The Story of Darius, the Persian Boy, Who Knew about Zoroaster
YOU know, when you come to the Z copy in your writing-books, there is nothing to write but "Zimmerman," and "Zoroaster."
What a strange word Zoroaster seems to you. If one of my boys looks up from his book to ask me what it means, I say, "Oh, he was an ancient Persian, and he wrote the Zendavesta. You might have had Zendavesta for your copy."
But after I have told that, neither you nor I know much about him, do we? And here is this boy, Darius, who has heard of Zoroaster as often as you have heard of George Washington, and who almost every day during his boyhood learns some of the words of this great teacher.
Before I can introduce you to this Persian boy's home, I must explain that at the time Kablu came down to the Indus it seemed as if all the mountain tribes were moved by one great impulse to leave their homes and journey westward, down the mountains.
Down the mountains and into the plain poured the long line of travellers. For many moons you might have watched them coming, and you would say, "The mountain land must have been full of men."
But you may readily believe that these thoughtful people knew better than to stay all together when they reached the plain. Southward to the Indus went Kablu with his father and many others; but westward over the grand table-land of Iran went others, and some still more enterprising, young people and strong, and longing for a sight of the great world, pushed still farther until they reached the shores of the Black Sea.
"What shall we do now?" said Deradetta, the leader of the band.
"We will divide," cried the young men. "Half of us will skirt the shores to the north, half to the south; so shall we find larger lands and make greater conquests."
So Deradetta led his band to the south, and Kalanta to the north, and before they parted, Deradetta called them all together, and said, "Perhaps we are parting forever. Do not let us forget the traditions of our fathers. Give us, O, Agni, brave comrades, happy abundance, noble children, and great wealth."
Then, at the dawn of the next day, Kalanta and his party turned away to the northward, and Deradetta turned southward, but perhaps, by and by, their great-great-grandchildren may find each other again.
And we shall not be surprised to hear that when the family of Darius reached the land of Persia, they found people who had built towns and even cities, and the new comers naturally feared that they might be enemies.
As they approached the first village, a man in a long robe woven of wool, and with loose, flowing sleeves, came out to meet them. Pointing to the horses that the leaders rode, he said Aspa, their own name for horse, and then, noticing the sacred fire which they carried always with them, he bent his head reverently.
"Do you also," asked they, "serve the Father of Light and Life, and, if so, who has taught you to worship thus?"
And the man understood their words, if not perfectly, at
least well enough to comprehend their meaning, and he
"Our fathers, many, many moons ago, came down from the distant mountains, bringing with them the sacred fire. They taught us the worship of the Father of Light and Life."
And the travellers, overjoyed,
'"Our fathers too came from the mountain land, and we are your brothers; we will live together in peace in this new land."
Now I must tell you that the earliest settlers had given themselves the name of Medes, and the new-comers were called Persians.
And I leave you to imagine how they lived together many years. At first the Medes were rulers and the Persians subjects, but, by and by, a great and wise Persian named Cyrus became king, and it was at that time that Darius, the boy of our story, lived.
And Darius had for his friend Zadok, a dark-eyed Hebrew boy whom he found by the river side one day and took for his companion, until they were forever parted by—but I must not tell that now, I must begin at the beginning, that you may understand what Darius was doing when he found Zadok.
I shall have to take you to the great city of Babylon,—a wonderful city, with high walls and gates, palaces and gardens and temples. There were golden shrines and images adorned with gems. There were tables and chairs with feet of gold and silver; and indeed I can hardly tell you how magnificent the city was, as it stood, like a great gorgeous jewel, on the plain. The broad river Euphrates flowed through it, and the date-trees grew upon its borders, and wild pears and peaches ripened in its sunny valley. Shouldn't you like to live where peaches grow wild? But you will wonder what this city of Babylon had to do with Darius.
Why, he went to live there with his father and mother, and many other Persian families, because his great king, Cyrus, had conquered Babylon and taken it for his own.
And now I want you to wake very early, before dawn, and get up quickly, as Kablu did when he lived among the mountains, and come with Darius to an open field just outside the city gates.
In the dim light you will see many other boys, all hastening towards the same place. Their dresses are of leather,—a sort of tunic and trousers; they do not easily wear out, and the fashion never changes.
Each boy carries a bow and a quiver of arrows, excepting the little boys of five or six years, who have only slings and stones.
