Tales From Herodotus VIII. Story of Cyrus the Great

(Translation can be a very slow act and necessitates a very intimate reading of the text. It was a chilling to uncover this story, word by word.)

Translated from Greek

B. Boyhood of Cyrus: How the Secret of His Birth is Discovered

§1. Cyrus plays at being king over his companions.

When the boy was ten years old, the occurrence of affairs such as follow revealed him. He was playing on the road with other [children] of his age; and playing, the children chose him to be king over them, although he was nominally the son of a herdsman. And he appointed some of them to build a house, others to be spearmen, and of course, one of them to be “the Eye of the King,” assigning tasks to each of them separately. One of these  children playing with him, however, who was the child of Artembares, an esteemed man among the Medes, did not do the task assigned by Cyrus. He therefore ordered the other children to seize him. The children obeyed and Cyrus handled the child very roughly, and whipped him. Although he was soon released, he was very much aggrieved, since he certainly considered himself unworthy of such afflictions. And so he returned to the city and complained to his father. Artembares went in a fit of anger to Astyages, taking his son with him, and he related the monstrous event that he had suffered, saying, “My king, we have been wantonly insulted by your servant, the child of a herdsman, like so!” (And he showed him the shoulders of his child.)

§2. Astyages sends for Cyrus and, suspecting the truth, forces the herdsman to confess.

Astyages listened and saw and since he wished to avenge the child, for the sake of the honour of Artembares, he sent for the herdsman and his son. Once both were present, Astyages beheld Cyrus and said, “Did you, the son of this sort of man, did you truly have the effrontery to handle this boy, son of him first in my esteem, with such outrage?”

He replied as follows, “Master, I did this to him with just cause. For the children of the village, of whom he is one, were playing and they established me as their king. For I seemed to them to be the most fit for this. But while the other children performed their assigned duties, this one disobeyed and paid no-one any attention; until he received judgement. If I am worthy of any harm because of this, then here I stand before you.”

When the child said this, a recognition came upon Astyages; the character of his face seemed to resemble his own and his answer was very frank; and the timing of the exposure seemed to coincide with the child’s age. He was amazed by this and speechless for a moment. But at last, and with some difficulty, he recovered and spoke, since he wished to send Artembares away in order to get the herdsman alone and cross-examine him, “Artembares, I shall settle this matter such that you and your child will be blameless.” He sent Artembares [away] and ordered his servants to lead Cyrus inside. Once the herdsman was left behind, alone, Astyages asked him whence he received the child and from whom. He said that he had been born in his own house and that she who had borne him was still with him. But Astyages said that he was not well-counselled, being so eager to get to great torture. As he said this, he gave a sign to his spearmen to take him. And when he was led away to torture, he revealed the whole story. He ended in prayers bidding him to have forgiveness for him.

§3. Astyages pardons the herdsman and obtains a confession from Harpagus, whom he also pretends to pardon.

Astyages gave little thought to the herdsman once he had revealed the true story; but upon Harpagus, on the other hand, he placed great blame, and he ordered his spearmen to summon him, and when Harpagus arrived, Astyages asked him, “Harpagus, by what manner of death did you kill the child, the one which I handed over to you, born of my daughter?”

Harpagus, since he saw that the herdsman was within, did not betake himself down the path of falsehood so that he could not be caught out in a lie, but rather, he gave the straight story. And Astyages, concealing his choler, was again told of the affair by Harpagus just as he had first heard it from the herdsman, and he ended by saying, “So the boy lives, and this happenstance is good. For I was greatly afflicted by what I had done with regard to this child, and I did not easily bear being slandered by my daughter. And so, since our fortune has taken a turn for the better, first of all, let us send your child to our newcomer child, and second, (since I intend to sacrifice a thanks-offering to the gods for the child’s salvation), be present with me for dinner.

When Harpagus heard this, he prostrated himself, and he was greatly pleased that his mistake had turned out to serve him well, and he went to his house. He very quickly arrived and sent out his only-begotten son, who was three years old and ten, bidding him to go to Astyages and to do whatever that man asked of him. He was very glad, and he told his wife all that had occurred.

§4. Abominable punishment inflicted upon Harpagus.

When the son of Harpagus arrived, Astyages cut his throat and cut apart his limbs, and some he roasted, and the rest of the flesh, he boiled. And when the time came for dinner, he set these before Harpagus, except for the head and hands and feet; these he kept aside, covered up in a basket. When Harpagus seemed to have had enough food, Astyages asked him if he had at all enjoyed the feast. When Harpagus said that he had enjoyed it very much, some [servants] brought to him the covered head and hands and feet of his son. They bid Harpagus to uncover the things set before him and to take whatever he wished from them. Harpagus obeyed, and uncovering [the basket], he saw the remains of his child. Upon seeing this, he found his center and he was not struck out of his senses. Astyages asked him if he knew from what beast was the meat he had eaten. He said that he knew and that everything that the king did was pleasing. And having made this reply, he took the remainder of the flesh and went to his house. And there, so I think, he intended to bury all the gathered [pieces].

§5. The Magi decide that Astyages need have no more fear of Cyrus; so the boy is sent home safely to his parents in Persia.

Thus Astyages inflicted this punishment upon Harpagus; and to make plans concerning Cyrus, he summoned those same Magi who had previously interpreted the dream for him. When they arrived, Astyages asked in what way they interpreted the vision; and they said the same things, saying that he would have had to become king if he had survived, but not if he had first died. And he answered them this, “The child lives, and he survives; in the passage of his life, the children of the village set him up as king over the countryside. And he completed [this], doing everything whatsoever that real kings [did]; for he had spearmen, gatekeepers, messengers, and all the rest. So now what tidings does this reveal to you?”

The Magi said, “If the child survived and became a king unintentionally, then take courage because of this, and be good; for he shall not rule a second time.”

When he heard this, Astyages rejoiced, and he summoned Cyrus and said to him this, “My dear child, due to an unfulfilled vision from a dream, I did you wrong, but you survived in your lot. So now go to Persia and fare well, and I will send escorts with you. And when you go there, find your mother and father, of a different kind than the herdsman and his wife.”

After he said this, Astyages sent Cyrus away. And once returned to his parents, they received him into the household of Cambyses, and those who received him made a great welcome.

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2 Responses to Tales From Herodotus VIII. Story of Cyrus the Great

  1. Pingback: The Boyhood of Cyrus | picturesinpowell

  2. The fulfillment of Isa. 46: 11,12 written 150 years before Cyrus’ birth!

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