A History of My Times

By Xenophon, Rex Warner, George Cawkwell, Xenophon, Rex Warner, George Cawkwell

2,761 ratings - 4.03* vote

Thucydides' magisterial history told of the unhappy conflict of Greeks against the Greeks in the Peloponnesian War, but his narrative broke off in 411 B.C., seven years before the end, and Greeks were to continue fighting one another for many more years. Xenophon continues the account to 362 B.C. These years saw Athens humbled by Sparta; Sparta humbled by Athens and her fo Thucydides' magisterial history told of the unhappy conflict of Greeks against the Greeks in the Peloponnesian War,

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Book details

Paperback, 432 pages
February 22nd 1979 by Penguin Books

(first published -360)

ISBN
0140441751 (ISBN13: 9780140441758)
Edition Language
English

Community Reviews

David Sarkies

After the Peloponesian War
16 February 2013

After reading Herodotus, Thucydides, and the Anabasis, I must agree with a number of people that Xenophon's account of the period of Hellenic history from the closing stages of the Peloponesian War to, well, some point in time in which he stopped writing, was rather disappointing and without any point whatsoever. The Anabasis is a gripping story of how a group of Greek soldiers get trapped thousands of miles behind enemy lines and have to make a long march back home. Herodotus is a work of a grand scale where we travel the eastern Mediterranean meeting the peoples of the region and learning their culture, culminating in the Persian Wars where the small collection of city states that was Greece pretty much kicked Persian butt.

As for this book, well, with the exception of the Anabasis, it is what can be expected of Xenophon, and that is a pretty scrappy piece of work with no real research and biased towards one particular city state: Sparta. For a while it was considered to be the quintessential account of the period from about 410 BC to around 370 BC, that is until we discovered a bunch of ancient documents in a garbage dump in the Egyptian village of Oxyrhincus.

Until that discovery, there were only two sources about this period: Xenophon, and Diodorus, and since Diodorus had written much later, Xenophon was the preferred text. However, amongst the many fragments unearthed at Oxyrhincus (which included a medical report that was used in a civil action to prove that the plaintiff's injuries were caused by the house falling down on him) was a history of this (which has been referred to as the Hellenica Oxyrhincus) which ended up supporting Diodorus' version (and I hope I have the name right because if I don't, I'll look like one first class idiot who claims to be an Ancient Greek historian, but then again I have already done that in Rome when I was standing before Trajan's Column proclaiming that it was built as a memorial to Trajan's conquest of Parthia, at which point a Romanian woman appeared beside me and began to argue with me about how it was to commemorate his invasion of Dachia – she turned out to be right – thanks Wikipedia). As for the Hellenica Oxyrhincus, I suspect that the language of the document put it back to around the time that Xenophon was writing, which is why it (and Diodorus) have become the preferred sources.

However, a couple of things I noted and that was that every time somebody won a victory, they would put up a trophy of their victory, but then that is not surprising because if you go to Rome you will see remnants of these trophies everywhere (such as the Arch of Constantine commemorating him becoming the sole emperor of Rome), the Arch of Titus (commemorating his victory over the Jews), the Arch of Septimus Servus (commemorating something, most likely how much of an awesome dude his was), and of course, Trajan's Column (yes, commemorating his victory in Dachia – grumble, grumble).

Another thing I picked up was that even if you win some big war it does not mean that you enter into a period of endless peace. Here we have the Spartan Admiral Lysander defeating the Athenians and bringing the Peloponesian War to an end, and pretty much creating Spartan hegemony throughout the region. However, we then discover that despite this victory, there are more battles being fought around the fringes of Greece. A couple of times some generals attempted to march on the Persian King (one of them being the subject of the Anabasis) but it was not until Alexander popped up that anybody managed to succeed. Also, despite Sparta holding power over the Grecian world, it did not mean that nobody else was going to attempt to take a shot at the title, and in this particular instance it was Thebes. Here we hear, sort of (Xenophon doesn't say anything about it), about the sacred legion. This legion was a legion of made up entirely of homosexual lovers (women didn't fight in wars in those days). The idea was that if you make up a band of soldiers who were connected in this way then they would fight much better and be much more devastating on the battle field. In the end it didn't work (they were beaten at Corinth).

