Long, long ago, there lived in Iran a little prince whose name was Cyrus.
He was not petted and spoiled like many other princes. Although his father was a king, Cyrus was brought up like the son of a common man.
He knew how to work with his hands. He ate only the plainest food. He slept on a hard bed. He learned to endure hunger and cold.
When Cyrus was twelve years old he went with his mother to Media to visit his grandfather. His grandfather, whose name was Astyages, [Footnote: Astyages (pro. as ti’a jeez).] was king of Media, and very rich and powerful.
Cyrus was so tall and strong and handsome that his grandfather was very proud of him. He wished the lad to stay with him in Media. He therefore gave him many beautiful gifts and everything that could please a prince. One day King Astyages planned to make a great feast for the lad. The tables were to be laden with all kinds of food. There was to be music and dancing; and Cyrus was to invite as many guests as he chose. The hour for the feast came. Everything was ready. The servants were there, dressed in fine uniforms. The musicians and dancers were in their places. But no guests came.
“How is this, my dear boy?” asked the king. “The feast is ready, but no one has come to partake of it.”
“That is because I have not invited any one,” said Cyrus.” In Persia we do not have such feasts. If any one is hungry, he eats some bread and meat, with perhaps a few cresses, and that is the end of it. We never go to all this trouble and expense of making a fine dinner in order that our friends may eat what is not good for them.”
King Astyages did not know whether to be pleased or displeased.
“Well,” said he, “all these rich foods that were prepared for the feast are yours. What will you do with them?”
“I think I will give them to our friends,” said Cyrus.
So he gave one portion to the king’s officer who had taught him to ride. Another portion he gave to an old servant who waited upon his grandfather. And the rest he divided among the young women who took care of his mother.
The king’s cupbearer, Sarcas, was very much offended because he was not given a share of the feast. The king also wondered why this man, who was his favorite, should be so slighted.
“Why didn’t you give something to Sarcas?” he asked.
“Well, truly,” said Cyrus, “I do not like him. He is proud and overbearing. He thinks that he makes a fine figure when he waits on you.” “And so he does,” said the king. “He is very skillful as a cupbearer.” “That may be so,” answered Cyrus, “but if you will let me be your cupbearer tomorrow, I think I can serve you quite as well.”
King Astyages smiled. He saw that Cyrus had a will of his own, and this pleased him very much.
“I shall be glad to see what you can do,” he said. “Tomorrow, you shall be the king’s cupbearer.”
You would hardly have known the young prince when the time came for him to appear before his grandfather. He was dressed in the rich uniform of the cupbearer, and he came forward with much dignity and grace.
He carried a white napkin upon his arm, and held the cup of wine very daintily with three of his fingers.
His manners were perfect. Sarcas himself could not have served the king half so well.
“Bravo! bravo!” cried his mother, her eyes sparkling with pride.
“You have done well” said his grandfather. “But you neglected one important thing. It is the rule and custom of the cupbearer to pour out a little of the wine and taste it before handing the cup to me. This you forgot to do.”
“Indeed, grandfather, I did not forget it,” answered Cyrus.
“Then why didn’t you do it?” asked his mother.
“Because I believed there was poison in the wine.”
“Poison, my boy!” cried King Astyages, much alarmed. “Poison! poison!”
“Yes, grandfather, poison. For the other day, when you sat at dinner with your officers, I noticed that the wine made you act queerly. After the guests had drunk quite a little of it, they began to talk foolishly and sing loudly; and some of them went to sleep. And you, grandfather, were as bad as the rest. You forgot that you were king. You forgot all your good manners. You tried to dance and fell upon the floor. I am afraid to drink anything that makes men act in that way.”
“Didn’t you ever see your father behave so?” asked the king.
“No, never,” said Cyrus. “He does not drink merely to be drinking. He drinks to quench his thirst, and that is all.”
When Cyrus became a man, he succeeded his father as king of Persia; he also succeeded his grandfather Astyages as king of Media. He was a very wise and powerful ruler, and he made his country the greatest of any that was then known. In history he is commonly called Cyrus the Great.