Various tales in Herodotus’s The Histories display a circular means of the realization of fate. In one story involving the birth of Cyrus and his rise to power in Asia, Herodotus tells us that the Median king Astyages was having disturbing dreams about his daughter Mandane. We are told that his first dream, in which Mandane’s urine flooded all of Asia, was interpreted ominously by the Magi. As a consequence, when the time came to marry Mandane off, Astyages made what turned out to be a fatal mistake. While there were plenty of wealthy and powerful Medes eligible for marriage, “his fear of the dream made him refuse to marry her to any of them; instead, he gave her to a Persian called Cambyses, whom he found to be of noble lineage and peaceful behavior, although he regarded him as the social inferior by far of a Mede of the middle rank.” Essentially, Astyages altered what would be a normal treatment of the marriage in order to marry his daughter to someone less threatening. This attempt to avoid the prophesy of the first dream backfired however, and when Mandane became pregnant, Astyages had another foreboding dream. This second dream was interpreted to mean that Mandane’s son would rule in Astyages’s place. Herodotus tells us that “[theprophecy of the second dream] was what Astyages was guarding against” when he again took action, telling his advisor Harpagus to kill the baby. This plan backfired as well since Harpagus refused to kill the baby, leading to a complicated chain of events whereby the child—later to be named Cyrus—survived and returned to conquer his grandfather’s kingdom. In this story, Astyages’s downfall is depicted as resulting directly from two major mistakes—marrying Mandane to Cambyses and telling Harpagus to kill their offspring. These mistakes in turn are shown to be motivated by fear of the prophesies of his downfall. Had not some divine force planted the dreams in his head, he would not have taken the steps necessary to fulfill those prophesies. Through this circular path, destiny is unavoidably realized.
Consider each of the answer choices separately and indicate all
Which of the following can be inferred from the passage about Astyages’s view of the Median socio-political structure?
- As a result of his first dream, Astyages believed the threat his daughter posed to him could be through her husband.
- Astyages believed that it is always best to observe the recommendations of the Magi.
- Astyages believed that a Persian noble was less of a threat to his position than a Median noble.
Which of the following, if true, would most strongly undermine the claim that Astyages’s downfall proceeded from two major mistakes?
(A) Mandane’s son would have conquered his grandfather’s kingdom regardless of who his father was.
(B) Astyages’s first dream was in fact a warning against allowing his daughter to marry.
(C) Harpagus would not have killed the baby regardless of whether he knew the prophesy.
(D) Mandane’s husband would have deposed Astyages if he had known why his son was killed.
(E) Astyages’s dreams were better interpreted as advising him not to do anything out of the ordinary.
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