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Book Three (61-97)

The Conspiracy of the Magi

The Magi seize the throne of the Persian empire at Susa by passing off one of their number as Smerdis, the brother of Cambyses. The real Smerdis has been executed on Cambyses' orders (61). At Ecbatana in Syria, Cambyses hears a proclamation in the name of King Smerdis. He questions his henchman Prexaspes, who assures him that he, Prexaspes, buried Smerdis with his own hands (62). They interrogate the herald and discover the true identity of the pretenders (63). Cambyses tries to ride for Susa, but accidentally jumps on his sword and gravely wounds himself. Thus a dream and a prophecy both come true for Cambyses: the dream that Smerdis would be King (which is what persuaded Cambyses to kill his brother in the first place) and the prophecy that he himself would die at Ecbatana (64). With his dying breath, Cambyses appeals to the noble Persians not to let the Persian empire fall into the hands of the Medes (65). But the nobles do not believe that the Smerdis who is now King is not the same man as the brother of Cambyses (66). So Smerdis the Magian rules for seven months and wins support by granting tax breaks and freedom from military service to the subject nations (67). Finally Otanes, a noble Persian, begins to suspect Smerdis. Otanes' daughter is one of Smerdis' wives; Otanes uses her access to Smerdis in bed to determine that Smerdis has no ears, which proves he is Smerdis the Magian and not Smerdis the son of Cyrus (68-69). A junta of seven nobles plans to overthrow the Magi (70). Darius and Otanes debate whether to strike at once, which Darius favors, or to wait, which seems better to Otanes. Darius carries the day. (71-73) Brief digression: the last days of Prexaspes. The Magi hire him to address the populace from the palace walls, and to reassure them that Smerdis the son of Cyrus is indeed King. Prexaspes agrees, but when he gets up on the walls, instead of propagandizing for the Magi he tells the people the truth. Then he commits suicide by toppling headlong from the walls (74-75). The junta approaches the palace and is encouraged by a bird sign (76). They walk right past the guards; when the eunuchs try to stop them, they kill them (77). They proceed into the inner chamber and kill both of the Magi. They then run back into the streets, killing every Magian they meet and announcing the news; soon all the Persians are busily killing Magi, and the holiday called the "Slaughter of the Magi" commemorates the event (78-79).

Constitutional Debate and Accession of Darius

The victorious junta debates whether to alter the constitution of Persia. Otanes argues that monarchy is the worst form of government because absolute power corrupts absolutely, and he proposes to institute the rule of the Many, characterized by the principle of isonomia 'equality before the law' (80). Megabyzus agrees that the monarchy should go, but himself favors an oligarchy on the grounds that the mob cannot be trusted with affairs of state; the Best men will naturally have the best government (81). Darius agrees that the rule of the Many is not desirable, but argues that monarchy is the ideal form of government, since the other forms only lead to political unrest (82). Again Darius carries the day; Otanes withdraws himself from the running for King (83). The remaining six make some ground rules about the privileges of the King; they also agree that whoever's horse neighs first in the morning, that one of them will be King (84). Darius' groom Oebares prepares a trick: he mates Darius' horse with a mare that night, and on the next day leads the men past that spot. The horse remembers his night of passion and neighs, and as Zeus confirms the outcome with a flash from a cloudless sky, Darius becomes King (85-6). An alternate version says the groom rubbed his arm all over the mare's genitals, then held it under the nose of Darius' horse, causing him to neigh (87). Darius becomes King of all Asia except the Arabians; he marries some Persian women and sets up a massive stone monument with an inscription commemorating his accession (88). Imperial administration of Darius (89). List of the tribute (taxes) paid to Darius by various parts of the Persian Empire (90-96). The Persians themselves do not pay taxes to Darius. A few nations do not pay with money but with gifts of various kinds; these are Ethiopia, Colchis, and Arabia.

Hum 110 | Reed Classics | Reed Library | Reed | Perseus