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ASTYAGES ORDERING THE DEATH
It is observed by critics, that few histories are so confused as those which relate to Cyrus. The life of this Prince has been written by Herodotus and by Xenophon, with circumstances absolutely different. In the picture before us the artist has taken for his subject a passage in Herodotus.
Astyages, the last king of the Medes, beheld, in a dream, a vine sprouting from his hand, the branches of which extended over the whole of Asia. The Magi, who explained to him his vision, assured the Monarch, that his grandson would deprive him of life, and seat himself upon the throne. Astyages ordered his daughter Mandane into his palace, and immediately upon her becoming the mother of Cyrus, commanded one of her courtiers, named Harpagus, to put the infant to death. This person, with much humanity, carried Cyrus to his own house. The horror which the barbarous mandate of his master inspired, and the absolute necessity for him to obey it, greatly agitate his mind. He refuses to listen to the entreaties of his wife to preserve the life of the child, although he cannot summon resolution to execute himself the fatal decree. Thus circumstanced, he sent for the cowherd belonging to the King, desired him to expose Cyrus upon a high mountain, and to inform him of his death. The cowherd proceeds on his mission, accompanied by one of the slaves of Harpagus, who reveals to him the secret of the infant's birth. He informed his wife of the order he had received. This woman, who during the absence of her husband had been delivered of a dead child, prevails upon him to substitute it in the place of the young Prince, and thus saves the life of a hero, who, in the end, raised the Persian empire to the highest pitch of glory and power.
In this complicated subject, the artist has chosen the moment when Harpagus acquaints the cowherd with the command of the King. This man already holds the child, whose cradle is here by the slave. The wife of Harpagus, who has ineffectually exerted herself to preserve the innocent victim, departs with the greatest horror, taking her son with her, who participates in her emotion.
This picture is composed with much skill and simplicity. The costume of the personages, and architecture of the building, lead the spectator back to the period and the place when the scene actually passed. Mr. Perrin, by this composition, obtained the artists' prize, and, during its exhibition, received from the public those eulogiums which it so justly merits.