Stories of the East From Herodotus - Alfred J. Church

Cambyses Maketh War upon the Nations Round About, is Stricken with Madness, and so Dieth

After this, King Cambyses purposed to make war against Carthage, and against the Hammonians, and against the long-lived Ethiopians, the same that dwell in Libya, by the South Sea. And taking counsel about these things, he judged it best to send his ships against Carthage, and to choose out of his army those that should go against the Hammonians, and, as for the long-lived Ethiopians, at the first to send spies into their country. These spies were to see the Table of the Sun, that is said to be in the country of these Ethiopians, whether there be any such table, and they were to spy out other things also; but for a pretence they were to carry gifts to the King of the Ethiopians. Now the Table of the Sun is said to be such as shall now be told. There is a meadow before the city full of all manner of boiled meats of four-footed beasts. On this table, those that are appointed to this office set the meats by night, and by day any one that will comes and takes of the meats. But the people of the country say that the earth produces these things of her own accord. And when Cambyses was purposed to send these spies, he first commanded that there should come to him men from the city of Elephantine, of the tribe of the Fish-eaters, that knew the tongue of the long-lived Ethiopians. And while these men were coming, he commanded that the ships should sail against Carthage. But the Phœnicians said that they would not sail, for that they were bound by great oaths to the men of Carthage, and that it was a wicked thing for the fathers to fight against their own children. (For Carthage was built by men that went out from the city of Tyre, that is a city of the Phœnicians.) And the King knew that if the Phœnicians would not sail, the rest were of no account. Thus did the men of Carthage escape when the Persians thought to subdue them. For Cambyses judged it not well to constrain the Phœnicians, because they had yielded themselves to him of their own accord, and indeed all the ships of the Persians were manned by Phœnicians.



Now, so soon as the Fish-eaters were come to Cambyses from the city of Elephantine, he sent them to the country of the Ethiopians, having first commanded them what they should say, and sending also presents by them, a purple robe, and a twisted necklace of gold, and bracelets of gold, and an alabaster box of ointment, and a cask of wine of Phœnicia. Now these Ethiopians to whom Cambyses sent his messengers are said to be taller and fairer than all other men. And the laws that they use are different from the laws of other men. About their kings they have this law, that they choose out from among the citizens him whom they find to be fairest and of greatest stature, and make him their king. To this people, therefore, came the Fish-eaters from Cambyses, and having audience of the King, gave him their presents, and spake, saying, "Cambyses, King of the Persians, would gladly be friend and ally to thee; for which reason he has sent us to talk with thee, and also give thee these gifts, being things in which he himself has his chief delight." But the King of the Ethiopians knew that as spies they were come, and made this answer to them: "The King of the Persians hath not sent you to me because he desired exceedingly to have me for friend and ally, neither have ye said the thing that is true, neither is your King a just man. For indeed had he been a just man, he had not desired to possess any country beside his own, nor to enslave them from whom he hath suffered no wrong. Now, therefore, give ye to him this bow, and speak these words: The King of the Ethiopians giveth this counsel to the King of the Persians. When the Persians can easily draw this great bow, then let him march against the long-lived Ethiopians; only let him gather a very great army; but till this be so, let him give thanks to the Gods that they have not put it into the hearts of the sons of the Ethiopians to add the lands of others unto their own." And when he had so spoken he loosed the bow, and gave it to the messengers. After this he took in his hands the purple robe, and enquired what it was, and in what manner it was wrought. And when the Fish-eaters had told him the truth, that it was of wool and dyed with purple, he said, "These men are full of deceit, and their garments also are deceitful." After this he took in his hand the twisted necklace of gold and the bracelets. And when the Fish-eaters told him that they were for ornaments, he laughed, for he thought them to be fetters, and said, "Nay, but we have in our country stronger fetters than these." Then again he would know about the perfume, and when the men had told him of its making, and how it was used for anointing, he said according as he had about the dye. Last of all he took the wine, and would know how it was made. With this he was pleased beyond measure. After this he enquired of the men what their king had for food, and how many were the years of a man's life among the Persians. To this they answered that the King's food was bread, and set forth to him how bread was made from wheat. As to the years of a man's life, they said that eighty was the full number of them. To this he made answer: "I marvel not at all if your years are so few, when ye have for food that which is but as dung. And I doubt not that as for the years which ye have, ye endure by reason of this most excellent drink." And he put his hand upon the cask of wine, confessing that in this matter the Ethiopians were surpassed by the Persians. Then the Fish-eaters enquired of him what was the manner of life among the Ethiopians, and to what age they commonly came. To this the King made answer that the number of their years was commonly one hundred and twenty, but that some among them over-lived this; and that for food they had boiled meat, and for drink milk. When the men marvelled at this, the King led them to a fountain, in which, when they had washed, they were sleeker than if they had been anointed with oil-olive. The smell of this fountain was as the smell of violets; and so light was the water of it, as the men said, that nothing could float upon it, neither wood, nor things that are lighter than wood, but all things straightway sank. If this water be indeed such as it is said to be, and they use it continually, then is there reason enough why they come to such an age. And when they had seen the fountain, the King took them to the prison, where all the prisoners were bound with chains of gold. Among these Ethiopians there is nothing that is rarer and more precious than bronze. And from the prison they went to see what is called the Table of the Sun. And last of all they saw the sepulchres of the Ethiopians. Now their manner of dealing with the dead is this. They embalm the body, either in the same way as do the Egyptians or in some other; and afterwards cover it with gypsum, and this they paint with colours, so that it is in all points like to the man when he was alive; and having painted it, they put about it a pillar of crystal, made hollow. And this crystal they dig from the earth in great quantity; and it is easily worked. In the middle of this pillar, therefore, may be seen the dead body, nor does it stink at all, or have an unseemly appearance, but is to be seen in all points like to the man when he was yet alive. This pillar the nearest kinsmen of the dead keep for a whole year in their house, offering before it the first-fruits of all things they have, and doing sacrifice to it. And after the year is ended, they take it away and put it in some place near unto the city.

