"Greek" Ezra: The Story of 3 Wise Young Men
Chapters Three and Four
One night, King Darius of Persia hosted a huge feast for everyone who served him, including not only all the members of his own household, and all the princes of Media and Persia, but all the satraps, commanders, governors and their officials who had charge over the king’s one hundred and twenty-seven provinces that stretched from India to Ethiopia.
The king and his guests feasted throughout the night. When he had eaten his fill and drunk so much wine he could barely stand, King Darius staggered off to his bedchamber where he collapsed on the floor and fell into a deep slumber.
Standing guard by the door were three young men, recruited from the king’s personal bodyguard. Their names were Hesiod, Maximus and Zerubar. The young men discussed amongst themselves what entertainment the king intended to provide for his numerous guests tomorrow. (They had no need to speak softly for excessive wine held the king in the impregnable prison of sleep).
“A contest!” suggested Hesiod. “Let us propose a riddle. For example, What is the strongest force in the world? Then each of us will write down the one thing that he considers the strongest. When he wakes up, the king will thank us. And whoever puts forward the wisest arguments, the king will then reward with great gifts and honors. The winner will be dressed in purple. He’ll drink from a gold cup, sleep on a bed of ostrich feathers, drive in a chariot with silver-trimmed bridles, wear a cloak of the finest linen, with a jeweled chain around his neck. And most important of all, as a reward for his wisdom, he will sit at the king’s right hand on his throne, be counted as his counselor, and be regarded by one and all as the King’s Special Friend and Kinsman.”
Each of the young men wrote out his answer to the riddle, and sealed it with his personal seal. Hesiod placed the proposal and the sealed answers on the king’s pillow where he would be sure to sight them.
“When the king wakes up, he’ll see our proposal and our answers,” said Hesiod. “And whoever is judged by the king and the three princes of Persia to have written the wisest answer, will be the victor of the contest.”
Next morning, when the king arose, he saw the notes and read them. What is the strongest force in the world? Hesiod’s answer was diplomatic. “King Darius is strongest,” he had written. Maximus, also with an eye on the king, nominated “wine.” Zerubar, on the other hand, craftily ignoring the contest’s basic rule, had hedged his bets by writing: “Women are strongest, but Truth is victorious over all.”
King Darius was so delighted, he summoned the whole court to attend his throne room: all the princes of Persia and Media, the satraps, the commanders, the governors and the senior officers. When all were assembled, the king took his place on the royal throne of judgment. After explaining the details of the contest, King Darius asked the court scribe to read out the sayings presented by the three young men.
Then the king ordered the young men to be brought before him. “State your reasons for writing what you have written,” he asked them.
Hesiod, who had said that the king is strongest, spoke first: “My lords, you don’t need me to tell you how strong are men who rule over land and sea (and everything in them). Yet the king is even stronger. He is your overlord and rules over you. And thus you obey his every command. For example, if he orders you to make war on one another, you do so. And if he sends you out to fight against a common enemy, you think nothing of conquering mountains, walls and towers. You kill and risk being killed yourselves, yet you dare not disobey the king. And when you win the war, what do you do with the spoils? Do you keep them for yourselves? No! You bring them all to the king.
“The same thing applies to people who have nothing to do with wars and soldiering at all. Farmers, for example. When they harvest their crops, they present the lion’s share to the king. Not only that, they make sure every one of their fellows does likewise. Otherwise the king’s wrath will descend on them all.
“The king is only one man but if he orders his armies to attack, they attack. To ravage, they ravage. To kill, they kill. To spare, they spare. If the king commands his subjects to build, they build. To destroy, they destroy. If he orders farmers to plant, they plant. To uproot, they uproot. To cut down, they cut down.
“Thus all the peoples and all the armies in all the vast lands under his control, obey the king. No-one may go off and attend to his own business, if the king decides otherwise.
“But not only do we all obey our king in every particular, we keep watch over him while he eats, drinks, sleeps and rests, so that no harm may come to him from any source.
“Surely then, my lords, I’m certain you’ll agree: the king is the strongest force in the universe!”
King Darius nodded his approval. His courtiers were quick to concur: No other force in the entire world could match the strength of their king.
When the clamor had subsided a little, the second young man, Maximus, rose to speak. The king raised his finger. The whole court hushed into silence.
“My lords, I want you to consider the strength of wine. I’m sure you’ll raise no objection to the fact that wine has the strength to befuddle the wits of everyone who drinks it. King or outcast, free man or slave, rich merchant or beggar—wine strikes them all alike. Not only does it turn all their thoughts to merriment and joy, and drive out all memory of sorrows or debts, it so enriches every heart that no man cares a fig for king or satrap, commander or governor, general or prince. Suddenly they become lords of all, with millions at their command and untold riches at their feet.
