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Xenophon's Retreat: Greece, Persia, and the End of the Golden Age

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Overview

In The Expedition of Cyrus, the Western world's first eyewitness account of a military campaign, Xenophon told how, in 401 B.C., a band of unruly Greek mercenaries traveled east to fight for the Persian prince Cyrus the Younger in his attempt to wrest the throne of the mighty Persian empire from his brother.

With this first masterpiece of Western military history forming the backbone of his book, Robin Waterfield explores what remains unsaid and assumed in Xenophon's account—much about the gruesome nature of ancient battle and logistics, the lives of Greek and Persian soldiers, and questions of historical, political, and personal context, motivation, and conflicting agendas. The result is a rounded version of the story of Cyrus's ill-fated march and the Greeks' perilous retreat—a nuanced and dramatic perspective on a critical moment in history that may tell us as much about our present-day adventures in the Middle East, site of Cyrus's debacle and the last act of the Golden Age, as it does about the great powers of antiquity in a volatile period of transition.

Just as Xenophon brought the thrilling, appalling expedition to life, Waterfield evokes Xenophon himself as a man of his times—reflecting for all time invaluable truths about warfare, overweaning ambition, the pitfalls of power, and the march of history.

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Editorial Reviews

Bryn Mawr Classical Review
The Anabasis is a good place to begin understanding the Greek and thus Western way of inventing the East and defining ourselves through contrast, and sometimes conflict, with it. Waterfield's book is a good place to begin understanding the Anabasis. On the armature of Xenophon's narrative Waterfield sculpts a readable, accurate recounting of the Greek march up-country and the retreat after Cunaxa...I wish I had known this book when I read the Anabasis with my students in the fall of 2006. When I read it again in 2007, my students will learn much from Waterfield's accessible introduction.
— Lee T. Pearcy
New York Sun
Mr. Waterfield, unlike his ancient source, tells the story briskly and vividly. Reading his account of the march is like hearing a record that used to sound like sludge finally set to the right rpm. But Mr. Waterfield...goes easy on his favored Greeks, whom he views as trying to live virtuously in a world that has made it impossible, forgetting somehow that mercenaries like Xenophon's men were the ones who made it impossible. Xenophon had his chance to live virtuously. He had been loosely associated with Socrates and so knew the basic outline of the virtuous life. But Xenophon grew bored and headed east--to present-day Iraq, which has never been a good place to go if you're bored or looking to live virtuously.
— Brendan Boyle
Philadelphia Inquirer
In Xenophon's Retreat, a superb book, Waterfield starts with the decisive battle, then works backward and forward. His accounts of warfare in the 4th century B.C. raise the hair and turn the stomach. He explores the staggering logistics of moving thousands of men, slaves, concubines and animals, tons of supplies, armor and weapons, over alien territories. His hunches are reasonable and his storytelling gripping.
— John Timpane
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674023567
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 11/28/2006
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 272

Meet the Author

Robin Waterfield has recently published a new translation of Xenophon's Anabasis. He is also the author of Athens: A History and has translated works by Euripides, Plutarch, Herodotus, Aristotle,Plato, and other works by Xenophon.

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