History for the Rest of Us

Cyrus the Great

Cyrus the Great

Jan 22, 2013

REIGNED 558-529 B.C. The early life of Cyrus the Persian, like that of many another famous conqueror, is lost in a cloud of fable. According to Herodotus, to whom we owe the earliest account, Astyages the King of Media was warned in a dream that some danger threatened the kingdom from the offspring of his daughter Mandane, who as yet was unmarried. In order to remove the danger, whatever it might be, as far as possible from his throne, Astyages married his daughter to a Persian named Cambyses, who took her with him to his own country. But after his daughter’s marriage Astyages had another dream, which was interpreted by the priests to mean that his daughter’s child was destined to reign in his stead. Alarmed by this prophecy he sent for his daughter, and when in course of time she bore a son, he ordered his trusty lieutenant Harpagus to carry the child to his own house and kill it. Harpagus took the infant as he had been ordered to do, but moved by the pleadings of his wife he determined to commit the rest of his bloody instructions to other hands. He therefore called one of his herdsmen, and ordered him to expose the child on the bleakest part of the mountain and leave it to perish, threatening him with the most terrible penalties in case of disobedience. But the herdsman and his wife were no more proof against pity than Harpagus and his wife had been, and while they stood swayed between their wish to save the child and their fear of disobeying Harpagus, fortune happily provided an escape for them. The wife of the herdsman brought forth a dead child, and this they determined to substitute for the living infant, and to bring up the grandson of Astyages as their own. The exchange was accomplished, and after some days the servants of Harpagus, sent to inquire if their master’s commands had been obeyed, were shown by the herdsman the body of a dead child exposed on the rocks and still wearing the rich clothes and ornaments in which it had been brought to his house. Harpagus was thus enabled to...