Cyropaedia – Book 1
Politics – for once.
They read Machiavelli and they feel all-powerful, cynical and invincible. It’s a shame. Anyone can read Machiavelli.
It’s harder to understand him – but never mind.
If you really want to talk about politics, it’s not Machiavelli you need to know, it’s Xenophon.
So yes, he’s very old.
But who still reads Xenophon?
All those whose names have left their mark on history have read him – those who are going to disappear like petty, ill-cynical copies have not.
Xenophon was one of Socrates’ students – a gentleman, a warrior, a philosopher, a historian, an author – a complete man as antiquity produced.
He is one of the very few philosophers whose reading is recommended by Nietzsche – and that is already an achievement.
But… yes, we have to take out an old book and on top of that, we have to read and understand: it’s complicated.
So, maybe if, by chance, I wanted to see Xenophon come back into the light, I wouldn’t go through the : read the book first and then come and discuss it.
No. I would go through the very ancient, very Greek, and therefore very faithful to the spirit of the book: the theatre.
Theatre, in its origin, is a political act.
It is compulsory for Greek citizens.
You don’t ask yourself if you want to go to the theatre, to see three tragedies and a comedy.
They go to the theatre, because it is a duty imposed on citizens.
This allows you to confront the reactions of the crowd.
It allows to see to the end the consequences of the acts put on the scene.
It allows us to ask ourselves what it is to be a man living in a community of men.
& now, here I am in Xenophon.
The Cyropedia is not a play – it is a book about the life of Cyrus, a partially fictional book about the King of Kings -all right, …one of the Kings of Kings – no, the first : King of Kings.
Book 1 tells of his childhood – until he knows enough to finally lead an army.
He is the son of two peoples: the Medes and the Persians.
He will be the first to found an Empire with a universal vocation – long before Alexander.
Cyrus was never a small leader who thought he was smart.
He was a great king – and his education had a lot to do with it.
This is where/why this book in particular interests me for its adaptation to the stage.
Book 1 is a so-called journey of initiation: the child’s life has been deliberately filled with trials – he had to pass them all.
He is confronted with his family, his peers, the villagers, the real soldiers, the generals – his first enemies.
He has to learn to be recognized as their leader – but at first he is recognized as nothing at all, it was not the rule to honor a child in advance because he had parents.
As he comes from two cultures, he goes from one country to another, he travels, he compares, he learns.
As he is destined to be a warrior, he learns not to feel sorry for himself
As he is destined to be a leader, he learns how to train an army and then a whole people with him
He tries – he fails – he tries again –
It wasn’t written to be breathtaking – it wasn’t written for the stage.
On the other hand, all the adventures, the characters, the meanings, really are exciting and just need to be adapted.
The end of book 1 is happy – necessarily, since there are sequels.
And curiously, there are in there some kind of lessons of applied politics which are much more difficult to realize than the poor things some people wanted to draw from Machiavelli.
It would therefore be a play that speaks of power – of peoples – of governments – starting from a child who must win the place of the future ruler.
The other books are about the wars of Cyrus – they are much more epic – and so they are very much in the spirit of the programming of a theatre that loves the epic.