Monday, November 21, 2016

Xenophon's Anabasis, Books V, VI, & VII

Book V

Having arrived at Trapezus, Xenophon discovers that an entirely new set of problems awaits. The men don't want to keep marching, so the other option is to go by sea, which raises the question of how to get enough ships to carry everyone back. Cheirisophus notes that he has a friend in charge of many ships, and proposes that he go ahead, make contact with his friend, and return with the ships. Xenophon proposes a plan for what needs to be done why they wait -- they need a way to get provisions, since they lack a market and, for that matter, money, and this needs to be done in an organized way that maintains their safety. He also recommends that they not simply trust that Cheirisophus can wrangle up enough ships quickly, but also take what steps they can to procure ships on their end, as well -- better to have more rather than fewer ships than they need. The sailors agree to this. But when Xenophon suggests that they also must prepare, should the sea-voyage plan fail, to go by land, where the roads are not currently good, he gets shouted down. Xenophon, realizing that the soldiers themselves are hopeless on this point, instead works to convince the cities to begin repairing their roads voluntarily.

Problems intensify when Cheirisophus does not return, and they realize that they must travel by land. They use the ships they have procured to send the elderly and the sick home, and set out. The lack of Cheirisophus is felt in more ways than one, since Xenophon no longer has his help in keeping the army unified. He still has to negotiate his way through cities that are, if not always completely hostile, nonetheless suspicious of this large army suddenly showing up. And in the midst of this mounting tension, Xenophon makes a nearly fatal mistake:

At this time, as Xenophon's eyes rested upon a great body of Greek hoplites, and likewise upon a great body of peltasts, bowmen, slingers, and horsemen also, all of them now exceedingly efficient through constant service and all there in Pontus, where so large a force could not have been gathered by any slight outlay of money, it seemed to him that it was a fine thing to gain additional territory and power for Greece by founding a city. It would become a great city, he thought, as he reckoned up their own numbers and the peoples who dwelt around the Euxine. And with a view to this project, before speaking about it to any of the soldiers, he offered sacrifices, summoning for that purpose Silanus the Ambraciot, who had been the soothsayer of Cyrus. Silanus, however, fearing that this thing might come to pass and that the army might settle down somewhere, carried forth to the troops a report that Xenophon wanted them to settle down, so that he could found a city and win for himself a name and power.

Xenophon is able to talk his way out of this by explaining that the sacrifices were in fact just for the purpose of determining whether he should ask the soldiers, not whether he should proceed behind their backs, and, after renouncing the project, by proposing that any deserters should be brought to trial -- they are all in this together. This outmaneuvers Silanus, but it is perhaps not surprising that Xenophon will continue to have trouble. It's worth remembering that the soldiers were in this mess to begin with because they had been repeatedly deceived by their commanders. That they are practically paranoid about further deception is not, in context, very surprising, however much trouble it might cause. Xenophon himself is soon brought to trial on charges that he is, under deception, trying to reverse the march. Again he is able to talk his way out of the problem, this time by pointing out how incoherent the plan attributed to him is. In addition, Xenophon is accused of having beaten other soldiers. Xenophon is again able to explain, and his response is in some ways quite reminiscent of the view of punishment put forward by Socrates in the Platonic dialogues (compare particularly to the Gorgias): "if it was for his good that I punished any one, I think I should render the sort of account that parents render to sons and teachers to pupils; for that matter, surgeons also burn and cut patients for their good."

Book VI

Cheirisophus finally returns with a ship, but brings little more than this beyond news. The men are starting to think about what they will do when they get home, and how they can arrive with a little extra to use. They conclude that things will go much more smoothly if there is a single commander for the entire Greek army. The officers try to convince Xenophon to take over. Xenophon is tempted because "he thought that if he did so the greater would be the honour he would enjoy among his friends and the greater his name when it should reach his city, while, furthermore, it might chance that he could be the means of accomplishing some good thing for the army," but he also knows that it could still turn out very badly. So he consults Zeus, as the oracle at Delphi had told him to do, and Zeus is clear that he should not take the command. Cheirisophus takes command instead.

The Greeks set sail from Sinope, but quickly begin to dispute among themselves, greedy for gain. The army breaks up into factions. Xenophon considers just leaving them all behind, but sacrifices to Heracles lead him to conclude that he should stay, and he begins leading one of the three main factions home. Hearing of one of the other factions pinned down by the Thracians, however, Xenophon urges his men to their aid, and the factions are eventually reunited, shortly after the death of Cheirisophus. The army then finds its in an uncomfortable situation as provisions begin to run out and yet the sacrifices do not favor going forward. Infighting intensifies.

