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Alfred J. Church

The Birth and Bringing Up of Cyrus

Astyages king of the Medes had a daughter whose name was Mandané; and of this daughter, when she was but a child, he dreamed such a dream that he feared exceedingly what might happen to him and to his kingdom by reason of her. Therefore when she grew of age to be married, he gave her not to a man of her own race, but he gave her to a Persian, whose name was Cambyses. And this Cambyses was indeed of a noble house, but of a quiet and peaceable temper. Only because he was a Persian, Astyages held him to be of less account than a Mede, whether he were noble or no.

But in the first year of the marriage King Astyages dreamed another dream of his daughter, which made him yet more afraid than had the former dream. Therefore he sent for the woman, who was now about to bring forth her first-born child, and kept her in the palace, being minded to put to death that which should be born of her, for the interpreters of dreams had signified to him that the son of his daughter should be king in his stead. When therefore she bare Cyrus, for they gave this name to the child, Astyages called to him one Harpagus, who was of his kindred, and faithful to him beyond all other of the Medes, and who had also the care of his household. And when Harpagus was come to him, the King said, "Harpagus, see thou that in the matter which I shall now put in thy charge thou in no wise neglect my commandment, nor prefer others to me, and so in the end bring great sorrow on thyself. Now the matter is this. Thou shalt take this child that Mandané my daughter hath lately borne, and carry it to thy home, and there slay it; and afterwards thou shalt bury it in such fashion as thou wilt." To this Harpagus said, "O King, thou hast never perceived any transgression in thy servant in time past; and he will take good heed that he sin not against thee in time to come. And as for this matter of which thou speakest, if thou wilt have it so, it must needs be done." When Harpagus had said this, they gave him the child into his hands, the child being dressed as if for death and burial, and he took it and went to his home weeping. And when he was come thither he said to his wife all the words that King Astyages had said to him. Then the woman spake, saying, "What then art thou minded to do in this matter?" And he said, "Of a surety I shall not do as the King hath commanded me. For though he should be turned aside to folly, and be stricken with madness even more grievously than he is now stricken, yet why should I be the slayer of this child? And the causes wherefore I will not do this thing are many. For first he is of my own kindred, and next Astyages is an old man and hath no male offspring. If then when he shall die, his kingdom shall go to his daughter, whose child he biddeth me to slay, surely I shall stand in great peril. It must needs be that the child die; for how else shall I escape, but the slayer shall be one of the servants of Astyages, and not I or one of my own servants." When he had thus spoken, he sent a messenger straightway to one of the herdsmen of Astyages, knowing that the man dwelt in a place well fitted for the purpose, that is to say, a mountain abounding in wild beasts. The name of this herdsman was Mitradates, and his wife was a slavewoman, Spaco by name. As for the pastures where he pastured his herd, they lay under the mountains which are northwards from Egbatana, towards the Black Sea. For this region of the land of Media is covered with woods and mountains, but the country for the most part is a plain country. The herdsman therefore being thus called came with all speed. And when he was come, Harpagus said to him, "Astyages bids thee take this child and put him in some desert place among the mountains that he may speedily perish. And he bids me say that if thou slay him not, but in any way sufferest him to live, he will destroy thee most miserably. And I am appointed to see that this thing be done."

