Cyropaedia is a biography of Cyrus The Great, written by Xenophon, the Greek writer and soldier of fortune who also wrote Anabasis. Cyrus The Great united the Persian empire and installed institutions that gave it the strength to endure. This book chronicles his brilliance as a general, administrator, and king.
The reason of this public sanction for [hunting] is not far to seek; the king leads just as he does in war, hunting in person at the head of the field, and making his men follow, because it is felt that the exercise itself is the best possible training for the needs of war. It accustoms a man to early rising; it hardens him to endure heat and cold; it teaches him to march and to run at the top of his speed; he must perforce learn to let fly arrow and javelin the moment the quarry is across his path; and, above all, the edge of his spirit must need be sharpened by encountering any of the mightier beasts; he must deal his stroke when the creature closes, and stand on guard when it makes its rush: indeed, it would be hard to find a case in war that has not its parallel in the chase.[…]
…never put off the collecting of supplies until the day of need, make the season of your abundance provide against the time of dearth. You will gain better terms from those on whom you must depend if you are not thought to be in straits, and, what is more, you will be free from blame in the eyes of your soldiers. That in itself will make you more respected; wherever you desire to help or to hurt, your troops will follow you with greater readiness, so long as they have all they need, and your words, you may be sure, will carry the greater weight the fuller your display of power for weal or woe.[…]
When the interests of mankind are at stake, they will obey with joy the man whom they believe to be wiser than themselves.[…]
One thing you must ever bear in mind: if you wish your men to follow you, remember that they expect you to plan for them. Hence you must never know a careless mood; if it be night, you must consider what your troops shall do when it is day; if day, how the night had best be spent.
Many monologues are given on how a man should conduct himself as a soldier, whether at peace or at war. Most of these were uttered by Cyrus himself. He was a master of the mind, using the weapon of psychology as much as he used his sword. He would effortlessly formulate strategies for situations never before encountered, even inventing a deadlier form of chariot.
Such is the ordinance of God: those who will not work out their own salvation he gives into the hands of other men to bear rule over them.[…]
When fortune comes to us, if we guard her with discretion, we may live to grow old in peace, but if we are insatiate, if we use and abuse our pleasures, chasing first one and then another, we may well fear lest that fate be ours which, the proverb tells us, falls on those mariners who cannot forgo their voyages in the pursuit of wealth, and one day the deep sea swallows them. Thus has many a warrior achieved one victory only to clutch at another and lose the first.[..]
I begin to understand, Cyrus, how it is that while we have more goblets and more gold, more apparel and more wealth than you, yet we ourselves are not worth as much. We are always trying to increased what we possess, but you seem to set your hearts on perfecting your own souls.[…]
…men in the mass, when aflame with courage, are irresistible, and when their hearts fail them, the more numerous they are the worse their panic that seizes them.[…]
Those who trust each other will stand firm and fight without flinching, but when confidence has gone no man thinks of anything but flight.[…]
…the more a man possesses, the more there are to envy him, to plot against him, and be his enemies.[…]
Cyrus was convinced that no one has a right to rule who is not superior to his subjects.
The book aims to describe the balance between work and leisure:
Yet I foresee that if we betake ourselves to the life of indolence and luxury, the life of the degenerate who think that labour is the worst of evils and freedom from toil the height of happiness, the day will come, and speedily, when we shall be unworthy of ourselves, and with the loss of honour will come the loss of wealth. Once to have been valiant is not enough; no man can keep his valour unless he watch over it to the end. As the arts decay through neglect, as the body, once healthy and alert, will grow weak through sloth and indolence, even so the powers of the spirit, temperance, self-control, and courage, if we grow slack in training, fall back once more to rottenness and death. We must watch ourselves; we must not surrender to the sweetness of the day. It is a great work, methinks, to found an empire, but a far greater to keep it safe. To seize it may be the fruit of daring and daring only, but to hold it is impossible without self-restraint and self-command and endless care.[…]
…a man’s enjoyment of all good things is in exact proportion to the pains he has undergone to gain them. Toil is the seasoning of delight; without desire and longing, no dish, however costly, could be sweet.[…]
Self-restraint, he believed, would best be cultivated if he made men see in himself one who could not be dragged from the pursuit of virtue by the pleasure of the moment, one who chose to toil first for the happy-hearted joys that go hand-in-hand with beauty and nobleness.[…]
“I assure you, my friend,” said Pheraulas, “the possession of riches is nothing like so sweet as the loss of them is painful. And here is a proof for you: no rich man lies awake from pure joy at his wealth, but did you ever know a man who could close his eyes when he was losing?”
The book was surprisingly readable in spite of the meandering sentences, making it far easier to tackle than The Landmark Thucydides. The crawling bits were broken up with supreme wisdom that made it serve as a manual on how to run the empire that is a man’s life. Don’t expect too much in terms of battle action or excitement, but if you have enjoyed other Greek classics, this is worth a read.
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