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Soldiers & Survival of the Fittest:
on 23 November 2008
Ostensibly narrated by a female camp follower, this book portrays the katàbasis (return) of the Greek mercenaries of Xenophon's famed 'Anabasis' ('Journey Up-country'). The Ten Thousand was not a single homogeneous uniform community, and Manfredi addresses the fact that life in the Greek army was mainly formed by a collection of groups, e.g., the informal companionship of the suskenia (mess) is contrasted with the military unit and loyalties of the lochos (company) and realistically informs the narrative text. But, oh dear! Manfredi does dwell on the casualties and cruelties of battle, and then some ... However, it is notable the writing style - or, to be accurate, translated writing style - has improved somewhat since the earliest novels, although an impression persists that the reader is perusing a 'film treatment' rather than a novel per se. Some sections of the novel are almost Homeric in their descriptive power, but the dialogue between the characters does not live up to these. Manfredi has also invented an imaginary scenario / hypothesis that Sparta meant the 10,000 to either win or disappear which, given the reputation of the Spartans, is not entirely beyond the bounds of possibility. In the context of The Lost Army he also frequently refers back to the ultimately useless sacrifice of the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae, as if for some reason the triumph of the 10,000 was revenge for the past.
Ultimately the straggling army reached the shores of the Black (Euxine) Sea, hailing it in a famed shout of joy: 'thalatta, thalatta' (the sea, the sea!), where they erected a trophy monument to their achievement. However, if you want to know the 'real' Xenophon, go to the original 'Anabasis': apart from the surprisingly easy-to-read original Greek for classics students, there are several excellent translations on the market.