10APR2018 – Quote of the Day

Sometime soon I’ll have to write a book review of Zorba the Greek.  I have a love/hate relationship with the book but every few years I have to reread it.  I think I read it not because the book is flawless (far from it) but because Zorba represents the essential component of the male soul, force of will.

Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis

Chapter 19

…    ‘Let’s get back to our subject! What about Zeus?’

‘Ah! the poor chap!’ sighed Zorba. ‘I’m the only one to know what he suffered. He

loved women, of course, but not the way you think, you pen-pushers! Not at all! He

was sorry for them! He understood what they all suffered and he sacrificed himself for

their sakes! When, in some god-forsaken country hole, he saw an old maid wasting

away with desire and regret, or a pretty young wife – or even if she wasn’t at all pretty,

even if she was a monster – and her husband away and she couldn’t get to sleep, he

used to cross himself, this good fellow, changed his clothes, take on whatever shape

the woman had in mind and go to her room.

‘He never bothered about women who just wanted petting. No! Often enough even he

was dead-beat: you can understand that. How could anybody satisfy all those she-

goats? Ah! Zeus! the poor old goat, More than once he couldn’t be bothered, he didn’t

feel too good. Have you never seen a billy after he’s covered several she-goats? He

slobbers at the mouth, his eyes are all misty and rheumy, he coughs a bit and can

hardly stand on his feet. Well, poor old Zeus must have been in that sad state quite


‘At dawn he’d come home, saying: “Ah! my God! whenever shall I be able to have a

good night’s rest? I’m dropping!” And he’d keep wiping the saliva from his mouth.

‘But suddenly he’d hear a sigh: down there on earth some woman had thrown off her

bedclothes, gone out onto the balcony, almost stark naked, and was sighing enough

to turn the sails of a mill! And my old Zeus would be quite over-come.

“Oh, hell! I’ll have to go down again!” he’d groan.

“There’s a woman bemoaning  her lot! I’ll have to go and console her!”

‘And it went on like that to such an extent that the women emptied him completely. He

couldn’t move his back, he started vomiting, became paralysed and died. That’s when

his heir, Christ, arrived. He saw the wretched state the old man was in: “Beware of

women!” he cried.’



American Greatness -Post of the Day – Victor Davis Hanson’s – Trump is Cutting Old Gordian Knots

I know I’m a sucker for classical allusion but this is a nice summary of the situations that President Trump’s lack of finesse handled beautifully.


Trump is Cutting Old Gordian Knots



23MAR2018 – Quote of the Day

Thucydides: The Civil War at Corcyra

Ancient Greek History contains many parallels to the upheavals of our own time. The revolutions that swept through all of Greece during the Peloponnesian War (the war between the Athenian Empire and Sparta and her allies) were not unlike the French Revolution and the proxy wars fought between American and Russian allies during the Cold War.  In these civil wars neighbors and even brothers would clash and commit unbelievable atrocities in the name of either the democratic or the aristocratic cause.  The ferocity of the fighting reflected the knowledge that if the tide turned, retribution would be equally horrific.  In this episode of the war the people of the island of Corcyra have divided themselves into an aristocratic faction supporting the Peloponnesians (Sparta) and a democratic faction supporting Athens.  The fleets of the two super powers are sparring off the coast of the island and the factions have been battling on land in increasing barbarity.  The Spartans are at first victorious at sea and the democratic faction is panicked into negotiating a truce with the aristocratic faction.  But when the Athenians chase the Spartan fleet away the democrats see their chance and butcher their less numerous aristocratic countrymen in Robespierrean fashion.  The summation by Thucydides at the end of this story is very well known and seems to have a timeless quality.  If you are interested in reading the whole story of The Civil War at Corcyra read Thucydides Book 3, Chapters 69 to 85.

Meanwhile the people of Corcyra, dreading that the fleet of the Peloponnesians would attack them, held a parley with the other faction, especially with the suppliants, in the hope of saving the city; they even persuaded some of them to go on board the fleet; for the Corcyraeans still contrived to man thirty ships. But the Peloponnesians, after devastating the land till about midday, retired. And at nightfall the approach of sixty Athenian vessels was signalled to them from Leucas. These had been sent by the Athenians under the command of Eurymedon the son of Thucles, when they heard of the revolution and of the intended expedition of Alcidas to Corcyra.

