By Steven Pressfield | Published: October 17, 2011
[In Part One from last week, we learned—from Xenophon’s Cyropaedia, translated by Walter Miller—how Cyrus the Great had captured the beautiful Panthea but refused to violate her honor. Out of gratitude for Cyrus’s nobility, Panthea proposed to bring her husband Abradatas over from the enemy and enlist him and his thousand charioteers in Cyrus’s cause. Abadatas gladly acceded to this and was welcomed warmly by Cyrus. Now the day of the Great Battle has come. Abradatas has been granted a post of honor in the forefront of Cyrus’s army … ]
And when Abradatas was armed in his panoply he looked most handsome and noble, for he had been favored by nature and, even unadorned, was well worth looking at; and taking the reins from his groom he was now making ready to mount his chariot. But at this moment Panthea bade all who stood near to retire and then she said:
“Abradatas, if ever any women loved her husband more than her own life, I think you know that I, too, am such a one. Why, then, should I tell you of these things one by one? For I think that my conduct has given you better proof of it than any words I might say. Still, with the affection that you know I have for you, I swear to you by my love for you and yours for me that, of a truth, I would far rather go down into the earth with you, if you approve yourself a gallant soldier, than live disgraced with one disgraced, so worthy of the noblest lot have I deemed both you and myself. And to Cyrus I think we owe a very large debt of gratitude, because, when I was his prisoner and allotted to him, he did not choose to keep me either as his slave or as a freewoman under a dishonorable name, but took me and kept me for you as one would a brother’s wife. And then, too, when Araspas, who had been charged with my keeping, deserted him, I promised him that if he would let me send to you, a far better and truer friend than Araspas would come to him, in you.”
Thus she spoke; and Abradatas, touched by her words, laid his hand upon her head and lifting up his eyes toward heaven prayed, saying: “Grant me, I pray, almighty Zeus, that I may show myself a husband worthy of Panthea and a friend worthy of Cyrus, who has shown us honor.”
As he said this, he mounted his car by the doors in the chariot-box. And when he had entered and the groom closed the box, Panthea, now knowing how else she could kiss him goodbye, touched her lips to the chariot-box. And then at once his chariot rolled away, but she followed after, unknown to him, until Abradatas turned round and saw her and said: “Have a brave heart, Panthea, and farewell! And now go back.”
Then the eunuchs and the maid-servants took her and conducted her back to her carriage, where they bade her recline, and hid her completely from view with the hood of the carriage. And the people, beautiful as was the sight of Abradatas and his chariot, had no eyes for him, until Panthea was gone.
So Cyrus led his army into the Great Battle, which would decide the fate of Sardis and of Babylon. The enemy was king Croesus (of “rich as Croesus” fame), the lord of Sardis in Asia Minor, of whom many fascinating stories may also be told. Croesus’s forces outnumbered Cyrus’s by a vast margin, but Cyrus charged nonetheless.
And Abradatas also lost no more time, but shouting, “Now, friends, follow me,” he swept forward … And the rest of the chariot drivers also rushed forward with him. And the opposing chariots at once broke into flight before them … Abradatas plunged directly through them and hurled himself upon the Egyptian phalanx …
The battle raged for a long time but by nightfall the enemy was in full flight. Soon Cyrus had entered the city of Sardis as its conqueror.
And when he had called to him certain of his aides who were present, Cyrus said: “Tell me, has any one of you seen Abradatas? For I wonder why, in view of the fact that he used to come so often to us, he is now nowhere to be seen.”
“Sire,” answered one of his aides, “he is no longer alive, but he fell in the battle as he hurled his chariot against the ranks of the Egyptians, while the rest, they say, all but himself and his companions, turned aside when they saw the dense host of the Egyptians. And even now his wife, I am told, has taken up his body for burial, placed it in the carriage in which she herself used to ride, and brought it to some place here by the River Pactolus. And his eunuchs and servants, so they say, are digging a grave upon a certain hill for his dead body. But his wife, they say, has decked her husband with what she possessed and now sits upon the ground, holding his head in her lap.”
[Part Three concludes next Monday.]