When the messengers had seen all these wonders they departed again to their homes. But Cambyses, when he heard the words that they brought back from the King of the Ethiopians, fell into a very vehement rage, and set out to march against the Ethiopians, not having made for himself any provision of food, and not considering with himself that he was about to march to the very ends of the earth. But he was as one possessed with madness when he heard the words of the Fish-eaters, and so set forth. The Greeks he commanded to remain in Saïs, where he was, and the rest of the army he took with himself. And when he was come in his march to Thebes, he separated from his army fifty thousand men or thereabouts, and gave commandment to them that they should take the priests of the Hammonians alive and burn the temple of Zeus; but he himself with the rest of the army marched against the Ethiopians. But before he had accomplished even the fifth part of the way, all that they had of food or like to food failed them. And when the food was all spent, then they consumed the beasts of burden. And if Cambyses when he saw these things had considered the matter again, and led back his army to Egypt, he had been a wise man, for all that he had erred at the first. But he took no count of these things, but would still go forward. And indeed while the men could get aught from the earth, they made shift to live, eating grass and the like; but when they came to the sand, then they did a dreadful thing. For each ten cast lots among themselves, and the man on whom the lot fell they devoured. And when Cambyses knew this he was afraid, for it seemed a terrible thing that they should eat each other, and he gave up marching against the Ethiopians, and returned to Thebes, having lost a great part of his army. And from Thebes he went to Memphis, and being at Memphis he let the Greeks that were there depart.

Thus fared the army that marched against the Ethiopians, but as for that which marched against the Hammonians, men know not how it fared. So much indeed men know, that it set out from Thebes, having guides with it, and that it came to the city of Oasis, which is seven days' journey from Thebes across the sand. This Oasis is the same as that which the Greeks call the "Island of the Blest." But as for the things that befell them after this there is known nothing, for they came not to the Hammonians, neither did they return to Thebes. Nevertheless the Hammonians say that when they had left the city of Oasis, and had come to a place which lies midway between the country of the Hammonians and Oasis early in the morning, as they were taking their meat, there came a south wind, very strong and sudden, and blew on them, and that this wind carried with it great columns of sand; and that they were covered with these, and so were seen no more.

About this time befell that which has been told before, how Cambyses wounded to death the sacred bull which the Egyptians call Apis.

The Egyptians say that Cambyses was stricken with madness by reason of his wickedness in doing this thing. But of a truth he had been for some time of an unsound mind. The first of his evil deeds was this, that he slew Smerdis, his own brother. This Smerdis he sent away out of Egypt into Persia on account of envy, because he only was able to draw the bow which the King of the long-lived Ethiopians sent for a gift; and, indeed, Smerdis himself drew it but two fingers' breadth. And when he departed Cambyses saw a vision in his sleep, and the vision was this. It appeared to him as if a messenger came from Persia and told him that Smerdis sat upon the King's throne, and that his head reached even unto the heavens. Wherefore, he feared lest his brother should slay him, and be made king in his stead. For this cause he sent to Persia one Prexaspes, whom he judged to be the most faithful of his servants, and bade him slay Smerdis. And this Prexaspes, having first gone to Susa, did; but whether he slew him when they were hunting together, or took him to the Red Sea and there drowned him, is not certainly known.

