10MAR2018 Quote of the Day

Let’s switch it up from Herodotus.  Xenophon’s Anabasis (the Upward March) is a remarkable adventure story that would be worthy of a Kipling novel except it actually happened.  Ten thousand Greek mercenaries contracted with Cyrus, the brother of the Persian King to help him usurp the crown from his brother.  They marched to the heart of the Persian Empire and defeated the King’s Army in pitched battle.  But in the battle Cyrus was killed and the Persian allies of Cyrus switched their allegiance back to the King.  During negotiations with the King to exit Persia the Greek generals were deviously slain.  This left the Ten Thousand in despair.  They were more than a thousand miles behind enemy lines on foot without supplies of food and water and surrounded by armies many times their number.  But one soldier, an Athenian named Xenophon, put heart back in them and rallied them to action.  One thing that you must also take into account is that Xenophon here is writing about himself and without a doubt modesty is not his strong suit.

[The preceding narrative has described all that the Greeks did in the course of the upward march with Cyrus until the time of the battle, and all that took place after the death of Cyrus while the Greeks were on the way back with Tissaphernes during the period of the truce.] [2]

After the generals had been seized and such of the captains and soldiers as accompanied them had been killed, the Greeks were naturally in great perplexity, reflecting that they were at the King’s gates, that round about them on every side were many hostile tribes and cities, that no one would provide them a market any longer, that they were distant from Greece not less than ten thousand stadia, that they had no guide to show them the way, that they were cut off by impassable rivers which flowed across the homeward route, that the barbarians who had made the upward march with Cyrus had also betrayed them, and that they were left alone, without even a single horseman to support them, so that it was quite clear that if they should be victorious, they could not kill anyone,2 while if they should be defeated, not one of them would be left alive. [3] Full of these reflections and despondent as they were, but few of them tasted food at evening, few kindled a fire, and many did not come that night to their quarters, but lay down wherever they each chanced to be, unable to sleep for grief and longing for their native states and parents, their wives and children, whom they thought they should never see again. Such was the state of mind in which they all lay down to rest. [4]

There was a man in the army named Xenophon, an Athenian, who was neither general nor captain nor private, but had accompanied the expedition because Proxenus, an old friend of his, had sent him at his home an invitation to go with him; Proxenus had also promised him that, if he would go, he would make him a friend of Cyrus, whom he himself regarded, so he said, as worth more to him than was his native state. [5] After reading Proxenus’ letter Xenophon conferred with Socrates,3 the Athenian, about the proposed journey; and Socrates, suspecting that his becoming a friend of Cyrus might be a cause for accusation against Xenophon on the part of the Athenian government, for the reason that Cyrus was thought to have given the Lacedaemonians zealous aid in their war against Athens,4 advised Xenophon to go to Delphi and consult the god in regard to this journey. [6] So Xenophon went and asked Apollo to what one of the gods he should sacrifice and pray in order best and most successfully to perform the journey which he had in mind and, after meeting with good fortune, to return home in safety; and Apollo in his response told him to what gods he must sacrifice. [7] When Xenophon came back from Delphi, he reported the oracle to Socrates; and upon hearing about it Socrates found fault with him because he did not first put the question whether it were better for him to go or stay, but decided for himself that he was to go and then asked the god as to the best way of going. “However,” he added, “since you did put the question in that way, you must do all that the god directed.” [8]

Xenophon, accordingly, after offering the sacrifices to the gods that Apollo’s oracle prescribed, set sail, overtook Proxenus and Cyrus at Sardis as they were on the point of beginning the upward march, and was introduced to Cyrus. [9] And not only did Proxenus urge him to stay with them, but Cyrus also joined in this request, adding that as soon as the campaign came to an end, he would send Xenophon home at once; and the report was that the campaign was against the Pisidians. [10] It was in this way, then, that Xenophon came to go on the expedition, quite deceived about its purpose—not, however, by Proxenus, for he did not know that the attack was directed against the King, nor did anyone else among the Greeks with the exception of Clearchus; but by the time they reached Cilicia, it seemed clear to everybody that the expedition was really against the King. Then, although the Greeks were fearful of the journey and unwilling to go on, most of them did, nevertheless, out of shame before one another and before Cyrus, continue the march. And Xenophon was one of this number. [11]

