The Long March: Xenophon and the Ten Thousand.
"The Sea! The Sea!"--that, as many a schoolboy used to know, is a refrain first widely broadcast in Xenophon's Anabasis (The Journey Up Country). It was uttered by the survivors of the "Ten Thousand" Greek mercenaries who had made their way back, against the odds, from the heart of the Persian empire (in what is now northern Iraq) to within sight of the Black Sea. They were located above modern-day Boztepe in Turkey, as the caption to one of fourteen black-and-white plates helpfully notes. The refrain has also--as one of the contributors to this volume, Tim Rood, has brilliantly shown in a recent monograph making use of the very same refrain--reverberated across the centuries from the fourth century BC to the twenty-first century AD. It was therefore timely for Robin Lane Fox and his fellow contributors (mostly reworking papers delivered to a symposium held at New College, Oxford in late 2001) to revisit the scene of Xenophon's stirring tale in a scholarly way from a number of different but complementary angles.
Lane Fox, better known now perhaps as the adviser to Oliver Stone's movie Alexander the Great, himself sets the tone for the volume as a whole, with a wide-ranging and brilliant introduction. One of the key themes that recurs in several of the twelve other contributions is Xenophon's presentation of self. Thus, Lane Fox's Xenophon emerges as "a master of leaving things out" (45). According to the sagacious G. L. Cawkwell, Xenophon did not keep a diary but relied on "selective" memory: "every so often important matters fall into black holes" (58). Vincent Azoulay writes intelligently of Xenophon's rewriting of history and of himself as incorruptible and not naturally a mercenary type. John Ma urges that Anabasis is far less straightforwardly linear than might be supposed. In it, resolution and return are constantly deferred, and displacement and repetition are foregrounded.
Another key theme concerns the extent to which Xenophon is a reliable first-hand witness to the mighty Persian Empire, which overshadowed Greek history for much of the fifth and fourth centuries BC until Alexander the Great took over it. T. Braun focuses on Xenophon's minibiographies of the tough Spartan condottiere Clearchus and of the ultimate begetter of the entire enterprise, the Persian pretender Cyrus the Younger. C. J. Tuplin's paper on Xenophon's contribution to the illumination of the workings of the Persian Empire is ferociously learned and not for first-time students. Lane Fox's second article, on the other hand, is more accessible. It deals not only, as advertised, with sex and gender in the Anabasis but also with language problems. Xenophon long retained memories of the various non-Greek "others" whom he encountered on his youthful Long March.
A third key theme that is developed in the book is that of Xenophon the man. Robert Parker predictably provides brilliant insights into Xenophon's religious outlook and practice, seeing him and them as a compound of religious optimism, trust in the efficacy of divination, and rationalistic belief in divine intervention in human affairs. His piety is intense but of "this-world" (138). Tim Rood challenges the widespread view that the Anabasis is marked by a strongly idealizing strand of Panhellenism, whether symbolic-ideological or military-pragmatic. Xenophon, in Rood's view, was more concerned with self-exculpation and pontification on leadership matters.
A fourth key theme concerns the nature of the Ten Thousand mercenaries themselves, both as a body and as constituent individuals. Michael Whitby asks how capable the Ten Thousand were as a fighting force and how well they were led in the unprecedented and often unforeseeable conditions they had to face. Simon Horn-blower looks at them rather as a quasi-political unit, wondering how especially the Athenians among them reconciled their normal and cherished voting habits back home with the necessities of army discipline on the hoof. Jim Roy revisits his excellent work of the 1960s and argues now with some confidence that most of the Ten Thousand were originally reasonably well-off, hoplite-status Greek citizens, many of whom could afford their own servants even before taking captives on the march home.
Finally let us return to topography. Valerio Massimo Manfredi--more famous these days as a historical novelist than as a professional archaeologist--is also the author of the authoritative La Strada dei Diecimile . He gave an article to the New College seminar, which is not included here, but nine of the photographs printed are his, including one of the probable sites of the decisive Battle of Cunaxa not far from Nineveh. On the whole, the photos, like the book in general, are well reproduced, but the index is sadly something of a disappointment and the absence of a consolidated bibliography is an unnecessary obstacle to the further scholarly enquiry that the volume will undoubtedly stimulate.
University of Cambridge
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|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2006|
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