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prexaspes
Cambyses and Prexaspes

Τάδε δ’ ἐς τοὺς ἄλλους Πέρσας ἐξεμάνη. λέγεται γὰρ εἰπεῖν αὐτὸν πρὸς Πρηξάσπεα, τὸν ἐτίμα τε μάλιστα καί οἱ τὰς ἀγγελίας ἐφόρεε οὗτος, τούτου τε ὁ παῖς οἰνοχόος ἦν τῷ Καμβύσῃ, τιμὴ δὲ καὶ αὕτη οὐ σμικρή· εἰπεῖν δὲ λέγεται τάδε. “Πρήξασπες, κοῖόν με τινὰ νομίζουσι Πέρσαι εἶναι ἄνδρα τίνας τε λόγους περὶ ἐμέο ποιεῦνται;” τὸν δὲ εἰπεῖν “ὦ δέσποτα, τὰ μὲν ἄλλα πάντα μεγάλως ἐπαινέαι, τῇ δὲ φιλοινίῃ σε φασὶ πλεόνως προσκέεσθαι.” τὸν μὲν δὴ λέγειν ταῦτα περὶ Περσέων, τὸν δὲ θυμωθέντα τοιάδε ἀμείβεσθαι. “νῦν ἄρα με φασὶ Πέρσαι οἴνῳ προσκείμενον παραφρονέειν καὶ οὐκ εἶναι νοήμονα· οὐδ’ ἄρα σφέων οἱ πρότεροι λόγοι ἦσαν ἀληθέες.” πρότερον γὰρ δὴ ἄρα, Περσέων οἱ συνέδρων ἐόντων καὶ Κροίσου, εἴρετο Καμβύσης κοῖός τις δοκέοι ἀνὴρ εἶναι πρὸς τὸν πατέρα τελέσαι Κῦρον, οἳ δὲ ἀμείβοντο ὡς εἴη ἀμείνων τοῦ πατρός· τά τε γὰρ ἐκείνου πάντα ἔχειν αὐτὸν καὶ προσεκτῆσθαι Αἴγυπτόν τε καὶ τὴν θάλασσαν. Πέρσαι μὲν ταῦτα ἔλεγον, Κροῖσος δὲ παρεών τε καὶ οὐκ ἀρεσκόμενος τῇ κρίσι εἶπε πρὸς τὸν Καμβύσεα τάδε. “ἐμοὶ μέν νυν, ὦ παῖ Κύρου, οὐ δοκέεις ὅμοιος εἶναι τῷ πατρί· οὐ γάρ κώ τοι ἐστὶ υἱὸς οἷον σε ἐκεῖνος κατελίπετο.” ἥσθη τε ταῦτα ἀκούσας ὁ Καμβύσης καὶ ἐπαίνεε τὴν Κροίσου κρίσιν. τούτων δὴ ὦν ἐπιμνησθέντα ὀργῇ λέγειν πρὸς τὸν Πρηξάσπεα “σύ νυν μάθε εἰ λέγουσι Πέρσαι ἀληθέα εἴτε αὐτοὶ λέγοντες ταῦτα παραφρονέουσι· εἰ μὲν γὰρ τοῦ παιδὸς τοῦ σοῦ τοῦδε ἑστεῶτος ἐν τοῖσι προθύροισι βαλὼν τύχοιμι μέσης τῆς καρδίης, Πέρσαι φανέονται λέγοντες οὐδέν· ἢν δὲ ἁμάρτω, φάναι Πέρσας τε λέγειν ἀληθέα καί με μὴ σωφρονέειν.” ταῦτα δὲ εἰπόντα καὶ διατείναντα τὸ τόξον βαλεῖν τὸν παῖδα, πεσόντος δὲ τοῦ παιδὸς ἀνασχίζειν αὐτὸν κελεύειν καὶ σκέψασθαι τὸ βλῆμα· ὡς δὲ ἐν τῇ καρδίῃ εὑρεθῆναι ἐνεόντα τὸν ὀιστόν, εἰπεῖν πρὸς τὸν πατέρα τοῦ παιδὸς γελάσαντα καὶ περιχαρέα γενόμενον “Πρήξασπες, ὡς μὲν ἐγὼ τε οὐ μαίνομαι Πέρσαι τε παραφρονέουσι, δῆλά τοι γέγονε. νῦν δέ μοι εἰπέ, τίνα εἶδες ἤδη πάντων ἀνθρώπων οὕτω ἐπίσκοπα τοξεύοντα;” Πρηξάσπεα δὲ ὁρῶντα ἄνδρα οὐ φρενήρεα καὶ περὶ ἑωυτῷ δειμαίνοντα εἰπεῖν “δέσποτα, οὐδ’ ἂν αὐτὸν ἔγωγε δοκέω τὸν θεὸν οὕτω ἂν καλῶς βαλεῖν.”
(Herodotus, Hist. 3.34-35)

He committed mad acts against the rest of the Persians as well. The case of Prexaspes, for instance, is mentioned. Cambyses gave Prexaspes the outstanding honour of bringing messages to him, and Prexaspes’ son was Cambyses’ wine-server, which was also a distinguished position to hold. It is said that Cambyses once asked him, ‘Prexaspes, what sort of man do the Persians think I am? What do they say about me?’ ‘Master,’ Prexaspes replied, ‘they have nothing but good to say about you, except in one respect: they say that you are rather too fond of wine.’ Prexaspes’ news about what the Persians were saying made Cambyses angry, and he retorted, ‘In fact the Persians are saying that my fondness for wine is driving me mad and making me lose my mind. It follows, then, that their earlier statements were false.’ The point is that once before, at a meeting between Cambyses, his Persian advisers, and Croesus, Cambyses asked what sort of man they thought him to be, compared to his father Cyrus. The Persians replied that he was a better man than his father, because he had control over the whole of his father’s possessions, while also adding dominion over Egypt and the sea. Croesus was there, however, and the Persians’ reply did not satisfy him, so he said to Cambyses, ‘In my opinion, my lord, you do not bear comparison with your father, because you do not yet have a son of the calibre of the one he left behind.’ Cambyses was delighted with this reply of Croesus’ and used to mention it with approval. This is what he was remembering when he spoke angrily to Prexaspes. ‘You’ll see whether the Persians are speaking the truth,’ he said, ‘or whether in saying this they are out of their minds. There’s your son, standing on the porch. I’ll shoot at him, and if I hit him right in the heart, that will be proof that the Persians are talking nonsense, whereas if I miss, you can say that the Persians are right and that I am out of my mind.’ With these words, he drew his bow and shot the boy with an arrow. The boy fell to the ground and Cambyses ordered his men to slit him open and examine the wound. When it was found that the arrow had pierced his heart, he turned to the boy’s father with a laugh and said delightedly, ‘So there you have it, Prexaspes! This proves that I am quite sane, and the Persians are out of their minds. Now, tell me: do you know anyone else in the world who can shoot an arrow with such accuracy?’ Prexaspes saw that he was quite mad and was afraid for himself. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I don’t think that even the god could have made such a good shot.’ (tr. Robin Waterfield)

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