afar
off, enviously watching others enjoy. I would not be content to clothe
myself in the cheapest raiment that looked respectable. I would not be
satisfied with the lot of a poor man. On the contrary, I would make myself a
guest at this banquet of good things.
“Being, as you know, the son of a humble merchant, one of a large family
with no hope of an inheritance, and not being endowed, as you have so
frankly said, with superior powers or wisdom, I decided that if I was to
achieve what I desired, time and study would be required.
“As for time, all men have it in abundance. You, each of you, have let slip
by sufficient time to have made yourselves wealthy. Yet, you admit; you
have nothing to show except your good families, of which you can be justly
“As for study, did not our wise teacher teach us that learning was of two
kinds: the one kind being the things we learned and knew, and the other
being the training that taught us how to find out what we did not know?
“Therefore did I decide to find out how one might accumulate wealth, and
when I had found out, to make this my task and do it well. For, is it not wise
that we should enjoy while we dwell in the brightness of the sunshine, for
sorrows enough shall descend upon us when we depart for the darkness of
the world of spirit?
“I found employment as a scribe in the hall of records, and long hours each
day I labored upon the clay tablets. Week after week, and month after
month, I labored, yet for my earnings I had naught to show. Food and
clothing and penance to the gods, and other things of which I could
remember not what, absorbed all my earnings. But my determination did
not leave me.
“And one day Algamish, the money lender, came to the house of the city
master and ordered a copy of the Ninth Law, and he said to me, I must have
this in two days, and if the task is done by that time, two coppers will I give
to thee.”
“So I labored hard, but the law was long, and when Algamish returned the
task was unfinished.
He was angry, and had I been his slave, he would have beaten me. But
knowing the city master would not permit him to injure me, I was unafraid,
so I said to him, ‘Algamish, you are a very rich man. Tell me how I may
also become rich, and all night I will carve upon the clay, and when the sun
rises it shall be completed.’
“He smiled at me and replied, ‘You are a forward knave, but we will call it a
“All that night I carved, though my back pained and the smell of the wick
made my head ache until my eyes could hardly see. But when he returned at
sunup, the tablets were complete.
“Now,’ I said, ‘tell me what you promised.’
“You have fulfilled your part of our bargain, my son,’ he said to me kindly,
‘and I am ready to fulfill mine. I will tell you these things you wish to know
because I am becoming an old man, and an old tongue loves to wag. And
when youth comes to age for advice he receives the wisdom of years. But
too often does youth think that age knows only the wisdom of days that are
gone, and therefore profits not. But remember this, the sun that shines today
is the sun that shone when thy father was born, and will still be shining
when thy last grandchild shall pass into the darkness.
“The thoughts of youth,’ he continued, ‘are bright lights that shine forth like
the meteors that oft make brilliant the sky, but the wisdom of age is like the
fixed stars that shine so unchanged that the sailor may depend upon them to
steer his course.
“Mark you well my words, for if you do not you will fail to grasp the truth
that I will tell you, and you will think that your night’s work has been in
“Then he looked at me shrewdly from under his shaggy brows and said in a
low, forceful tone,
‘I found the road to wealth when I decided that a part of all I earned was
mine to keep. And so will you.’
“Then he continued to look at me with a glance that I could feel pierce me
but said no more.
“Is that all?’ I asked.
“That was sufficient to change the heart of a sheep herder into the heart of a
money lender,’ he replied.
“But all I earn is mine to keep, is it not?’ I demanded.
“Far from it,’ he replied. ‘Do you not pay the garment-maker? Do you not
pay the sandal-maker? Do you not pay for the things you eat? Can you live
in Babylon without spending? What have you to show for your earnings of
the past mouth? What for the past year? Fool! You pay to everyone but
yourself. Dullard, you labor for others. As well be a slave and work for
what your master gives you to eat and wear. If you did keep for yourself
one-tenth of all you earn, how much would you have in ten years?’
“My knowledge of the numbers did not forsake me, and I answered, ‘As
much as I earn in one year.’
“You speak but half the truth,’ he retorted. ‘Every gold piece you save is a
slave to work for you. Every copper it earns is its child that also can earn
for you. If you would become wealthy, then what you save must earn, and
its children must earn, that all may help to give to you the abundance you
crave. “You think I cheat you for your long night’s work,’ he continued, ‘but
I am paying you a thousand times over if you have the intelligence to grasp
the truth I offer you.
“A part of all you earn is yours to keep. It should be not less than a tenth no
matter how little you earn. It can be as much more as you can afford. Pay
yourself first. Do not buy from the clothes-maker and the sandal-maker
more than you can pay out of the rest and still have enough for food and
charity and penance to the gods.
