Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Xenophon's Cyropaedia (Books V-VIII)

Book V

Cyrus calls Araspas, an old Mede friend of his, to take care of the Lady of Susa, who has been captured and given to Cyrus. Araspas, after beginning his duty, asks Cyrus if he has ever seen her; Cyrus has not (well, he has seen her, but she was veiled). Araspas points out that she is stunningly beautiful, perhaps the most beautiful woman in that whole part of the world, and says that Cyrus must see for himself. Cyrus refuses, since if she is really beautiful, he might fall in love and neglect his duties. This leads to a long philosophical discussion between them about whether falling in love is voluntary or not, with Araspas arguing that it is voluntary and Cyrus pointing out problems with this. Unfortunately, in taking care of the beautiful woman for Cyrus, who is graceful and courteous and grateful for his assistance, Araspas falls in love with her.

In the meantime Cyrus gets confirmation of the continuance of several of the alliances he has made, then sets off with his cavalry to visit Gobryas. Gobryas is hospitable and Cyrus confirms his promise. Gobryas is surprised at how plain the food the Persians set for themselves is, but he quickly comes to realize that their temperance is part of their excellence as soldiers. Gobryas joins formally into the alliance, and they all march away.

Cyrus, however, is reflecting on how he can make his enemy weaker, and consults with Gobryas and the Hyrcanian king about who else might join their alliance. The Hyrcanian mentions the Cadusians and Sacians. Gobryas mentions that he knows of a man, of a small but important kingdom, whom the current king, while still a prince, castrated out of jealousy. However, to get to him in order to join forces, they would have to march by the walls of Babylon, a vast city in Assyrian hands which can field an army even larger than that of Cyrus. Nonetheless, Cyrus decides that this is what they must do. However, they must not do it in secret; they must do it in a way that makes the enemy afraid.

At Babylon, the Assyrians are disinclined to do battle, because they are still in the midst of preparations. So Cyrus has Gobryas, whose change in loyalties has not yet gotten abroad, ride up to the city and ask the king to fight Cyrus and protect his country. The Assyrian king gives a rude answer. When Gobryas returns, Cyrus tells him to go to the eunuch king, whose name is Gadatas, when he can, but to keep any alliance secret. They arrange to have Gadatas reinforce one of the key Assyrian forts, so as to deliver it into Cyrus's hands, which he does. Having the fort makes it possible to unite forces with the Cadusians and the Sacians. This touches off several small chain reactions: the Hyrcanians, impressed at the swift success of Cyrus, send more troops, and a number of smaller, more local, Assyrian garrisons surrender.

At this time, however, Gadatas learns that the Assyrians are marching in retaliation against his kingdom. This creates a problem -- Gadatas can get there in a day and a half, although perhaps not before the Assyrians, but Cyrus's army, which is really needed, is now so large that it will move much more slowly, and will take about a week. Gadatas heads out and Cyrus summons his men to organize the march. The men are impressed, since it turns out that Cyrus remembers their names, and Xenophon notes that Cyrus regards it as a tool of his trade: if you want to honor a man, you must remember his name, and if you know someone's name, he will strive harder not to let you down.

Due to the treachery of one of his officers, Gadatas is ambushed by the Assyrians; Gadatas and his men flee, but as Cyrus has been marching quickly and with good organization, they soon run into Cyrus. Cyrus is a bit surprised at finding Gadatas going the wrong direction, but on understanding the situation, he destroys the ambushing army.

The Cadusians, meanwhile, have been at the rear of the march and are starting to be restless. The Cadusian prince takes it into his head to do some raiding without letting anyone else know. They run into the army of the Assyrian king, so that many Cadusians are destroyed before they can get back to Cyrus's army. Cyrus helps the Cadusians to return to bury their dead and they ravage the country in retaliation for the losses. At this point, Cyrus sends a message the Assyrian king, saying that if the Assyrian will let farmers who have supported Cyrus continue to work their farms, he, Cyrus, will treat laborers for the Assyrian in the same way. The Assyrian king's advisors beg him to take the offer, so both sides agree that the farmers will have peace, and that war will only be between the soldiers.

