Xenophon in Trapezus: That Guy Thinks of Everything

by Steve Hartshorne on October 23, 2012

This is an excerpt from Xenophon’s Anabasis, a book which Alexander the Great kept under his pillow:

After him, Xenophon got up, and spoke as follows: “Cheirisophus, it is agreed, sets out in search of vessels, and we are going to await him. Let me tell you what, in my opinion, it is reasonable to do while we are waiting. First of all, we must provide ourselves with necessaries from hostile territory, for there is not a sufficient market, nor, if there were, have we, with a few solitary exceptions, the means of purchase. Now, the district is hostile, so that if you set off in search of provisions without care and precaution, the chances are that many of us will be lost. To meet this risk, I propose that we should organise foraging parties to capture provisions, and, for the rest, not roam about the country at random. The organisation of the matter should be left to us.” (The resolution was passed.)

“Please listen to another proposal;” he continued: “Some of you, no doubt, will be going out to pillage. It will be best, I think, that whoever does so should in each case before starting inform us of his intent, and in what direction he means to go, so that we may know the exact number of those who are out and of those who stop behind. Thus we shall be able to help in preparing and starting the expedition where necessary; and in case of aid or reinforcements being called for, we shall know in what direction to proceed; or, again, if the attempt is to be undertaken by raw or less expert hands, we may throw in the weight of our experience and advice by endeavouring to discover the strength of those whom they design to attack.” This proposal was also carried.

“Here is another point,” he continued, “to which I would draw your attention. Our enemies will not lack leisure to make raids upon us: nor is it unnatural, that they should lay plots for us; for we have appropriated what is theirs; they are seated over us ever on the watch. I propose then that we should have regular outposts round the camp. If we take it in succession to do picket and outlook duty, the enemy will be less able to harry us.

“And here is another point for your observation; supposing we knew for certain that Cheirisophus must return with a sufficient number of vessels, there would be no need of the remark, but as that is still problematical, I propose that we should try to get together vessels on the spot also. If he comes and finds us already provided for here, we shall have more ships than we need, that is all; while, if he fails to bring them, we shall have the local supply to fall back upon.

“I see ships sailing past perpetually, so we have only to ask the loan of some war-ships from the men of Trapezus, and we can bring them into port, and safeguard them with their rudders unshipped, until we have enough to carry us. By this course I think we shall not fail of finding the means of transport requisite.” That resolution was also passed.

He proceeded: “Consider whether you think it equitable to support by means of a general fund the ships’ companies which we so impress, while they wait here for our benefit, and to agree upon a fare, on the principle of repaying kindnesses in kind.” That too was passed.

“Well then,” said he, “in case, after all, our endeavours should not be crowned with success, and we find that we have not vessels enough, I propose that we should enjoin on the cities along the seaboard the duty of constructing and putting in order the roads, which we hear are impassable. They will be only too glad to obey, no doubt, out of mere terror and their desire to be rid of us.”

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Glenn Harcourt October 23, 2012 at 9:23 pm

an excellently chosen passage from a wonderful book — I was first turned on to Xenophon by my wife, whose “tedious” assignment it was to read him in Greek. Would that I could endure that tedium myself; but, alas, ancient Greek is not one of the languages at my command.

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