Review of Anabasis (ca. 400 BCE)


Xenophon (writer).

Read in 2023.

Read in H. G. Dakyns’s English-language translation.

The first of the seven books of Anabasis describes a literal anabasis, of Greek mercenaries moving up country into Mesopotamia in 401 BCE. The following three books describe their perilous journey back down country (katabasis?) to the sea, where Greek influence provides some safety from Persian pursuers. The remainder of the seven books follow the later adventures of the unfortunate regiment trying to bring home some gold or glory, or at least make it back in one piece.

Anabasis provides a vivid and entertaining description of contemporary warfare by example: Strategy, tactics, morale, logistics etc. It’s not as systematic as The Art of War (ca. 450 BCE) and it’s even more mixed up with politics, but that is to the better. It’s a gripping adventure, and it shows the inherent political significance of military strength in an age where even the philosophical Greeks still engage in pillage, slavery, rape and blood sacrifice as a matter of course. They do this while they make speeches, elect their new leaders and form a terrified Socratic republic of 10 000 soldiers marching across the postapocalyptic landscape that was the cradle of agricultural civilization. The juxtaposition of brutality, superstition and reason is chilling, but it’s much less depressing than the contemporary Numbers (ca. 500–400 BCE), which has the bruality and the superstition without any of the reason.

References here: 1 Kings (ca. 620–530 BCE), Genesis (ca. 500–400 BCE), Som en ateist läser bibeln, Slutspel i ungdomen (1937).

text non-fiction