Now when the time of perplexity came, he was distressed as well as everybody else and was unable to sleep; but, getting at length a little sleep, he had a dream. It seemed to him that there was a clap of thunder and a bolt fell on his father’s house, setting the whole house ablaze. [12] He awoke at once in great fear, and judged the dream in one way an auspicious one, because in the midst of hardships and perils he had seemed to behold a great light from Zeus; but looking at it in another way he was fearful, since the dream came, as he thought, from Zeus the King and the fire appeared to blaze all about, lest he might not be able to escape out of the King’s country,5 but might be shut in on all sides by various difficulties. [13] Now what it really means to have such a dream one may learn from the events which followed the dream—and they were these: Firstly, on the moment of his awakening the thought occurred to him: “Why do I lie here? The night is wearing on, and at daybreak it is likely that the enemy will be upon us. And if we fall into the King’s hands, what is there to prevent our living to behold all the most grievous sights and to experience all the most dreadful sufferings, and then being put to death with insult? [14] As for defending ourselves, however, no one is making preparations or taking thought for that, but we lie here just as if it were possible for us to enjoy our ease. What about myself, then? From what state am I expecting the general to come who is to perform these duties? And what age must I myself wait to attain? For surely I shall never be any older, if this day I give myself up to the enemy.” [15]

Then he arose and, as a first step, called together the captains of Proxenus. When they had gathered, he said: “Gentlemen, I am unable either to sleep, as I presume you are also, or to lie still any longer, when I see in what straits we now are. [16] For the enemy manifestly did not begin open war upon us until the moment when they believed that their own preparations had been adequately made; but on our side no one is planning any counter-measures at all to ensure our making the best possible fight. [17] And yet if we submit and fall into the King’s hands, what do we imagine our fate is to be? Even in the case of his own brother, and, yet more, when he was already dead, this man cut off his head and his hand and impaled them; as for ourselves, then, who have no one to intercede for us,6 and who took the field against him with the intention of making him a slave rather than a king and of killing him if we could, what fate may we expect to suffer? [18] Will he not do his utmost to inflict upon us the most outrageous tortures, and thus make all mankind afraid ever to undertake an expedition against him? We, then, must make every effort not to fall into his power. [19]

“For my part, so long as the truce lasted I never ceased commiserating ourselves and congratulating the King and his followers; for I saw plainly what a great amount of fine land they possessed, what an abundance of provisions, what quantities of servants, cattle, gold, and apparel; [20] but whenever I took thought of the situation of our own soldiers, I saw that we had no share in these good things, except we bought them, I knew there were but few of us who still had money wherewith to buy, and I knew that our oaths restrained us from getting provisions in any other way than by purchase. Hence, with these considerations in mind, I used sometimes to fear the truce more than I now fear war. [21] But seeing that their own act has put an end to the truce, the end has likewise come, in my opinion, both of their arrogance and of our embarrassment. For now all these good things are offered as prizes for whichever of the two parties shall prove to be the braver men; and the judges of the contest are the gods, who, in all likelihood, will be on our side. [22] For our enemies have sworn falsely by them, while we, with abundant possessions before our eyes, have steadfastly kept our hands therefrom because of our oaths by the gods; hence we, I think, can go into the contest with far greater confidence than can our enemies. [23] Besides, we have bodies more capable than theirs of bearing cold and heat and toil, and we likewise, by the blessing of the gods, have better souls; and these men are more liable than we to be wounded and killed, if the gods again, as on that former day, grant us victory. [24]

“And now, since it may be that others also have these same thoughts in mind, let us not, in the name of the gods, wait for others to come to us and summon us to the noblest deeds, but let us take the lead ourselves and arouse the rest to valour. Show yourselves the best of the captains, and more worthy to be generals than the generals themselves. [25] As for me, if you choose to set out upon this course, I am ready to follow you; but if you assign me the leadership, I do not plead my youth as an excuse; rather, I believe I am in the very prime of my power to ward off dangers from my own head.” [26]

Such were Xenophon’s words; and upon hearing what he said the officers bade him take the lead, all of them except a man named Apollonides, who spoke in the Boeotian dialect.


Part 2 of Xenophon


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