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Appearances are deceiving

The Cyrus in Xenophon’s Education of Cyrus is a man who conquered most of the known world, but there was also a man who was obsessed with what was seemly.  He cares so much about appearance that it clouds everything he that he does. In Book one Chapter two, Xenophon writes that Cyrus “is most eager to learn, and most ambitious, with the result that he endured every labor, and faced every risk for the sake of being praised.”(1.2.1) That same love of praise is also noted when Cyrus is speaking to Gobryas, “an old Assyrian man” (4.6.1) when he says “ that as long as I am just and am praised by human beings because I seem to be so, I shall never forget this but will try to honor you.”(5.2.11) But by Book eight it is suggested that he not only wants the praise, but also that the King of Persia only does certain deeds because he perceives that that is what is just for his people, “ Cyrus judged it necessary that servants have the same qualities as those believed to be best,… for they should believe that it is fitting for them to do whatever the ruler commands”(2.1.31)  Those qualities being what the Persian boys learn when they are young: justice, moderation, obeying the elders, continence in food and drink.(1.2.7-8)

Over the duration of the military campaign, Cyrus made it is mission to appear a certain way to his troops. He was always distributing war prizes equally to his troops,” he would treat them as friends and trusted troops, so that they would receive no less from him than either Persians or Medes”, and “ since he seemed to have warded off a major threat for them; others also has hopes that because he appeared to be a good and fortunate man, he would one day be exceedingly great”( 4.2.8-10) While on the journey to Babylon, Cyrus distributes more goods to his men all for the purpose of being loved and praised by his men, but this time he gives his consent for the men to “ ‘ then choose women’ he said ‘ as well as whatever else may seem good to you.”(4.5.52) The tactics that Cyrus exercises works because even Cyaxares, who is King of the Medes notices that the troops gravitate towards Cyrus rather than himself who is the actual ruler,” human begins seem to me to be somewhat similarly disposed toward you for even when you are going away from us to Persia … we saw nearly all of your friends willingly following along.”(5.1.24)  Still on the way to Babylon, Cyrus and his army are eating with Gobryas, at his house and as they eat their meal, Gobryas notes that “when at table the educated Persians think it necessary to appear to be prudent and restrained.”(5.2.17)

 

At the beginning of Book eight, Cyrus is compared to a good father because he distributes commodities to everyone equally, “a good ruler is no different from a good father. For fathers take forethought for their children so that they never lack the good things… we could especially pass our lives in happiness.”(8.1.1)  That is how he is able to get the praise and adoration that he craves.

Throughout Book eight there are several instances where Cyrus says what it is seemly to do, but under the surface there is the feeling that he knows what to do get his troops and people to be loyal to him. “Just as you yourselves think it right to rule over those beneath you, let us similarly obey those whom it is seemly to obey” (8.1.4) He could be speaking of his father, who is still King of Persia, and one who does not forget to remind Cyrus of this fact,” As long as I am alive, the kingship in Persia is mine.”(8.5.26) With regard to being devout this is his reasoning” Cyrus believed that piety of those with him was also good for himself… those who choose to sail with the pious rather than with those who seem to have been impious in something” (8.1.25)

When Cyrus spent some of his youth in Media with his grandfather, Astyages he learned some customs of the Medes such as being adorned with eye shadow, rouge, and a wig- as was customary among the Medes; purple coats, cloaks,  necklaces ,and bracelets”, which were very different from the plain clothes that the Persians wore ( 1.3.2) Nevertheless, once he had conquered Babylon  he thought it best  to “bewitch his subjects by wearing a Median robe, for this robe seemed to him to hide a bodily defect, and it displayed their wearers as especially beautiful and tall.”(8.1.40)  By the end he became obsessed with what others would see him as, so he created this image of what he thought he should appear as, which turned out to be more like a Median ruler than a Persian one.

19 Responses to “Appearances are deceiving”

  1. khoneycutt says:

    Emily,

    You use the text well to highlight the role that appearances play in Cyrus’ rule. At every step of the way, he maintains a certain image (which may change, depending on whether he is dealing with his soldiers or with rival princes) in order to maintain his authority. As you note, this image is very Persian.

    However, as you also note, by the end it is very Median. Cyrus in the end appears as what he is: an oriental despot. Why does he drop the charade by the end of the book? Or is it rather than he has become something else?

    As you note, the conquest of Babylon seems to be the key episode. Is the culmination of his battles, or is there something unique about Babylon such that it changes him?

    He distributes many things to his soldiers, but by the end of the tale he basically owns everything, in a sense. Is he just tired of pretending that he doesn’t? Is there something important about the fact that he now wants his men to acknowledge his ownership?

    KH

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