Tales From Herodotus VIII. Story of Cyrus the Great

Translated from Greek

C. Manhood of Cyrus

§1. At the instigation of Harpagus, Cyrus induces the Persians to revolt by a practical demonstration of the advantages they would enjoy as the dominant race.

When Cyrus became a man, he was the bravest of any his age, and Harpagus pressed upon him and sent him gifts, longing to take vengeance on Astyages. Even before this, since Astyages was harsh on the Medes, he was in communication with each of the foremost Medes, arguing that Cyrus must end the governance of Astyages over the kingdom.

And so Cyrus considered the wisest way by which he might compel the Persians to revolt. Considering this, he found the most opportune [way] was as follows. He wrote in a book what he wanted, and he brought about an assembly of the Persians. And then he opened the book, and reading it, he said that Astyages had appointed him as the general of the Persians. “And now,” he continued, “o Persians, I proclaim that you go forward, each man wielding a sickle.” This is what Cyrus proclaimed. And so everyone advanced, whereupon Cyrus ordered them to reclaim a certain thorny patch of ground within the day. And when the Persians completed the challenge he had set before them, he ordered them to wash and be present the next day.

In the meantime, Cyrus gathered together all his father’s herds and flocks of goats, cattle and sheep, and he sacrificed them and made preparations for welcoming the army of the Persians. And on the next day, when the Persians arrived, they reclined in the meadow and he feasted them. When they were done the meal, Cyrus asked which was most desirable, what they had the day before or the present circumstance. They said that the difference was great, for the earlier day had brought them every misfortune, and the present circumstance all the good.

Cyrus took them on their word and he disclosed the whole story, saying, “Men of Persia, it is thus for you; for you who would obey me, there is this and countless other good things, no-one shall have servile toil; but for those who would not obey me, there are for you innumerable toils, similar to yesterday’s. And so now, those who would obey me, become free men, revolt against Astyages immediately.”

§2. Revolt of the Persians, ending in the accession of Cyrus to the throne.

Now that the Persians had obtained a leader, they were pleased to be set free, since they had long thought it terrible to be ruled by the Medes. When Astyages found out what Cyrus had done, he sent a messenger to summon him. But Cyrus ordered the messenger to report back that he would come to that man sooner than Astyages himself would want. And when Astyages heard this, he armed all the Medes and, as if struck mad by the gods, appointed Harpagus as their general. And so the Medes campaigned and when they mixed with the Persians, some of them fought, whosoever was not in on the plan, others deserted to the Persians, and most were cowardly and they fled. But although the Median army was shamefully destroyed, so Astyages very soon discovered, he threatened Cyrus, saying, “Nevertheless, Cyrus shall not go unpunished!” Having made so great a threat, he first put up on stakes those oneiromancers who had persuaded him to release Cyrus. Then he armed those of the Medes who remained, the youths and the old men. And he led them out and joined into battle with the Persians and he was defeated. Astyages himself was taken prisoner and he lost those whom he had led out. But Cyrus kept Astyages by him until he died, doing him no other harm.

And thus was Cyrus born, raised, and made king.

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