BMCR 2022.09.40

The Landmark Xenophon’s Anabasis

, , The Landmark Xenophon's Anabasis. New York, NY: Pantheon Books, 2021. Pp. 672. ISBN 978030790685 $50.00.

Xenophon’s work has “engaged readers for centuries, [and] has further proved to be a mine of information for scholars and travelers” (pg. xv). This statement accurately describes Xenophon’s Anabasis, and his account of the campaign that was initially undertaken on behalf of Cyrus is an engaging read, as well as providing a stimulus for academic debate among historians and linguists. Anabasis is the most recent addition to the Landmark series. It is structured along similar lines to previous editions in this series, beginning with an introduction to the text and its background, followed by the translation itself, and concluding with numerous helpful appendices provided by a long list of eminently qualified scholars. The text is easy to follow: book, chapter and sentence numbers are given in the margin, along with dates and a gloss of each chapter. Footnotes provide explanatory material, as well as cross-references or references to the extensive maps and figures. The maps characteristic of this series are extensive and helpful, but are even more helpful for this text, in which geographical understanding plays such an important role. Inset maps of larger areas provide further context for maps on a larger scale. In all, this is an ideal volume for novices of the subject, such as high school or undergraduate students of history, or for non-academic readers who enjoy the text for its own merits.

The introduction places Anabasis in the background of the late fifth and early fourth centuries BC. Brennan (pp. xv-xvi) travelled extensively in the area himself, and his helpful notes here and throughout the work attest to the high level of accuracy of Anabasis’ geographical descriptions, though Brennan is also right to point to the possible use of ancient ‘travel guides’ in the construction of Xenophon’s narrative (pg. xxxix). A brief account of Xenophon’s life follows (pp. xvi-xviii), including a more detailed section on Xenophon’s relationship with Socrates. The idea of Xenophon as a philosopher is a theme that arises throughout the introduction and is referenced throughout the work, with Appendix A dedicated to this issue. Further historical background is provided by sections exploring the Athenian democracy (pg. xx), the rule of the Thirty in Athens (pp. xxi-xxii), Xenophon’s exile (pp. xxii-xxv) and the Persian empire (pp. xxv-xxix); however, there is only a single mention of the Corinthian War, which was fought between Sparta and various states, including Athens, and which must have figured into Xenophon’s perceptions of Sparta and affected perceptions of Xenophon in Athens.

The Introduction continues with brief discussion of how the Greeks and Persians perceived each other (pp. xxix-xxxii); this section is focused on Athens and Persia, which is limiting. While our best sources for depictions of ‘barbarians’ do indeed come from Athens, Greek xenophobia was not limited to the Athenians (nor was it limited to barbarians, as Greeks often treated other Greeks in a similar fashion). It is interesting that such a large, free Greek force was willing to fight for a Persian, in the way that came to characterise fourth century warfare, and this phenomenon possibly deserves some comment in this context. Finally, Xenophon’s literary style and milieu are considered (pp. xxxii-xlix), and the Anabasis is placed into the broader context of Xenophon’s writings. While the genre of the work is considered, so that Anabasis is located in a context of other ‘historical’ works, it is also differentiated as a ‘micro-history’, following Flower (2012).[1]

A summary of the book, broken down into months and years and following the progress of the army, precedes the text. This useful summary is of benefit to all readers who want to find particular events easily, while the brief summary of what happens at each point (though highly simplified into a single sentence) provides guidance for less expert readers. Similarly, the remarkably detailed Index at the end of the volume, a virtually complete index of all people, places, events, and concepts in the Anabasis, will be useful to all readers studying the text.

The translation is sound and relatively unproblematic. The translator has focused on bringing out Xenophon’s occasionally idiosyncratic language, emphasising his deliberate choices of words and phrases (discussed on pg. 488). The translator notes the general problem of determining the translation that best meets the needs of the text; the edition meets this difficulty well, striking a balance between the philosophical nature of the text when required, and the more direct historical narrative of the original. Xenophon’s occasional prolixity is not treated with perfect consistency, but this variation does not impair the readability of the narrative or the quality of the translation. Minor technical variations from the text are present, for example, reported speech at 4.8.10 is translated as direct speech, but the translation contains no serious errors of note found by this reviewer.

The appendices are quite extensive, and the trend in this series has been to develop appendices that offer more extensive contextualization of the work. This volume offers an excellent introduction for students and non-academic readers. Appendices A (‘Xenophon and Socrates’), B (‘Xenophon and Sparta’), R (‘The legacy of Xenophon’s Anabasis’), and N (‘Xenophon and the development of classical historiography’) provide a more in-depth introduction to Xenophon and his context. These appendices depict Xenophon as influenced by Socratic philosophy and virtues characterising Xenophon himself as a Socratic leader.

