The Faith Wife of Susa

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Author: Xenophon
Date:
Publisher: Gale, a Cengage Company
Document Type: Short story
Length: 3,391 words

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About this Work
Title: The Faith Wife of Susa (Short story)
Genre: Short story
Author: Xenophon
Occupation: Greek historian
Other Names Used: Xenophon the Elder;
Translated By:Henry Graham Dakyns,Florence Melian Stawell.
Text:

CYRUS called to his side Araspas the Mede, who had been his comrade in boyhood. It was he to whom Cyrus gave the Median cloak he was wearing when he went back to Persia from his grandfather's court. Now he summoned him, and asked him to take care of the tent and the lady from Susa. She was the wife of Abradatas, a Susian, and when the Assyrian camp was captured it happened that her husband was away. And now Cyrus asked Araspas to guard the captive lady until her husband could take her back himself. To that Araspas replied, "Have you seen the lady whom you bid me guard?"

"No, indeed," said Cyrus, "certainly I have not."

"But I have," rejoined the other, "I saw her when we chose her for you. When we came into the tent, we did not make her out at first, for she was seated on the ground with all her maidens round her, and she was clad in the same attire as her slaves, but when we looked at them all to discover the mistress, we soon saw that one outshone the others, although she was veiled and kept her eyes on the ground. And when we bade her rise, all her women rose with her, and then we saw that she was marked out from them all by her height, and her noble bearing, and her grace, and the beauty that shone through her mean apparel. And, under her veil, we could see the big tear-drops trickling down her garments to her feet. At that sight the eldest of us said, 'Take comfort, lady, we know that your husband was beautiful and brave, but we have chosen you a man to-day who is no whit inferior to him in face or form or mind or power; Cyrus, we believe, is more to be admired than any soul on earth, and you shall be his from this day forward.' But when the lady heard that, she rent the veil that covered her head and gave a pitiful cry, while her maidens lifted up their voice and wept with their mistress. And thus we could see her face, and her neck, and her arms, and I tell you, Cyrus," he added, "I myself, and all who looked on her, felt that there never was, and never had been, in broad Asia a mortal woman half so fair as she. Nay, but you must see her for yourself."

"Say, rather, I must not," answered Cyrus, "if she be such as you describe."

"And why not?" asked the young man.

"Because," said he, "if the mere report of her beauty could persuade me to go and gaze on her to-day, when I have not a moment to spare, I fear she would win me back again and perhaps I should neglect all I have to do, and sit and gaze at her for ever."

At that the young man laughed outright and said:

"So you think, Cyrus, that the beauty of any human creature can compel a man to do wrong against his will? Take my own case," he added, "I have seen this lady myself, and passing fair I found her, and yet here I stand before you, and am still your trooper and can still perform my duty."

"I do not deny it," said Cyrus; "probably you came away in time. Love takes a little while to seize and carry off his victim. You yourself, my friend, if you will follow my advice, will not let your own eyes linger there too long; burning fuel will only burn those who touch it, but beauty can fire the beholder from afar, until he is all aflame with love."

"Oh, fear me not, Cyrus," answered he; "if I looked till the end of time I could not be made to do what ill befits a man."

"A fair answer," said Cyrus. "Guard her then, as I bid you, and be careful of her. This lady may be of service to us all one day."

With these words they parted. But afterwards, after the young man saw from day to day how marvellously fair the woman was, and how noble and gracious in herself, after he took care of her, and fancied that she was not insensible to what he did, after she set herself, through her attendants, to care for his wants and see that all things were ready for him when he came in, and that he should lack for nothing if ever he were sick, after all this, love entered his heart and took possession ...

Cyrus decided to send a spy into Lydia to ascertain the movements of the king, and he thought that the right man for this purpose was Araspas, the officer in charge of the fair lady from Susa. Matters had gone ill with Araspas: he had fallen passionately in love with his prisoner, and been led to entreat her to be his paramour. She had refused, faithful to her husband who was far away, for she loved him dearly, but she forbore to accuse Araspas to Cyrus, being unwilling to set friend at strife with friend. But when at length Araspas, thinking it would help him in his desires, began to threaten her, saying that if she would not yield he would have his will of her by force, then in her dread of violence she could keep the matter hid no longer, and she sent her eunuch to Cyrus with orders to tell him everything. And when Cyrus heard it he smiled over the man who had boasted that he was superior to love, and sent Artabazus back with the eunuch to tell Araspas that he must use no violence against such a woman, but if he could persuade her, he might do so. But Artabazus, when he saw Araspas, rebuked him sternly, saying that the woman was a sacred trust, and his conduct disgraceful, impious, and wicked, till Araspas burst into tears of misery and shame, and was half dead at thought of what Cyrus would do. Learning this, Cyrus sent for him, saw him alone, and said to him face to face:

"Araspas, I know that you are afraid of me and in an agony of shame. Be comforted; we are told that the gods themselves are made subject to desire, and I could tell you what love has forced some men to undergo, men who seemed most lofty and most wise. Did I not pass sentence on myself, when I confessed I was too weak to consort with loveliness and remain unmoved? Indeed it is I who am most to blame in the matter, for I shut you up myself with this irresistible power."