The Peloponnesians set out that very night on their way home, keeping close to the land, and transporting the ships over the Leucadian isthmus, that they might not be seen sailing round. When the Corcyraeans perceived that the Athenian fleet was approaching, while that of the enemy had disappeared, they took the Messenian troops, who had hitherto been outside the walls, into the city, and ordered the ships which they had manned to sail round into the Hyllaic harbour. These proceeded on their way. Meanwhile they killed any of their enemies whom they caught in the city. On the arrival of the ships they disembarked those whom they had induced to go on board, and despatched them; they also went to the temple of Herè, and persuading about fifty of the suppliants to stand their trial condemned them all to death. The majority would not come out, and, when they saw what was going on, destroyed one another in the enclosure of the temple where they were, except a few who hung themselves on trees, or put an end to their own lives in any other way which they could. And, during the seven days which Eurymedon after his arrival remained with his sixty ships, the Corcyraeans continued slaughtering those of their fellow-citizens whom they deemed their enemies; they professed to punish them for their designs against the democracy, but in fact some were killed from motives of personal enmity, and some because money was owing to them, by the hands of their debtors. Every form of death was to be seen; and everything, and more than everything, that commonly happens in revolutions, happened then. The father slew the son, and the suppliants were torn from the temples and slain near them; some of them were even walled up in the temple of Dionysus, and there perished. To such extremes of cruelty did revolution go; and this seemed to be the worst of revolutions, because it was the first.

For not long afterwards nearly the whole Hellenic world was in commotion; in every city the chiefs of the democracy and of the oligarchy were struggling, the one to bring in the Athenians, the other the Lacedaemonians. Now in time of peace, men would have had no excuse for introducing either, and no desire to do so; but, when they were at war, the introduction of a foreign alliance on one side or the other to the hurt of their enemies and the advantage of themselves was easily effected by the dissatisfied party. And revolution brought upon the cities of Hellas many terrible calamities, such as have been and always will be while human nature remains the same, but which are more or less aggravated and differ in character with every new combination of circumstances. In peace and prosperity both states and individuals are actuated by higher motives, because they do not fall under the dominion of imperious necessities; but war, which takes away the comfortable provision of daily life, is a hard master and tends to assimilate men’s characters to their conditions.

When troubles had once begun in the cities, those who followed carried the revolutionary spirit further and further, and determined to outdo the report of all who had preceded them by the ingenuity of their enterprises and the atrocity of their revenges. The meaning of words had no longer the same relation to things, but was changed by them as they thought proper. Reckless daring was held to be loyal courage; prudent delay was the excuse of a coward; moderation was the disguise of unmanly weakness; to know everything was to do nothing. Frantic energy was the true quality of a man. A conspirator who wanted to be safe was a recreant in disguise. The lover of violence was always trusted, and his opponent suspected. He who succeeded in a plot was deemed knowing, but a still greater master in craft was he who detected one. On the other hand, he who plotted from the first to have nothing to do with plots was a breaker up of parties and a poltroon who was afraid of the enemy. In a word, he who could outstrip another in a bad action was applauded, and so was he who encouraged to evil one who had no idea of it. The tie of party was stronger than the tie of blood, because a partisan was more ready to dare without asking why. (For party associations are not based upon any established law, nor do they seek the public good; they are formed in defiance of the laws and from self-interest.) The seal of good faith was not divine law, but fellowship in crime. If an enemy when he was in the ascendant offered fair words, the opposite party received them not in a generous spirit, but by a jealous watchfulness of his actions. Revenge was dearer than self-preservation. Any agreements sworn to by either party, when they could do nothing else, were binding as long as both were powerless. But he who on a favourable opportunity first took courage, and struck at his enemy when he saw him off his guard, had greater pleasure in a perfidious than he would have had in an open act of revenge; he congratulated himself that he had taken the safer course, and also that he had overreached his enemy and gained the prize of superior ability. In general the dishonest more easily gain credit for cleverness than the simple for goodness; men take a pride in the one, but are ashamed of the other.

