Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics
THE RIVAL BROTHERS
 ABOUT the year 423 before Christ, the throne of Persia was occupied by a
King, named Darius II. His Queen, the beautiful
Parysatis, had borne him thirteen children, but most of them had died young,
and only two sons were now alive, between
whose ages there was a difference of no less than thirty years. The elder
was called Artaxerxes; the younger, Cyrus. Parysatis
was not an impartial mother. She loved Cyrus far better than Artaxerxes, and
desired nothing more ardently than that he
should succeed to the throne after the death of Darius, rather than his
The Queen was beautiful, and wise and clever, and she had great influence
over her husband, and seldom failed in
persuading him to do as she wished. She hoped therefore to induce the King
to name Cyrus as his successor, especially as
there was much that could be urged in favour of her plan.
It was certainly true that the throne of Persia descended, as a rule, from
the father to his first-born son, but there was
nothing to prevent an elder son being passed over in favour of a younger,
and such a course was not without precedent. In
the present case, an excuse might be found in the fact that the birth of
 Artaxerxes had taken place before his father came to the throne, whereas
Cyrus had been "born in the purple," and moreover
bore the honoured name of the greatest of Persian sovereigns.
But a much stronger argument was the difference in character between the two
men. Artaxerxes was weak and indolent, and
lived constantly at the King's court, hating exertion of any kind. Cyrus, on
the contrary, was active and energetic, and had
already given striking proofs of ability, both as a soldier and ruler of
men, for at the age of eighteen, he had been appointed
the provinces of Lydia, Greater Phrygia and Cappadocia.
Cyrus had many friends. He was a man just after the Persian heart,—a
bold rider, an unrivalled archer and
spear-thrower, and a passionate lover of the chase, especially when it was
dangerous. He also excited the admiration of the Persians
by his power of drinking an enormous quantity of wine without becoming
intoxicated. This was looked upon as a sign of
manliness, and a great distinction.
In the pleasant and peaceful occupation of
garden-  ing, Cyrus also took great delight. This charming pursuit had been raised almost
to the rank of a religious duty by Zoroaster, the
founder of the Persian religion, who had taught his disciples that when
occupied in the planting and tending of trees useful
to man, they were engaged in a good action, well-pleasing to God; and in
consequence of this precept, almost every palace
stood in the centre of a large park or tract of enclosed land, covered with
beautiful old trees.
The palace of Cyrus stood in such a park, called by the Persians a
"paradise." Here he might often be
seen, attending to the trees with the utmost diligence. Here too was a
convenient bunting-ground, ready to his hand, for the
forest was full of wild animals who found abundant pasture in its pleasant
glades. One day when Cyrus was out hunting he
was attacked by a she-bear, who dragged him from his horse, and gave him
several wounds before he could kill her. One of
his companions came to his help, and for this service Cyrus rewarded him in
so princely a manner as to make him an envied
As a friend, Cyrus was always generous and openhanded, and he delighted in
making small presents as well as great.
According to an old custom, every
 subject who came to his court brought with him gifts, and these Cyrus always
accepted, but not for himself; he took them in
order that he might divide them among his friends.
Sometimes, at a banquet, if he observed that the wine set before him was
better than usual, he would send away part of it to
one of his friends with some such message as this: "Drink this good wine
to-day with your dearest friend." Or perhaps the gift
would consist of half a goose or part of a loaf of bread, which would be
taken to the friend with the message, "Cyrus has
enjoyed this, and desires that you should taste it also."
 If he gave a promise, or entered into an agreement, it was certain that he
would keep his word. A friendship once formed he
ever afterwards regarded as sacred. Any one who did him a service, whether
in war or in peace, was rewarded tenfold. At the
same time, any one who offended or injured him might expect the most savage
retaliation. He is said to have once prayed to
the gods to grant that he might live until he had repaid all his friends and
all his enemies.
As a governor, Cyrus was strictly and sternly just. Well-doers were
encouraged and rewarded, but evildoers met with
immediate punishment; and as a warning to others, criminals who had been
deprived of hands, legs or eyes, were exposed to
view in the most frequented streets. In the whole empire there were no
provinces in which natives and strangers alike were so
secure from robbery and murder as in those governed by Cyrus.
Meanwhile the Great King Darius II. felt his end approaching, and as he
wished to have both his sons
 beside his death-bed, he sent for Cyrus to come to Susa. On receiving the
message, the young prince set out at once for the
King's court, accompanied by Tissaphernes, the satrap of a neighbouring
province, whom he looked upon as one of his
friends. He took with him also a body-guard of three hundred Hellenes, who
had entered his service.
Cyrus was full of hope that the influence of his mother, and the favour with
which he was regarded by the Persians generally,
would cause his father to bequeath the throne to him, and not to Artaxerxes.
If the choice of their future sovereign had been
left to the people, they would probably have chosen Cyrus. But in Persia,
the naming of the successor was the right of the
reigning king, and the hopes of Cyrus were doomed to disappointment. On his
death-bed, Darius named, not his younger,
but his elder son; and the upright tiara, encircled with the golden crown,
passed to Artaxerxes.
Cyrus was vexed and angry at the failure of his hopes, and probably took
little pains to conceal his feelings, for he was of a
very passionate nature. However this may have been, Tissaphernes, whose
friendship for him had been merely feigned, went
to the new King and told him that his brother had made up his mind to have
The beginning of a new reign had often in Persia been signalled by bloody
deeds, and the murder of a brother was by no
means an unheard-of crime. Artaxerxes was therefore ready enough to
believe the accusation, and immediately gave orders
for his brother's arrest, for he was resolved to defeat his ambitious
 schemes by the most effectual of all methods, namely by putting him to
Cyrus had many friends at the court, but there was not one who dared to come
forward in his behalf, except his mother,
Queen Parysatis. She indeed was ready to risk everything in order to save
her favourite son, and being also the mother of the
Great King, with a sacred claim upon his love and respect, she succeeded at
last, after endless entreaties, in shaking his
resolution and inducing him to pardon Cyrus.
Artaxerxes was far from being a great man, but he was at least easy-going
and good-natured, and now his mother so far
prevailed upon him, that he not only set Cyrus at liberty, but also
reinstated him in his former dignities, and allowed him to
depart to his own province.
Cyrus returned therefore to his Residence at Sardis, full of bitterness and
disappointment. It is not known whether or not he
had really plotted the murder of his brother. The story may very possibly
have been invented by Tissaphernes through envy of
Cyrus, and in the hope of succeeding to the government of his provinces.
This much however is at least certain, that after having been treated as
guilty of high treason, and condemned to death in
consequence, Cyrus had but one object in life, and that to further this
object, he did not hesitate to employ the power
entrusted to him for a very different purpose. From this time forward his
whole mind was set upon obtaining by conquest the
throne of Persia.