Home  |  Authors  |  Books  |  Stories  |  What's New  |  How to Get Involved 
   T h e   B a l d w i n   P r o j e c t
     Bringing Yesterday's Classics to Today's Children                 @mainlesson.com
Search This Site Only
 
 
Cyrus the Great by  Jacob Abbott

[Illustration] Hundreds of additional titles available for online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics

Learn More
[Illustration]

 

 

THE VISIT TO MEDIA

[68] WHEN Cyrus was about twelve years old, if the narrative which Xenophon gives of his history is true, he was invited by his grandfather Astyages to make a visit to Media. As he was about ten years of age, according to Herodotus, when he was restored to his parents, he could have been residing only two years in Persia when he received this invitation. During this period, Astyages had received, through Mandane and others, very glowing descriptions of the intelligence and vivacity of the young prince, and he naturally felt a desire to see him once more. In fact, Cyrus's personal attractiveness and beauty, joined to a certain frank and noble generosity of spirit which he seems to have manifested in his earliest years, made him a universal favorite at home, and the reports of these qualities, and of the various sayings and doings on Cyrus's part, by which his disposition and character were revealed, awakened strongly in the mind of Astyages that kind [69] of interest which a grandfather is always very prone to feel in a handsome and precocious grandchild.

As Cyrus had been sent to Persia as soon as his true rank had been discovered, he had had no opportunities of seeing the splendor of royal life in Media, and the manners and habits of the Persians were very plain and simple. Cyrus was accordingly very much impressed with the magnificence of the scenes to which he was introduced when he arrived in Media, and with the gayeties and luxuries, the pomp and display, and the spectacles and parades in which the Median court abounded. Astyages himself took great pleasure in witnessing and increasing his little grandson's admiration for these wonders. It is one of the most extraordinary and beautiful of the provisions which God has made for securing the continuance of human happiness to the very end of life, that we can renew, through sympathy with children, the pleasures which, for ourselves alone, had long since, through repetition and satiety, lost their charm. The rides, the walks, the flowers gathered by the roadside, the rambles among pebbles on the beach, the songs, the games, and even the little picture-book of childish tales [70] which have utterly and entirely lost their power to affect the mind even of middle life, directly and alone, regain their magic influence, and call up vividly all the old emotions, even to the heart of decrepit age, when it seeks these enjoyments in companionship and sympathy with children or grandchildren beloved. By giving to us this capacity for renewing our own sensitiveness to the impressions of pleasure through sympathy with childhood, God has provided a true and effectual remedy for the satiety and insensibility of age. Let any one who is in the decline of years, whose time passes but heavily away, and who supposes that nothing can awaken interest in his mind or give him pleasure, make the experiment of taking children to a ride or to a concert, or to see a menagerie or a museum, and he will find that there is a way by which he can again enjoy very highly the pleasures which he had supposed were for him forever exhausted and gone.

This was the result, at all events, in the case of Astyages and Cyrus. The monarch took a new pleasure in the luxuries and splendors which had long since lost their charm for him, in observing their influence and effect upon the mind of his little grandson. Cyrus, as we have [71] already said, was very frank and open in his disposition, and spoke with the utmost freedom of every thing that he saw. He was, of course, a privileged person, and could always say what the feeling of the moment and his own childish conceptions prompted, without danger. He had, however, according to the account which Xenophon gives, a great deal of good sense, as well as of sprightliness and brilliancy; so that, while his remarks, through their originality and point, attracted every one's attention, there was a native politeness and sense of propriety which restrained him from saying any thing to give pain. Even when he disapproved of and condemned what he saw in the arrangements of his grandfather's court or household, he did it in such a manner—so ingenuous, good-natured, and unassuming, that it amused all and offended none.

In fact, on the very first interview which Astyages had with Cyrus, an instance of the boy's readiness and tact occurred, which impressed his grandfather very much in his favor. The Persians, as has been already remarked, were accustomed to dress very plainly, while, on the other hand, at the Median court the superior officers, and especially the king, were always very splendidly adorned. Accordingly, when [72] Cyrus was introduced into his grandfather's presence, he was quite dazzled with the display. The king wore a purple robe, very richly adorned, with a belt and collars, which were embroidered highly, and set with precious stones. He had bracelets, too, upon his wrists, of the most costly character. He wore flowing locks of artificial hair, and his face was painted, after the Median manner. Cyrus gazed upon this gay spectacle for a few moments in silence, and then exclaimed, "Why, mother! what a handsome man my grandfather is!"