The cause of all these evils was the love of power, originating in avarice and ambition, and the party-spirit which is engendered by them when men are fairly embarked in a contest. For the leaders on either side used specious names, the one party professing to uphold the constitutional equality of the many, the other the wisdom of an aristocracy, while they made the public interests, to which in name they were devoted, in reality their prize. Striving in every way to overcome each other, they committed the most monstrous crimes; yet even these were surpassed by the magnitude of their revenges which they pursued to the very utmost, neither party observing any definite limits either of justice or public expediency, but both alike making the caprice of the moment their law. Either by the help of an unrighteous sentence, or grasping power with the strong hand, they were eager to satiate the impatience of party-spirit. Neither faction cared for religion; but any fair pretense which succeeded in effecting some odious purpose was greatly lauded. And the citizens who were of neither party fell a prey to both; either they were disliked because they held aloof, or men were jealous of their surviving.

Thus revolution gave birth to every form of wickedness in Hellas. The simplicity which is so large an element in a noble nature was laughed to scorn and disappeared. An attitude of perfidious antagonism everywhere prevailed; for there was no word binding enough, nor oath terrible enough to reconcile enemies. Each man was strong only in the conviction that nothing was secure; he must look to his own safety, and could not afford to trust others. Inferior intellects generally succeeded best. For, aware of their own deficiencies, and fearing the capacity of their opponents, for whom they were no match in powers of speech, and whose subtle wits were likely to anticipate them in contriving evil, they struck boldly and at once. But the cleverer sort, presuming in their arrogance that they would be aware in time, and disdaining to act when they could think, were taken off their guard and easily destroyed.

Now in Corcyra most of these deeds were perpetrated, and for the first time. There was every crime which men could commit in revenge who had been governed not wisely, but tyrannically, and now had the oppressor at their mercy. There were the dishonest designs of others who were longing to be relieved from their habitual poverty, and were naturally animated by a passionate desire for their neighbour’s goods; and there were crimes of another class which men commit, not from covetousness, but from the enmity which equals foster towards one another until they are carried away by their blind rage into the extremes of pitiless cruelty. At such a time the life of the city was all in disorder, and human nature, which is always ready to transgress the laws, having now trampled them under foot, delighted to show that her passions were ungovernable, that she was stronger than justice, and the enemy of everything above her. If malignity had not exercised a fatal power, how could anyone have preferred revenge to piety, and gain to innocence? But, when men are retaliating upon others, they are reckless of the future, and do not hesitate to annul those common laws of humanity to which every individual trusts for his own hope of deliverance should he ever be overtaken by calamity; they forget that in their own hour of need they will look for them in vain.

13MAR2018 – Quote of the Day

A Happy Ending for the Ten Thousand

When last we left Xenophon he had roused the courage of the officers and then the common troops of the Ten Thousand Greek hoplites marooned a thousand miles behind the Persian lines, surrounded by the Great King’s uncountable troops and without a guide to lead them home.  He provided them with a general plan.  Head northwest to the mountains where the great rivers blocking their way would be shallow and passable and beyond which the King’s troops would not follow.  So, they travelled for many hundreds of miles on foot through modern day Iraq into what is now essentially Kurdistan and in fact fought many battles with the ancestors of the modern day Kurds.  At this point their goal was to reach the Black Sea in Armenia where Greek cities and ships could bring them back home to Greece.

[19]  From there they journeyed four stages, twenty parasangs, to a large and prosperous inhabited city which was called Gymnias. From this city the ruler of the land sent the Greeks a guide, in order to lead them through territory that was hostile to his own.

[20]  When the guide came, he said that he would lead them within five days to a place from which they could see the sea; if he failed to do so, he was ready to accept death. Thus taking the lead, as soon as he had brought them into the hostile territory, he kept urging them to spread abroad fire and ruin, thereby making it clear that it was with this end in view that he had come, and not out of good-will toward the Greeks.  [21] On the fifth day they did in fact reach the mountain; its name was Theches.