“When men drink heavily, they also soon forget their love for friends and family. Readily they draw their swords to strike blindly at friend and foe alike. But when they wake up from their drunken state, they can remember nothing they did in their wine-made stupor! Nothing at all!
“Is not wine then the strongest force, my lords, since—without exception—it compels all men alike to behave in this irresponsible way?”
Reluctantly, the king agreed. With his own eyes, he had seen ample evidence of these very facts.
With one voice, the courtiers acclaimed the new winner of the contest.
But then the third young man, Zerubar, rose from his place.
King Darius raised his forefinger and again the whole court was immediately silent.
“My lords, wine is indeed strong, there is no denying it. And the king is indeed great. Greater than any man! But, my lords, consider who rules over all men and controls them: Women! We are all born of women, are we not? You! I! The king! All who rule by land and sea! And indeed all who labor on the land and fish or voyage on the sea!
“Come to think of it, women also raised those men who planted the vineyards from which the wine is fermented. And are not our clothes fashioned by women so that we may attract women to our side?
“Women bring men honor, there’s no doubt about that. A man’s worth is often judged by the attractiveness of his wife. But let’s face it: Without women, we men simply can’t exist. Think of all the men who’ve amassed heaps of gold and silver and other valuables. Notice what happens when they catch sight of a beautiful woman. They soon forget their possessions, don’t they, and gaze at her open-mouthed. For isn’t a beautiful woman more desirable than gold or silver, jewels or the finest clothes? For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother who reared him. He will even give up his own country to live with his wife. In fact, he will give himself so wholly to his wife that his own country, his own mother, his own father, he will remember hardly at all.
“And here is yet another proof of the dominance of women, What do we men do with everything we earn? Everything we toil for. Everything on which we expend all our efforts, body and soul? A man might take his sword, travel abroad, hire himself out as a mercenary, risking life and limb robbing and stealing, sailing treacherous seas, crossing swollen rivers, scaling impassable mountains, braving lions and all sorts of dark monsters; and when he has stolen, robbed and plundered and finally amassed a sizable treasure, what does he do with his booty? Why, he takes it home to his wife and lays it all at her feet!
“A man loves his wife more than he loves anyone or anything else in the world, including his mother and father, his sisters and brothers, his king and country. Many men have gone out of their minds on account of women, or simply become slaves for their sake. Others have died because of women, or committed crimes, or willingly exposed themselves to all sorts of dangers and perils.
“Perhaps you think I exaggerate? Then, consider this: Our king is mighty and powerful. He has but to raise his little finger and whole nations tremble. Yet, with my own eyes I saw Apame, the king’s concubine, sitting at the king’s right hand, just simply take the crown off the king’s head and put it on her own. She then slapped his cheek with her left hand, and the king simply stared at her, gazing open-mouthed. And when she smiles at him, he smiles back. But if she frowns at him, he fawns and flatters her and bends over backwards to regain her favor.
“Can you deny, my lords, that women are stronger even than kings and wine?”
The king and his courtiers looked at one another. But just as they were on the point of agreeing, Zerubar began to speak about Truth: “My lords, women are strong, as you are about to agree. But there is One stronger still. Great is the earth, high is the sky, and swift is the sun in its course, for it runs the entire circuit of heaven, yet returns to its starting place in a single day. Is He not great who rules all these? Is not the Lord God greater and stronger than all things, except one? And that one is Truth. For He is the God of Truth. He cannot lie. In that sense, He is subject to Truth. He is both the God of Truth, yet subject to Truth! Thus all the earth praises Truth and heaven blesses her.
“All created things shake and tremble, but Truth is steadfast and never fails. Truth endures. Truth is just.
“There is injustice in wine, in the king and in women. Truth to tell, all men are unjust, and everything they do transgresses the boundaries of justice. Thus they will perish, unless saved by Truth.
“For Truth lives and rules forever. She neither respects persons nor takes bribes. She always does what is right, speaks without equivocation and abhors all degrees of injustice and wrongdoing. Hers is the strength, the kingdom, the power, the majesty of all ages. Blessed be the God of Truth!”
As soon as Zerubar said these words, all the people shouted out, “Great is Truth! Strongest of all!”
Then King Darius stretched out his hand: “Cousin Zerubar, since you have proved to be the wisest man in the kingdom, you will sit next to me and be my counselor. And from now on you will be called my Close Friend and Kinsman.”