Such an exclamation, of course, made great amusement both for the king himself and for the others who were present; and at length Mandane, somewhat indiscreetly, it must be confessed, asked Cyrus which of the two he thought the handsomest, his father or his grandfather. Cyrus escaped from the danger of deciding such a formidable question by saying that his father was the handsomest man in Persia, but his grandfather was the handsomest of all the Medes he had ever seen. Astyages was even more pleased by this proof of his grandson's adroitness and good sense than he had been with the compliment which the boy had paid to him; and thenceforward Cyrus be- [73] came an established favorite, and did and said, in his grandfather's presence, almost whatever he pleased.

When the first childish feelings of excitement and curiosity had subsided, Cyrus seemed to attach very little value to the fine clothes and gay trappings with which his grandfather was disposed to adorn him, and to all the other external marks of parade and display, which were generally so much prized among the Medes. He was much more inclined to continue in his former habits of plain dress and frugal means than to imitate Median ostentation and luxury. There was one pleasure, however, to be found in Media, which in Persia he had never enjoyed, that he prized very highly. That was the pleasure of learning to ride on horseback. The Persians, it seems, either because their country was a rough and mountainous region, or for some other cause, were very little accustomed to ride. They had very few horses, and there were no bodies of cavalry in their armies. The young men, therefore, were not trained to the art of horsemanship. Even in their hunting excursions they went always on foot, and were accustomed to make long marches through the forests and among the [74] mountains in this manner, loaded heavily, too, all the time, with the burden of arms and provisions which they were obliged to carry. It was, therefore, a new pleasure to Cyrus to mount a horse. Horsemanship was a great art among the Medes. Their horses were beautiful and fleet, and splendidly caparisoned. Astyages provided for Cyrus the best animals which could be procured, and the boy was very proud and happy in exercising himself in the new accomplishment which he thus had the opportunity to acquire. To ride is always a great source of pleasure to boys; but in that period of the world, when physical strength was so much more important and more highly valued than at present, horsemanship was a vastly greater source of gratification than it is now. Cyrus felt that he had, at a single leap, quadrupled his power, and thus risen at once to a far higher rank in the scale of being than he had occupied before; for, as soon as he had once learned to be at home in the saddle, and to subject the spirit and the power of his horse to his own will, the courage, the strength, and the speed of the animal became, in fact, almost personal acquisitions of his own. He felt, accordingly, when he was galloping over the plains, or pur- [75] suing deer in the park, or running over the race-course with his companions, as if it was some newly-acquired strength and speed of his own that he was exercising, and which, by some magic power, was attended by no toilsome exertion, and followed by no fatigue.

The various officers and servants in Astyages's household, as well as Astyages himself, soon began to feel a strong interest in the young prince. Each took a pleasure in explaining to him what pertained to their several departments, and in teaching him whatever he desired to learn. The attendant highest in rank in such a household was the cup-bearer. He had the charge of the tables and the wine, and all the general arrangements of the palace seem to have been under his direction. The cup-bearer in Astyages's court was a Sacian. He was, however, less a friend to Cyrus than the rest. There was nothing within the range of his official duties that he could teach the boy; and Cyrus did not like his wine. Besides, when Astyages was engaged, it was the cup-bearer's duty to guard him from interruption, and at such times he often had occasion to restrain the young prince from the liberty of entering his grandfather's apartments as often as he pleased.

[76] At one of the entertainments which Astyages gave in his palace, Cyrus and Mandane were invited; and Astyages, in order to gratify the young prince as highly as possible, set before him a great variety of dishes—meats, and sauces, and delicacies of every kind—all served in costly vessels, and with great parade and ceremony. He supposed that Cyrus would have been enraptured with the luxury and splendor of the entertainment. He did not, however, seem much pleased. Astyages asked him the reason, and whether the feast which he saw before him was not a much finer one than he had been accustomed to see in Persia. Cyrus said, in reply, that it seemed to him to be very troublesome to have to eat a little of so many separate things. In Persia they managed, he thought, a great deal better. "And how do you manage in Persia?" asked Astyages. "Why, in Persia," replied Cyrus, "we have plain bread and meat, and eat it when we are hungry; so we get health and strength, and have very little trouble." Astyages laughed at this simplicity, and told Cyrus that he might, if he preferred it, live on plain bread and meat while he remained in Media, and then he would return to Persia in as good health as he came.

