Stories of the East From Herodotus - Alfred J. Church

Cyrus Overthroweth Astyages and Taketh the Kingdom to Himself

When King Astyages had punished Harpagus for his transgression in this fashion, he took counsel what he should do with Cyrus. Wherefore he sent for the same Magians who had interpreted to him his dream concerning his daughter. And when they were come, Astyages enquired of them how they interpreted the dream. And they spake again after the former fashion, saying that it was signified by this dream that the boy must needs be a king, if he should live to be of full age. And when they had so spoken the King spake thus to them, "The child is yet alive; and it came to pass that in the village wherein he liveth the lads his companions made him their king. And being so made, he did all things that they who are verily kings are wont to do; for he made some body-guards, and some porters, and some bearers of messages; and to others he gave other offices. Think ye that this hath aught to do with our matter?" The Magians said, "If the child is yet alive and was made king after this fashion, but not of any set purpose of thine, thou mayest be of good courage; for he will not be a king again. And indeed it happeneth oftentimes that oracles and dreams and the like have their fulfillment after this manner in little things, and so come to nothing." To this Astyages made answer again, "I, too, O Magians, am myself also greatly inclined to this opinion of the matter, that the dream was fulfilled when the boy was called by the name of a king, and that there is no cause why I should fear him any more. Nevertheless consider the matter well, and advise me how I shall best order these things both for my own house and also for you." Then the Magians said again, "O King, it is not thy gain only but ours also that thy kingdom should be established. For verily if it go to this boy, it will pass away from our nation, seeing he is a Persian; and if it so pass, then shall we be as strangers, and shall be of no account in comparison of the Persians. But if thou art established in thy kingdom, seeing that thou art of the same country, then shall it in some sort be ours; and we also shall receive great honours at thy hands. Wherefore we should by all means take thought for thee and for thy dominion. And now, if we perceived beforehand any peril, surely we should not hide it from thee; but seeing that the dream which made thee afraid hath ended in nothing, we are ourselves of good courage, and would bid thee also be of the same. As for this boy, send him away out of thy sight to the land of the Persians, even to his father and his mother." When Astyages heard this, he rejoiced exceedingly, and when he had called Cyrus to him he said, "My son, I sought to do thee wrong by reason of a dream that I had, which dream hath failed of its accomplishment; and now seeing that thy good luck hath saved thee, go thy way in peace to the Persians, and I will send some to take thee on thy way. There wilt thou find thy father and thy mother; and these not such as are the herdsman and his wife."

Then Astyages sent away Cyrus to Persia, to his father and mother, who received him with great joy, for they had thought that he was dead. And when he grew to manhood, there could not be found among his fellows that were of like age one that had such courage and virtue, and was in such favour with all men. Then, after a while, there came to him messengers with gifts from Harpagus; for the man desired exceedingly to have vengeance upon Astyages, but knew not how, being but a private man, he could gain his end; seeing therefore that Cyrus was grown to such excellence, he sought to make friendship and alliance with the young man; for he judged that they had suffered wrong, both of them, at the hands of the King. And indeed he had before this wrought for the same end. For Astyages was wont to deal cruelly with his people, and Harpagus had talked with certain of the chief men of the Medes, persuading them that they should rebel against Astyages and make Cyrus king in his stead. Now therefore, all things being ready, he sought to have communication with Cyrus and show him his purpose, but knew not how he should do it seeing that the roads were guarded. But at the last he devised this device. He took a hare, and ripped up the beast, but took not from it the skin, and having written on a roll all that he would say to Cyrus, put the roll within and sewed up again the belly of the beast. Then he equipped one of his household, that he judged to be the most faithful, as for hunting, giving him nets and the like, and with them the hare. This man, therefore, he sent into the land of Persia, and instructed him by word of mouth that he should give the hare into the hands of Cyrus, and should bid him open it himself when no man should be near. All this was done as he would have it; and Cyrus, having received the hare, opened it with his own hand, and having found the roll, read it. Now Harpagus had written in the roll these words: "Son of Cambyses, seeing that the Gods have a care for thee, for else thou hadst not come to such prosperity, bethink thee how thou mayest have vengeance on Astyages, who would have slain thee. For indeed, as regards him, thou hadst died long ago, but yet through the favour of the Gods and my help thou livest. For I judge that thou hast now for a long time known the truth about thyself, and what I have suffered at the hands of Astyages, because I slew thee not, but rather gave thee to the herdsman. Now, therefore, if thou wilt hearken to me, thou shalt be master of all the country which King Astyages now hath. Persuade the Persians that they revolt, and make war against the Medes. And it shall happen as thou wouldst have it, whether I be set by Astyages to command the army that shall be sent against thee, or whether any other of the principal men among the Medes be so set. For they will be the first to rebel against him, and will do what they can to the end that they may overthrow Astyages. All things therefore are ready. Only whatever thou doest thou shouldest do quickly."