But Araspas broke in on his words:

"Ah, Cyrus, you are ever the same, gentle and compassionate to human weaknesses. But all the rest of the world has no pity on me; they drown me in wretchedness. As soon as the tattlers got wind of my misfortune, all my enemies exulted, and my friends came to me, advising me to make away with myself for fear of you, because my iniquity was so great."

Then Cyrus said, "Now listen: this opinion about you may be the means by which you can do me a great kindness and your comrades a great service." "Oh, that it were possible," said Araspas, "for me ever to be of service to you!" "Well," said the other, "if you went to the enemy, feigning that you had fled from me, I think they would believe you." "I am sure they would," said Araspas, "I know even my own friends would think that of course I ran away." "Then you will come back to us," Cyrus went on, "with full information about the enemy's affairs; for, if I am right in my expectation, they will trust you and let you see all their plans, so that you need miss nothing of what we wish to know." "I will be off this moment," said Araspas; "it will be my best credential to have it thought I was just in time to escape punishment from you."

"Then you can really bring yourself to leave the beautiful Pantheia?"

"Yes, Cyrus," he answered, "I can; for I see now that we have two souls. When the beautiful soul prevails, all fair things are wrought, and when the evil soul has the mastery, she lays her hand to shame and wickedness. But to-day my good soul conquers, because she has you to help her."

Thereupon Araspas took his leave, called together his trustiest attendants, said what he thought necessary for the occasion, and departed.

Now Pantheia, when she heard that Araspas had fled, sent a messenger to Cyrus, saying:

"Grieve not, Cyrus, that Araspas has gone to join the foe: I will bring you a far trustier friend than he, if you will let me send for my husband, and I know he will bring with him all the power that he has. It is true that the old king was my husband's friend, but he who reigns now tried to tear us two asunder, and my husband knows him for a tyrant and a miscreant, and would gladly be quit of him and take service with such a man as you."

When Cyrus heard that, he bade Pantheia send word to her husband, and she did so. Now when Abradatas saw the tokens from his wife, and learnt how matters stood, he was full of joy, and set out for Cyrus' camp immediately, with a thousand horsemen in his train. And when he came to the Persian outposts he sent to Cyrus saying who he was, and Cyrus gave orders that he should be taken to Pantheia forthwith. So husband and wife met again after hope had well-nigh vanished, and were in each other's arms once more. And then Pantheia spoke of Cyrus, his nobleness, his honour, and the compassion he had shown her, and Abradatas cried:

"Tell me, tell me, how can I repay him all I owe him in your name and mine!" And she answered:

"So deal with him, my husband, as he has dealt with you."

Thus Abradatas went to Cyrus, and took him by the hand, and said:

"Cyrus, in return for the kindness you have shown us, I can say no more than this: I give myself to you, I will be your friend, your servant, and your ally: whatever you desire, I will help you to win, your fellow-worker always, so far as in me lies."

Then Cyrus answered:

"And I will take your gift: but for the moment you must leave me, and sup with your wife: another day you will let me play the host, and give you lodging with your friends and mine."

Meanwhile Cyrus continued his preparations for the war on a magnificent scale, like one who meant to accomplish no small achievement.

As soon as the victims were favourable, he set out with his force. ...

But Abradatas, the lord of Susa, cried:

"Cyrus, let me, I pray you, volunteer for the post in front."

And Cyrus, struck with admiration for the man, took him by the hand, and turning to the Persians in command of the other centuries said:

"Perhaps, gentlemen, you will allow this?"

But they answered that it was hard to resign the post of honour, and so they all drew lots, and the lot fell on Abradatas.

But early on the morrow Cyrus offered sacrifice, and meanwhile the rest of the army took their breakfast, and after the libation they armed themselves, a great and goodly company in bright tunics and splendid breastplates and shining helmets. All the horses had frontlets and chest-plates, the chargers had armour on their shoulders, and the chariot-horses on their flanks; so that the whole army flashed with bronze, and shone like a flower with scarlet. The eight-horse chariot of Abradatas was a marvel of beauty and richness; and just as he was about to put on the linen corslet of his native land, Pantheia came, bringing him a golden breastplate and a helmet of gold, and armlets and broad bracelets for his wrists, and a full flowing purple tunic, and a hyacinth-coloured helmet-plume. All these she had made for him in secret, taking the measure of his armour without his knowledge. And when he saw them, he gazed in wonder and said:

"Dear wife, and did you destroy your own jewels to make this armour for me?"

But she said, "No, my lord, at least not the richest of them all, for you shall be my loveliest jewel, when others see you as I see you now."

As she spoke, she put the armour on him, but then, though she tried to hide it, the tears rolled down her cheeks.