Also Cambyses slew one of his sisters. And about her and the manner of her death there are told two tales. For the Greeks say that it befell in this manner. Cambyses, for sport, set a dog whelp to fight with a lion whelp. And when the dog was about to be overcome, his brother broke his chain and helped his brother, and the two together had the mastery of the lion. Now it chanced that Cambyses' sister also saw the thing; and the King was pleased, but the woman wept. And Cambyses asked her why she wept, to which she answered, "I wept because I saw the dog help his brother, for I remembered Smerdis, and know that there is no one to help thee." But the Egyptians say that the woman showed him a lettuce of which she had stripped the leaves, and asked of him whether it were the fairer full or so stripped. And when the King made answer, "The full is fairer," the woman said, "Why then hast thou done to the house of Cyrus as I have done to this lettuce?" Whereupon the King in great anger smote her that she died.

Such madness did Cambyses work against his own kindred, whether on account of that which he did to the god Apis, or of some other thing, such as often befall the sons of men. Some indeed say that from birth he was afflicted with a certain disease of the body; and indeed it is nothing unlikely that he who hath his body diseased should also be diseased in mind. He did also many frantic things against others of the Persians, as against Prexaspes, of whom mention has before been made. There was none more faithful to him than this Prexaspes, executing all his commands very zealously. Also the King had his son for cupbearer, and this is accounted a great honour. King Cambyses said to this man, "Prexaspes, what manner of man do the Persians hold me to be? And what do they say of me?" To this Prexaspes made answer, "O my lord, as to other things the Persians praise thee greatly, but they say that thou art overmuch given to the love of wine." But when the King had heard this he was very wroth, and said, "The Persians then say that I tarry overlong at the wine, and am not sound of mind. And as to what they were wont in former times to say of me, it is not true." For before this Cambyses had asked of the Persians that sat at meat with him, and of Crœsus, what manner of man they judged him to be in comparison of his father; and they had answered him that he was a better man than his father, for that he had all the possessions of his father, and had gained also in addition both Egypt and the sea. This is what the Persians said, but Crœsus being present was not pleased with their answer, but said this to the King, "As for me, O son of Cyrus, I judge thee not to be equal to thy father, for thou hast not a son, such as he left behind, leaving thee." With this answer of Crœsus Cambyses was beyond measure pleased. Now therefore he remembered the things that had been said to him, and said in great wrath to Prexaspes, "Thou shalt soon learn for thyself whether the Persians speak truly if they thus speak of me, or whether they are rather mad themselves when they say such things. Set thy son yonder in the doorway, and if I shoot at him with an arrow and smite him in the middle of the heart, then shall the Persians be seen to say that which is false, but if I smite him not so as I say, then do the Persians say the truth and I am not of sound mind." When he had said this he drew his bow, and shot at the boy, and hit him. And when the boy fell, the King commanded that they should open the body, and see the wound where it was. And when they found the arrow in the heart of the boy, the King laughed aloud, and was in great joy, and said to the lad's father, "Prexaspes, now is it not manifest that I am not mad, and that the Persians are not of sound mind? And tell me now, didst thou ever see a man shoot so straight at the mark as do I?" To this the man made answer, "My lord, I judge that not even a god could shoot so well." For he saw that the man was mad, and was in fear of his own life. Also Cambyses took twelve men of the Persians, than whom there were none greater in the land, and buried them alive with their heads downward, and this he did for no sufficient cause. But when he did this, Crœsus the Lydian judged it well to give the man counsel, and this he did, saying, "O my lord, it is not fitting that thou shouldst indulge thy heart in all things, rather shouldst thou refrain thyself. For now thou takest men that are of the same nation as thou art and slayest them for no sufficient cause, and thou slayest children also. Take heed therefore lest haply, if thou dost such things, the Persians rebel against thee. And this I say because King Cyrus thy father laid on me a command that I should give thee counsel as I should deem it to be best for thy welfare." This counsel did Crœsus give to Cambyses out of love and kindness. But Cambyses answered him, "Dost thou dare to give counsel to me, having, forsooth, managed the affairs of thine own kingdom excellently well, and having given such excellent good counsel to the King Cyrus my father when thou badest him cross the river Araxes and so fight against the Massagetæ, though these were willing themselves to cross the river and so fight against him? Thou wast an evil ruler to thine own country, bringing it to ruin, and an evil counsellor to the King my father, who perished because he did according to thy word. But verily thou shalt suffer for it, and indeed I have long sought occasion against thee." So saying he laid hold of his bow and would have shot at Crœsus, but Crœsus ran out of the chamber. Then Cambyses, because he could not shoot him, gave commandment to his servants that they should take Crœsus and slay him. But the men, knowing the King's way, slew him not, but hid him away, saying to themselves, "If the King shall repent him of this thing, then will we show Crœsus alive, and receive gifts as the price of his life. But if he shall not repent him, nor feel sorrow for the thing, then will we do the deed." And it befell not many days afterwards that the King repented him of the deed; whereupon the men told him of the thing which they had done, saying that Crœsus was yet alive. Then Cambyses said that it pleased him much that Crœsus was alive; but as for the men, that he would not give them any reward, but would slay them. And this he did.