Xenophon’s relationship with Sparta is given some prominence in Appendix B, which contains a brief outline of Sparta and its institutions, but a deeper exploration of the intertextuality of Xenophon’s writing about Sparta would have provided a more nuanced understanding of Xenophon’s complicated relationship with both Sparta and its polarising king, Agesilaus II, who is however treated in a brief (but helpful) manner in Appendix N (pp. 378-81). A more thorough geographical context for the reader is provided in Appendices C and F (‘The Persian empire’ and ‘Thrace’). Appendix C outlines Xenophon’s depictions of the royal family and their importance to the narrative, and it also describes the administration and extent of the empire (though here is some double-up with pp. xxv-xxix). The depiction of Thracian elements in the narrative are consolidated in Appendix F. These provide a sound background for non-expert readers who may find Xenophon’s presentation these regions difficult to understand.

Appendices D (‘The Persian army’), H (‘Infantry and cavalry in Anabasis’), I (‘The size and makeup of the Ten Thousand’), J (‘A soldier’s view of the march’), K (‘The noncombatant contingent of the army), P (‘The route of the Ten Thousand’), and Q (‘The chronology of the march’) provide more specific military and campaign-based explorations of the text. These appendices tend to emphasise the problems in the text, which makes them an invaluable corrective to Xenophon’s descriptions. For example, the emphasis on the uniqueness of Xenophon’s descriptions of both the Persian and Greek forces (Appendices D and H) is balanced with the concerns around the bias in the descriptions. The consideration of the noncombatant ‘followers’ of the force, who are almost invisible in the narrative, is interesting, particularly considering the significant impact of such a force (up to 10,000 extra people: pg. 352), which would have varied in number and composition throughout the campaign and possibly affected the decisions taken.

I feel the editorial decision not to include references to academic works in the appendices impacts some of their usefulness. For example, Appendix I examines the issue of the size and composition of the Ten Thousand, arriving at 8600 survivors for the march home and approximately 5000 in Thrace. These numbers and some of the assumptions underlying them are not contention-free, and it would have benefitted the audience of this edition, particularly tertiary students who may be working their way through it, to have further references to follow-up. Two appendices (E and G) provide contextual information on Panhellenism and aspects of religion in the text. Panhellenism is a problematic issue in this period of Greek history, and a more integrated approach to references to the scholarship would have been helpful (a brief list of other references in modern scholarship to Panhellenism in the Anabasis is provided on pg. 312; a brief list of relevant modern scholarship is also present at the end of several other appendices).

The more recent inclusion in the Landmark series of related texts from other authors is, again, useful for the non-academic audience who might wish to pursue a broader knowledge of the period. Appendices S, T, U and V contain translated extracts from Diodorus, Plutarch’s Life of Artaxerxes, Photius’ synopsis of Ctesias’ Persika and Diogenes Laertius’ Life of Xenophon. These extracts are a welcome addition to the text, particularly those that are less accessible for the non-academic audience, Ctesias and Laertius. They help to inform the more curious readers about how Xenophon’s narrative fits in with other historical accounts. The sections from each work chosen directly reference the appropriate sections of Xenophon’s account, ensuring that those who choose to pursue a better understanding of the various ancient narratives can follow the similarities and divergences. Similarly, the inclusion in Appendix W of biographies of key individuals also adds to the understanding of interested readers of this edition.

The translator’s notes display some confusion about the intended audience of this edition. The discussions about Xenophon’s style and the textual traditions of the Anabasis are interesting; moreover the presentation of almost eleven pages of variations in the Greek text of the various manuscripts is a new inclusion in the series. While this list is an important inclusion from a philological perspective, the technical nature of the apparatus, appropriate for an academic edition, seems unnecessary in an edition that, in all other respects, is not intended for an audience seeking clarity about the development of the text (though some justification for this is provided on pg. lv). Moreover, the table used gives a simple indication about the reasons for the options chosen for inclusion in the edition; this lack of detail presents a problem, as some of the changes to the text are of greater significance than others. Such justification would be expanded in a more traditional apparatus criticus.  For example, the removal of the reference to a Tamon commanding a naval contingent at 1.2.21 is minor, but its justification is not included in either the apparatus or the footnotes in the text. Similarly, the substitution of “followers of Ariaios” (the second-in-command of Cyrus’ forces) with “the Persians” displaces the emphasis of the commander’s decision onto the general cowardice of the Persian forces he commanded, and, while the change of “ten Cretans” to “ten of fifteen Cretans” (5.2.29) creates no significant impact on the story, it is worth some explanation. The fact that the relevant references are in Greek, with no translation, is a key point of confusion. This apparatus is clearly of little or no use to the majority of non-academic readers.

Taken as a whole, this edition of Xenophon’s Anabasis in the landmark series is an excellent addition to the study of Xenophon’s works. Its comprehensive but readable nature lends itself to students of all backgrounds, but non-academic readers will find far greater benefit from its pages than “academic” readers.



[1] M. Flower (2012), Xenophon’s Anabasis, or The Expedition of Cyrus, New York: Oxford University Press