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522 BC / Persia

Voting for Monarchy


Darius had a clever groom called Oebares. After the meeting had broken up, he went to see this fellow, and told him of the arrangement they had come to. “So if,” he added, “you can think of some dodge or other, do what you can to see that this prize falls to me, and to no one else.”

“Well, master,” Oebares answered, “if your chance of winning the throne depends upon nothing but that, you may set your mind at rest; you may be perfectly confident—you, and nobody else, will be king. I know a charm which will suit just our purpose.

“If,” said Darius, “you really have got something that will do the trick, you had better hurry and get it all worked out, for tomorrow is the day.”

Oebares, accordingly, as soon as it was dark, took from the stables the mare which Darius’ horse was particularly fond of, and tied her up on the outskirts of the city. Then he brought along the stallion and led him around and around the mare, getting closer and closer, in narrowing circles, and finally allowed him to mount her. Next morning just before dawn, the six men, according to their agreement, came riding on their horses through the city suburb, and when they reached the spot where the mare had been tethered on the previous night, Darius’ horse started forward and neighed. At the same instant, though the sky was clear, there was a flash of lightning and a clap of thunder: it was a sign from heaven; the election of Darius was assured, and the other five leaped from their saddles and bowed to the ground at his feet.

That is one account of how Oebares made the horse neigh. The Persians also have another, that he rubbed the mare’s genitals and then kept his hand covered inside his breeches. When the sun was rising and the horses were about to be released, he drew his hand out and put it to the nostrils of Darius’ horse, which at the smell of the mare at once snorted and neighed.

In this way Darius became king of Persia.

© Estate of Aubrey de Sélincourt, 1954. Copyright © A. R. Burn, 1972. Used with permission of Penguin Books Ltd.

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Herodotus, from The Histories. Held after the seven conspirators overthrew the Magi rulers of Persia, this debate on government, despite Herodotus’ insistence on its veracity, is generally believed to have been largely or entirely invented. Herodotus lived in the middle of the fifth century bc, claiming to have traveled widely in Egypt, Babylonia, Byzantium, and Macedonia. He wrote that he was born in Halicarnassus, a Greek city then under Persian control, which would later become the site of the Mausoleum of Mausolus, considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

The poor have sometimes objected to being governed badly; the rich have always objected to being governed at all.
G. K. Chesterton, 1908
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