328 UNIVERSAL HISTORY.--THE ANCIENT WORLD.
virtue of the Persians was-as it is of any people who possess it-their love of truth. This
trait in the national character was so noted as to become proverbial in both Asia and
Europe. The praises of the Greek historians-themselves the literary exemplars of a people
who too frequently in their conduct hovered along the bogs of falsehood, not to say the
abysses of perfidy-are not stinted with respect to the sterling character of Persian
truthfulness. Herodotus declares that the three principal precepts of Persian education
were, "to ride, to draw the bow, and to speak the truth." The last injunction was
incorporated in the national religion. Ahura-Mazdao was known and worshiped as "the Father
of Truth." In the best parts of the Zendavesta the practice of truth is inculcated as the
basis of all conduct acceptable to the immortal gods.
This element of character was all the more conspicuous in the Persian race when contrasted
with the lying and treacherous habits which were shamelessly illustrated in the career of
most of the oriental nations. It was only in the later times of the Empire, when the
effects of luxury had told disastrously on the moral character of the race, that the
Persians imbibed the habit of intrigue and treachery, and eyen then, perhaps, only as
employing the same weapons used by their enemies. In the early times a rigid adherence to
truth was practiced in the affairs of life, from the dealings of peasants and masons to
the treaties of the king. Even a promise obtained on false information or under false
pledges was faithfully observed.
It is said that the Persian love of truth was so marked as to lead the people to the
avoidance of debt. It was conceived that the debtor was frequently placed in such
relations of dependence as to encourage in him the practice of equivocation and falsehood.
Therefore it was better to avoid the obligation. Therefore, in the market-place, it was
better to use few words and plain. Therefore it was better, in all manner of
communication, to be straightforward in speech, so that human conduct might be easily and
fathomed to its bottom motives and impulses. It may be safely averred that in respect of
this high species of morality the earlier Persians gave a fairer example than any other
people of the ancient world.
Combined with these high traits of character were others of a different sort. Like most
strong faces, the people of Persia were given to self-indulgence. Great strength and great
hunger are concomitants in human character. If the possessor have not learned the lesson
of restraint, strength will display itself in violence, and hunger in excessive
gratification. The hunter and the soldier are not likely to be reserved in the banqueting
hall. The Persian, moreover, bore his nature on the surface. What he was he was. He spoke
out and acted. If he was angered he raged. If he was pleased he laughed. Instead of that
exterior calmness so noticeable in the demeanor of the Babylozuans, the inner feelings and
passions of the Persian flashed out in word and gesture) and his purposes were known to
Another element in the national character was its servility as it respected the king and
the court. This amounted to a kind of abasement in the presence of power quite
inconsistent with the otherwise, erect attitude of the people. The paradox thus presented
of a union in the same race of qualities so opposite as dignified self-assertion and
crouching servility can only be explained in the light of the age and the then political
condition of the world. At a time when the state was a necessity and the king was the
state; in an epoch when those political institutions by which in modern times the will of
the people finds so easy an utterance had no existence and could have none, the conditions
of despotism, with its correlative, a servile spirit, were natural and perhaps inevitable.
Every age is to be judged by its own criteria, and not in accordance with principles whose
reign has not yet been ushered in. The government of Persia was absolute, and the governed
patiently bowed to the political necessities of the age. The citizen became the sycophant.
The king acted without limitation. Whom he would he