Book VII

Problems continue to arise as the soldiers move on to Byzantium. Xenophon attempts to leave the army, but is continually begged not to do so for one reason or another. At Byzantium, the troops are told to leave, but, lacking pay and provisions, they become increasingly unruly until they come within a hair's breadth of sacking the city. Xenophon, however, is able to calm them, and to try to find a way out, he allies with Seuthes, king of Thrace: they will help him gain territory if he will provide for them. This works for a while, but the king of Thrace becomes increasingly difficult to work with, and Xenophon will again have to pull out his speechifying skills to get the soldiers their pay. Seuthes has an interesting opinion of Xenophon; asked by Spartans what kind of man Xenophon is (7.6.4), Seuthes replies that "he was not a bad fellow on the whole, but he was a friend of the soldiers, and on that account things went the worse for him."

As for Xenophon himself, despite the fact that he was increasingly accused of enriching himself at the expense of the army, he had reached the point of being so broke that he had to sell his horse -- not a minor issue for Xenophon, who was very much a horse person -- and only ended up having a horse at all because some Spartans out of good will bought it back for him. Finally nearing home, however, Xenophon helps capture a Persian, Asidates, and, receiving a significant share of the spoils, comes out of the whole affair with a modest profit. And thus the work ends. It is a very interesting place to end. Xenophon will go on to aid Agesilaus in Sparta, so his adventures are not over; rather, the structural point seems to be that he came through it all right, through intelligence and sacrifice to the gods.

The length of the entire journey, upward and downward, was two hundred and fifteen stages, one thousand, one hundred and fifty parasangs, or thirty-four thousand, two hundred and fifty-five stadia; and the length in time, upward and downward, a year and three months.

Additional Comments

* Beginning with Book V, another threat looms larger than enemies, and that is anomia, lawlessness. All of Xenophon's problems in Book V are different outbreaks of this lawlessness. Jacob Howland ("Xenophon's Philosophic Odyssey: On the Anabasis and Plato's Republic," The American Political Science Review, Vol. 94, No. 4 (Dec., 2000) p. 882) notes that Xenophon's three defenses in Book V, which show the disintegration of the army, seem to provide a narrative contrast with his three speeches in Book III, which helped to unite it. It's noteworthy that just as Xenophon sees the potential of the army to be a great polis, they show themselves unable to rise to the same vision.

The Anabasis is in many ways about leadership, like a great many of Xenophon's works, but one can also see it as a story about the limits of leadership -- the misfortunes and problems it can bring due to a mismatch between plans ad reality, and the ineffectiveness even of honest and intelligent leadership over a society that is motivated by greed.

* It is almost certainly not accidental that Book VI sees a direct reference back to Xenophon's consultation of the oracle at Delphi. In a sense, Xenophon has learned the lesson Socrates had pointed out to him -- to let the gods give their own answers rather than to try to get the answers one wants from them. This may also relate to Xenophon's near danger in Book V, in which his sacrificing still seems motivated more by his own ideas than his willingness to accept the will of the gods.

* Robin Waterfield, "Greed and the Mixed Constitution in Xenophon's Anabasis," Αριάδνη 17 (2011) pp. 137-138:

So Xenophon shows us the army polis functioning well, and then shows it falling apart, and he makes it plain why it begins to fall apart: largely greed, but also neglect of divine will (6.3.18; 6.4.23-24). Greed first threatened to split the army back into its original ethnic units (5.6.34; Xenophon intervened with a speech to defuse the threat) and finally did so (6.2.9-16); via unauthorized marauding, it caused on more than one occasion the great-est losses of life the mercenaries endured throughout the whole journey (5.4.16; 6.3.2-9; 6.4.24); it almost made them attack a friendly people (5.5.2-3), but the gods intervened; it made the men frequently unruly and even mutinous, leading to ugly incidents (5.7.13-33; 6.6.5-28; 7.1.7-21, allayed by another speech by Xenophon). Xenophon characterizes as greed the mercenaries’ natural desire to return home wealthier than they left, and the reason he characterizes it in this way is because of its destructive effect on the eutaxia of the army.

* Food is a constant theme throughout the work, but it becomes especially prominent in the last three books, when the Greeks are continually on the verge of starving and have difficulty procuring provisions. Likewise, references to Xenophon sacrificing to Zeus and the gods become much more frequent.


Quotations are from Xenophon. Xenophon in Seven Volumes, 3. Carleton L. Brownson. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA; William Heinemann, Ltd., London. 1922, at The Perseus Project.

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