“Wealth, like a tree, grows from a tiny seed. The first copper you save is the
seed from which your tree of wealth shall grow. The sooner you plant that
seed the sooner shall the tree grow. And the more faithfully you nourish and
water that tree with consistent savings, the sooner may you bask in
contentment beneath its shade.’
“So saying, he took his tablets and went away.
“I thought much about what he had said to me, and it seemed reasonable. So
I decided that I would try it. Each time I was paid I took one from each ten
pieces of copper and hid it away. And strange as it may seem, I was no
shorter of funds, than before. I noticed little difference as I managed to get
along without it. But often I was tempted, as my hoard began to grow, to
spend it for some of the good things the merchants displayed, brought by
camels and ships from the land of the Phoenicians. But I wisely refrained.
“A twelfth month after Algamish had gone he again returned and said to
me, ‘Son, have you paid to yourself not less than one-tenth of all you have
earned for the past year?’
“I answered proudly, ‘Yes, master, I have.’ ‘That is good,’ he answered
beaming upon me, ‘and what have you done with it?”
“I have given it to Azmur, the brick maker, who told me he was traveling
over the far seas and in Tyre he would buy for me the rare jewels of the
Phoenicians. When he returns we shall sell these at high prices and divide
the earnings.”
“Every fool must learn,” he growled, ‘but why trust the knowledge of a
brick maker about jewels? Would you go to the bread maker to inquire
about the stars? No, by my tunic, you would go to the astrologer, if you had
power to think. Your savings are gone, youth, you have jerked your wealthtree up by the roots. But plant another. Try again. And next time if you
would have advice about jewels, go to the jewel merchant. If you would
know the truth about sheep, go to the herdsman. Advice is one thing that is
freely given away, but watch that you take only what is worth having. He
who takes advice about his savings from one who is inexperienced in such
matters, shall pay with his savings for proving the falsity of their opinions.”
Saying this, he went away.
“And it was as he said. For the Phoenicians are scoundrels and sold to
Azmur worthless bits of glass that looked like gems. But as Algamish had
bid me, I again saved each tenth copper, for I now had formed the habit and
it was no longer difficult.
“Again, twelve months later, Algamish came to the room of the scribes and
addressed me.
“What progress have you made since last I saw you?”
“I have paid myself faithfully,” I replied, “and my savings I have entrusted
to Agger the shield maker, to buy bronze, and each fourth month he does
pay me the rental.”
“That is good. And what do you do with the rental?” “I do have a great feast
with honey and fine wine and spiced cake. Also I have bought me a scarlet
tunic. And some day I shall buy me a young ass upon which to ride.” To
which Algamish laughed, “You do eat the children of your savings. Then
how do you expect them to work for you?
And how can they have children that will also work for you?
First get thee an army of golden slaves and then many a rich banquet may
you enjoy without regret.” So saying he again went away.
“Nor did I again see him for two years, when he once more returned and his
face was full of deep lines and his eyes drooped, for he was becoming a
very old man. And he said to me, “Arkad, hast thou yet achieved the wealth
thou dreamed of?” And I answered, “Not yet all that I desire, but some I
have and it earns more, and its earnings earn more.”
“And do you still take the advice of brick makers?”
“About brick making they give good advice,” I retorted.
“Arkad,” he continued, “you have learned your lessons well. You first
learned to live upon less than you could earn. Next you learned to seek
advice from those who were competent through their own experiences to
give it. And, lastly, you have learned to make gold work for you.”
“You have taught yourself how to acquire money, how to keep it, and how
to use it. Therefore, you are competent for a responsible position. I am
becoming an old man. My sons think only of spending and give no thought
to earning. My interests are great and I fear too much for me to look after. If
you will go to Nippur and look after my lands there, I shall make you my
partner and you shall share in my estate.”
“So I went to Nippur and took charge of his holdings, which were large.
And because I was full of ambition and because I had mastered the three
laws of successfully handling wealth, I was enabled to increase greatly the
value of his properties.
So I prospered much, and when the spirit of Algamish departed for the
sphere of darkness, I did share in his estate as he had arranged under the
law.” So spake Arkad, and when he had finished his tale, one of his friends
said, “You were indeed fortunate that Algamish made of you an heir.”
“Fortunate only in that I had the desire to prosper before I first met him. For
four years did I not prove my definiteness of purpose by keeping one-tenth
of all earned? Would you call a fisherman lucky who for years so studied
the habits of the fish that with each changing wind he could cast his nets
about them? Opportunity is a haughty goddess who wastes no time with
those who are unprepared.”