For these and many other things which he did it is manifest that King Cambyses was not of a sound mind; especially because he scoffed at sacred things, making sport of the images of the Gods, and intruding himself into holy places into which it is not lawful but for the priests to enter. For indeed there is nothing that all men hold more sacred than custom. And if a man were to give all nations the choice of the best customs which they could find in all the earth, assuredly each nation would choose its own customs. It is therefore not to be believed that a man should scoff at such things, except indeed he were mad. But that it is true as hath been said, that men hold the custom which they themselves follow to be the best, may be proved by many proofs, and not the least clearly from that which shall now be told. Darius, King of Persia, having called for certain Greeks that were about his court, asked them for how great a sum of money they would eat their fathers when they should die; and the Greeks answered that for no sum of money whatsoever would they do such a thing. After this Darius called certain Indians before him. Now these Indians eat their parents when they are dead. The King therefore asked them, the Greeks being present, and understanding by means of an interpreter the things that were said, for how great a sum of money they would be willing to burn their fathers with fire when they should die. But these men when they heard it cried aloud, saying that he should not speak of such horrible doings. Wherefore it seems that Pindar spake well when he said, "Custom is the king of all."

Now it came to pass that, Cambyses tarrying long time in Egypt, and plainly showing himself to be mad, there rebelled against him two Magians that were brothers; and one of these two Cambyses had left to be steward of his house. Now this man knew that Smerdis had been slain, and that the matter had been kept secret, and that the Persians that knew it were few in number, the most part supposing that the man was yet alive. Knowing this, therefore, he contrived a plot by which he might possess the kingdom. He had a brother, the same that joined him in his rebellion, and the name of this brother was Smerdis, and he was very like in face to Smerdis the son of Cyrus, that had been slain by his brother King Cambyses. Very like was he in face, and he was of the same name also. The elder of the two, therefore, having assured the other that he would accomplish the whole matter for him, set him on the throne. And when he had done this, he sent heralds to the provinces, and a herald also to Egypt, bidding him proclaim to the army that they should thereafter follow Smerdis the son of Cyrus, and not Cambyses any more. All the other heralds did as it had been commanded them, and so did the herald that was sent to Egypt. This man found Cambyses and his army in Agbatana, which is a town of Syria, and going into the midst of the host, stood before them all, and proclaimed with a loud voice the words which the Magian had told him. And when Cambyses heard the words of the herald, thinking that they were true words, and that he had been deceived by Prexaspes, who having been sent to slay Smerdis had not slain him, he looked at Prexaspes, and said to him, "Prexaspes, is it thus that thou didst the business that I committed to thee?" Then Prexaspes made answer, "O my lord, these words are not true, nor hath thy brother Smerdis rebelled against thee, nor shalt thou ever have any quarrel with him, be it great or small. For indeed I did the thing which thou commandedst me, and buried the man with my own hands. But if the dead rise, then indeed thou mayest look for Astyages the Median to rebel against thee. But if it be with the dead as it hath ever been, then from that man thou shalt never have trouble. Do thou, therefore, send men to follow after this herald, and overtake him, and ask thou him from whence he cometh, bidding us obey King Smerdis." Then the thing which Prexaspes said pleased Cambyses, and he sent men to bring back the herald. And when the man was returned, Prexaspes enquired of him, saying, "Man, thou sayest that thou art come as a messenger from Smerdis, the son of Cyrus. Tell me therefore this one thing only, and so depart in peace. Didst thou see Smerdis face to face when he gave thee commandment to say these words, or didst thou hear them from one of his servants?" And the man made answer, "I have never seen Smerdis, the son of Cyrus, from the day that King Cambyses marched into Egypt. But the Magian whom Cambyses made steward of his household, he it was that commanded me to say these words to you." The man spake thus, hiding nothing of the truth. Then said King Cambyses, "Prexaspes, thou hast been a good servant to me, doing the thing which I commanded thee. But tell me, who of the Persians hath