The young Achaemenidae sat cheerfully talking together in the twilight in a shady bower in the royal gardens, cool fountains plashing round them. Araspes, a Persian of high rank, who had been one of Cyrus’s friends, had joined them, and did full justice to the prince’s excellent wine.
“Fortunate Bartja!” cried the old bachelor, “going out to a golden country to fetch the woman you love; while I, miserable old fellow, am blamed by everybody, and totter to my grave without wife or children to weep for me and pray the gods to be merciful to my poor soul.”
“Why think of such things?” cried Zopyrus, flourishing the wine-cup. “There’s no woman so perfect that her husband does not, at least once a day, repent that he ever took a wife. Be merry, old friend, and remember that it’s all your own fault. If you thought a wife would make you happy, why did not you do as I have done? I am only twenty-two years old and have five stately wives and a troop of the most beautiful slaves in my house.”
Araspes smiled bitterly.
“And what hinders you from marrying now?” said Gyges. “You are a match for many a younger man in appearance, strength, courage and perseverance. You are one of the king’s nearest relations too—I tell you, Araspes, you might have twenty young and beautiful wives.”
“Look after your own affairs,” answered Araspes. “In your place, I certainly should not have waited to marry till I was thirty.”
“An oracle has forbidden my marrying.”
“Folly? how can a sensible man care for what an oracle says? It is only by dreams, that the gods announce the future to men. I should have thought that your own father was example enough of the shameful way in which those lying priests deceive their best friends.”
“That is a matter which you do not understand, Araspes.”
“And never wish to, boy, for you only believe in oracles because you don’t understand them, and in your short-sightedness call everything that is beyond your comprehension a miracle. And you place more confidence in anything that seems to you miraculous, than in the plain simple truth that lies before your face. An oracle deceived your father and plunged him into ruin, but the oracle is miraculous, and so you too, in perfect confidence, allow it to rob you of happiness!”
“That is blasphemy, Araspes. Are the gods to be blamed because we misunderstand their words?”
“Certainly: for if they wished to benefit us they would give us, with the words, the necessary penetration for discovering their meaning. What good does a beautiful speech do me, if it is in a foreign language that I do not understand?”
“Leave off this useless discussion,” said Darius, “and tell us instead, Araspes, how it is that, though you congratulate every man on becoming a bridegroom, you yourself have so long submitted to be blamed by the priests, slighted at all entertainments and festivals, and abused by the women, only because you choose to live and die a bachelor?”