Now as soon as the vanguard got to the top of the mountain, a great shout went up.  22] And when Xenophon and the rearguard heard it, they imagined that other enemies were attacking in front; for enemies were following behind them from the district that was in flames, and the rearguard had killed some of them and captured others by setting an ambush, and had also taken about twenty wicker shields covered with raw, shaggy ox-hides.

[23] But as the shout kept getting louder and nearer, as the successive ranks that came up all began to run at full speed toward the ranks ahead that were one after another joining in the shout, and as the shout kept growing far louder as the number of men grew steadily greater, it became quite clear to Xenophon that here was something of unusual importance;  [24] so he mounted a horse, took with him Lycius and the cavalry, and pushed ahead to lend aid; and in a moment they heard the soldiers shouting, “The Sea! The Sea!” and passing the word along. Then all the troops of the rearguard likewise broke into a run, and the pack animals began racing ahead and the horses.

[25] And when all had reached the summit, then indeed they fell to embracing one another, and generals and captains as well, with tears in their eyes. And on a sudden, at the bidding of someone or other, the soldiers began to bring stones and to build a great cairn.  [26] Thereon they placed as offerings a quantity of raw ox-hides and walking-sticks and the captured wicker shields; and the guide not only cut these shields to pieces himself, but urged the others to do so.

[27] After this the Greeks dismissed the guide with gifts from the common stock—a horse, a silver cup, a Persian dress, and ten darics; but what he particularly asked the men for was their rings, and he got a considerable number of them. Then he showed them a village to encamp in and the road they were to follow to the country of the Macronians, and, as soon as evening came, took his departure.


11MAR2018 Quote of the Day

Part 1 of Xenophon


Here’s my edited version of how Xenophon rallied the Ten Thousand and provided the basis for their escape from Persia.  I’ve deleted a lot of stuff which you can always read on your own.  As I said earlier, Xenophon is his own biggest fan but if even a fraction of what he claims he did was true then he really was the savior of that army.

Such were Xenophon’s words; and upon hearing what he said the officers bade him take the lead…

Thereupon Xenophon spoke as follows: “We all understand thus much, that the King and Tissaphernes have seized as many as they could of our number, and that they are manifestly plotting against the rest of us, to destroy us if they can. It is for us, then, in my opinion, to make every effort that we may never fall into the power of the barbarians, but that they may rather fall into our power. [36] Be sure, therefore, that you, who have now come together in such numbers, have the grandest of opportunities. For all our soldiers here are looking to you; if they see that you are faint-hearted, all of them will be cowards; but if you not only show that you are making preparations yourselves against the enemy, but call upon the rest to do likewise, be well assured that they will follow you and will try to imitate you. [37] But perhaps it is really proper that you should somewhat excel them. For you are generals, you are lieutenant-generals and captains; while peace lasted, you had the advantage of them alike in pay and in standing; now, therefore, when a state of war exists, it is right to expect that you should be superior to the common soldiers, and that you should plan for them and toil for them whenever there be need. [38]

“And now, firstly, I think you would do the army a great service if you should see to it that generals and captains are appointed as speedily as possible to take the places of those who are lost. For without leaders nothing fine or useful can be accomplished in any field, to put it broadly, and certainly not in warfare. For discipline, it seems, keeps men in safety, while the lack of it has brought many ere now to destruction. [39] Secondly, when you have appointed all the leaders that are necessary, I think you would perform a very opportune act if you should gather together the rest of the soldiers also and try to encourage them. [40] For, as matters stand now, perhaps you have observed for yourselves in what dejection they came to their quarters and in what dejection they proceeded to their picket duty; and so long as they are in this state, I know not what use one could make of them, if there should be need of them either by night or by day. [41] If, however, we can turn the current of their minds, so that they shall be thinking, not merely of what they are to suffer, but likewise of what they are going to do, they will be far more cheerful. [42] For you understand, I am sure, that it is neither numbers nor strength which wins victories in war; but whichever of the two sides it be whose troops, by the blessing of the gods, advance to the attack with stouter hearts, against those troops their adversaries generally refuse to stand. [43] And in my own experience, gentlemen, I have observed this other fact, that those who are anxious in war to save their lives in any way they can, are the very men who usually meet with a base and shameful death; while those who have recognized that death is the common and inevitable portion of all mankind and therefore strive to meet death nobly, are precisely those who are somehow more likely to reach old age and who enjoy a happier existence while they do live. [44] We, then, taking to heart this lesson, so suited to the crisis which now confronts us, must be brave men ourselves and call forth bravery in our fellows.” [45] With these words Xenophon ceased speaking.

