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Cambyses and Cyrus

It seems as though Cyrus’ education of the gods is one such that he is able to hold certain appearances and rely on different understandings when they are convenient for him. His father, Cambyses, seems to be more dedicated to one manner and understanding of worshiping the gods. The two points of view seem to diverge in part based on generational or perhaps educational differences.
Cambyses, was raised under the Persian point of view. In contrast, Cyrus was allowed the opportunity to study both in Media and in Persia. The scene where Cambyses brings his son to the border of Media illustrates a defined line for the beginning of two separately defined belief systems. While he remains with his father, the two recognize divine signs and pray together. “When an eagle appeared to their right and went ahead of them, they prayed to the gods and heroes who occupy Persia…after they crossed, they prayed again to the gods who occupy Media” (p.61). The eagle being a symbol of Zeus, and coming from the right being a good omen, meant that this moment necessitated prayer. It also appears that the crossing of borders, out of courtesy is another opportunity for orthodox prayer. Since this scene does end in a split, there may be some significance in the fact that Cyrus completed these prayers in the presence of his father and may have acted differently had he been alone.
In the previous book, Cambyses had already begun to discuss religious practices with his son as they discussed leadership theories and military organization. “Never run risk contrary to the sacrifices and auguries, either those for yourself or those for the army” (p.58). Cambyses places the will of the gods over any human trait or understanding in this final note to Cyrus. He seems to believe that the future is determined directly from knowledge of the past and the present, a combination only to be known by the gods. “Yet the gods, son, being eternal, know all that has come to be, all that is, and what will result from each of these things” (p.59). Seeing the gods in such an omnipotent and eternal manner, it appears that Cambyses believes the will of the gods determines anything that human beings will ever need. His belief system, and then by extension perhaps that of the Persians in general, seems to be that since the future is pre-determined, the gods should always be worshiped and obeyed.
Cyrus, having experienced different cultures in his education, seems to hold a slightly different view on the gods and religion than his father. However, he does understand the cultural necessity for the gods and how this belief system could be either beneficial or detrimental to any organized effort. “Immediately on being chosen, he began with the gods. After sacrificing with good omen, he then chose the two hundred” (p.44). This shows that Cyrus understands the need for a consistent way of proceeding so that the soldiers he then has to organize and lead are all unified under a single mode of understanding. The need for a certain appearance is beneficial in appeasing the beliefs of the people. Therefore, as a leader, and despite what his personal beliefs may be, it is prudent for him to continue with the belief system in place so as to gain respect and allegiance from those under his command.
In his education, Cyrus seems to take a lot of the ideas concerned with understanding and interacting with the gods and relates them to understanding and relating to people. “I remember hearing you say once that he who did not flatter the gods when he was at a loss, but rather remembered them especially when he was faring well, would probably be more effective in action with gods, just as also with human beings” (p.46). Cyrus takes this teaching from his father, conveying the need for a stronger relationship with the gods no matter the circumstance, and relates it instead to how the philosophy can be used with the men that he has been chosen to lead. Therefore, he sees that he must flatter and appease the men in good times so that they are willing in the bad as well.
Cyrus continues to turn most of the teachings that Cambyses has to share with him on building a relationship with the gods around so as to show a need for more human centered ideas over worship-centered ideas. “Then we decided the it was necessary to ask for the good things from the gods only after rendering ourselves such as we ought to be” (p.47). Cyrus and his father both seem to agree that there is a prudent way to ask for favor from them gods, where one is already well accustomed to certain mode and already holds potential for success in that field. However, unlike Cambyses, Cyrus seems to focus more on this need for increased potential in the individual over the blind flattery to the gods.
In his education Cyrus has gained a working knowledge of the importance the gods play in the management of men. He uses the various theories on the future, the religious proceedings, and the nature of the gods to find leadership theories to suit his ambition. It seems as though his theories are more an extension of Cambyses than a complete departure. He uses the mixture of ideas he was exposed to in being educated in two different societies to his advantage in understanding how to order the individuals under his command.

20 Responses to “Cambyses and Cyrus”

  1. khoneycutt says:

    Brieanah,

    I really like the point about generational differences. I think this is something of a Socratic theme, as you see it in Plato, too. The older generation vying over the education of the youth of tomorrow. The Athenian philosophy vs. the foreign sophists and all of that stuff. In both the Republic and the Gorgias (not to mention the Apology), there is a clear sense of the difference between the older generation of Marathon fighters and the newer generation (e.g., Alcibiades). The old values of Athens have disintegrated, rightly or wrongly. And a new education is needed in its place (Nietzsche will later say something similar about 19th century Europe).

    So do we have something like that in Xenophon? As you note, Cambyses has been brought up in Persian ways, whereas Cyrus has experienced ceremonies and sacrifices in two different cultures. So Cyrus would have seen how piety is a constant but he would have also seen how differently piety can manifest itself (although it seems there are many similarities between the Persians and the Medes in this regard). So Cyrus is not only from the younger generation but he has seen ways beyond the “ways of the fathers,” so to speak, i.e., the traditions of his homeland.

    Your point about the role that the gods play in the management of men is an apt one. Whether or not Cyrus believes in any gods, much less the gods of his soldiers, he pays public homage to them constantly. I think there is something like this in the Republic; the forms / ideas are not enough for the guardians, but the old (Homeric gods) are bad for other reasons. So we need a new, public theology, even while the philosopher kings and queens have something else. Is Cyrus doing something similar?

    KH

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