See, they are all together now in the field, ranged in ranks before an officer. This is their school. Do you want to know what they learn?
You may look about in vain for a programme of studies, for
not one of them—scholars or even teachers—can write, but
their programme is so simple that when once Darius tells it
to us we cannot forget it. Here it
That was all. Shall we stay awhile and see how well the lessons are learned? Here is the youngest class—little boys only five years old. I think we should teach the little fellows that it is wrong to throw stones; but, see, they are standing in a row, each with a smooth pebble in his sling, and one after another they throw as far and as straight as they can. Then, while they go for more stones, the next class has a lesson in shooting with the bow and throwing the javelin.
After the little boys have come back and practised with their slings, and you have seen their running class, I want you to wait for the class to which Darius belongs.
He has learned the use of the sling, and the bow and the javelin; and ever since he was seven years old he has been on horseback every day: but that is not enough, he doesn't know how to ride yet,—at least so thinks his master.
The boys take their javelins and stand in a row; a gate is opened, and horses, with loose bridles and flowing manes, gallop into the field. Each boy must spring upon the back of one of these galloping horses. Many the falls and many the failures, but success at last, and presently you see Darius coursing swiftly over the field, and one by one the others follow him. A target is fastened to the old oak there at the right. As they pass it at full gallop, each one throws his javelin at the mark, and day by day they practise until there are no failures; sometimes with the javelin, sometimes with the bow and arrows, but always at full speed and with unerring aim. And do you notice that some of the arrow-heads are of iron, while others are of bronze? I told you it wouldn't be long before these people would find out iron.
After the riding is ended, see the boys again
before their master.
He stands in front of them with a quiet, reverend look on
his face, and
"Listen to the teachings of Zoroaster. It is written in the holy Zendavesta, 'There are two spirits, the Good and the Base. Choose one of these spirits in thought, in word, and deed.
"'Be good, not base. The good is holy, true; to be honored through truth, through holy deeds.
"'You cannot serve both.' "
And the boys repeated after
"Be good, not base. The good is holy, true, to be honored through truth, through holy deeds. You cannot serve both."
Isn't that a good lesson for them? A good lesson for you and me too.
After this the young children go to their homes, but Darius and others of his age are also to hunt to-day. The plains away to the north are the home of the antelopes, and the boys will ride miles and miles in pursuit of them.
Did you notice that Darius didn't have his breakfast before going to school, and he hasn't had it yet, but that doesn't trouble him. One meal a day is all he ever thinks of taking, and if he is very much occupied with hunting, or has a long march to make, it is often one meal in two days instead of one.
To night the boys will sleep in the field, to be ready for an early start in the morning; and before the stars are dimmed by the first light of dawn you will find them at the ford of the river, preparing to cross.
Their bows and arrows are at their backs, but their captain has given the order, "Cross this stream without allowing your weapons to get wet," and see how the boys have placed both bows and quivers on their heads, stepped fearlessly into the water, taken each other's hands in mid-stream, where the current is swiftest, to save themselves from being swept off their feet, and reached the opposite shore safely and well.
To-day they are in a wild woody place, far from the city, and the captain orders that they find food for themselves, for, if they would be Persian soldiers, they must learn to live on the enemy's country if necessary. Thanks to the peaches, the wild pears and the acorns, they make a good dinner, or breakfast, whichever you choose to call it, and then this day's lessons are over, and they may explore the fields as they please.
And now, at last, we are coming to Zadok.
Darius was straying along the river-bank when he saw a black-eyed boy, perhaps a year younger than himself, who turned and half hid himself among the bushes, when he saw the merry troop of Persian boys.
"See the Hebrew boy," cries one of the Persian lads. "He can neither ride nor shoot."
"What of that," says Darius. "I know him. He can tell wonderful stories, and he knows about dreams and about wars too. They came from the west, these Hebrews, and perhaps he has seen the great salt sea. Let us bid him come and sit with us on the rocks, and tell us about the sea."
And Darius, who was a swift runner, sprang down the path, and, overtaking the black-eyed boy, said, "Come and tell us about the sea, and we will give you peaches and nuts."
Now Zadok had no need to be afraid of the Persian boys, for their great king Cyrus had been very kind to his people. He was a storyteller by nature; so he scrambled up the rocks beside Darius, and, sitting there with the afternoon sun shining upon his face, he told the Persian boys his story.
"Tell us about the sea," cried they.