After him Cheirisophus said: “Hitherto, Xenophon, I have known you only to the extent of having heard that you were an Athenian, but now I commend you both for your words and your deeds, and I should be glad if we had very many of your sort; for it would be a blessing to the entire army. [46] And now, gentlemen,” he went on, “let us not delay; withdraw and choose your commanders at once, you who need them, and after making your choices come to the middle of the camp and bring with you the men you have selected; then we will call a meeting there of all the troops. And let us make sure,” he added, “that Tolmides, the herald, is present.” [47] With these words he got up at once, that there might be no delay in carrying out the needful measures. Thereupon the commanders were chosen, Timasion the Dardanian in place of Clearchus, Xanthicles the Achaean in place of Socrates, Cleanor the Arcadian in place of Agias, Philesius the Achaean in place of Menon, and Xenophon the Athenian in place of Proxenus. 2.

When these elections had been completed, and as day was just about beginning to break, the commanders met in the middle of the camp; and they resolved to station outposts and then call an assembly of the soldiers. As soon as they had come together, Cheirisophus the Lacedaemonian arose first and spoke as follows: [2] “Fellow-soldiers, painful indeed is our present situation, seeing that we are robbed of such generals and captains and soldiers, and, besides, that Ariaeus and his men, who were formerly our allies, have betrayed us; [3] nevertheless, we must quit ourselves like brave men as well as may be in these circumstances, and must not yield, but rather try to save ourselves by glorious victory if we can; otherwise, let us at least die a glorious death, and never fall into the hands of our enemies alive. For in that case I think we should meet the sort of sufferings that I pray the gods may visit upon our foes.” [4]…

Hereupon Xenophon arose, arrayed for war in his finest dress. For he thought that if the gods should grant victory, the finest raiment was suited to victory; and if it should be his fate to die, it was proper, he thought, that inasmuch as he had accounted his office worthy of the most beautiful attire, in this attire he should meet his death. He began his speech as follows: …

“It is really a plain fact, gentlemen, that all these good things belong to those who have the strength to possess them; [27] but I must go on to another point, how we can march most safely and, if we have to fight, can fight to the best advantage. In the first place, then,” Xenophon proceeded, “I think we should burn up the wagons which we have, so that our cattle may not be our captains, but we can take whatever route may be best for the army. Secondly, we should burn up our tents also; for these, again, are a bother to carry, and no help at all either for fighting or for obtaining provisions. [28] Furthermore, let us abandon all our other superfluous baggage, keeping only such articles as we use for war, or in eating and drinking, in order that we may have the largest possible number of men under arms and the least number carrying baggage. For when men are conquered, you are aware that all their possessions become the property of others; but if we are victorious, we may regard the enemy as our pack-bearers. [29]

“It remains for me to mention the one matter which I believe is really of the greatest importance. You observe that our enemies did not muster up courage to begin hostilities against us until they had seized our generals; for they believed that so long as we had our commanders and were obedient to them, we were able to worst them in war, but when they had got possession of our commanders, they believed that the want of leadership and of discipline would be the ruin of us. [30] Therefore our present commanders must show themselves far more vigilant than their predecessors, and the men in the ranks must be far more orderly and more obedient to their commanders now than they used to be. [31] We must pass a vote that, in case anyone is disobedient, whoever of you may be at hand at the time shall join with the officer in punishing him; in this way the enemy will find themselves mightily deceived; for to-day they will behold, not one Clearchus,25 but ten thousand, who will not suffer anybody to be a bad soldier. [32] But it is time now to be acting instead of talking; for perhaps the enemy will soon be at hand. Whoever, then, thinks that these proposals are good should ratify them with all speed, that they may be carried out in action. But if any other plan is thought better than mine, let anyone, even though he be a private soldier, feel free to present it; for the safety of all is the need of all.” [33]