[77] Cyrus was satisfied; he, however, asked his grandfather if he would give him all those things which had been set before him, to dispose of as he thought proper; and on his grandfather's assenting, he began to call the various attendants up to the table, and to distribute the costly dishes to them, in return, as he said, for their various kindnesses to him. "This," said he to one, "is for you, because you take pains to teach me to ride; this," to another, "for you, because you gave me a javelin; this to you, because you serve my grandfather well and faithfully; and this to you, because you honor my mother." Thus he went on until he had distributed all that he had received, though he omitted, as it seemed designedly, to give any thing to the Sacian cup-bearer. This Sacian being an officer of high rank, of tall and handsome figure, and beautifully dressed, was the most conspicuous attendant at the feast, and could not, therefore, have been accidentally passed by. Astyages accordingly asked Cyrus why he had not given any thing to the Sacian—the servant whom, as he said, he liked better than all the others.

"And what is the reason," asked Cyrus, in reply, "that this Sacian is such a favorite with you?"

[78] "Have you not observed," replied Astyages, "how gracefully and elegantly he pours out the wine for me, and then hands me the cup?"

The Sacian was, in fact, uncommonly accomplished in respect to the personal grace and dexterity for which cup-bearers in those days were most highly valued, and which constitute, in fact, so essential a part of the qualifications of a master of ceremonies at a royal court in every age. Cyrus, however, instead of yielding to this argument, said, in reply, that he could come into the room and pour out the wine as well as the Sacian could do it, and he asked his grandfather to allow him to try. Astyages consented. Cyrus then took the goblet of wine, and went out. In a moment he came in again, stepping grandly, as he entered, in mimicry of the Sacian, and with a countenance of assumed gravity and self-importance, which imitated so well the air and manner of the cup-bearer as greatly to amuse the whole company assembled. Cyrus advanced thus toward the king, and presented him with the cup, imitating, with the grace and dexterity natural to childhood, all the ceremonies which he had seen the cup-bearer himself perform, except that of tasting the wine. The king and Mandane laughed [79] heartily. Cyrus then, throwing off his assumed character, jumped up into his grandfather's lap and kissed him, and turning to the cup-bearer, he said, "Now, Sacian, you are ruined. I shall get my grandfather to appoint me in your place. I can hand the wine as well as you, and without tasting it myself at all."

"But why did you not taste it?" asked Astyages; "you should have performed that part of the duty as well as the rest."

It was, in fact, a very essential part of the duty of a cup-bearer to taste the wine that he offered before presenting it to the king. He did this, however, not by putting the cup to his lips, but by pouring out a little of it into the palm of his hand. This custom was adopted by these ancient despots to guard against the danger of being poisoned; for such a danger would of course be very much diminished by requiring the officer who had the custody of the wine, and without whose knowledge no foreign substance could well be introduced into it, always to drink a portion of it himself immediately before tendering it to the king.

To Astyages's question why he had not tasted the wine, Cyrus replied that he was afraid it was poisoned. "What led you to imagine that [80] it was poisoned?" asked his grandfather. "Because," said Cyrus, "it was poisoned the other day, when you made a feast for your friends, on your birth-day. I knew by the effects. It made you all crazy. The things that you do not allow us boys to do, you did yourselves, for you were very rude and noisy; you all bawled together, so that nobody could hear or understand what any other person said. Presently you went to singing in a very ridiculous manner, and when a singer ended his song, you applauded him, and declared that he had sung admirably, though nobody had paid attention. You went to telling stories, too, each one of his own accord, without succeeding in making any body listen to him. Finally, you got up and began to dance, but it was out of all rule and measure; you could not even stand erect and steadily. Then, you all seemed to forget who and what you were. The guests paid no regard to you as their king, but treated you in a very familiar and disrespectful manner, and you treated them in the same way; so I thought that the wine that produced these effects must have been poisoned."