Cyrus returns to the border of Assyria and Media and captures three forts -- one by assault, one by intimidation, and one, through Gadatas, by persuasion. He then sends to Cyaxares to arrange a war council. Cyaxares is jealous of the huge alliance that Cyrus has pulled together in so little time. Cyrus, however, reassures him that his honor is not injured by the success of Cyrus, and that all that Cyrus has done is for his uncle's benefit. So they reconcile.

Book VI

A major question now arises as to whether the alliance army should be disbanded. Gadatas is a vehement supporter of the importance of continuing. There's a general sense among the captains, especially the Hyrcanian and Cadusian leaders, that continuing is essential. Cyrus assures them he has no actual intention of disbanding, but there are serious problems on the horizon: winter is coming, rivals are gathering, provisions are mostly exhausted. So his proposal is that they need simultaneously to cut off the enemy's ability to hole up in strongholds while establishing strongholds themselves. Thus the first step in planning is to procure siege engines and builders.

Meanwhile, Araspas, in love with the Lady of Susa (whose name, we learn a little later, is Pantheia), has been proposing a union with her. She, however, deeply in love with her husband, consistently refused to move one step in that direction. In anger, he threatened her; and at this she appealed to Cyrus. Caught doing something he should not have been doing, Araspas was ashamed and afraid. But Cyrus had use for him; he sent Araspas to Lydia to spy on the Assyrian king, who was building forces there. They decide to arrange a cover story, in which word will be let around that Araspas deserted Cyrus. When word gets out that Araspas has deserted and fled, Pantheia sees an opportunity, and sends to Cyrus, saying that even though Araspas was unfaithful, she can vouch for the loyalty of her husband, Abradatas, especially since he also has reasons to hate the current Assyrian king. He lets her send a message, and Abradatas joins the alliance.

At this time, emissaries come from India with monetary support for Cyrus. He convinces them to send three people to the Assyrian king under the pretence of beginning an alliance. They return with information that the Assyrian's allies, under Croesus, are forming a vast army. Cyrus rallies the morale of his men and determines to move quickly to avoid fear spreading in his ranks. He finishes preparations and organizes the march. As they approach Croesus's army, Araspas returns, and Cyrus clears his name in public. Araspas provides precise information about the disposition of the enemy, allowing Cyrus to plan his countertactics. Abradatas takes a key position in the lines, although he has to draw lots to beat the Persians to it. Pantheia helps him with his armor, weeping. She follows behind his chariot for a while, but eventually he must tell her to take heart and fare well.

Book VII

The battle proceeds. Cyrus's counterplan works, although there are a few hitches (including his horse being killed), requiring him to make swift adjustments. Croesus flees to Sardis. Cyrus follows, taking Sardis and capturing Croesus. During the capture of Sardis, the Chaldaeans abandoned their posts to raid the houses. He calls their leaders and tells them to leave; when they beg to stay, he allows it only on the condition that they give what they took to those who kept their station.

Cyrus then meets with Croesus and works out a deal in which the army will not plunder the city or carry off prisoners of war as long as the Lydians give generously from their treasuries. Croesus tells his story. He sent to the Oracle at Delphi, but failing to ask the god if he needed anything, he tested the god by asking if he would have children. The god, but only after many gifts, said there were; the children were indeed born but one was mute and the other died early in life. Croesus sent to the gods again and asked how to live a happy life. The god replied, "Knowing yourself, Croesus, you will pass through it happily" (7.2.20). Croesus took this as a claim that he would be happy, since, he thought, there is nothing easier than knowing oneself. Croesus blames his loss on his taking the generalship, thus showing that he did not, in fact, know himself, since if he had, he would have had the sense to recognize that he was not one who could outmaneuver Cyrus. Cyrus promises protection for his family.

