By Steven Pressfield | Published: October 10, 2011
The following romance (in three parts) comes from one of my all-time favorite books, Xenophon’s Education of Cyrus a.k.a. the Cyropaedia.
Xenophon was an extraordinary character—an Athenian aristocrat and devotee of Socrates, who became a great friend to Sparta and died an exile from his native land. The March of the Ten Thousand, also known as The Anabasis, is probably his most famous work (see my earlier post “The Sea, The Sea!”).
Xenophon’s Reflections on Socrates, while it pales alongside Plato’s dialogues, is still extremely illuminating, and his wonderful short works, On Hunting (meaning the pursuit of boars and hares, using hounds), The Cavalry Commander, and the Economicus (sometimes titled “How to Train Your Wife”) are great fun and give the reader unparalleled insights into life in Athens in the Golden and post-Golden Age.
The Education of Cyrus purports to be the life story of Cyrus the Great of Persia, who lived and died a couple of hundred years before Xenophon was born. Cyrus’s immortal quote
Better to live in a rugged land and rule than to cultivate rich plains and be a slave
became, incidentally, the inspiration for our friend Shawn Coyne’s independent publishing house, Rugged Land Books (which published The War of Art).
Cyrus founded the Persian Empire, no mean feat, and was in his way a precursor and inspiration to Alexander the Great, who, a few centuries later, conquered that very same empire. Xenophon’s Education of Cyrus depicts Cyrus as a young man of exceptional virtue, wisdom, ambition and generosity—as his actions in the following tale of the beautiful Panthea and her husband Abradatas (translated by Walter Miller from the Loeb Library edition) demonstrate:
And Abradatas’s chariot with its four poles and eight horses was adorned most handsomely; and when he came to put on his linen corselet, such as they used in his country, Panthea brought him one of gold, also a helmet, arm-pieces, broad bracelets for his wrists—all of gold—and a purple tunic that hung down in folds to his feet, and a helmet-plume of hyacinth dye. All these she had made without her husband’s knowledge, taking the measure for them from his armor. And when he saw them he was astonished and turning to Panthea he asked: “Tell me, wife, you did not break your own jewels to pieces, did you, to have this armor made for me?”
“No, by Zeus,” answered Panthea, “at any rate, not my most precious jewel; for you, if you appear to others as you seem to me, shall be my noblest jewel.”
With these words, she began to put the armor on him, and though she tried to conceal them, the tears stole down her cheeks.
Panthea had been captured in an earlier battle by Cyrus’s men, who declared her the most beautiful woman in Asia and proposed to bring her to Cyrus to become his possession. But Cyrus, being informed that the lady had a living husband, respected her honor and would not even permit himself to look upon her beauty, but kept her safe, apart from him. It turned out that the Persian nobleman charged with protecting Panthea fell in love with her himself—and banished himself before he did anything unworthy. When Panthea learned of this, she went to Cyrus in person, saying:
“Do not be distressed, Cyrus, that Araspas has gone over to the enemy; for if you will allow me to send to my husband, I can guarantee you that a much more faithful friend will come to you than Araspas was. And what is more, I know that he will come to you with as many troops as he can bring. For while the father of the present king [Cyrus’s enemy] was his friend, this present king even attempted to separate me from my husband. Inasmuch, therefore, as he considers the king an insolent scoundrel, I am sure that he would be glad to transfer his allegiance to such a man as you.”
Indeed Panthea sent a coded message to Abradatas, and indeed the noble prince did come in to Cyrus, bringing with him the flower of his army’s chariot warriors.
When he saw [Cyrus], he took his right hand in his and said: “In return for the kindnesses you have done us, Cyrus, I do not know what more to say than that I offer myself to you to be your friend, your servant, your ally. And in whatsoever enterprise I see you engage, I shall try to cooperate with you to the very best of my ability.”
“And I accept your offer,” said Cyrus. “And now I will take leave of you and let you go to dinner with your wife. Some other time you will be expected to dine at my headquarters with your friends and mine.”
The day of the Great Battle came round swiftly. Abradatas volunteered for the most dangerous post and was granted this honor.
[To be continued]