After this Cheirisophus said: “We shall be able to consider presently whether we need to do anything else besides what Xenophon proposes, but on the proposals which he has already made I think it is best for us to vote as speedily as possible. Whoever is in favour of these measures, let him raise his hand.” [34] They all raised their hands…

After these words of Xenophon’s the assembly arose, and all went back to camp and proceeded to burn the wagons and the tents. As for the superfluous articles of baggage, whatever anybody needed they shared with one another, but the rest they threw into the fire. When they had done all this, they set about preparing breakfast; and while they were so engaged, Mithradates26 approached with about thirty horsemen, summoned the Greek generals within earshot, and spoke as follows: [2] “Men of Greece, I was faithful to Cyrus, as you know for yourselves, and I am now friendly to you; indeed, I am tarrying here in great fear. Therefore if I should see that you were taking salutary measures, I should join you and bring all my retainers with me. Tell me, then, what you have in mind, in the assurance that I am your friend and well-wisher, and am desirous of making the journey in company with you.” [3] The generals held council and voted to return the following answer, Cheirisophus acting as spokesman: “It is our resolve, in case no one hinders our homeward march, to proceed through the country doing the least possible damage, but if anyone tries to prevent us from making the journey, to fight it out with him to the best of our power.” [4] Thereupon Mithradates undertook to show that there was no possibility of their effecting a safe return unless the King so pleased. Then it became clear to the Greeks that his mission was a treacherous one; indeed, one of Tissaphernes’ relatives had followed along, to see that he kept faith. [5] The generals consequently decided that it was best to pass a decree that there should be no negotiations with the enemy in this war so long as they should be in the enemy’s country. For the barbarians kept coming and trying to corrupt the soldiers; in the case of one captain, Nicarchus the Arcadian, they actually succeeded, and he decamped during the night, taking with him about twenty men. [6]


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


9MAR2018 – Quote of the Day

Book Two of the Histories is about Egypt.  Lots of myth and legend and gossip as you could tell by the previous story of the burglar.


Now before Psammetichus became king of Egypt,1 the Egyptians believed that they were the oldest people on earth. But ever since Psammetichus became king and wished to find out which people were the oldest, they have believed that the Phrygians were older than they, and they than everybody else. [2] Psammetichus, when he was in no way able to learn by inquiry which people had first come into being, devised a plan by which he took two newborn children of the common people and gave them to a shepherd to bring up among his flocks. He gave instructions that no one was to speak a word in their hearing; they were to stay by themselves in a lonely hut, and in due time the shepherd was to bring goats and give the children their milk and do everything else necessary. [3] Psammetichus did this, and gave these instructions, because he wanted to hear what speech would first come from the children, when they were past the age of indistinct babbling. And he had his wish; for one day, when the shepherd had done as he was told for two years, both children ran to him stretching out their hands and calling “Bekos!” as he opened the door and entered. [4] When he first heard this, he kept quiet about it; but when, coming often and paying careful attention, he kept hearing this same word, he told his master at last and brought the children into the king’s presence as required. Psammetichus then heard them himself, and asked to what language the word “Bekos” belonged; he found it to be a Phrygian word, signifying bread. [5] Reasoning from this, the Egyptians acknowledged that the Phrygians were older than they. This is the story which I heard from the priests of Hephaestus’2 temple at Memphis; the Greeks say among many foolish things that Psammetichus had the children reared by women whose tongues he had cut out. 3.


8MAR2018 – Quote of the Day

Herodotus again!  I guess I’ll keep going until forced to stop.  Herodotus was a great traveler and during his trip to Egypt he assembled the Egyptian histories supposedly from the Egyptian priests.  Here’s a story of one of the early pharaohs.