The next morning, Cyrus asks why he hasn't seen Abradatas, and receives the news that Abradatas died in battle. Cyrus immediately goes to the place Abradatas lies dead, where his wife is weeping beside him. Cyrus tries to comfort her and then leaves. Then Pantheia takes out a dagger and stabs herself in the chest, placing her head on her husband's chest as she died. The eunuchs attending her stab themselves and die with her. Cyrus makes sure the sacrifices and funeral are appropriate to their stature.

While Cyrus is making siege machines at Sardis, the Carians have a civil war, and both sides appeal to Cyrus. He sends an army with one of his captains, Adousius, to handle the matter. To each side Adousios says that their side was more just and that it was important to keep their alliance secret. He gets permissions to fortify the fortresses of each side with Persians -- then takes them over. He pressures the leaders to make peace under the Persian cloak. At the same time, Cyrus sends another army under Hystaspas against the Phrygians; Hystaspas is successful. Cyrus returns to Babylon, conquering people here and there as the opportunity arises.

Babylon's walls are very impressive, and not certainly breachable by the siege engines they have, so Cyrus proposes that hunger may be a better way to get past it. Chrysantas proposes the river flowing through the city, but it is too deep. Cyrus starts building massive trenches. The people inside are not worthy; they are very well provisioned, and can last for years and years if they absolutely have to do so. Using the trenches, he draws water off from the river so that it becomes traversable. They then march up the river into the city and take it. Gobryas and Gadatas kill the Assyrian king. Cyrus establishes himself as king in the city. This is a new kind of problem for him, since Babylon is a huge city, but he immediately sets about handling things in his customary way.


Cyrus sets his kingdom in good working order, and even throws in a bit of showmanship:

We think we learned of Cyrus that he did not believe that rulers must differ from their subjects by this alone, by being better, but he also thought they must bewitch them. (8.1.40)

He even makes use of things like platform shoes and cosmetics to make a good impression.

The biggest challenge, though, is what to do with stronger subjects who might take it into their heads to rule. So he handles it the Cyrus way:

In the first place, he continually made his benevolence of soul every bit as visible as he could, for he believed that just as it is not easy to love those who seem to hate you, or to be well disposed toward those who are ill disposed toward you, so also those known as loving and as being well disposed could not be hated by those who held that they were love. (8.2.1)

He also gives gifts freely and sets up contests among potential rivals for achieving great deeds, thus making them rivals with each other, not him, and getting praise for encouraging virtue. He has the Pheraulas the commoner organize a great procession and rewards him greatly for his success; and, indeed, had a general policy of honoring most those who did the best, regardless of what else might be said about them.

Once things are established in Babylon, he takes a trip back home, visiting Cyaxares in Media and Cambyses in Persia. Cambyses names Cyrus his heir and Cyrus marries Cyaxares's daughter. Then he returned to Babylon, where he prospered:

Human beings were so disposed to him that every nation though they got less if they did not send to Cyrus whatever fine thing either naturally grew in their land, was raised there, or was made by art; and so too with every city, and every private person thought that he would become wealthy if he could gratify Cyrus in something. For Cyrus, taking from each whatever the givers had in abudance, gave in return what he perceived them to be lacking. (8.6.23)

Xenophon then tells of his death, when he was very old, and very powerful. After Cyrus's death, however, the empire fell apart, for it was Cyrus alone who held it together. And thus Xenophon ends the book by summarizing the deterioration of the Persians.

Additional Comments on the Work

* Cyrus definitely made an impact on the world;

Median Empire

Achaemenid Empire 559 - 330 (BC)

* While Cyrus is obviously the main character of the work, the Assyrian king plays an important role. The Assyrian king falls so completely to Cyrus not just because he is unjust (although he is), but because he does the opposite of what Cyrus does: he rules people in such a way that they hate him. Gobryas lost a son to him; Gadatas was castrated; he attempted to take Pantheia from Abradatas; and the Hyrcanians, Cadusians, and Sacians are all badly used by the Assyrians. Cyrus, on the other side, does everything right to make people want to be ruled by him.