When the herdsman heard these words he took the child and went on his way to his home, and came to the stalls of the cattle. Now it chanced that his wife had been in travail all that day, and that she bare a child while the herdsman was at the city. And the two were much troubled each about the other; for the husband feared lest haply it should go ill with his wife in her travail, and the woman was afraid because Harpagus had sent for her husband in much haste, which thing he had not been wont to do. When therefore he had returned, the woman, seeing that he was come back speedily and beyond her hope, asked of him, saying, "Why did Harpagus send for thee in such haste?" Then the man made answer, "When I was come to the city I saw and heard such things as I would had never befallen my masters; for the whole house of Harpagus was full of weeping and wailing. And when I went into the house, being sore astonished at these things, I saw a child lying there and crying; and the child was adorned with gold and fine clothing. And Harpagus, so soon as he saw me, bade me take up the child with all haste and depart, and put it on such mountain as I knew to be most haunted by wild beasts. And he said that King Astyages had given commandment that this should be done. And he added many threats of what should befall me, if I should not do as he had bidden me. Wherefore I took the child, and carried it away, thinking that it was the child of some one in the household; for the truth, as it was, I could not have imagined, yet did I marvel to see that the child was adorned with gold and fine apparel, and also that there should be so great a mourning in the house of Harpagus. But as I went on my way, one of the servants of Harpagus, whom he had sent with me, recounted to me the whole matter, that this child was the son of Mandané the daughter of Astyages and Cambyses the son of Cyrus, and that Astyages had given commandment that it should be slain. This therefore is the child whom thou seest." And when the herdsman had said this he took away the covering, and showed the child to his wife. And when she saw the babe, that it was fair and well-favoured, she wept, and laid hold of her husband by his knees and besought him that he would not do this thing, putting forth the child to die. But the man answered that he could not by any means do otherwise, for that Harpagus would send those who would see whether the thing had been done or no, and that he should perish miserably if he should be found to have transgressed the commandment. Then the woman, seeing that she could not prevail with her husband, spake to him again, saying, "If then I cannot prevail with thee that thou shouldest not put forth the child, yet listen to me. If the men must needs see a child put forth, do thou this thing that I shall tell thee. I was delivered of a child this day, and the child was dead when it was born. Take therefore this dead child and put it forth, and let us rear this child of the daughter of Astyages as if it were our own. So thou wilt not be found to transgress the commands of thy masters, and we shall also have done well for ourselves. For indeed the dead child shall have a royal burial, and the living child shall not be slain." And here the woman seemed to her husband the herdsman to have spoken very wisely and seasonably, and he did according to her word. For the child that he had brought with him that he might cause him to die, this he gave to his wife to rear; and his own child, being dead already, he put into the basket wherein he had carried the other. With this he put all the ornaments wherewith the child had been adorned, and carried it to the most desolate place that he knew among the mountains, and there laid it forth. And on the third day after he had done this, he went again to the city, leaving his herds in the charge of one of them that were under him, and entering into the house of Harpagus, said he was ready to show the dead body of the child to any whom he might send. Wherefore Harpagus sent such of his own body-guard as he judged to be most faithful, and saw the thing, not himself indeed, but with their eyes, and afterwards buried the child that was the child of the herdsman. As for the child that had afterwards the name of Cyrus, the wife of the herdsman took him and reared him, but called him by some other name. When the boy was ten years old there befell a thing by which his birth was discovered. He was wont to play with other boys that were his equals in age, in the village wherein were the dwellings of the herdsman and his fellows. And the boys in their sport chose him, being, as was supposed, the herdsman's son, to be their king. And he, being thus chosen, gave to each his proper work, setting one to build houses, and others to be his body-guards, and one to be the "Eye of the King," and others to carry messages, to each his own work. Now one of the boys that played with him, being the son of one Artembares, a man of renown among the Medes, would not do the thing which Cyrus had commanded him. Wherefore Cyrus bade the other boys lay hold of him; and when these had done his bidding he corrected him for his fault with many and grievous stripes. But the boy, so soon as he was let go, thinking that he had suffered a grievous wrong, went in great wrath to the city and made complaint to his father of the things which he had suffered at the hands of Cyrus; only he spake not of Cyrus, for he bare not as yet that name, but of the herdsman's son. Then Artembares, being in a great rage, went straightway to King Astyages, taking with him his son, as one that had been shamefully entreated. And he said to the King, "See, O King, how we have been wronged by this slave who is the son of thy herdsman." And he showed him the lad's shoulders, where might be seen the marks of the stripes. When Astyages heard and saw these things he was ready to avenge the lad on him that had done these things, wishing to do honour to Artembares. Therefore he sent for the herdsman and the boy. And when they were both come before him, Astyages looked towards Cyrus, "How didst thou, being the son of this herdsman, dare to do such shameful things to the son of a man who is first of all them that stand before me?" To this Cyrus made answer, "My lord, all this that I did, I did with good cause; for the boys of the village, this also being one of them, in their play chose me to be their king, for I seemed to them to be the fittest for this honour. All the others indeed did the things which I commanded them; but this boy was disobedient and paid no heed to me; for which things he received punishment as was due. And if thou deemest it fit that I should suffer for so doing, lo, here I am!" When the lad spake in this fashion, Astyages, considering with himself the whole matter, knew him who he was. For the likeness of his countenance betrayed him; his speech also was more free than could be looked for in the son of a herdsman, and his age also agreed with the time of putting forth the child of his daughter. And being beyond measure astonished at these things, for a while he sat speechless; but at last, having scarcely come to himself, he said to Artembares, "Artembares, I will so deal with this matter that neither thou nor thy son shall blame me," for he would have the man go forth from his presence, that having the herdsman alone he might question him more closely concerning these matters.