And truly, when Abradatas was arrayed in the new panoply, he, who had been fair enough to look upon before, was now a sight of splendour, noble and beautiful and free, as indeed his nature was. He took the reins from the charioteer, and was about to set foot on the car, when Pantheia bade the bystanders withdraw, and said to him, "My own lord, little need to tell you what you know already, yet this I say, if any woman loved her husband more than her own soul, I am of her company. Why should I try to speak? Our lives say more than any words of mine. And yet, feeling for you what you know, I swear to you by the love between us that I would rather go down to the grave beside you after a hero's death than live on with you in shame. I have thought you worthy of the highest, and believed myself worthy to follow you. And I bear in mind the great gratitude we owe to Cyrus, who, when I was his captive, chosen for his spoil, was too high-minded to treat me as a slave, or dishonour me as a free woman; he took me and saved me for you, as though I had been his brother's wife. And when Araspas, my warder, turned from him, I promised, if he would let me send for you, I would bring him a friend in the other's place, far nobler and more faithful."

And as Pantheia spoke, Abradatas listened with rapture to her words, and when she ended, he laid his hand upon her head, and looking up to heaven he prayed aloud:

"O most mighty Zeus, make me worthy to be Pantheia's husband, and the friend of Cyrus who showed us honour!"

Then he opened the driver's seat and mounted the car, and the driver shut the door, and Pantheia could not take him in her arms again, so she bent and kissed the chariot-box. Then the car rolled forward and she followed unseen till Abradatas turned and saw her and cried, "Be strong, Pantheia, be of a good heart! Farewell, and hie thee home!"

Thereupon her chamberlains and her maidens took her and brought her back to her own carriage, and laid her down and drew the awning. But no man, of all who were there that day, splendid as Abradatas was in his chariot, had eyes to look on him until Pantheia had gone.

The next day Cyrus called some of his squires and said:

"Tell me, have any of you seen Abradatas? I wonder that he who used to come to me so often is nowhere to be found."

Then one of the squires made answer, "My lord, he is dead: he fell in the battle, charging straight into the Egyptian ranks: the rest, all but his own companions, swerved before their close array. And now," he added, "we hear that his wife has found his body and laid it in her own car, and has brought it here to the banks of the Pactolus. Her chamberlains and her attendants are digging a grave for the dead man upon a hill, and she, they say, has put her fairest raiment on him and her jewels, and she is seated on the ground with his head upon her knees."

Then Cyrus smote his hand upon his thigh and leapt up and sprang to horse, galloping to the place of sorrow, with a thousand troopers at his back. He bade Gadatas and Gobryas take what jewels they could find to honour the dear friend and brave warrior who had fallen, and follow with all speed: and he bade the keepers of the herds, the cattle, and the horses drive up their flocks wherever they heard he was, that he might sacrifice on the grave.

But when he saw Pantheia seated on the ground and the dead man lying there, the tears ran down his cheeks and he cried:

"O noble and loyal spirit, have you gone from us?"

Then he took the dead man by the hand, but the hand came away with his own: it had been hacked by an Egyptian blade. And when he saw that, his sorrow grew, and Pantheia sobbed aloud and took the hand from Cyrus and kissed it and laid it in its place, as best she could, and said:

"It is all like that, Cyrus. But why should you see it?" And presently she said, "All this, I know, he suffered for my sake, and for yours too, Cyrus, perhaps as much. I was a fool: I urged him so to bear himself as became a faithful friend of yours, and he, I know, he never thought once of his own safety, but only of what he might do to show his gratitude. Now he has fallen, without a stain upon his valour: and I, who urged him, I live on to sit beside his grave."

And Cyrus wept silently for a while, and then he said:

"Lady, his end was the noblest and the fairest that could be: he died in the hour of victory. Take these gifts that I have brought and adorn him."

For now Gobryas and Gadatas appeared with store of jewels and rich apparel. "He shall not lack for honour," Cyrus said; "many hands will raise his monument: it shall be a royal one; and we will offer such sacrifice as befits a hero. And you, lady," he added, "you shall not be left desolate. I reverence your chastity and your nobleness, and I will give you a guardian to lead you whithersoever you choose, if you will but tell me to whom you wish to go."

And Pantheia answered:

"Be at rest, Cyrus, I will not hide from you to whom I long to go."

Therewith Cyrus took his leave of her and went, pitying from his heart the woman who had lost so brave a husband, and the dead man in his grave, taken from so sweet a wife, never to see her more. Then Pantheia bade her chamberlains stand aside "until," she said, "I have wept over him as I would." But she made her nurse stay with her and she said:

"Nurse, when I am dead, cover us with the same cloak." And the nurse entreated and besought her, but she could not move her, and when she saw that she did but vex her mistress, she sat down and wept in silence. Then Pantheia took the scimitar, that had been ready for her so long, and drew it across her throat, and dropped her head upon her husband's breast and died. And the nurse cried bitterly, but she covered the two with one cloak as her mistress had bidden her.

And when Cyrus heard what Pantheia had done he rushed out in horror to see if he could save her. And when the three chamberlains saw what had happened they drew their own scimitars and killed themselves, there where she had bidden them stand. And when Cyrus came to that place of sorrow, he looked with wonder and reverence on the woman, and wept for her and went his way and saw that all due honour was paid to those who lay there dead, and a mighty sepulchre was raised above them, mightier, men say, than had been seen in all the world before.

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Gale Document Number: GALE|LTF0000788108WK