Page images

Babylon, a select stock, sharing the fortunes of Cyrus were to preserve their individuality to this day. And here we see Nebuchadnezzar in the climax of his glory. But these treacherous dynasties never seem to have been of long continuance, and his house was to prove no exception to the rule. With the aid of the Mede his father had overthrown the house of Sargon, who in turn had betrayed his master, and yet another fifty years and Cyrus the Persian is to finally end the Assyrian power and his line at one and the same time. Cyrus is one of those figures in history which we love to linger over. In profane and sacred story alike we see him in all the beauty of his character. Isaiah loves to dwell upon him as the “Anointed of the Lord.” His very name Cyrus rings suggestive of ó Kuplos, the Lord, finding in Greek equivalent ó XPLOTOS, and in Hebrew “Messiah," words which though now incorporated in our language with distinctive meanings are yet but equivalents of and translations of this same phrase, “ The anointed one." And well he merited such meed of praise at their hands. He found them as slaves and captives in a strange land. Never more pathetic song of exiles than Psalm cxxxviii, perhaps never one more terrible : “ By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept when we remembered Zion.” And it tells how bitter their captivity. And he took them out of their dungeon and restored them to dignity and power; and their chiefs he took for his counsellors and advisers. There must have been a strain of common blood feeling between him and this strange, stern, uncompromising race. Like his own people they were hardy hillmen with perhaps all the exaggerated failings and virtues of such tribes. His own particular clansmen were very noble. We know their canons of ethics, the education of their young: To ride, to shoot with the bow, and to tell the truth. We can realize how the hearts of the two went out to one another, how their souls vibrated with a common emotion. Above all, how the poor, ill-used, despised slave must have responded to the advances of his new-to-be master. It is little of kindness received that his history has to tell of. Perhaps it was little he deserved. His history till now has been mostly of fierce fighting and cruel wars and of wrongs done or suffered. And to him, hopeless, stricken, captive, Cyrus was indeed all that Isaiah described him, and in his success these poor exiles saw and he saw the favour of their God. And he was to be founder of a mighty empire, and in that empire the Jew was to hold no mean place. Thus the first great stage in that religion which is the greatest heritage of mankind.

3. So far we have talked of the Medes, the Medes and Persians as better known where the Mede was the dominant partner. In Herodotus we see how their fortunes were interwoven. He tells us how Astyages-probably “the Darius the Median” of Daniel—had a daughter Mandane, whom he married to a Persian, of the royal house as we now know, and who was the mother of this same Cyrus. Much romance gathers round his early history, but probably reduces to the fact that the Medes would have preferred one of their own people as king. It may be that they plotted against him, but he proved to have great abilities, and it is clear that his grandfather Astyages, being an old man, he became virtually king-de-facto of both nations several years before he assumed the title itself. Hence the taking of Babylon by Darius the Median, according to Daniel, or less accurately by Cyrus, according to the Greek account. We have observed that Cyrus was one of the great generals of all time, and his victories no doubt helped to reconcile him to the Medes as their master. So perhaps in these relations with his somewhat supercilious kinsmen we get further sidelight into the regard he had for his new Jew subjects. In power Cyrus speedily restored the fortunes of the dual kingdom, and finally humbled in the dust their hereditary enemies, the Lydians. These he completely

told abylon. syrian, whons with


hiring Babyhe Drava drunken, tirin, and thicon

subdued, taking captive their famous king Croesus, and seizing and enriching himself with his fabulous wealth. Then in the year B.C. 538 we see him resolved to try conclusions with their greatest enemy of all, the Assyrian, whose power was now centralized in Babylon. The story of its last days is graphically told by the prophet, and in his brilliant pages we have a marvellous picture of it in its dying grandeur. This old Assyrian race knew how to quit the stage with dramatic splendour. Nineveh is ended : its king throws himself into the blazing funeral pyre of his own kindling. Babylon is to fall : its king be killed in an orgie of insolent bravado and magnificence. We see the revellers, numerous, drunken, triumphant. We hear the wild laughter, the empty mirth, and thenthe writing, the bidden slave, the interpretationdefiant and exultant-and conclusion : "In that night was Belshazzar, king of the Chaldeans, slain, and Darius the Median took the kingdom, being about three score and two years old.” Thus Cyrus became master of the city. Skilfully he had invested it from without. As signally he was assisted from within. In the Jewish captives he had valuable allies and to them tradition ascribes the opening of the gates from within to signally facilitate its capture. May be other disaffected subjects helped to paralyze the defence, for it was the fortune of these later Assyrian royal houses, themselves ever treacherous, to fall by like treachery when they ceased to be objects of fear. But be it as it may, Babylon his, and Cyrus now entered on the inheritance of the mighty power he had destroyed. On the firm foundation of its ruins he established his Persian Empire, which was soon to grow to such amazing extent.

