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Adding to the Towering Antilibrary Pile

Thursday, December 31st, 2009

The Landmark Xenophon’s Hellenika by Xenophon. Edited by Robert Strassler

Strassler’s “Landmark” series are gems. After enjoying this year’s Xenophon Roundtable at Chicago Boyz, I was glad to see Hellenika newly released. A little pricey though in hardcover.

I am adding more books to my Antilibrary, keeping in the spirit of  Nassim Nicholas Taleb, from his book The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable:

….The writer Umberto Eco belongs to that small class of scholars who are encyclopedic, insightful, and nondull. he is the owner of a large personal library ( containing thirty thousand books), and separates vistors into two categories: those who react with ‘Wow! Signore professore dottore Eco, what a library you have! How many of these books have you read?’ and others – a very small minority- who get the point that a private library is not an ego boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real estate market allow you to put there. You wil accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call the collection of unread books an antilibrary.

While the real estate markets are no longer “tight”, the substance still applies. Here’s what else I just picked up:


After the Ice: A Global Human History 20,000-5000 BC  by Steven Mithen

Panzer Leader by General Heinz Guderian

Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia, 1600-1947 by Christopher Clark

Strategy by B.H. Liddell Hart

Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East, 1776 to the Present by Michael Oren

The Bitter Road to Freedom: A New History of the Liberation of Europe by Wiliam Hitchcock

This last was an Xmas gift from my scientific amigo, Dr. Von


My Final Post for the Roundtable: Marching Upcountry with Xenophon

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

At Chicago Boyz:

Marching Upcountry with Xenophon

…..Xenophon the Socratic soldier and admirer of Sparta would never have written a book like On War because the character of war would have been of less interest to him than the character of men who waged it. Or at least the character of the Greeks who waged war and that of the leaders of the barbarian armies, Cyrus, Tissaphernes and Artaxerxes (ordinary, individual, barbarians are of no consequence to Xenophon except insofar as they are instrumental in carrying out the designs of their leaders). And their character at war and in peace were inseparable and constant, though having different effects, as Xenophon explained in his passages on Clearchus and his captains and his paean to Cyrus the Younger. It has been remarked in this roundtable by Joseph Fouche that Xenophon was thoroughly Greek in his attitude toward the barbarians which Joseph Fouche called a “mirror image” to the attitude of Herodotus toward the Others of the East. I agree, to an extent. The countervailing example though is Cyrus, on whom Xenophon lavished praise with so heavy a hand that it must have struck Athenian eyes as bordering on sycophancy toward a would-be basileus. Few Greek writers, other than Herodotus, were ever so generous with their pen to a barbarian.

The Temptation of Xenophon

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009


This is my latest contribution (and part XII) to the Xenophon Roundtable at Chicago Boyz:

The Temptation of Xenophon

….Xenophon was a relatively young aristocrat who struck out for the East, for greener pastures because any ambitions were likely to be thwarted at home. Athens was a broken empire,just defeated at the hands of Sparta in classical antiquity’s equivalent to WWI. The opportunities for service abroad in the name of Athens were nonexistent. Chances for leadership within the city itself were likewise grim. Xenophon came from a notorious circle in Athens, the followers of Socrates, who were in disfavor with the ruling democrats, being suspected of “factious” inclinations and oligarchical sympathies. Two of their number, Alcibiades and Critias were reckoned as infamous traitors and usurpers. Furthermore, Socrates’ continued lack of participation in the Assembly and the private symposia held by his aristocratic students, appeared to indicate a latent political opposition to Athenian democracy itself.

Xenophon Roundtable XI.

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

From Joseph Fouche at Chicago Boyz.

Xenophon Roundtable: Politics in a Bottle

…..Cyrus, as shown by the spectacles that he repeatedly puts on as motivation exercises for his reluctant mercenaries during the descent to Babylon, is a showman. Many citizens of modern liberal democracies miss the subtlety of manufacturing consent in a traditional hereditary monarchy. Monarchy relies on spectacle as much or in fact more so than a liberal democracy. Masters of the form, whether continent spanning tyrants like Louis XIV or petty princelings of the Holy Roman Empire, rely on symbol, spectacle, and sacralizing as much as the naked violence to which they often resorted. Traditional state violence, whether it be an execution, a military campaign, or jousting, served a theatrical, educational, and propagandizing purpose on top of its pure manifestation of brute force. Cyrus was putting on a performance intended to symbolically and morally knife Artaxerxes almost as much as he was seeking to literally shove eight inches of wrought iron into his own brother’s chest. That Cyrus signally failed in his attempt is no argument against the fundamentally political nature of his warfare. Failure is as much a part of politics as success. If Cyrus failed in his aspiration to become a potent symbol of political success in life, through the freshly rendered pieces of Cyrus meat conspicuously displayed by his brother, Cyrus became a potent symbol of political failure in death.

An excellent post.

Xenophon Roundtable X.

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009

From HistoryGuy99:

Xenophon Roundtable: More Rhythmic Echos

The Anabasis of Cyrus could also be titled “The Long Retreat” because it best describes the result of a failed campaign. The army made up of mercenaries had been strategically defeated when Cyrus followed by their generals, were killed by the Persians. Their story evolved from being a trapped army, to one that mounted a successful fighting retreat north to the Black Sea, where finding themselves among Greek colonies they began to fracture and lose the cohesiveness that had been their hallmark up to that point. Xenophon’s speech at the confluence of the Tigris and Zapatas Rivers had been the catalyst that launched and sustained their march. Later, as they began to bicker, it was again Xenophon who would call on his Socratic reasoning to cement the fractures and sooth the wounded pride in a final effort to gain their homeland.

The theme of this story continues to reappear down through history when circumstance has found a sizable military force faced with the decision to surrender, or make a fighting retreat, against man and nature.

Earlier, the names of Epaminondas, Sherman and Patton were advanced to show how the rhythm of Xenophon’s Anabasis had resonated with these generals as they prepared, and led their armies in successful campaigns. There are other generals in history whose leadership and tasks more closely mirrored the march of the Ten Thousand. Men like Moore, Slim, Stillwell and Alessandri, are less known because their achievements have faded in the passage of time and still carry the faint stench of defeat.

Read the rest here.

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