Of course, Cyrus did not seriously mean that he thought the wine had been actually poison- [81] ed. He was old enough to understand its nature and effects. He undoubtedly intended his reply as a playful satire upon the intemperate excesses of his grandfather's court.

"But have not you ever seen such things before?" asked Astyages. "Does not your father ever drink wine until it makes him merry?"

"No," replied Cyrus, "indeed he does not. He drinks only when he is thirsty, and then only enough for his thirst, and so he is not harmed." He then added, in a contemptuous tone, "He has no Sacian cup-bearer, you may depend, about him."

"What is the reason, my son," here asked Mandane, "why you dislike this Sacian so much?"

"Why, every time that I want to come, and see my grandfather," replied Cyrus, "this teazing man always stops me, and will not let me come in. I wish, grandfather, you would let me have the rule over him just for three days."

"Why, what would you do to him?" asked Astyages.

"I would treat him as he treats me now," replied Cyrus. "I would stand at the door, as he does when I want to come in, and when he was coming for his dinner, I would stop him [82] and say, 'You can not come in now; he is busy with some men.' "

In saying this, Cyrus imitated, in a very ludicrous manner, the gravity and dignity of the Sacian's air and manner.

"Then," he continued, "when he came to supper, I would say, 'He is bathing now; you must come some other time;' or else, 'He is going to sleep, and you will disturb him.' So I would torment him all the time, as he now torments me, in keeping me out when I want to come and see you."

Such conversation as this, half playful, half earnest, of course amused Astyages and Mandane very much, as well as all the other listeners. There is a certain charm in the simplicity and confiding frankness of childhood, when it is honest and sincere, which in Cyrus's case was heightened by his personal grace and beauty. He became, in fact, more and more a favorite the longer he remained. At length, the indulgence and the attentions which he received began to produce, in some degree, their usual injurious effects. Cyrus became too talkative, and sometimes he appeared a little vain. Still, there was so much true kindness of heart, such consideration for the feelings of others, and so [83] respectful a regard for his grandfather, his mother, and his uncle, that his faults were overlooked, and he was the life and soul of the company in all the social gatherings which took place in the palaces of the king.

At length the time arrived for Mandane to return to Persia. Astyages proposed that she should leave Cyrus in Media, to be educated there under his grandfather's charge. Mandane replied that she was willing to gratify her father in every thing, but she thought it would be very hard to leave Cyrus behind, unless he was willing, of his own accord, to stay. Astyages then proposed the subject to Cyrus himself. "If you will stay," said he, "the Sacian shall no longer have power to keep you from coming in to see me; you shall come whenever you choose. Then, besides, you shall have the use of all my horses, and of as many more as you please, and when you go home at last you shall take as many as you wish with you. [84] Then you may have all the animals in the park to hunt. You can pursue them on horseback, and shoot them with bows and arrows, or kill them with javelins, as men do with wild beasts in the woods. I will provide boys of your own age to play with you, and to ride and hunt with you, and will have all sorts of arms made of suitable size for you to use; and if there is any thing else that you should want at any time, you will only have to ask me for it, and I will immediately provide it."

The pleasure of riding and of hunting in the park was very captivating to Cyrus's mind, and he consented to stay. He represented to his mother that it would be of great advantage to him, on his final return to Persia, to be a skillful and powerful horseman, as that would at once give him the superiority over all the Persian youths, for they were very little accustomed to ride. His mother had some fears lest, by too long a residence in the Median court, her son should acquire the luxurious habits, and proud and haughty manners, which would be constantly before him in his grandfather's example; but Cyrus said that his grandfather, being imperious himself, required all around him to be submissive, and that Mandane need [85] not fear but that he would return at last as dutiful and docile as ever. It was decided, therefore, that Cyrus should stay, while his mother, bidding her child and her father farewell, went back to Persia.