Rhampsinitus had great wealth in silver, so great that none of the succeeding kings could surpass or come near it. To store his treasure safely, he had a stone chamber built, one of its walls abutting on the outer side of his palace. But the builder of it shrewdly provided that one stone be so placed as to be easily removed by two men or even by one. [2] So when the chamber was finished, the king stored his treasure in it, and as time went on, the builder, drawing near the end of his life, summoned his sons (he had two) and told them how he had provided for them, that they have an ample livelihood, by the art with which he had built the king’s treasure-house; explaining clearly to them how to remove the stone, he gave the coordinates of it, and told them that if they kept these in mind, they would be the custodians of the king’s riches. [3] So when he was dead, his sons got to work at once: coming to the palace by night, they readily found and managed the stone in the building, and took away much of the treasure. 121B. When the king opened the building, he was amazed to see the containers lacking their treasure; yet he did not know whom to accuse, seeing that the seals were unbroken and the building shut fast. But when less treasure appeared the second and third times he opened the building (for the thieves did not stop plundering), he had traps made and placed around the containers in which his riches were stored. [2] The thieves came just as before, and one of them crept in; when he came near the container, right away he was caught in the trap. When he saw the trouble he was in, he called to his brother right away and explained to him the problem, and told him to come in quickly and cut off his head, lest he be seen and recognized and destroy him, too. He seemed to have spoken rightly to the other, who did as he was persuaded and then, replacing the stone, went home, carrying his brother’s head. 121C. When day came, the king went to the building, and was amazed to see in the trap the thief’s body without a head, yet the building intact, with no way in or out. At a loss, he did as follows: he suspended the thief’s body from the wall and set guards over it, instructing them to seize and bring to him any whom they saw weeping or making lamentation. [2]


But the thief’s mother, when the body had been hung up, was terribly stricken: she had words with her surviving son, and told him that he was somehow to think of some way to cut loose and bring her his brother’s body, and if he did not obey, she threatened to go to the king and denounce him as having the treasure. 121D. So when his mother bitterly reproached the surviving son and for all that he said he could not dissuade her, he devised a plan: he harnessed asses and put skins full of wine on the asses, then set out driving them; and when he was near those who were guarding the hanging body, he pulled at the feet of two or three of the skins and loosed their fastenings; [2] and as the wine ran out, he beat his head and cried aloud like one who did not know to which ass he should turn first, while the guards, when they saw the wine flowing freely, ran out into the road with cups and caught what was pouring out, thinking themselves in luck; [3] feigning anger, the man cursed all; but as the guards addressed him peaceably, he pretended to be soothed and to relent in his anger, and finally drove his asses out of the road and put his harness in order. [4] And after more words passed and one joked with him and got him to laugh, he gave them one of the skins: and they lay down there just as they were, disposed to drink, and included him and told him to stay and drink with them; and he consented and stayed. [5] When they cheerily saluted him in their drinking, he gave them yet another of the skins; and the guards grew very drunk with the abundance of liquor, and lay down right there where they were drinking, overpowered by sleep; [6] but he, when it was late at night, cut down the body of his brother and shaved the right cheek of each of the guards for the indignity, and loading the body on his asses, drove home, fulfilling his mother’s commands. 121E.


When the king learned that the body of the thief had been taken, he was beside himself and, obsessed with finding who it was who had managed this, did as follows—they say, but I do not believe it. [2] He put his own daughter in a brothel, instructing her to accept all alike and, before having intercourse, to make each tell her the shrewdest and most impious thing he had done in his life; whoever told her the story of the thief, she was to seize and not let get out. [3] The girl did as her father told her, and the thief, learning why she was doing this, did as follows, wanting to get the better of the king by craft. [4] He cut the arm off a fresh corpse at the shoulder, and went to the king’s daughter, carrying it under his cloak, and when asked the same question as the rest, he said that his most impious act had been when he had cut the head off his brother who was caught in a trap in the king’s treasury; and his shrewdest, that after making the guards drunk he had cut down his brother’s hanging body. [5] When she heard this, the princess grabbed for him; but in the darkness the thief let her have the arm of the corpse; and clutching it, she held on, believing that she had the arm of the other; but the thief, after giving it to her, was gone in a flash out the door. 121F.