"I have never seen it," answered Zadok, "but my grandfather used to live near it, and he tells me about the ships of Tyre that come with their great white sails and long oars, swiftly over the desert of waters, swifter than camels or horses, for it is the wind, the breath of the Lord, that drives them. They bring cedar-wood and gold, and purple cloth and scarlet. My grandfather came away from the sea when he was a boy like me, but he never forgets. And now we are going back, back to our old home. I shall see Jerusalem, and I shall know it well, though I never saw it before."
"But why did your father come away?"
"You see this great city of Babylon, and the golden image of its god Bel? The people of Babylon were worshippers of idols, but our God is no graven image, he is the Most High, the maker of heaven and earth."
"Yes," said the Persian boys, "so is ours."
"And do you have prophets to teach you?" asked Zadok with surprise.
"No," answered Darius, "it is the holy Zoroaster, the golden star who sheds light on the way we must go."
"But tell us about the Babylonians."
"When my father was a boy," continued Zadok, "they came to this country, broke down the walls of the beautiful city, Jerusalem; entered the holy temple where we worship Jehovah, and carried away the gold and silver vessels from the altar. Then they took the people, men, women, and children, and carried them away captive. My father had not lived in Jerusalem, but in that time of danger all the country people crowded into the city, and so he and all his family were marched away across the desert, leaving behind them only the ruins of their homes."
"Why didn't they fight," cried the Persian boys.
"They did fight, but the Lord delivered them into the hands of the enemy."
"Then this God of yours is not so strong as the golden image of Bel, nor as our God, who makes us conquerors," said Darius.
"Yes he is," protested Zadok; "ask my father, he will tell you. He is a king above all gods. He made us captives, and he promised to bring us safely again out of our captivity, and that is why he sent your king, Cyrus, to set us free from the people of Babylon."
The Persian boys nodded to each other. "That is true," they said, "for we all heard the proclamation. 'Thus saith Cyrus, king of Persia. The Lord God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he hath charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, who is there among you of all his people? The Lord his God be with him, and let him go up and build it.' "
But the sun is setting and the boys must go home. You know they have to be up very early in the morning.
Do you think their mothers have been anxious about them, that they have saved a good supper, or at least a bowl of bread and milk for the tired child who has been away ever since yesterday evening?
No, indeed; Darius is twelve years old. He is supposed to be able to take care of himself, and his brother, who is fifteen, enters to-morrow the army of the king.
The mothers take care of the little boys under five years of age,—that is all.
Darius sees no more of Zadok for some months, for he leaves the great city and goes to the farm of his uncle, where he helps to take care of the flocks of pretty black sheep and goats, and learns to guide the plough, and is taught from the Zendavesta that one of man's chief duties is to till the soil which the Father of Life and Light has given to him, and to plant trees, that the fruitful earth may blossom and be glad.
One morning, while he is at the farm, his uncle seems anxious and troubled. He looks often towards the southeast and turns away only to cast a sorrowful eye upon his peach-trees, just blossoming, and his apples and pears forming their tiny fruit while their snowy petals cover the ground.
We might think that this Persian farmer ought to be very happy, looking over his promising fields and orchards; but no, the wind has been southeast for two days, and "Unless it changes before night," he says mournfully to himself, "the locusts will be upon us. We can fight against men, but not against insects; rather the whole Babylonian army than a swarm of locusts."
Before the morning star has set, the boys are roused from sleep by the shouts of the farm laborers as they run this way and that, trying to drive the swarm of locusts that darken the air in their flight. When they have passed, not a green leaf remains upon any tree, and it is useless to hope for a new crop this year.
Now his uncle must drive the sheep and goats up into the hill country, looking for pasture; and Darius will go home to Babylon, taking his cousin Baryta with him.
Baryta has never seen the great city, and as the two boys, dressed in their little leather suits, trudge along over the fields together, Darius begins to talk of the wonders he will show him.
"You never saw the winged bulls, with their great bearded faces. I shouldn't wonder if you would be afraid of them."
"Afraid; not I," said Baryta "aren't they made of stone? who cares for them! I shouldn't be afraid if they were alive. You never saw a Persian boy that was a coward."
"But perhaps they are gods," suggested Darius, "like the golden Bel that stands within the gates."
"And if they are, what then? I should think we had learned from the Zendavesta that Ormuzd is the maker and ruler of all. I am not afraid of their gods that are only images. Who ever saw an image of Ormuzd? Nobody could make one, he is so great."