“You had strong will power to keep on after you lost your first year’s
savings. You are unusual in that way,” spoke up another.
“Will power!” retorted Arkad. “What nonsense. Do you think will power
gives a man the strength to lift a burden the camel cannot carry, or to draw a
load the oxen cannot budge? Will power is but the unflinching purpose to
carry a task you set for yourself to fulfillment. If I set for myself a task, be it
ever so trifling, I shall see it through. How else shall I have confidence in
myself to do important things? Should I say to myself, ‘For a hundred days
as I walk across the bridge into the city, I will pick from the road a pebble
and cast it into the stream,’ I would do it.
If on the seventh day I passed by without remembering, I would not say to
myself, Tomorrow I will cast two pebbles which will do as well.’ Instead, I
would retrace my steps and cast the pebble. Nor on the twentieth day would
I say to myself, ‘Arkad, this is useless. What does it avail you to cast a
pebble every day? Throw in a handful and be done with it.’ No, I would not
say that nor do it. When I set a task for myself, I complete it.
Therefore, I am careful not to start difficult and impractical tasks, because I
love leisure.”
And then another friend spoke up and said, “If what you tell is true, and it
does seem as you have said, reasonable, then being so simple, if all men did
it, there would not be enough wealth to go around.”
Wealth grows wherever men exert energy,” Arkad replied. “If a rich man
builds him a new palace, is the gold he pays out gone? No, the brickmaker
has part of it and the laborer has part of it, and the artist has part of it. And
everyone who labors upon the house has part of it Yet when the palace is
completed, is it not worth all it cost? And is the ground upon which it
stands not worth more because it is there? And is the ground that adjoins it
not worth more because it is there? Wealth grows in magic ways. No man
can prophesy the limit of it. Have not the Phoenicians built great cities on
barren coasts with the wealth that comes from their ships of commerce on
the seas?” “What then do you advise us to do that we also may become
rich?” asked still another of his friends. “The years have passed and we are
no longer young men and we have nothing put by.”
“I advise that you take the wisdom of Algamish and say to yourselves, ‘A
part of all I earn is mine to keep.’ Say it in the morning when you first arise.
Say it at noon. Say it at night. Say it each hour of every day. Say it to
yourself until the words stand out like letters of fire across the sky.
“Impress yourself with the idea. Fill yourself with the thought. Then take
whatever portion seems wise. Let it be not less than one-tenth and lay it by.
Arrange your other expenditures to do this if necessary. But lay by that
portion first. Soon you will realize what a rich feeling it is to own a treasure
upon which you alone have claim. As it grows it will stimulate you. A new
joy of life will thrill you.
Greater efforts will come to you to earn more. For of your increased
earnings, will not the same percentage be also yours to keep?
“Then learn to make your treasure work for you. Make it your slave. Make
its children and its children’s children work for you.
“Insure an income for thy future. Look thou at the aged and forget not that
in the days to come thou also will be numbered among them. Therefore
invest thy treasure with greatest caution that it be not lost. Usurious rates of
return are deceitful sirens that sing but to lure the unwary upon the rocks of
loss and remorse.
“Provide also that thy family may not want should the Gods call thee to
their realms. For such protection it is always possible to make provision
with small payments at regular intervals. Therefore the provident man
delays not in expectation of a large sum becoming available for such a wise
purpose. “Counsel with wise men. Seek the advice of men whose daily
work is handling money. Let them save you from such an error as I myself
made in entrusting my money to the judgment of Azmur, the brickmaker. A
small return and a safe one is far more desirable than risk.
“Enjoy life while you are here. Do not overstrain or try to save too much. If
one-tenth of all you earn is as much as you can comfortably keep, be
content to keep this portion. Live otherwise according to your income and
let not yourself get niggardly and afraid to spend. Life is good and life is
rich with things worthwhile and things to enjoy.”
His friends thanked him and went away. Some were silent because they had
no imagination and could not understand. Some were sarcastic because they
thought that one so rich should divide with old friends not so fortunate. But
some had in their eyes a new light. They realized that Algamish had come
back each time to the room of the scribes because he was watching a man
work his way out of darkness into light. When that man had found the light,
a place awaited him. No one could fill that place until he had for himself
worked out his own understanding, until he was ready for opportunity.
These latter were the ones, who, in the following years, frequently revisited
Arkad, who received them gladly. He counseled with them and gave them
freely of his wisdom as men of broad experience are always glad to do. And
he assisted them in so investing their savings that it would bring in a good
interest with safety and would neither be lost nor entangled in investments
that paid no dividends.
The turning point in these men’s lives came upon that day when they
realized the truth that had come from Algamish to Arkad and from Arkad to

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