After his mother was gone, Cyrus endeared himself very strongly to all persons at his grandfather's court by the nobleness and generosity of character which he evinced, more and more, as his mind was gradually developed. He applied himself with great diligence to acquiring the various accomplishments and arts then most highly prized, such as leaping, vaulting, racing, riding, throwing the javelin, and drawing the bow. In the friendly contests which took place among the boys, to test their comparative excellence in these exercises, Cyrus would challenge those whom he knew to be superior to himself, and allow them to enjoy the pleasure of victory, while he was satisfied, himself, with the superior stimulus to exertion which he derived from coming thus into comparison with attainments higher than his own. He pressed forward boldly and ardently, undertaking every thing which promised to be, by any possibility, within his power; and, far from being disconcerted and discouraged at his mis- [86] takes and failures, he always joined merrily in the laugh which they occasioned, and renewed his attempts with as much ardor and alacrity as before. Thus he made great and rapid progress, and learned first to equal and then to surpass one after another of his companions, and all without exciting any jealousy or envy.

It was a great amusement both to him and to the other boys, his playmates, to hunt the animals in the park, especially the deer. The park was a somewhat extensive domain, but the animals were soon very much diminished by the slaughter which the boys made among them. Astyages endeavored to supply their places by procuring more. At length, however, all the sources of supply that were conveniently at hand were exhausted; and Cyrus, then finding that his grandfather was put to no little trouble to obtain tame animals for his park, proposed, one day, that he should be allowed to go out into the forests, to hunt the wild beasts with the men. "There are animals enough there, grandfather," said Cyrus, "and I shall consider them all just as if you had procured them expressly for me."

In fact, by this time Cyrus had grown up to be [87] a tall and handsome young man, with strength and vigor sufficient, under favorable circumstances, to endure the fatigues and exposures of real hunting. As his person had become developed, his mind and manners, too, had undergone a change. The gayety, the thoughtfulness, the self-confidence, and talkative vivacity of his childhood had disappeared, and he was fast becoming reserved, sedate, deliberate, and cautious. He no longer entertained his grandfather's company by his mimicry, his repartees, and his childish wit. He was silent; he observed, he listened, he shrank from publicity, and spoke, when he spoke at all, in subdued and gentle tones. Instead of crowding forward eagerly into his grandfather's presence on all occasions, seasonable and unseasonable, as he had done before, he now became, of his own accord, very much afraid of occasioning trouble or interruption. He did not any longer need a Sacian to restrain him, but became, as Xenophon expresses it, a Sacian to himself, taking great care not to go into his grandfather's apartments without previously ascertaining that the king was disengaged; so that he and the Sacian now became great friends.

This being the state of the case, Astyages [88] consented that Cyrus should go out with his son Cyaxares into the forests to hunt at the next opportunity. The party set out, when the time arrived, on horseback, the hearts of Cyrus and his companions bounding, when they mounted their steeds, with feelings of elation and pride. There were certain attendants and guards appointed to keep near to Cyrus, and to help him in the rough and rocky parts of the country, and to protect him from the dangers to which, if left alone, he would doubtless have been exposed. Cyrus talked with these attendants, as they rode along, of the mode of hunting, of the difficulties of hunting, the characters and the habits of the various wild beasts, and of the dangers to be shunned. His attendants told him that the dangerous beasts were bears, lions, tigers, boars, and leopards; that such animals as these often attacked and killed men, and that he must avoid them; but that stags, wild goats, wild sheep, and wild asses were harmless, and that he could hunt such animals as they as much as he pleased. They told him, moreover, that steep, rocky, and broken ground was more dangerous to the huntsman than any beasts, however ferocious; for riders, off their guard, driving impetuously over such ways, were often [91] thrown from their horses, or fell with them over precipices or into chasms, and were killed.


[Illustration]

CYRUSS HUNTING.

