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Such was the education that Cyrus received until he was twelve years old or a little more; and he showed himself superior to all the other boys of his age both in mastering his tasks quickly and in doing everything in a thorough and manly fashion. It was at this period of his life that1 Astyages sent for his daughter and her son; for he was eager to see him, as he had heard from time to time that the child was a handsome boy of rare promise. Accordingly, Mandane herself went to her father and took her son Cyrus with her. [2]

As soon as she arrived and Cyrus had recognized in Astyages his mother's father, being naturally an affectionate boy he at once kissed him, just as a person who had long lived with another and long loved him would do. Then he noticed that his grandfather was adorned with pencillings beneath his eyes, with rouge rubbed on his face, and with a wig of false hair—the common Median fashion. For all this is Median, and so are their purple tunics, and their mantles, the necklaces about their necks, and the bracelets on their wrists, while the Persians at home even to this day have much plainer clothing and a more frugal way of life. So, observing his grandfather's adornment and staring at him, he said: “Oh mother, how handsome my grandfather is!” And when his mother asked him which he thought more handsome, his father or his grandfather, Cyrus answered at once: “Of the Persians, mother, my father is much the handsomest; but of the Medes, as far as I have seen them either on the streets or at court, my grandfather here is the handsomest by far.” [3]

Then his grandfather kissed him in return and gave him a beautiful dress to wear and, as a mark of royal favour, adorned him with necklaces and bracelets; and if he went out for a ride anywhere, he took the boy along upon a horse with a gold-studded bridle, just as he himself was accustomed to go. And as Cyrus was a boy fond of beautiful things and eager for distinction, he was pleased with his dress and greatly delighted at learning to ride; for in Persia, on account of its being difficult to breed horses and to practise horsemanship because it is a mountainous country, it was a very rare thing even to see a horse. [4]

And then again, when Astyages dined with2 his daughter and Cyrus, he set before him dainty side-dishes and all sorts of sauces and meats, for he wished the boy to enjoy his dinner as much as possible, in order that he might be less likely to feel homesick. And Cyrus, they say, observed: “How much trouble you have at your dinner, grandfather, if you have to reach out your hands to all these dishes and taste of all these different kinds of food!”

“Why so?” said Astyages. “Really now, don't you think this dinner much finer than your Persian dinners?”

“No, grandfather,” Cyrus replied to this; “but the road to satiety is much more simple and direct in our country than with you; for bread and meat take us there; but you, though you make for the same goal as we, go wandering through many a maze, up and down, and only arrive at last at the point that we long since have reached.” [5]

“But, my boy,” said Astyages, “we do not object to this wandering about; and you also,” he added, “if you taste, will see that it is pleasant.”

“But, grandfather,” said Cyrus, “I observe that even you are disgusted with these viands.”

“And by what, pray, do you judge, my boy,” asked Astyages, “that you say this?”

“Because,” said he, “I observe that when you touch bread, you do not wipe your hand on anything; but when you touch any of these other things you at once cleanse your hand upon your napkin, as if you were exceedingly displeased that it had become soiled with them.” [6]

“Well then, my boy,” Astyages replied to this, “if that is your judgment, at least regale yourself with meat, that you may go back home a strong young man.” And as he said this, he placed before him an abundance of meat of both wild and domestic animals.

And when Cyrus saw that there was a great quantity of meat, he said: “And do you really mean to give me all this meat, grandfather, to dispose of as I please?”

“Yes, by Zeus,” said he, “I do.” [7]

Thereupon Cyrus took some of the meat and proceeded to distribute it among his grandfather's servants, saying to them in turn: “I give this to you, because you take so much pains to teach me to ride; to you, because you gave me a spear, for at present this is all I have to give; to you, because you serve my grandfather so well; and to you, because you are respectful to my mother.” He kept on thus, while he was distributing all the meat that he had received. [8]

“But,” said Astyages, “are you not going to3 give any to Sacas, my cupbearer, whom I like best of all?” Now Sacas, it seems, chanced to be a handsome fellow who had the office of introducing to Astyages those who had business with him and of keeping out those whom he thought it not expedient to admit.

