“Thrust with thy sword even though it stab through us both.” So Darius was persuaded, and he thrust with his danger and happened to hit the Magian.
Translated by George C. Macaulay — our special project presenting the complete Herodotus with URLs for all of those people, places, events, and things which baffles and discourages modern readers.
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74. Now while these were thus taking counsel together, it was coming to pass by coincidence as follows: — The Magians taking counsel together had resolved to join Prexaspes with themselves as a friend, both because he had suffered grievous wrong from Cambyses, who had killed his son by shooting him, and because he alone knew for a certainty of the death of Smerdis the son of Cyrus, having killed him with his own hands, and finally because Prexaspes was in very great repute among the Persians. For these reasons they summoned him and endeavoured to win him to be their friend, engaging him by pledge and with oaths, that he would assuredly keep to himself and not reveal to any man the deception which had been practised by them upon the Persians, and promising to give him things innumerable in return. After Prexaspes had promised to do this, the Magians, having persuaded him so far, proposed to him a second thing, and said that they would call together all the Persians to come up to the wall of the palace, and bade him go up upon a tower and address them, saying that they were living under the rule of Smerdis the son of Cyrus and no other. This they so enjoined because they supposed that he had the greatest credit among the Persians, and because he had frequently declared the opinion that Smerdis the son of Cyrus was still alive, and had denied that he had slain him.
75. When Prexaspes said that he was ready to do this also, the Magians having called together the Persians caused him to go up upon a tower and bade him address them. Then he chose to forget those things which they asked of him, and beginning with Achaimenes he traced the descent of Cyrus on the father’s side, and then, when he came down to Cyrus, he related at last what great benefits he had conferred upon the Persians; and having gone through this recital he proceeded to declare the truth, saying that formerly he kept it secret, since it was not safe for him to tell of that which had been done, but at the present time he was compelled to make it known. He proceeded to say how he had himself slain Smerdis the son of Cyrus, being compelled by Cambyses, and that it was the Magians who were now ruling. Then he made imprecation of many evils on the Persians, if they did not win back again the power and take vengeance upon the Magians, and upon that he let himself fall down from the tower head foremost. Thus Prexaspes ended his life, having been throughout his time a man of repute.
76. Now the seven of the Persians, when they had resolved forthwith to lay hands upon the Magians and not to delay, made prayer to the gods and went, knowing nothing of that which had been done with regard to Prexaspes: and as they were going and were in the middle of their course, they heard that which had happened about Prexaspes. Upon that they retired out of the way and again considered with themselves, Otanes and his supporters strongly urging that they should delay and not set to the work when things were thus disturbed, while Darius and those of his party urged that they should go forthwith and do that which had been resolved, and not delay. Then while they were contending, there appeared seven pairs of hawks pursuing two pairs of vultures, plucking out their feathers and tearing them. Seeing this the seven all approved the opinion of Darius and thereupon they went to the king’s palace, encouraged by the sight of the birds.
77. When they appeared at the gates, it happened nearly as Darius supposed, for the guards, having respect for men who were chief among the Persians, and not suspecting that anything would be done by them of the kind proposed, allowed them to pass in under the guiding of heaven, and none asked them any question. Then when they had passed into the court, they met the eunuchs who bore in the messages to the king; and these inquired of them for what purpose they had come, and at the same time they threatened with punishment the keepers of the gates for having let them pass in, and tried to stop the seven when they attempted to go forward. Then they gave the word to one another and drawing their daggers stabbed these men there upon the spot, who tried to stop them, and themselves went running on towards the chamber of the men.
78. Now the Magians happened both of them to be there within, consulting about that which had been done by Prexaspes. So when they saw that the eunuchs had been attacked and were crying aloud, they ran back both of them, and perceiving that which was being done they turned to self-defence: and one of them got down his bow and arrows before he was attacked, while the other had recourse to his spear. Then they engaged in combat with one another; and that one of them who had taken up his bow and arrows found them of no use, since his enemies were close at hand and pressed hard upon him, but the other defended himself with his spear, and first he struck Aspathines in the thigh, and then Intaphrenes in the eye; and Intaphrenes lost his eye by reason of the wound, but his life he did not lose. These then were wounded by one of the Magians, but the other, when his bow and arrows proved useless to him, fled into a bedchamber which opened into the chamber of the men, intending to close the door; and with him there rushed in two of the seven, Darius and Gobryas. And when Gobryas was locked together in combat with the Magian, Darius stood by and was at a loss what to do, because it was dark, and he was afraid lest he should strike Gobryas. Then seeing him standing by idle, Gobryas asked why he did not use his hands, and he said: “Because I am afraid lest I may strike thee”: and Gobryas answered: “Thrust with thy sword even though it stab through us both.” So Darius was persuaded, and he thrust with his danger and happened to hit the Magian.
– Herodotus, Book III
Herodotus made his living by being interesting. In a world where most people did not read and could not afford to buy a book even if they could, they would pay to listen to Herodotus recite from his books. They would not pay to be bored. In that world, the names that populate his stories would have some general familiarity to his audience. Their obscurity to us is a barrier that this series seeks to break down.