On Anger, Book III, XXI

This man was angry with an unknown and inoffensive nation, which nevertheless was able to feel his wrath; but Cyrus [46] was angry with a river.

When hurrying to besiege Babylon, since in making war it is above all things important to seize one’s opportunity, he tried to ford the widespread river Gyndes, which it is hardly safe to attempt even when the river has been dried up by the summer heat and is at its lowest.

Here one of the white horses which drew the royal chariot was washed away, and his loss moved the king to such violent rage, that he swore to reduce the river which had carried off his royal retinue to so low an ebb that even women should walk across it and trample upon it.

He thereupon devoted all the resources of his army to this object, and remained working until by cutting one hundred and eighty channels across the bed of the river he divided it into three hundred and sixty brooks, and left the bed dry, the waters flowing through other channels.

Thus he lost time, which is very important in great operations, and lost, also, the soldiers’ courage, which was broken by useless labour, and the opportunity of falling upon his enemy unprepared, while he was waging against the river the war which he had declared against his foes.

This frenzy, for what else can you call it, has befallen Romans also, for G. Caesar destroyed a most beautiful villa at Herculaneum because his mother was once imprisoned in it, and has thus made the place notorious by its misfortune; for while it stood, we used to sail past it without noticing it, but now people inquire why it is in ruins.