Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Persian Expedition

The Persian Expedition The Persian Expedition by Xenophon


My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Gripping, fascinating story of highly disciplined Greek hoplites stranded in hostile territory far from home who must regroup and force their way through Kurdish territory. After the famous 'The Sea! the Sea!' moment, however, the book was considerably less interesting - the army begins to fracture and strain under lack of supplies and lack of real leadership (author Xenophon notwithstanding). It was a quick read, and a very enlightening one for me.

It also strikes a little bit of a chord with me - I occasionally reflect on the kind of education that educated men (and women, but lets face facts: mostly men) would've been subject to a hundred or so years ago. I wistfully imagine what kind of person I might be with years and years of studying Latin and Greek in the original might have made me into. I probably would have hated it. But read something written by an educated person from the 1800s or early 1900s and every bit of prose reads like a kind of forgotten poetry. The last century brought so very much technological advance, but at the end of it all I wonder whether we understand what it is to be human as well as somebody who had to read volumes upon volumes representing hundreds of years of human thought.

I read recently that many universities are dropping Philosophy and Classics programs because of low enrollment because our generation in particular understands that education is only a means to employment, and Classics is no path to riches unless followed by Law. That makes me a bit sad - it's totally understandable of course, but a little piece of me wants everyone to be exposed to enough (eloquently written) Thought and Culture that they have a decent chance of improving the society we live in with their own Thoughts. Basically I'm just a crotchety old man that hates turning on the TV only to see another reality show pandering to the lowest common denominator and lowering the denominator even further in the process. RRrrgh.

Oh, right. Book review. Yes: good book. Good enough that I'm picking up Herodotus' _The Histories_ next. It will probably only make me more wistful and crotchety.

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6 comments:

Aaron said...

If you are looking to turn to Herodotus, check out "The Landmark Herodotus: The Histories." It is a recent translation complete with extensive annotations and, perhaps even more interesting and useful, extensive maps. "The Landmark Xenephon's Hellinika" is also available. The Landmark series has received excellent reviews from a variety of reputable sources.

dave said...

Oh now you tell me. Here I sit with the Penguin Classics edition in my hands.

Jeff Wills said...

I fully support your crotch...etiness. Your crotchetiness.

Right on.

Maren said...

The Classics. (Wistful sigh.) The value he places on this topic is part of why I fell in love with Q.

Just Katy said...

I think Herodotus is just fun reading. He fits in all kinds of random, often funny I was once told... sort of stories. Hope you enjoy it!

Nick Novitski said...

It might not be too late to recommend you the Landmark Thucydides.

I went to a college where every single student did nothing but read what could be called the classics for four years. I enjoyed it! I haven't noticed that it ruined my career, but I guess I wouldn't?

Anyway, my point is, I read lots of Thucydides and Herodotus (only a smidge of Xenophon), and I think that you'd benefit from reading "Mr T" first. It's a matter of context: Herodotus wrote his feel-good exploration of what might have been in the happy mythic times generations past when Greeks pulled together against the big bad Persians at a time when Greeks couldn't sell each other out to the Persians fast enough. He had an agenda (I don't mean that in a bad way), and Thucydides will tell you what prompted his writing.