1 Esdras 3

A debate at the Persian court

King Darius gave a great banquet for all his retainers, for all the members of his household, all the chief men of Media and Persia, along with the whole body of satraps, commanders, and governors of his empire in the hundred and twenty-seven satrapies from India to Ethiopia. After eating and drinking as much as they wanted, they withdrew. King Darius retired to his bedchamber, where he lay down and fell fast asleep. 1

Then the three young men of the king’s personal bodyguard said among themselves: ‘Let each of us name the thing he judges to be strongest, and to the one whose opinion appears wisest let King Darius give rich gifts and prizes: he shall be robed in purple, drink from gold cups, and sleep on a golden bed; he shall have a chariot with gold-studded bridles, and a turban of fine linen, and a chain around his neck. His wisdom shall give him the right to sit next to the king and to bear the title Kinsman of Darius.’ Each then put his opinion in writing, affixed his seal, and placed it under the king’s pillow. ‘When the king wakes,’ they said, ‘the writing will be given him, and the king and the three chief men of Persia shall judge whose opinion is wisest; the award will be made to that man on the evidence of what he has written.’

10 One wrote, ‘Wine is strongest.’ 11 The second wrote, ‘The king is strongest.’ 12 The third wrote, ‘Women are strongest, but truth conquers all.’ 13 When the king awoke, he was handed what they had written. Having read it 14 he summoned all the chief men of Persia and Media, satraps, commanders, governors, and chief officers, 15 and took his seat in the council-chamber. What each of the three had written was then read out before them. 16 ‘Call the young men,’ said the king, ‘and let them explain their opinions.’ They were summoned and, on coming in, 17 were asked to clarify what they had written.

The first, who spoke about the strength of wine, began: 18 ‘Sirs, how true it is that wine is strongest! It bemuses the wits of all who drink it: 19 king and orphan, slave and free, poor and rich, on them all it has the same effect. 20 It turns all thoughts to revelry and mirth; it brings forgetfulness of grief and debt. 21 It makes everyone feel rich; it cares nothing for king or satrap, but sets all men talking in millions. 22 When they are in their cups, they forget to be friendly to friends and relations, and before long are drawing their swords; 23 and when they awake after their wine, they cannot remember what they have done. 24 Sirs, is not wine the strongest, seeing that it makes men behave in this way?’ With that he ended his speech.





 1and fell fast asleep: prob. rdg; Gk sleepless.