One final thing (even though I could relate the idea above to Britain's experience after the Napoleonic Wars and the rise of Germany, as well as the United State's experience after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the rise of China, I won't) is that I have noted that there is reference to Dionysius of Syracuse in this book. The reason I mention that is because I have heard of him, and even read a book about him called Tyrant (it was one of those historical fictions that I generally do not like). The thing was that I did not actually know where this particular writer (who happens to be some professor of Ancient History) got his sources, and I suspect one of them was this book. However, the only connection between that book and this is that Xenophon mentions an invasion of Sicily by the Carthaginians and that Dionysius happened to be a tyrant in Syracuse.

Phoenix2

I always liked the Peloponisian wars (hostoricaly speaking) as I've always found them interesting. This version gives an in depth discription of the events, the reasons that trigered the whole affair and the events on the perspactive of those who lived them. All in all, I liked that it was straightforward, easy to read and very textbook like.

Todd N

Xmas 2009 gift. This is the third deluxe Greek history produced by retired-oil-businessman-turned-classicist Robert Strassler. I greatly enjoyed and recommend all three of them.

Xenophon's Hellenika picks up a few months after Thucydides, with a few years left in the Pelonnesian War.

Xenophon is not as good a historian as either Herotodus or Thucydides in my thoroughly uninformed opinion. He's not as earthy or digressive (or as gullible) as old Herotodus and not as impartial and logical as Thucydides. Xenophon's obvious pro-Spartan, anti-Thebean bias is a major flaw of this history. He leaves out entire battles and grudgingly mentions generals who were successful against Sparta. Imagine if Glen Beck's books were the only surviving chronicle of the early 21st century.

Another thing that makes this history difficult is that Xenophon is writing this for an audience that was intimately familiar with the events being written about. Fortunately, this edition has the usual Landmark maps, footnotes, explanatory appendices, etc, so it's possible to follow along even if you don't know your Sardis from your Syracuse. There is no way I could have gotten through this history in a typical paperback translation.

The history itself is only 316 pages out of the 660 or so pages of the book. There are LXVI very useful pages of introduction that put what you are about to read in context. And after the history are sixteen appendices that provide plenty of background on topics like Sparta's government, land warfare, brief biographies of the important figures, etc. I found them useful to read when I felt like I needed to take a break from the text.

I like to read histories like these for the fascinating stories, and Xenophon delivers the goods here: Athens executes six of their own generals for not retrieving shipwrecked sailors after a battle because of a storm. After Athens loses the war (maybe those generals would have come in handy), Sparta abolishes their democracy and installs The Thirty to rule over them. The Thirty promptly starts executing the upper class and confiscating their property. And that's just the first part.

The Persian Empire plays a significant role in the Hellenika. They want the Greek cities in Asia Minor of course, but more importantly they want to ensure that no one Greek city becomes too powerful. Persia keeps the region unstable throughout most of the book by making treaties with or giving loads of money to whichever city can stir up the most trouble. Fortunately the days of large empires keeping entire regions destabilized are long gone.

I also read these histories for the just plain weirdness, and there is plenty of that. The Greeks have some fun with the Persians when they strip the captured soldiers before selling them so that everyone will see their un-tanned, flabby bodies and not be afraid of them. We learn that the most feared Theban fighting force is made of 150 homosexual couples, which if you think about it makes more sense than don't ask/don't tell. Later, the Olympics are interrupted by a raging battle.

After a while the history feels like an extended Spy vs. Spy cartoon from Mad Magazine. Around Book 6 it started reading like this: "Sparta...blah blah blah...Thebes...blah blah blah...treaty...blah blah blah...ambush...Argos...blah blah blah."