Then the King sent Artembares away, and bade his servants take Cyrus with them into the house. Being therefore left alone with the herdsman, he enquired of him, saying, "Tell me whence didst thou receive this child, and who is he that gave him to thee?" Then said the herdsman, "Surely he is my son, and she that bare him is my wife, and is yet alive in my house." But the King answered, "Thou answerest not well for thyself; thou wilt bring thyself into great peril." And he bade his guards lay hold upon him. But the man, when he saw that he was being led away to the tormentors, said that he would tell the whole truth. And indeed he unfolded the story from the beginning, and neither changed nor concealed anything. And when he had ended, he was earnest in prayer to the King that he would have mercy upon him and pardon him.

As for the herdsman indeed, when he had thus told the truth, Astyages took little heed of him; but he had great wrath against Harpagus, and sent to him by his guards that he should come forthwith. And when he was come, the King said to him, "Harpagus, how didst thou slay the boy whom I delivered to thee that was born of my daughter?" And Harpagus, seeing that the herdsman stood before the King, sought not to hide the matter, for he judged that he should be easily convicted if he should speak that which was false. Therefore he said, "O King, when I took the child from thy hands, I considered with myself how I might best do thy pleasure, so that I might both be blameless before thee, and also free of blood-guiltiness as concerning thy daughter. And I did after this manner. I called this herdsman to me, and gave the child into his hands, telling him that thou hadst given commandment that it should be slain. Then I bade him take the child, and put it out in some desert place among the mountains, and watch by it till it should die. And at the same time I used to him all manner of threats, if he should not in all things fulfill my words. And when the man had done according to my bidding, I sent the most faithful of my servants, and having seen by their eyes that the child was dead, I buried him. This is the truth of the matter, O King, and in this manner the child died."

When Harpagus had ended this story, wherein he spake, as he thought, the whole truth, Astyages hid his anger in his heart, and related the whole matter as he had heard it from the herdsman; and when it was ended, he said, "The boy yet lives; and it is well; for indeed I have been much troubled, remembering what had been done to the child; nor did I count it a light matter that my daughter was displeased with me. Now, therefore, that the matter hath turned out so well, first send thine own son that he may be a companion to this boy, and next come and dine with me to-day, for I would have a feast of thanksgiving for this boy that was dead and is alive again." When Harpagus heard these words, he bowed himself down before the King, rejoicing beyond measure that his transgression had had so good an ending, and that he had been called to the feast of thanksgiving; and he went to his house. And being come, in the joy of his heart he told to his wife all that had befallen him. But the King, so soon as the son of Harpagus was come into the house, took him and slew him, and cut him limb from limb; and of the flesh he roasted some, and some he boiled; and so, having dressed it with much care, made it ready against the dinner. And when the hour of dinner was come, Harpagus and the other guests sat down to meat; and before Harpagus was set a dish of the flesh of his own son, wherein was every part, save only the head and the tips of the hands and of the feet. For these lay apart by themselves with a covering over them. And when Harpagus had eaten enough, the King asked him, "Was this dish to thy mind." And when the man answered that it was indeed to his mind, certain men who had had commandment to do this thing brought the head and the hands and the feet, covered with their cover. These stood before Harpagus, and bade him uncover and take what he would. And when Harpagus so did, he saw what remained of his son. Yet, seeing it, he was not amazed, but still commanded himself. Then the King enquired of him, "Knowest thou what beast this is, of whom thou hast eaten?" And Harpagus made answer, "I know it; and all that the King doeth is well." Then he took what was left of the flesh and carried it with him to his house, and buried it.