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Xenophon: History of My Times (Penguin Classics) Paperback – 22 Feb 1979

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Product details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; New Impression edition (22 Feb. 1979)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140441751
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140441758
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 2.5 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 21,113 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

About the Author

Xenophon was an Athenian gentleman born in the early 420s BC. He was a fine officer and leader for Athens, but his support of Socrates led to his banishment. He lived under the protection of Sparta on an estate near Olympia, where he began to write his histories and memoirs.

Rex Warner was a Professor at the University of Connecticut. He taught in Egypt and England and was Director of the British Institute in Athens. He died in 1986.

George Cawkwell is a Fellow Emeritus of University College, Oxford. He has specialised in the history of Greece from the sixth to the fourth century BC.

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Format: Paperback
Xenophon wrote this book to complete the story which Thucydides began with "The History of the Peloponnesian war". In the introduction to this volume, George Cawkill argues persuasively that Xenophon was not in the same class as Thucydides as a historian. However, he is certainly a good storyteller, and the events which he describe are absolutely gripping.

The Peloponnesian war began as the struggle between two of the greatest cities of the ancient Greek civilisation - Athens and Sparta. After both cities had been weakened by costly victories and even more costly defeats, they were both attacked by Sparta's former ally, Thebes. Eventually this series of wars, one of the most catastrophic of ancient times, devastated much of Greece. All the participants suffered greatly, weakening themselves sufficiently that they were to fall first to Alexander the Great, and after his death to Rome.

Thucydides' history of the first 21 years of this war was one of the very earliest and most brilliant pieces of true historical writing.

However, Thucydides' account ends suddenly in the middle of a sentence while describing the events of 411 BC. Many years later, Xenophon set out to finish the story, actually beginning with the words "Some days later ..."

Xenophon was born in Athens and was a student of Socrates in his youth. He then served as a soldier, first for Athens, then as a mercenary in one of the most extraordinary adventures in history. He was one of "The Ten Thousand" Greeks who joined an attempt by Prince Cyrus to overthrow his brother the Persian emperor. When Cyrus was killed in battle the Greek mercenaries who had supported him had to march many miles through enemy territory to safety.
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By Luc REYNAERT TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 29 April 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is by all means a heavily underrated book.

Xenophon lays bare the essential characteristics of his (and our) time and its crucial kernel, independence.

Inside the Greek cities, independence meant democracy, which was the political regime in Athens. The latter's arch-rival, Sparta, had an oligarchic rule, a government controlled by a king and the aristocracy.

When Sparta defeated Athens, it put immediately a lackey oligarchic government (the Thirty) in place. The oligarchs could `do exactly what they liked with the state.' They went on a killing spree, murdering all democratic opponents, in casu, `more Athenians than all the Peloponnesians did in ten years of war.' They confiscated illegally the property of resident aliens and when people could vote, it was in full view.

Xenophon knows perfectly the importance of education: `For I know that in Persia everybody except one man is educated to be a slave rather than stand up for himself.'

Inside the Peloponnesus, independence meant freedom for every city: `the cities must be independent, which means not to set up your own government ... what you aim at is not that they should govern in accordance with the laws, but that they should be strong enough to hold down the city by force. This makes it look like as though what gives you pleasure is dictatorship and not constitutional government.'

The Greek cities fought against each other to become `like the king of Persia ... the richest man on earth ... he gets his revenue from a continent.' The reward for control was solid tribute, but also the goldmines of Mount Pangaeum.

This continuous infighting and the relentless changes of alliances were a catastrophe for the populations.
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By reader 451 TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 31 Jan. 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Xenophon's Hellenica or History of My Times picks up where Thucydides stopped, which is a few years before the Peloponnesian War ended. This then, has key episodes such as the admirals' trial, where Socrates resisted the popular urge for a death sentence without due process, and the siege of Athens. Covering the period from 411 to 362BC, though, Xenophon's history goes well beyond the defeat of Athens, covering the period of Lacedaemonian hegemony and its eventual dismantlement at the hand of the Thebans. Like Thucydides, this consists mostly of military narrative, though that is interspersed with political and diplomatic analysis, less successfully in the case of Xenophon than Thucydides. Some of the Hellenica is filled in, or even contradicted by the much later history of Diodorus of Sicily, but Xenophon remains the main narrative source, and the only extant contemporary source, for this key period in classical Greek history. Xenophon indeed lived through many of the events related, or was in position to speak to people who did. Finally, though he was an Athenian by birth, he spent so much time among the Spartans and was so partial to their cause that he can almost be considered a Spartan author, filling a major informational gap on that paramount ancient Greek city state.

The introduction by the Oxford scholar George Cawkwell provides an excellent account of the rise and fall of Xenophon's reputation among modern historians. It is essential preliminary reading, warning of the various lacks and silences that unfortunately plague the Hellenica. Cawkwell's notes to the text, though, tend to become annoying after a while as, harping on they do on the same message, they become almost sneering. Cawkwell's view is that Xenophon was a memoirist, not a historian.
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