I wonder why Xenophon’s Cyropaedia or The Education of Cyrus is rarely mentioned by Iranians. You don’t see people quoting it. It’s not on the Iranian radar. That’s a bit strange given that anything about Cyrus seems to get a lot of attention to the point of gross exaggeration and false pride. I just finished reading the Kindle version of The Education of Cyrus and it was thoroughly fascinating beyond expectation. True, it’s more a work of fiction than history but given that it was written in the early 4th century BC, and the author was present in Persia in a major way, it paints a revealing picture of the man and the time he lived in. I underlined many parts of the book, too many to quote here (on Persian habits, culture, education, war strategy, administration, slavery, women…), but I want to share what Xenophon describes as the last words spoken by Cyrus.
“My sons, and friends of mine, the end of my life is at hand: I know it by many signs. And when I am dead, you must show by word and deed that you think of me as happy. When I was a child, I had all the joys and triumphs of a child, and I reaped the treasures of youth as I grew up, and all the glories of a man when I came to man’e estate. And as the years passed, I seemed to find my powers grow with them, so that I never felt my old age weaker than my youth, nor can I think of anything I attempted or desired wherein I failed.
“Moreover, I have seen my friends made happy by my means, and my enemies crushed beneath my hand. This my fatherland, which was once of no account in Asia, I leave at the height of power, and of all that I won I think I have lost nothing. Throughout my whole life I have fared as I prayed to fare, and the dread that was ever with me lest in days to come I might see or hear or suffer evil, this dread would never let me think too highly of myself, or rejoice as a fool rejoices. And if I die now, I leave my sons behind me, the sons the gods have given me; and I leave my fatherland in happiness, and my friends. Surely I may hope that men will count me blessed and cherish my memory.
“And now I must leave instructions about my kingdom, that there may be no dispute among you after my death. Sons of mine, I love you both alike, but I choose the elder-born, the one whose experience of life is the greater, to be the leader in council and the guide in action. Thus was I trained myself, in the fatherland that is yours and mine, to yield to my elders, my brothers or my fellow-citizens, in the street, or in the place of meeting, or in the assembly for debate. And thus have I trained both of you, to honour your elders and be honoured by those who are younger than yourselves. These are the principles that I leave with you, sanctioned by time, ingrained in our customs, embodied in our laws.
“The sovereignty is yours, Cambyses; the gods have given it to you, and I also, as far as in me lies; and to you, Tanaoxares, I give the satrapy over the Medes and the Armenians and the Cadousians, these three; and though I leave your elder brother a larger empire and the name of king, your inheritance will bring you, I believe, more perfect happiness than his. I ask myself what human joy will be lacking to you: all things which gladden the hearts of men will be yours—but the craving for what is out of reach, the load of cares, the restless passion to rival my achievements, the plots and counterplots, they will follow him who wears the crown, and they are things, be well assured, that leave little leisure for happiness.
“And you, Cambyses, you know of yourself, without words from me, that your kingdom is not guarded by this golden sceptre, but by faithful friends; their loyalty is your true staff, a sceptre which shall not fail. But never think that loyal hearts grow up by nature as the grass grows in the field: if that were so, the same men would be loyal to all alike, even as all natural objects are the same to all mankind. No, every leader must win his own followers for himself, and the way to win them is not by violence but by loving-kindness. And if you would seek for friends to stand by you and guard your throne, who so fit to be the first of them as he who is sprung from the self-same loins?
“Our fellow-citizens are nearer to us than foreigners, and our mess-mates dearer than strangers, and what of those who are sprung from the same seed, suckled at the same breast, reared in the same home, loved by the same parents, the same mother, the same father? What the gods have given to be the seal of brotherhood do not make of none effect yourselves. But build upon it: make it the foundation for other loving deeds, and thus the love between you shall never be overcome. The man who takes thought for his brother cares for his own self. For who but a brother can win glory from a brother’s greatness? Who can be honoured as a brother can through a brother’s power? Or who so safe from injury as the brother of the great? Let no one, Tanaoxares, be more eager than yourself to obey your brother and support him: to no one can his triumph or his danger come so near. Ask yourself from whom you could win a richer reward for any kindness. Who could give you stouter help in return for your own support? And where is coldness so ugly as between brothers? Or where is reverence so beautiful? And remember, Cambyses, only the brother who holds pre-eminence in a brother’s heart can be safe from the jealousy of the world.