I think even Xenophon gets a little tired of it because he ends the whole thing describing a wonderfully pointless battle at Mantineia with this amazing passage:

When the battle was over, the result was the opposite of what everyone had expected. Given that nearly all of Greece was gathered there and had stood with one side or the other, everyone thought that if a battle occurred, the victor would rule over the defeated and the defeated would be subject to the victor. But the god so arranged it that each side set up a trophy as if victorious, and each was not prevented by the enemy; each gave back the dead under truce as if victorious, and both received back their dead under truce as if defeated. And although each side claimed the victory, neither side was seen to have gained anything -- no city, territory or increased rule -- that they did not have prior to the battle. In Greece as a whole there was more uncertainty and disturbance after the battle than there had been before.


So it ends the same as that old hippie song "One Tin Soldier."

Highly recommended, even though it's a little frightening to learn that these knuckleheads are a cornerstone of our civilization.

Czarny Pies

Given that it is our only contemporary account for a sixty year period of classical history, the "Hellenica" in principle would rate five stars. However, as the translator notes, the "Hellenica" is simply a chronicle of events with neither a"general idea" nor "unity".

The "Hellenica" begins where Thucydides' "Peloponnesian War" ends. Reading it then does provide comfort to those wanting to know what happened after Thucydides' narrative ends. Read as a continuation of Thucydides' "History of the Peloponnesian War", the "Hellenica" does acquire unity and a general thesis of sorts. Like Thucydides Xenophone feels that the Athenians bear the principal blame for starting and then persisting in the Peloponnesian War. Both Thucydides and Xenophon viewed the Athenian democracy as being demagogic. Thucydides tried to show that democracies were unable to end pointless wars because their demagogic leaders were reluctant to advocate compromise and concession. Xenophon's chief complaint with the Athenian democracy of its time was that it continually created and executed scapegoats.

Read of the heels of the "Peloponnesian War", the "Hellenica" has value. Read on its own it is a mind-numbing chronicle of a conflict that no one either can or wishes to end.

James Murphy

I think this an exceptional reading experience and an exceptional experience in history. This history in the Landmark series edited by Robert Strassler follows the editions of The Peloponnesian War by Thucydides and The Histories by Herodotus. We record and read history all the time. Xenophon's writings demonstrate, as those of Thucydides and Herodotus, that even 2400 years ago history was being recorded in accounts so gripping that readers today can't put them down. These Landmark Greek histories in all their encyclopedic scholarship and researched presentation give us a picture of that distant past almost as clear as a photograph. Supporting Xenophon's text are detailed maps, footnotes, and appendices which explain every imaginable facet of political, military, religious, and social life in those times. Specifically, it continues the political and military history of the Peloponnesian War from the point in 411BC when Thucydides left off and covers the subsequent Aegean wars to 362BC. Homer is Homer and Virgil is Virgil--they have their strengths and wonders. Xenophon's strengths and wonders, however, are real, and when he writes of desperate engagements of hoplites stabbing and slashing at each other, of triremes flashing at speed in oar-churned waters, of voices raised in threat or in political rhetoric or to invoke some deity, it actually happened as dramatically as he describes. Such epic history has all the spectacle and human nature of the epic poetry. It's truly a satisfying involvement in history to read it laid out so completely it provides an all-encompassing understanding of the who and what and why of classical Greece.

Matt

Thucydides’ The Peloponnesian War ends suddenly with seven more years to go, one man decided to pick up the history and its aftermath which for centuries many readers were grateful for. A History of My Times by Xenophon sees the end of the Second Peloponnesian War and follows the aftermath of that devastating war which saw hegemony move from Sparta to Thebes.

