Friday, September 18, 2009

Otanes the Persian, a man after my own heart

I've been reading Herodotus' Histories, and there's a short interesting story about a Persian named Otanes. A group of magi (priests) briefly seized control of Persia in the 6th century BC. Seven conspirators, including Otanes and Darius led an insurrection which led to Darius becoming sole monarch of Persia. After the insurrection, but before Darius had been declared King, according to Herodotus, there was a debate among the conspirators about what new government Persia should be given. Otanes favored turning the government over to the Persian People (Book III ch 80-83). He was overruled, since amazingly, these seven conspirators deliberating on whether they should forgo power or seize it for themselves, decide they want power themselves, and they side with Darius who favors a sole monarchy. After deciding this, the next question is who among them is to be the sole monarch, and it's here were Otanes really shines through. Otanes says that he doesn't want power, and that he will withdraw if they leave him and his descendants be. According to Herodotus, Otanes says:
Fellow partisans, it is plain that one of us must be made king (whether by lot, or entrusted with the office by the choice of the Persians, or in some other way), but I shall not compete with you; I desire neither to rule nor to be ruled; but if I waive my claim to be king, I make this condition, that neither I nor any of my descendants shall be subject to any one of you. (Book III ch 83)
The conspirators agree to this, and apparently the agreement is honored down to Herodotus' own day--Otanes and his descendants are given complete autonomy.

Otanes is definitely a man after my own heart. It really makes me wonder how many people, given the choice between ruling others or to be free from the rule of others, would choose the latter. I suspect not many, but I really don't know.

Interestingly there's sort of a related tidbit in Book V about freedom and prosperity. After the Athenians have liberated themselves from their tyrants, with the help of Lacedaemonians, the Lacedaemonians start to grow worried about the Athenians:
the Lacedaemonians, when they ... saw the Athenians increasing in power and in no way inclined to obey them, realized that if the Athenians remained free, they would be equal in power with themselves, but that if they were held down under tyranny, they would be weak and ready to serve a master (Book V ch 91)
The Lacedaemonians were realizing that people left free grow both more prosperous and more powerful. Thus, just as Darius would want to restrict his people's freedom to insure that his people don't threaten his power, so the Lacedaemonians realized they would rather had left Athens oppressed to insure that the Athenians didn't threaten their power.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I was looking for that exact Otanes reference, so thanks!