“I implore you both, my sons, by the gods of our fathers, hold each other in honour, if you care at all to do me pleasure: and none of you can say you know that I shall cease to be when I cease to live this life of ours. With your bodily eyes you have never seen my soul, and yet you have discerned its presence through its working. And have you never marked the terrors which the spirits of those who have suffered wrong can send into the hearts of their murderers, and the avenging furies they let loose upon the wicked? Think you the honours of the dead would still abide, if the souls of the departed were altogether powerless?
“Never yet, my sons, could I be persuaded that the soul only lives so long as she dwells within this mortal body, and falls dead so soon as she is quit of that. Nay, I see for myself that it is the soul which lends life to it, while she inhabits there. I cannot believe that she must lose all sense on her separation from the senseless body, but rather that she will reach her highest wisdom when she is set free, pure and untrammelled at last. And when this body crumbles in dissolution, we see the several parts thereof return to their kindred elements, but we do not see the soul, whether she stays or whether she departs.
“Consider,” he went on, “how these two resemble one another, Death and his twin-brother Sleep, and it is in sleep that the soul of a man shows her nature most divine, and is able to catch a glimpse of what is about to be, for it is then, perhaps, that she is nearest to her freedom. Therefore, if these things are as I believe, and the spirit leaves the body behind and is set free, reverence my soul, O sons of mine, and do as I desire. And even if it be not so, if the spirit must stay with the body and perish, yet the everlasting gods abide, who behold all things, with whom is all power, who uphold the order of this universe, unmarred, unaging, unerring, unfathomable in beauty and in splendour. Fear them, my sons, and never yield to sin or wickedness, in thought or word or deed.
“And after the gods, I would have you reverence the whole race of man, as it renews itself for ever; for the gods have not hidden you in the darkness, but your deeds will be manifest in the eyes of all mankind, and if they be righteous deeds and pure from iniquity, they will blazon forth your power: but if you meditate evil against each other, you will forfeit the confidence of every man. For no man can trust you, even though he should desire it, if he sees you wrong him whom above all you are bound to love.
“Therefore, if my words are strong enough to teach you your duty to one another, it is well. But, if not, let history teach you, and there is no better teacher. For the most part, parents have shown kindness to their children and brothers to their brothers, but it has been otherwise with some. Look, then, and see which conduct has brought success, choose to follow that, and your choice will be wise.
“And now maybe I have said enough of this. As for my body, when I am dead, I would not have you lay it up in gold or silver or any coffin whatsoever, but give it back to the earth with all speed. What could be more blessed than to lie in the lap of Earth, the mother of all things beautiful, the nurse of all things good? I have been a lover of men all my life, and methinks I would fain become a part of that which does good to man.
“And now,” he added, “now it seems to me that my life begins to ebb; I feel my spirit slipping away from those parts she leaves the first. If you would take my hand once more, or look into my eyes while life is there, draw near me now; but when I have covered my face, let no man look on me again, not even you, my sons.
“But you shall bid the Persians come, and all our allies, to my sepulchre; and you shall rejoice with me and congratulate me that I am safe at last, free from suffering or sorrow, whether I am with God or whether I have ceased to be. Give all who come the entertainment that is fitting in honour of a man whose life on earth was happy, and so send them away.
“Remember my last saying: show kindness to your friends, and then shall you have it in your power to chastise your enemies. Good-bye, my dear sons, bid your mother good-bye for me. And all my friends, who are here or far away, good-bye.”
And with these words he gave his hand to them, and then he covered his face and died.