Home > Uncategorized > Xenophon: War as obsession, warfare as mistress

Xenophon: War as obsession, warfare as mistress

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Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

Xenophon: Socrates’ war sophistry; civil crimes are martial virtues

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Xenophon
From Anabasis
Translated by H. G. Dakyns

[H]e was condemned to death by the Spartan authorities for disobedience to orders; and now, finding himself an exile, he came to Cyrus. Working on the feelings of that prince…he received from his entertainer a present of ten thousand darics. Having got this money, he did not sink into a life of ease and indolence, but collected an army with it, carried on war against the Thracians, and conquered them in battle, and from that date onwards harried and plundered them with war incessantly, until Cyrus wanted his army; whereupon he at once went off, in hopes of finding another sphere of warfare in his company.

These, I take it, were the characteristic acts of a man whose affections are set on warfare. When it is open to him to enjoy peace with honour, no shame, no injury attached, still he prefers war; when he may live at home at ease, he insists on toil, if only it may end in fighting; when it is given to him to keep his riches without risk, he would rather lessen his fortune by the pastime of battle. To put it briefly, war was his mistress; just as another man will spend his fortune on a favourite, or to gratify some pleasure, so he chose to squander his substance on soldiering.

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After this they marched into the country of the Taochians five stages – thirty parasangs – and provisions failed; for the Taochians lived in strong places, into which they had carried up all their stores. Now when the army arrived before one of these strong places – a mere fortress, without city or houses, into which a motley crowd of men and women and numerous flocks and herds were gathered – Cheirisophus attacked at once…

And here a terrible spectacle displayed itself: the women first cast their infants down the cliff, and then they cast themselves after their fallen little ones, and the men likewise. In such a scene, Aeneas the Stymphalian, an officer, caught sight of a man with a fine dress about to throw himself over, and seized hold of him to stop him; but the other caught him to his arms, and both were gone in an instant headlong down the crags, and were killed. Out of this place the merest handful of human beings were taken prisoners, but cattle and asses in abundance and flocks of sheep.

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