And Cyrus asked pertly, as a boy might do who was not yet at all shy, “Pray, grandfather, why do you like this fellow so much?”

And Astyages replied with a jest: “Do you not see,” said he, “how nicely and gracefully he pours the wine?” Now the cupbearers of those kings perform their office with fine airs; they pour in the wine with neatness and then present the goblet, conveying it with three fingers, and offer it in such a way as to place it most conveniently in the grasp of the one who is to drink. [9]

“Well, grandfather,” said he, “bid Sacas give me the cup, that I also may deftly pour for you to drink and thus win your favour, if I can.”

And he bade him give it. And Cyrus took the cup and rinsed it out well, exactly as he had often seen Sacas do, and then he brought and presented the goblet to his grandfather, assuming an expression somehow so grave and important, that he made his mother and Astyages laugh heartily. And Cyrus himself also with a laugh sprang up into his grandfather's lap and kissing him said: “Ah, Sacas, you are done for; I shall turn you out of your office; for in other ways,” said he, “I shall play the cupbearer better than you and besides I shall not drink up the wine myself.”

Now, it is a well known fact that the king's cupbearers, when they proffer the cup, draw off some of it with the ladle, pour it into their left hand, and swallow it down—so that, if they should put poison in, they may not profit by it. [10]

Thereupon Astyages said in jest: “And why,4 pray, Cyrus, did you imitate Sacas in everything else but did not sip any of the wine?”

“Because, by Zeus,” said he, “I was afraid that poison had been mixed in the bowl. And I had reason to be afraid; for when you entertained your friends on your birthday, I discovered beyond a doubt that he had poured poison into your company's drink.”

“And how, pray,” said he, “did you discover that, my son?”

“Because, by Zeus,” said he, “I saw that you were unsteady both in mind and in body. For in the first place you yourselves kept doing what you never allow us boys to do; for instance, you kept shouting, all at the same time, and none of you heard anything that the others were saying; and you fell to singing, and in a most ridiculous manner at that, and though you did not hear the singer, you swore that he sang most excellently; and though each one of you kept telling stories of his own strength, yet if you stood up to dance, to say nothing of dancing in time, why, you could not even stand up straight. And all of you quite forgot—you, that you were king; and the rest, that you were their sovereign. It was then that I also for my part discovered, and for the first time, that what you were practising was your boasted ‘equal freedom of speech’; at any rate, never were any of you silent.” [11]

“But, my boy,” Astyages said, “does not your father get drunk, when he drinks?”

“No, by Zeus,” said he.

“Well, how does he manage it?”

“He just quenches his thirst and thus suffers no further harm; for he has, I trow, grandfather, no Sacas to pour wine for him.”

“But why in the world, my son,” said his mother,5 “are you so set against Sacas?”

“Because, by Zeus,” Cyrus replied, “I don't like him; for oftentimes, when I am eager to run in to see my grandfather, this miserable scoundrel keeps me out. But,” he added, “I beg of you, grandfather, allow me for just three days to rule over him.”

“And how would you rule over him?” said Astyages.

“I would stand at the door,” Cyrus replied, “just as he does, and then when he wished to come in to luncheon, I would say, ‘You cannot interview the luncheon yet; for it is engaged with certain persons.”And then when he came to dinner, I would say, ‘It is at the bath.’ And if he were very eager to eat, I would say, ‘It is with the ladies.’ And I would keep that up until I tormented him, just as he torments me by keeping me away from you.” [12]

Such amusement he furnished them at dinner; and during the day, if he saw that his grandfather or his uncle needed anything, it was difficult for any one else to get ahead of him in supplying the need; for Cyrus was most happy to do them any service that he could. [13]

But when Mandane was making preparations6 to go back to her husband, Astyages asked her to leave Cyrus behind. And she answered that she desired to do her father's pleasure in everything, but she thought it hard to leave the boy behind against his will.