Cyrus listened very attentively to these instructions, with every disposition to give heed to them; but when he came to the trial, he found that the ardor and impetuosity of the chase drove all considerations of prudence wholly from his mind. When the men got into the forest, those that were with Cyrus roused a stag, and all set off eagerly in pursuit, Cyrus at the head. Away went the stag over rough and dangerous ground. The rest of the party turned aside, or followed cautiously, while Cyrus urged his horse forward in the wildest excitement, thinking of nothing, and seeing nothing but the stag bounding before him. The horse came to a chasm which he was obliged to leap. But the distance was too great; he came down upon his knees, threw Cyrus violently forward almost over his head, and then, with a bound and a scramble, recovered his feet and went on. Cyrus clung tenaciously to the horse's mane, and at length succeeded in getting back to the saddle, though, for a moment his life was in the most imminent danger. His attendants were extremely terrified, though he himself seemed to experience no feeling but the [92] pleasurable excitement of the chase; for, as soon as the obstacle was cleared, he pressed on with new impetuosity after the stag, overtook him, and killed him with his javelin. Then, alighting from his horse, he stood by the side of his victim, to wait the coming up of the party, his countenance beaming with an expression of triumph and delight.

His attendants, however, on their arrival, instead of applauding his exploit, or seeming to share his pleasure, sharply reproved him for his recklessness and daring. He had entirely disregarded their instructions, and they threatened to report him to his grandfather. Cyrus looked perplexed and uneasy. The excitement and the pleasure of victory and success were struggling in his mind against his dread of his grandfather's displeasure. Just at this instant he heard a new halloo. Another party in the neighborhood had roused fresh game. All Cyrus's returning sense of duty was blown at once to the winds. He sprang to his horse with a shout of wild enthusiasm, and rode off toward the scene of action. The game which had been started, a furious wild boar, just then issued from a thicket directly before him. Cyrus, instead of shunning the danger, as he ought to [93] have done, in obedience to the orders of those to whom his grandfather had intrusted him, dashed on to meet the boar at full speed, and aimed so true a thrust with his javelin against the beast as to transfix him in the forehead. The boar fell, and lay upon the ground in dying struggles, while Cyrus's heart was filled with joy and triumph even greater than before.

When Cyaxares came up, he reproved Cyrus anew for running such risks. Cyrus received the reproaches meekly, and then asked Cyaxares to give him the two animals that he had killed; he wanted to carry them home to his grandfather.

"By no means," said Cyaxares; "your grandfather would be very much displeased to know what you had done. He would not only condemn you for acting thus, but he would reprove us too, severely, for allowing you to do so."

"Let him punish me," said Cyrus, "if he wishes, after I have shown him the stag and the boar, and you may punish me too, if you think best; but do let me show them to him."

Cyaxares consented, and Cyrus made arrangements to have the bodies of the beasts and the bloody javelins carried home. Cyrus then presented the carcasses to his grandfather, [94] saying that it was some game which he had taken for him. The javelins he did not exhibit directly, but he laid them down in a place where his grandfather would see them. Astyages thanked him for his presents, but he said he had no such need of presents of game as to wish his grandson to expose himself to such imminent dangers to take it.

"Well, grandfather," said Cyrus, "if you do not want the meat, give it to me, and I will divide it among my friends." Astyages agreed to this, and Cyrus divided his booty among his companions, the boys, who had before hunted with him in the park. They, of course, took their several portions home, each one carrying with his share of the gift a glowing account of the valor and prowess of the giver. It was not generosity which led Cyrus thus to give away the fruits of his toil, but a desire to widen and extend his fame.

When Cyrus was about fifteen or sixteen years old, his uncle Cyaxares was married, and in celebrating his nuptials, he formed a great hunting party, to go to the frontiers between Media and Assyria to hunt there, where it was said that game of all kinds was very plentiful, as it usually was, in fact, in those [95] days, in the neighborhood of disturbed and unsettled frontiers. The very causes which made such a region as this a safe and frequented haunt for wild beasts, made it unsafe for men, and Cyaxares did not consider it prudent to venture on his excursion without a considerable force to attend him. His hunting party formed, therefore, quite a little army. They set out from home with great pomp and ceremony, and proceeded to the frontiers in regular organization and order, like a body of troops on a march. There was a squadron of horsemen, who were to hunt the beasts in the open parts of the forest, and a considerable detachment of light-armed footmen also, who were to rouse the game, and drive them out of their lurking places in the glens and thickets. Cyrus accompanied this expedition.