When this also came to the king’s ears, he was astonished at the man’s ingenuity and daring, and in the end, he sent a proclamation to every town, promising the thief immunity and a great reward if he would come into the king’s presence. [2] The thief trusted the king and came before him; Rhampsinitus was very admiring and gave him his daughter to marry on the grounds that he was the cleverest of men; for as the Egyptians (he said) surpassed all others in craft, so he surpassed the Egyptians. 122.


They said that later this king went down alive to what the Greeks call Hades and there played dice with Demeter, and after winning some and losing some, came back with a gift from her of a golden hand towel. [2] From the descent of Rhampsinitus, when he came back, they said that the Egyptians celebrate a festival, which I know that they celebrate to this day, but whether this is why they celebrate, I cannot say. [3] On the day of the festival, the priests weave a cloth and bind it as a headband on the eyes of one of their number, whom they then lead, wearing the cloth, into a road that goes to the temple of Demeter; they themselves go back, but this priest with his eyes bandaged is guided (they say) by two wolves49 to Demeter’s temple, a distance of three miles from the city, and led back again from the temple by the wolves to the same place. 123.


These Egyptian stories are for the benefit of whoever believes such tales: my rule in this history is that I record what is said by all as I have heard it. The Egyptians say that Demeter and Dionysus are the rulers of the lower world.50 [2] The Egyptians were the first who maintained the following doctrine, too, that the human soul is immortal, and at the death of the body enters into some other living thing then coming to birth; and after passing through all creatures of land, sea, and air, it enters once more into a human body at birth, a cycle which it completes in three thousand years. [3] There are Greeks who have used this doctrine, some earlier and some later, as if it were their own; I know their names, but do not record them. 124.


7MAR2018 – Quote of the Day

Want to know how dice were invented?  Herodotus will tell you.  Don’t believe him?  Well, read my footnote at the end of the story.

The customs of the Lydians are like those of the Greeks, except that they make prostitutes of their female children. They were the first men whom we know who coined and used gold and silver currency; and they were the first to sell by retail. [2] And, according to what they themselves say, the games now in use among them and the Greeks were invented by the Lydians: these, they say, were invented among them at the time when they colonized Tyrrhenia. This is their story: [3] In the reign of Atys son of Manes there was great scarcity of food in all Lydia. For a while the Lydians bore this with what patience they could; presently, when the famine did not abate, they looked for remedies, and different plans were devised by different men. Then it was that they invented the games of dice and knuckle-bones and ball and all other forms of game except dice, which the Lydians do not claim to have discovered. [4] Then, using their discovery to lighten the famine, every other day they would play for the whole day, so that they would not have to look for food, and the next day they quit their play and ate. This was their way of life for eighteen years. [5] But the famine did not cease to trouble them, and instead afflicted them even more. At last their king divided the people into two groups, and made them draw lots, so that the one group should remain and the other leave the country; he himself was to be the head of those who drew the lot to remain there, and his son, whose name was Tyrrhenus, of those who departed. [6] Then the one group, having drawn the lot, left the country and came down to Smyrna and built ships, in which they loaded all their goods that could be transported aboard ship, and sailed away to seek a livelihood and a country; until at last, after sojourning with one people after another, they came to the Ombrici,31 where they founded cities and have lived ever since. [7] They no longer called themselves Lydians, but Tyrrhenians, after the name of the king’s son who had led them there.

Herodotus is called the “Father of History” but he is also known as the Father of Lies.”  And this is reflected in the skepticism that greets any account in Herodotus that doesn’t possess independent confirmation from other sources.  As an example, in our quote from today Herodotus claims that the Etruscans (Tyrrhenians) were really Lydians that emigrated to escape a famine in Lydia.  This story was heaped with scorn for hundreds of years by archeologists and other classical scholars who saw no evidence of its truth.  But follow this link for a fresh perspective.