And in his case victory undoubtedly went to the virtuous. Had Greece been called to meet the Persian of this day it might have been another story to tell. But another fifty years—a short fifty years—was to pass, and this was to be their salvation. It was September, B.C. 490, when a world issue was to be decided at Marathon, and that it was so decided was that the Persian had already fallen from his high estate. The hardy mountaineer who yielded to no mortal foe succumbed without a struggle to the milder climate of the plains and the more insidious dangers of success. Conqueror of his then world, he could not resist the most subtle enemies of man--the enervation of luxury and the insidious passion of wealth. Vain the precepts of their king; vain his ordinances and rules; vain their resolutions and their vows; the once fine hill soldier had become degenerate, sybarite, sensualist, and slave. His world mastery was to end, but because he had first ceased to be master of himself. Yes, fifty years—two short generations—are enough to work the change. For another hundred and fifty years prestige is to enable him to dominate races little different from himself, but as surely as that handwriting on the wall of Babylon told the story-to-be of his enemy, so also is his same story to be told when once he is in serious conflict with the more virile races of the west.

4. B.C. 333, an easy date to memorize, is the battle of the Issus. The year before sees Alexander crossing the Hellespont: West's final challenge to East to mortal combat. Great as his triumph over the Persian in the field, it is but the surface view of his achievement, and the one to interest us the least. As a soldier he was very great, but the world has to tell of many such. Our Clive, for example : his first successes; his defence of Arcot; his amazing victories, and victories not merely against native troops, but against natives assisted and led by the till then superior French. The story of his exploits is a veritable fairy tale, so marvellous were they. On the other hand, in the case of Alexander, the relative value of the combatants had already been proved, above all by the famous “Retreat of the ten thousand,” which established the Greek as the first soldier in the world.

And this was key to Alexander's success. Every individual Greek deemed himself the superior and probably was the superior of every other man the world over. Not only as a soldier did he find himself supreme, but in art, in literature, in science, and in theology he established standards never before known. And this it was gave pre-eminence to Alexander as a conqueror. He was not only general of a victorious army, but far more was missionary of a higher civilization. The conquests of his sword were notable, but as nothing to the intellectual results that followed in their wake. Alone and unassisted, by its own inherent vitality, it might have made its way, but it only wanted the triumphs of Alexander in the field for Hellenism in all its comprehensive significance to become the spiritual power of the world. And it was a willing world led captive. A proud position had been held by other civilizations : by the Egyptian, the Phoenician, the Cretan, and the Assyrian; but where the masterpieces of the Greek, the bewitching loveliness of his wondrous art? And we also have come under its spell. Look at his Parthenon, the despair of every succeeding age, our own included. We still marvel at its wonderful frieze. Where such horses and riders, such delicate and yet such mighty chiselling? And all in such profusion. One such plaque were enough to make a sculptor of our time famous amongst his fellows, and here no end to their number or variety. In God's works alone do we find thought worked out with such exuberant fertility, and none of it to be surpassed. Nor is our indebtedness limited only to his art. In every other realm of the intelligence his canons still give us law. He remoulded not only his own age, but that in which we now live. A dead world found renaissance in study of his masterpieces, and thought only became again worthy of the name when once more it assimilated the ideas of this marvellous past. We mark his philosophy. Whatever is to be said in metaphysics has been better said by him than ever before or since. The triumphs of modern departures have mostly been the reconciling the impossible with the absurd, and have added little to human knowledge or advancement. Probably of

« PreviousContinue »