When Cyaxares reached the frontiers, he concluded, instead of contenting himself and his party with hunting wild beasts, to make an incursion for plunder into the Assyrian territory, that being, as Xenophon expresses it, a more noble enterprise than the other. The nobleness, it seems, consisted in the greater imminence of the danger, in having to contend with armed men instead of ferocious brutes, and in [96] the higher value of the prizes which they would obtain in case of success. The idea of there being any injustice or wrong in this wanton and unprovoked aggression upon the territories of a neighboring nation seems not to have entered the mind either of the royal robber himself or of his historian.

Cyrus distinguished himself very conspicuously in this expedition, as he had done in the hunting excursion before; and when, at length, this nuptial party returned home, loaded with booty, the tidings of Cyrus's exploits went to Persia. Cambyses thought that if his son was beginning to take part, as a soldier, in military campaigns, it was time for him to be recalled. He accordingly sent for him, and Cyrus began to make preparations for his return.

The day of his departure was a day of great sadness and sorrow among all his companions in Media, and, in fact, among all the members of his grandfather's household. They accompanied him for some distance on his way, and took leave of him, at last, with much regret and many tears. Cyrus distributed among them, as they left him, the various articles of value which he possessed, such as his arms, and ornaments of various kinds, and costly ar- [97] ticles of dress. He gave his Median robe, at last, to a certain youth whom he said he loved the best of all. The name of this special favorite was Araspes. As these his friends parted from him, Cyrus took his leave of them, one by one, as they returned, with many proofs of his affection for them, and with a very sad and heavy heart.

The boys and young men who had received these presents took them home, but they were so valuable, that they or their parents, supposing that they were given under a momentary impulse of feeling, and that they ought to be returned, sent them all to Astyages. Astyages sent them to Persia, to be restored to Cyrus. Cyrus sent them all back again to his grandfather, with a request that he would distribute them again to those to whom Cyrus had originally given them, "which," said he, "grandfather, you must do, if you wish me ever to come to Media again with pleasure and not with shame."

Such is the story which Xenophon gives of Cyrus's visit to Media, and in its romantic and incredible details it is a specimen of the whole narrative which this author has given of his hero's life. It is not, at the present day, supposed [98] that these, and the many similar stories with which Xenophon's books are filled, are true history. It is not even thought that Xenophon really intended to offer his narrative as history, but rather as an historical romance—a fiction founded on fact, written to amuse the warriors of his times, and to serve as a vehicle for inculcating such principles of philosophy, of morals, and of military science as seemed to him worthy of the attention of his countrymen. The story has no air of reality about it from beginning to end, but only a sort of poetical fitness of one part to another, much more like the contrived coincidences of a romance writer than like the real events and transactions of actual life. A very large portion of the work consists of long discourses on military, moral, and often metaphysical philosophy, made by generals in council, or commanders in conversation with each other when going into battle. The occurrences and incidents out of which these conversations arise always take place just as they are wanted and arrange themselves in a manner to produce the highest dramatic effect; like the stag, the broken ground, and the wild boar in Cyrus's hunting, which came, one after another, to furnish the hero with poetical occasions for displaying [99] his juvenile bravery, and to produce the most picturesque and poetical grouping of incidents and events. Xenophon too, like other writers of romances, makes his hero a model of military virtue and magnanimity, according to the ideas of the times. He displays superhuman sagacity in circumventing his foes, he performs prodigies of valor, he forms the most sentimental attachments, and receives with a romantic confidence the adhesions of men who come over to his side from the enemy, and who, being traitors to old friends, would seem to be only worthy of suspicion and distrust in being received by new ones. Every thing, however, results well; all whom he confides in prove worthy; all whom he distrusts prove base. All his friends are generous and noble, and, all his enemies treacherous and cruel. Every prediction which he makes is verified, and all his enterprises succeed; or if, in any respect, there occurs a partial failure, the incident is always of such a character as to heighten the impression which is made by the final and triumphant success.

Such being the character of Xenophon's tale, or rather drama, we shall content ourselves, after giving this specimen of it, with adding, [100] in some subsequent chapters, a few other scenes and incidents drawn from his narrative. In the mean time, in relating the great leading events of Cyrus's life, we shall take Herodotus for our guide, by following his more sober, and, probably, more trustworthy record.


 Table of Contents  |  Index  | Previous: The Birth of Cyrus  |  Next: Croesus
Copyright (c) 2000-2017 Yesterday's Classics, LLC. All Rights Reserved.