rebelled against me, taking to himself the name of Smerdis?" Then Prexaspes answered, "My lord the King, I understand the whole matter. They that have rebelled against thee are the Magians, Patizeithes, whom thou madest steward of thy household, and Smerdis his brother." But when Cambyses heard these words and the name of Smerdis he was struck to the heart, thinking of his dream and of the interpretation of it, how that he had seen one who told him that Smerdis sat upon the throne, and that his head reached unto the sky. And when he knew that he had slain his brother for nought, he wept for him and bewailed him. But when he had finished weeping, great anger possessed him, and he leapt upon his horse, having it in his mind to march as speedily as might be to Susa against the Magians. But as he leapt upon his horse, the leather of the sheath of his sword fell off, and the sword being thus bared wounded him in the thigh, and the place of the wound was the same, it was said, in which he had wounded the god Apis. Then Cambyses, judging that he was wounded to the death, asked them that were about him, "What is the name of this city?" And they answered him, "The name of this city is Agbatana." Now it had been declared to Cambyses by the oracle of Buto in Egypt that he should die in Agbatana. And Cambyses had thought that he should die when he should have come to old age in Agbatana that is in Media, but the oracle spake of Agbatana in Syria. And when he heard the name of the city, then, being sore troubled by that which he had heard of the Magian, and by his wound also, he came back to a sound mind. Therefore, understanding the oracle, he said, "Here is it decreed that Cambyses the son of Cyrus shall die." More indeed he spake not at that time, but twenty days afterwards he called together the most considerable of the Persians that were with him, and spake to them according to these words: "Men of Persia, there is laid upon me this burden to make known to you the thing which of all things I most desired to hide from you. For when I was in the land of Egypt I saw in my sleep such a vision as it had been well for me never to have seen. I saw a messenger coming to me from home, and saying, 'Smerdis sitteth on the King's throne, and his head reacheth unto the heavens.' Fearing, therefore, lest my brother should take my kingdom from me, I did a thing that was hasty rather than wise. For, indeed, it is not possible for a man to turn away from him that which is ordained, yet did I, being a fool, send Prexaspes to Susa, that he might slay Smerdis. And having done this great wickedness, I lived without fear, not thinking that some other Smerdis might rise against me. And because I knew not that which should come to pass, I made myself the murderer of my brother, and served no end thereby, for lo! I am not the less robbed this day of my kingdom. For the Smerdis that I saw in my dream to rebel against me is this Magian. But now the deed is done. Be ye sure, therefore, that Smerdis the son of Cyrus ye shall see no more; and that they who possess the kingdom are the Magians, to wit, the man whom I made to be steward of my household, and Smerdis his brother. And now he who should by right have avenged me of these men from whom I suffer this wrong is dead, having been slain by the hand of him that was nearest to him. Wherefore, he being thus dead, it only remains for me to tell you, ye men of Persia, that which I would have you do, when I also am departed. For I lay this charge upon you by all the gods of our royal house, and specially upon you that are of the lineage of Achæmenes, that ye suffer not the kingdom to pass from you to the Medes. And if they have taken it by craft, then I charge you that ye take it from them again by craft; and if they have mastered it by strength, then that by strength ye also recover it again. And if ye so do, then I pray that your land may bear its increase for you, and that your wives bear you children, and your flocks and herds be multiplied, and that you be free men for ever. But if ye do not recover it, or at the least, do your utmost at recovering it, then I pray that all things contrary to these may befall you, and moreover, that every one of you, as many Persians as there are, may perish, even as I perish this day." And when he had so spoken, Cambyses lifted up his voice and wept, bewailing himself and his evil lot. And when the Persians saw that the King bewailed himself, they rent their garments, every one of them, and cried in a most lamentable fashion. And not a long while afterwards, the bone breaking away and the flesh of his thigh mortifying, Cambyses the son of Cyrus died, having reigned in all seven years and six months. And he left no issue, neither male nor female. There remained, therefore, of the house of Cyrus one daughter only, Atossa by name.