Anatolian Retreat

Robin Waterfield, author of a new book on the Greek soldier Xenophon, explains how he came to retrace the steps of the soldier’s famous journey to the Black Sea.

Along with countless schoolchildren, stretching back to ancient Rome, I encountered Xenophon’s Anabasis young. By the age of twelve, I was struggling through excerpts or, worse, translating a paragraph of military English into hesitant and hideous Greek, only to be faced with a triumphant schoolmaster brandishing the original from Anabasis as the model to which we should aspire.

Then I neglected Xenophon for many years. Of course, his name came up from time to time, but none of his works was on my O-Level or A-Level syllabus, or among the set books at my university; he was, and remains, somewhat out of favour, too morally earnest for our modern tastes. I returned to him when I began to take the study of ancient philosophy seriously, to see what light he could cast on Socrates – and I still believe that he is more astute and philosophical than many scholars think.

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