Monday, September 29, 2014

Book Review: "The Sea, The Sea" by Xenophon

This "novel" is not really a complete work but instead is an excerpt from  Xenophon's larger work "Anabasis" which covers a Greek expedition to attempt an overthrow of the king of Persia.  This brief selection covers the most famous part of the work--the retreat of the Greek "ten thousand" army from the heart of enemy territory across deserts and mountains, fighting the entire way back to the more Greek friendly shores of the Black Sea.  Xenophon would lead this retreat after the deaths of Greek generals by the Persians.  His strategies and leadership choices during these events are studied to this day. 

Knowing that this work was created some 2,500 years ago is truly astonishing given it's continued relevance.  Primarily of note to military historians and strategists "The Sea, The Sea" also contains numerous political and human behavior insights as well. A student of Socrates and contemporary of Aristotle, yet more than just a philosopher (also a soldier and historian),  Xenophon represents the type of individual I admire--those who go and do, vs. those who stay and talk.

The story of the Greek's retreat as told by Xenophon has been reworked into numerous modern works including sci-if novels such as Andre Norton's "Star Guard" and a host of films, comics and fictionalized novels.  As a true "classic" of military history and philosophy and a quick read written (translated) in a direct style (something Xenophon was known for) it warrants reading for its additional ability to fire the imagination and influence others (including Shakespeare) for more than two millennia after the events it recounts.

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