Then Astyages said to Cyrus: [14] “My boy, if you will stay with me, in the first place Sacas shall not control your admission to me, but it shall be in your power to come in to see me whenever you please, and I shall be the more obliged to you the oftener you come to me. And in the second place you shall use my horses and everything else you will; and when you go back home, you shall take with you any of them that you desire. And besides, at dinner you shall go whatever way you please to what seems to you to be temperance. And then, I present to you the animals that are now in the park and I will collect others of every description, and as soon as you learn to ride, you shall hunt and slay them with bow and spear, just as grown-up men do. I will also find some children to be your playfellows; and if you wish anything else, just mention it to me, and you shall not fail to receive it.” [15]

When Astyages had said this, his mother asked7 Cyrus whether he wished to stay or go. And he did not hesitate but said at once that he wished to stay. And when he was asked again by his mother why he wished to stay, he is said to have answered: “Because at home, mother, I am and have the reputation of being the best of those of my years both in throwing the spear and in shooting with the bow; but here I know that I am inferior to my fellows in horsemanship. And let me tell you, mother,” said he, “this vexes me exceedingly. But if you leave me here and I learn to ride, I think you will find, when I come back to Persia, that I shall easily surpass the boys over there who are good at exercises on foot, and when I come again to Media, I shall try to be a help to my grandfather by being the best of good horsemen.”

And his mother said, [16] “My boy, how will you learn justice here, while your teachers are over there?”

“Why, mother,” Cyrus answered, “that is one thing that I understand thoroughly.”

“How so?” said Mandane.

“Because,” said he, “my teacher appointed me,8 on the ground that I was already thoroughly versed in justice, to decide cases for others also. And so, in one case,” said he, “I once got a flogging for not deciding correctly. [17] The case was like this: a big boy with a little tunic, finding a little boy with a big tunic on, took it off him and put his own tunic on him, while he himself put on the other's. So, when I tried their case, I decided that it was better for them both that each should keep the tunic that fitted him. And thereupon the master flogged me, saying that when I was a judge of a good fit, I should do as I had done; but when it was my duty to decide whose tunic it was, I had this question, he said, to consider—whose title was the rightful one; whether it was right that he who took it away by force should keep it, or that he who had had it made for himself or had bought it should own it. And since, he said, what is lawful is right and what is unlawful is wrong, he bade the judge always render his verdict on the side of the law. It is in this way, mother, you see, that I already have a thorough understanding of justice in all its bearings; and,” he added, “if I do require anything more, my grandfather here will teach me that.” [18]

“Yes, my son,” said she; “but at your grandfather's9 court they do not recognize the same principles of justice as they do in Persia. For he has made himself master of everything in Media, but in Persia equality of rights is considered justice. And your father is the first one to do what is ordered by the State and to accept what is decreed, and his standard is not his will but the law. Mind, therefore, that you be not flogged within an inch of your life, when you come home, if you return with a knowledge acquired from your grandfather here of the principles not of kingship but of tyranny, one principle of which is that it is right for one to have more than all.”

“But your father, at least,” said Cyrus, “is more shrewd at teaching people to have less than to have more, mother. Why, do you not see,” he went on, “that he has taught all the Medes to have less than himself? So never fear that your father, at any rate, will turn either me or anybody else out trained under him to have too much.”

1 Cyrus goes to visit his grandfather

2 A Median dinner

3 Cyrus and the cupbearer

4 Cyrus's temperance lecture

5 His antipathy toward Sacas

6 Mandane leaves Cyrus in Media

7 Why he wished to stay

8 His training in justice

9 Median vs. Persian ideals of justice

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hide References (10 total)
  • Cross-references to this page (7):
    • Harper's, Persia
    • Harper's, Praegustātor
    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), CANDYS
    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), COMA
    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), SYMPO´SIUM
    • William Watson Goodwin, Syntax of the Moods and Tenses of the Greek Verb, Chapter V
    • William Watson Goodwin, Syntax of the Moods and Tenses of the Greek Verb, Chapter VI
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