By Maniza Naqvi
When the sun sets over the river turning its waters the color of molten gold and then liquid black, like the uninterrupted, robust, gush that flows at the gas pump— then, —when you are alone in the confused maze of your thoughts of hatred and hubris –then— now that you have time on your hands, to fish, does the writing of a story occupy you? Because you would need to tell it won’t you? Sentence it in the way you want to? Flesh out the outlines of yet another murder most foul? Surely you do. Now that you have the perfect view for it: of a place where the hangman’s noose brought its cruel justice for the punishment of an assassin’s crime. Do you wonder about the quakes, the spewing of ash and how the earth has shuddered? Author of assassinations, do you hear the sound of anguish carried to you on the evening breeze as the earth stirs and the waters gurgle? It is a mother’s grief and a mother’s wrath. When the waters turn black, she weeps: This is my body, this is my blood. Now you in your defeat, weep, now you suffer. Do you hear her? It is Tomyris sending you a message. Do you know her? How could you? For you have always defended empire—not those who have fought against it.
Tomyris the queen of the Massagetae lived with her people in her homeland north of the Amu Darya. In 530 B.C Cyrus the Great prepared to occupy her lands and as a pretext offered to marry her. She turned him down. What need was there for marriage? The Massagetae held as sacred the secret of nature: they understood the intricate connection between individual choice and advantage to society. Each woman had one husband, but she slept with anyone of her choosing.
Upon her refusal, his ruse made useless, Cyrus prepared to attack and invade the Massagetae. A messenger carried her warning to him: “King of the Medes, cease to press this enterprise, for you cannot know if what you are doing will be of real advantage to you. Be content to rule in peace your own kingdom, and bear to see us reign over the countries that are ours to govern’. His-story tries to erase them—the warriors the defenders the defeaters of blood thirsty cruel men.
Tomyris warned Cyrus: Do not invade us—do not try to occupy us— you will be unable to bear your mistake. Stay where you are. Do not advance. We value life, we value blood. Do not be so blood thirsty. Do not spill blood. Or I will drown you in that for which you thirst. But Cyrus would not heed her warning. She even offered that if he insisted on battle then he should not invade into the Massagetae lands—that she would come across the river with her army to give him battle in his land. But the Emperor was beyond humility, beyond understanding, beyond listening to reason for he had conquered the world and always gotten away with murder, unchallenged, unquestioned. And then there was the trait shared by all Emperors, he kept the counsel of those weaker than him, humiliated by him, those who had been defeated by him. They told him to invade.
A mere tribe such as the Massagetae and its leader Queen Tomyris would not get in his way. For he was Cyrus the Great, Sikander Zulkernain— the one with two horns—–Zulkernain, -who wore a two horned helmet and under whose military might and bloody conquests stretched his empire from the Indus River to Persia, Armenia, to Central Asia, Caucuses, Levant (modern Syria, Lebanon,Israel,Palestine, Jordan, and Cyprus). Hellespont to Egypt and Mesopotamia (modern Iraq and northeastern Syria), ancient Egypt, Armenia and Anatolia (modern Turkey).
And so Cyrus crossed the Amu River. The Massagetae lived north of the Amu Darya— –just above the present day borders of Afghanistan with Uzbekistan. And Cyrus, after setting up camp invited the Massagetae, under the guise of talking of peace, to a sumptuous feast. The guests arrived—without their Queen, led instead by Tomyris’s emissary, her son. Cyrus welcomed Spargapises and his companions, fed them and gave them an abundance of wine. Then, when they were drunk beyond their wits, Cyrus trapped and imprisoned them in this, their last supper. When Spargapises emerged from his stupor, he saw the folly that had befallen him and pleaded that his hands be untied. Cyrus relented and the son humiliated and distraught upon the sight of his many companions decimated, sought redemption and committed suicide.
The Massagetae had their customs: A person’s life concluded for the Massagetae with a feast that absorbed the dying into the living. For them life went on in this way. When a man grew to a great age, all his relatives gathered to celebrate him life and sacrificed him to their gods. Then they ate the flesh of their revered and beloved relative. And those who had the honor to live so long and go this way were considered the most fortunate and the most content. If a man died of a sickness, then he was not eaten or sacrificed, he was buried and people cried in sorrow that he was so unfortunate not to be sacrificed. Spargapises had no other choice for he would not live to be sacrificed, so there was no other way but to take his own life.
Her son killed on the pretext of peace, betrayed on the pretext of a feast. Tomyris was mad with grief. The battle between her military and that of Cyrus the Great took place the next day. Cyrus the Great, the Emperor of the greatest Empire in the history of the world was killed on the battlefield. Tomyris defeated Cyrus the Great. And there that awful day on that awful battlefield, strewn with the destroyed bodies of her people, and the army that invaded them, staggered Tomyris, from body to body in search of one corpse. She dragged alongside her a wineskin heavy with the blood she had filled in it of the dead. Finally she found it. Lying, amongst the carnage, there it was the body of Cyrus. Herodotus tells us how Tomyris fell to her knees besides him her face smeared with blood. Then, she had his corpse beheaded. She grabbed Cyrus’s head by a fistful of his hair and shoved it into the wineskin filled with the blood of her kith and kin. Herodotus tells us, that at this point she wailed in a raging scream and the earth shuddered for a mother’s pain: “I warned you that I would quench your thirst for blood, and so I shall.” This is what you wanted? Now drown in it. This is my body—mine and this is my blood!
From that land from earth itself, can you hear the rise of that cry? You have spilled my blood for this?
You have lied and taken our bodies and our blood: For this? You have made up stories about how we and our ways threaten your fundamental way of life? You have distorted our beliefs—our sacred lives? For this, your greed, you have murdered and destroyed? Now here it is, bubbling, gushing and bursting forth in abundance. Here it is what you value above all else. Here it is what you treasure above bodies and blood. Here it is for which you spilled our blood- destroyed our bodies —here it is. Here it is on your shores coming to fundamentally threaten your way of life.
“I warned you that I would quench your thirst and so I shall.” I will drown you in that for which you thirst.
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