* There are many, many different stories about the Fall of Babylon. Xenophon seems to be following Herodotus in at least broad outlines. The Cyrus Cylinder commissioned by Cyrus claims that the Babylonians opened their gates to him freely. Most sources that give a name take the Assyrian king to be Nabonidus, although sometimes they take him to be captured in Babylon, sometimes in a battle after Babylon, and sometimes killed and sometimes not; the Biblical book of Daniel says it was Belshazzar (Belsharusar), who was Nabonidus's son and not actually the king (although it's very possible he was co-regent by that point). What seems to be the one common thread in it all is that Cyrus captured Babylon suddenly, unexpectedly, and definitively, so that no one knew exactly what happened.

* One of the notable themes throughout (and which would make it a good basis for a movie!) is that Cyrus will set something up that will come to fruition considerably later. To take just one example, he gets the Armenians and Chaldaeans to send messengers to India in Book III, then proceeds through a considerable part of a military campaign before the Indians finally come back with monetary support in Book VI. He is also very good at taking advantage of whatever happens to be at hand and setting it in motion for his ends. But, of course, the major key to his success is that he repeatedly treats people so that they know that being in his good graces is a very good place to be. He dominates because, when he does, everyone benefits.


Quotations are from Xenophon, The Education of Cyrus, Wayne Ambler, tr., Cornell UP (Ithaca, NY: 2001).


  1. Enbrethiliel4:15 AM


    I read your summary of Book VIII and find Cyrus's pull on people fascinating. He's not just a wily politician, but also a magnetic personality. My very limited understanding of the text is that the takeaway is less "Do as Cyrus did" than "Be as Cyrus was"--which is a tall, if not impossible, order to fill! Or does Xenophon suggest that any reasonably virtuous man who has received Cyrus's education and upbringing would be able to achieve the same results as a ruler?

    (Before I posted this, I went back to read your summary of Book I. I really liked the points made there, but education in the sense of structured training seems to be the least of what shaped Cyrus. Instead, he appears to have been "unschooled"--Ahem!--by being thrust into some real-world military and political situations and learning "on the job." As you know, I've been praising this kind of education for a month now, but I also think that not everyone who goes through the same will come out a great ruler, though he may be a skilled wielder of the same principles in his own "realm." [Hey, isn't there a similar point in Anterestai about a manager of a pantry being the equal of a prince if the former runs his own small sphere according to virtuous principles?] There's just a lot more riding on the raw material of personality than I think Xenophon considers. But since I didn't actually read the Cyropaedia, I may be totally wrong . . . =P)

  2. branemrys6:50 AM

    Xenophon doesn't go any farther here than simply holding up Cyrus as an example that there is a kind of know-how for making those who are ruled want to be ruled. But I'm fairly sure that Xenophon thinks that any reasonably virtuous man could have the same results in his own sphere. Of course, this could partly be due to the fact that Xenophon himself experienced something of the sort -- the Anabasis is a story of how he went to Persia as a mercenary for a prince of Persia (Cyrus the Younger, great-great-great grandson of Cyrus the Great); the expedition fell apart and Cyrus the Younger died, leaving the entire army stranded in the middle of hostile territory with no good leadership. Xenophon, despite not being one of the captains, stepped up and led them all home. So I think he does think that it is very attainable for a gentleman with the proper Socratic education in virtue. Cyrus, of course, has a lot of luck on his side -- he inherits two major kingdoms and the even bigger kingdom he conquers is led by a man doing everything wrong -- but Xenophon seems to consider the essential skills, at least, to be the same everywhere, and they are basically the four cardinal virtues plus piety to the gods.

    It's definitely very notable that Cyrus, while receiving the education of the Persians, has it completely interrupted so as to receive also an education in how to by a tyrant (from his mother's father on the Mede side) and then, after finishing up his education in Persia, is pretty much just thrown into the thick of things. One of the things that makes for Cyrus's success is that he manages to find a way to combine the ethos of the Persian elite -- in which equality is what is just -- with the ethos of the Median regime -- in which the king rules all; and he does it on the fly while leading an army.


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