"Yes, I know Ormuzd is the greatest, for haven't we Persians conquered Babylon and all its gods. I know a boy in Babylon, his name is Rab-Mag, and he doesn't dare go by the shrine of the golden Bel without bowing himself to the ground. He is afraid of the winged bulls and the horned lions; but then, you see, they are his gods, not ours."
"There is one good thing in our going back to Babylon just now. I think we shall be in time for Zadok's people. That will be grand; you will like that."
"But what do you mean by Zadok's people?" asked Baryta.
"Don't you know the Hebrews? Wasn't there an old Hebrew man that lived near the farm? Can't you remember last year, when we first came here, how we used to see them sitting by the river-side and crying over their troubles, because they couldn't go home to their own country? Well, Zadok is a Hebrew boy that I knew in Babylon. He lives close by the great brazen gate."
"And what is he going to do that we shall like to see?"
"Why, King Cyrus has set the Hebrews free, and they are going home to build up their own city again. The king says their God is the same as ours,—the maker of heaven and earth. Zadok says his name is Jehovah, and I know that his name is Ormuzd; but I suppose the king understands how they are the same. Now we are just in time to see them go. I think it is to-morrow that the caravan starts. If we can only get a place upon the city wall, we shall see it grandly."
And, full of the idea of being in time for the procession, the boys ran races with each other, until they were close up to the great brazen gates, which shone in the sunlight like gold.
"Hurrah; here we are!" cried Darius! "Look, Baryta, can you read? See, the stone-cutters have been making a new inscription, and we might find out what it is if we could read."
But Baryta shook his head; reading had, as yet, formed no part of his education. He couldn't read the inscription, and I don't believe you could, either, if you had been there. It was only a strange collection of arrow-heads, or wedges, beautifully cut into the stone. We should find them now, if we should go to see, for that is a kind of writing that lasts.
Early the next morning the whole city is astir. It is the festival of the new year; not our first of January, but the twenty-first of March, when the sun passes the equator, and begins to move northward.
I don't believe Darius had any New Year's presents, and Christmas Day had passed like any common day, for this was long before the Christian era, and there was no Christmas Day. But come out with Darius to the banks of the Euphrates early on this New Year's morning, and see the silver altar placed on the highest hill, and the priests, in their pure white robes, standing around it to feed the sacred flame with pieces of sandal-wood. The chief priest pours the juice of some plant upon the fire, and then, as the flame curls up, he casts fresh butter upon it, and, while it burns clear and bright, all the people join in a prayer or song asking blessings on their nation.
No Persian ever thought it right to ask blessings for himself, but only what was good for all, and for him through the blessing of the whole.
Do you remember the little altar among the Hindoo Koosh mountains, where Kablu's family worshipped without a priest?
Isn't there something in this service to remind you of it? These far-away Persians have brought the worship of the hills with them; and Zoroaster (their golden star) has taught them that Ormuzd, the spirit of purity and light, whose temple is the earth and the heavens, needs neither image nor church for his worship.
As the service ends, the prostrate Persians rise and lift their faces to the light, singing all together, "Purity and glory will grow and bloom forever for those who are pure and upright in their own hearts."
And now is the chance for you to see the king, in his purple robe and yellow shoes, with his fan-bearer and his parasol-bearer behind him, and the bearer of the royal footstool to stand ready beside the chariot the moment the beautiful black horses stop.
The chariots are out upon the walls; two chariots abreast on top of the walls, and yet the boys have found room to squeeze themselves in, and see the grand procession start. Men, women, and children on horses, mules, and camels, hands of musicians and singers, and in their midst, carried aloft with all reverence, the vessels of gold and silver that belong to the Hebrew temple. Out through the brazen gates, under the waving banner of the Persian eagle they go; and, as they pass the chariot of Cyrus, there is a great and prolonged shout, "Long live the king!"
The boys join in the shout, and indeed everybody joins. It is a great act of justice and kindness from one nation to another. They may well shout and be glad.
"Zadok, Zadok," calls Darius, as he sees his friend below in the long procession.
The little dark face is lifted, the eyes light up with a friendly smile, and then Zadok is gone.
Just then the drum beats for the boys' evening exercise or drill. Down from the wall in an instant, and away to the field outside the gates; for is not obedience the third of Persian virtues?