When Cyrus had read these words he took counsel with himself how he might best cause the Persians to revolt. And having considered the matter, he did thus. He wrote in a roll what things he would; and then, having called an assembly of the Persians, opened the roll before them all, and read from it that Astyages had made him commander of the Persians. And when he had read these words he said, "Hearken now, ye Persians; come on the morrow, each man with a reaping-hook." And on the morrow when they came, each man with his reaping-hook, to a certain place in the land of Persia which was covered with thorns and briers, he said to them, "Clear ye me this place of these thorns by sunset," and the place was of eighteen or, it may be, twenty furlongs each way. So the Persians cleared the place as they had been commanded. Then Cyrus said to them, "Come again to me to-morrow, but come ready for a feast;" and he prepared a great feast for the whole army of the Persians, with flesh of goats, and sheep, and oxen, and good store of wine, and all manner of victual, the best that could be provided. And when the Persians were come on the morrow, he made them sit down in a meadow that he had, and feasted them there. And when their meal was ended, Cyrus asked them, saying, "Tell me, on which day did ye fare the better, yesterday or to-day?" And they answered, "We cannot compare the two, for yesterday we had toil and trouble, but to-day all good things." Then did Cyrus unfold to them his whole counsel, saying, "Men of Persia, the matter stands thus. If ye will hearken to me ye shall have all these good things and others also without number, and that without any need of toiling as slaves. But if ye will not hearken, ye shall have labours without end, such as ye had yesterday. Hearken therefore to me, and be free. For I am sure that I was born by the will of the Gods to bring these things to pass; and as for you, I hold that you are in no wise worse than the Medes, whether as regards valour in battle or as regards other things. I bid you, therefore, rebel this day against King Astyages."

Cyrus spake these words, and the Persians hearkened unto him right willingly, taking him for their leader, for they had long since borne it ill that they should be servants to the Medes. And when Astyages heard of these things he sent a messenger to Cyrus commanding him that he should come to him. But Cyrus said to the man, "Say to Astyages, 'Cyrus will come to thee sooner than thou wouldest have him.'" When Astyages heard these words, he gathered together all the host of the Medes, and made Harpagus captain of the host, forgetting all the wrong that he had done to him, for it was as if the Gods had smitten him with madness. Now it came to pass that when the battle was joined, some of the Medes fought with all their might against the Persians, knowing nothing of the counsels of Harpagus, and some deserted to the Persians, but the greater part turned their backs and fled. But Astyages, when he knew that the host had fled before the Persians in shameful fashion, yet lost not hope, but sent to Cyrus, threatening him and saying, "Thou shalt not go unpunished." Then he gathered together all the Medes that were left in the city, both the old men and the lads, and led them out against the Persians and fought with them. But the Medes fled a second time before the Persians, and Astyages was taken captive. And when he was brought into the camp, Harpagus stood before him, rejoicing over him and reviling him, saying, "See now, thou didst give me the flesh of my son for meat, and lo! thou hast gained for thyself slavery in the place of a kingdom." Then Astyages looked upon him and said, "Sayest thou then that this deed of Cyrus is of thy doing?" "Yea," said Harpagus, "for I devised the thing for him, and rightly claim it for my own." Then Astyages made answer, "Surely then thou art more foolish and wicked than all other men. More foolish art thou, for if thou, hast done this thing of thyself and so mightest have made thyself a King, why didst thou suffer the power to go to another? And more wicked, seeing that thou hast brought all the nation of the Medes into slavery, bearing anger against me for the little matter of a feast. For if thou must needs give the kingdom to another rather than keep it for thyself, yet surely thou hadst done well to give it to a Mede rather than to a Persian. But now thou hast brought it about that the Medes, though they were innocent in this matter, having been masters aforetime are now servants, and that the Persians, having been before our servants, are now our masters." Thus was Astyages driven from his kingdom, having reigned thirty and five years, and by reason of his tyranny having brought great loss to the whole nation of the Medes. Howbeit he suffered nothing at the hands of Cyrus, but lived in peace till the day of his death.

Of the Persians, of their customs and manner of life, there are some things worthy to be told. They have no images of the Gods, nor temples, nor altars, charging with folly them that use such things, for they hold that the Gods have not the form of men. Their custom is to go up to the tops of the highest mountains that they know, and there do sacrifice to Zeus; but by Zeus is signified the whole circle of the heavens. Also they do sacrifice to the sun, and to the moon, and to the earth, and to fire, and to water, and to the winds. And when they do sacrifice it is not lawful for any man to pray for good things for himself only, but he prays for them for the whole nation of the Persians and for the King, remembering that he is one of the Persians, and that so he prayeth for himself. They take great account of birthdays, every man making a feast, according to his means, on his own day. When they have great matters in hand they deliberate upon them, first drinking themselves drunk. But on the morrow, the master of the house where they are layeth before them, being then sober, that which they have resolved, and if it still please them, then it is confirmed. And all things on which they have deliberated being sober, they consider again when they are drunk.

Their children they teach three things only, beginning when they are five years old and continuing until twenty years; and the things are these—to ride on horseback, and to shoot with the bow, and to speak the truth.

They hold that the most shameful thing that a man can do is to lie; and next to this that he should owe money to another; for they say that the man that oweth money to another cannot choose but lie.