“Anabasis ” by Xenophon

Anabasis (also rendered as The March of the Ten Thousand or The Persian Expedition) is a firsthand account of the Greeks’ participation in Cyrus the Younger‘s revolt against his brother King Artaxerxes II, and their perilous return journey to the Black Sea after Cyrus’ death in the Battle of Cunaxa.

Xenophon highlights the myriads of challenges a general faces in leading an army and carrying out a successful campaign. In addition to providing for a large army, commanding their respect and obedience despite his own shortcomings, and motivating them for a common purpose, he has to contend against nature, such as inclement weather and unfamiliar terrain; against his enemies, their guerrilla and attrition warfare; against his own comrades, who attempt to usurp leadership for their own gain to the detriment of the army.

As Xenophon has stated elsewhere, a statesman faces the same type of challenges in governing a nation. Ironically, just as a statesman would be maligned by the fickle public especially during national crisis, Xenophon was persecuted by his soldiers twice, almost to the point of death, after being praised by them for his selfless service and leadership.

Ultimately, I think of Anabasis as an analogy of the journey of life, and the triumphant joy with which the Greeks cry out, “The Sea, The Sea!” awaits us all.

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Xenophon’s Defense for Striking a Soldier

I struck such a one with the fist in order that the enemy might not strike him with the lance. Indeed, that is the reason why these people, having been saved, now have it in their power to obtain satisfaction for whatever they suffered unjustly at my hands. But if they had fallen into the hands of the enemy, what suffering would they have experienced so great that they would now be asking to obtain satisfaction for it?

My defence is simple: if it was for his good that I punished any one, I think I should render the sort of account that parents render to sons and teachers to pupils; for that matter, surgeons also burn and cut patients for their good; but if you believe it was out of wantonness that I did these things, take note that now, by the blessing of the gods, I am more confident than I was then and that I am bolder now than then and drink more wine, but nevertheless I strike no man—for the reason that I see you are in calm waters. But when it is stormy weather and a high sea is running, do you not observe that even for a mere nod the lookout gets angry with the people at the prow and the helmsman angry with the people at the stern? For in such a situation even small blunders are enough to ruin everything. But you rendered judgment yourselves that I was justified in striking those men; for you stood by, with swords, not ballots, in your hands, and it was within your power to come to their aid if you chose; but, you would neither give those people aid nor would you join with me in striking such as violated discipline. Consequently you gave the bad among them freedom to act wantonly by thus letting them alone.

For I think, if you care to look into the matter, you will find it is the very same men who were then most cowardly that are now most wanton. … If you are wise, therefore, you will do to this fellow the opposite of what people do to dogs; for dogs that are savage are tied up by day and let loose by night, but this fellow, if you are wise, you will tie up by night and let loose by day.

But really, I am surprised that if ever I incurred the ill-will of any one among you, you remember that and are not silent about it, while if I protected any one from the cold, or warded off an enemy from him, or helped to provide something for him when he was sick or in want, these acts, on the other hand, are not remembered by anybody; nor, again, if I praised a man for a deed well done, or honoured according to my ability a man who was brave, do you remember any of these things. Yet surely it is more honourable and fair, more righteous and gracious to remember good deeds than evil.

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