Xenophon begins his history right where Thucydides’ left off and the first two books of the work cover the last seven years of the Peloponnesian War, which saw the return of Alcibiades to the Athenian military and the resultant Athenian naval victories before his second exile and the rise of the Spartan navy that led to the fall of Athens and the establishment of the 30 tyrants allied to Spartan hegemony. The internal politics of Athens took centerstage as the reign of the tyrants resulted in a civil war that saw the restitution of Athenian democracy. Book 3 looks at Spartan politics and the campaign of King Agesilaus to Asia Minor to fight the Persians. Book 4 sees the Persians bribe Sparta’s traditional allies and enemies to unite to attack Spartan hegemony as well as end Agesilaus’ campaign. The resulting Corinthian War continues through Book 5 when both sides accept terms by the Persian King in the so-called “King’s Peace”, however five years later a Spartan general captured the Theban acropolis resulting in Sparta controlling the politics of the city until a band of exiles retakes the city and begins reestablishing the Boeotian League with the resulting Boeotian War. Book 6 sees the end of the Boeotian War and Spartan hegemony with the Battle of Leuctra, which inaugurates the short-lived Theban hegemony. Book 7 sees Sparta and Athens ally to battle Theban hegemony even as the former is convulsed with internal rebellion and outside Peloponnesian resistance allowing Thebes to invade the Spartan homeland. The work ends with the second Battle of Mantinea which was a tactical Theban victory but strategic defeat that saw the end of Theban hegemony with all the major powers of Greece weakened from decades of fighting.

In his introduction of the book, George Cawkwell essentially said this history of Greece by Xenophon was a memoir that was circulated amongst his friends who knew all the details of the events Xenophon was writing about. Meaning that modern-day readers like myself are totally in the dark and basically Cawkwell would have to fill us in with his footnotes thanks to other sources from the era that essentially showed that Xenophon was an Athenian-born Spartan partisan and Agesilaus’ fanboy. Though Xenophon mentioned his adventure with the Ten-Thousand expedition against Artaxerxes II, he does not go into it given he had already written the Anabasis and given full details though it might be a better read then this book.

A History of My Times for centuries was thought to be “the” history of the end of the Peloponnesian War and the early 4th Century B.C., but after other sources came to light it turns out Xenophon left a lot of things out. This does not mean that the book is totally worthless, however it needs to be read critically.

Josh

Continues the telling of the Peloponnesian war from where Thucydides left off. I actually prefer Thucydides style to Xenophon's, to my own surprise.

Bryan--Pumpkin Connoisseur

A few words about The Landmark Xenophon's Hellenika:

I had not read Xenophon before, but I did read an old Penguin paperback of Thucydides The Peloponnesian War, and comparing the two experiences, there is no contest between them, The Landmark edition winning handily. In fact, I was able to pick up a copy of The Landmark Thucydides: A Comprehensive Guide to the Peloponnesian War, and I plan on some point returning to that chronicle in its Landmark edition, as I felt like I was often barely hanging on by my fingernails while reading the Penguin edition.

It is amazing to me the difference--with maps every 3-5 pages, copious footnotes, and over a dozen appendices treating on different aspects of the culture, this edition really made the entire experience so much easier and pleasant. I'm also now on the lookout for The Histories: The Landmark Herodotus, and The Landmark Arrian: The Campaigns of Alexander. To anyone interested in this time period, I can't recommend these editions highly enough.

AB

Xenophon gets a bad wrap because he is not Thucydides. That’s all true, but to put Xenophon aside because of that is just wrong. There are no great speeches here nor are there profound political and human insights. But Xenophon makes up for that in his interesting style of writing. My attraction towards the Hellenika is twofold.

I find the chaotic period from the Battle of Arginusae to the Battle of Chaeronea to be remarkably interesting. It’s a period that I feel often gets glossed over. Naturally, people’s interests are taken up by the periods that book end this slice of the 4th century: The Peloponnesian war and Alexander’s conquest of Persia. Even in trying to describe this period I cant seem to find a term to describe it. Its perhaps one of the most profoundly liminal stages of classical antiquity. I found myself often looking at this text through the lens of what came before and what is to come. Sparta’s and Athens’ desire for hegemony of Greece is all prevalent and so too are hints of a desire for a Hellenic invasion of Persia. The book begins with Sparta finally besting Athens for the hegemony of Greek affairs and it ends with a Spartan-Athenian alliance whose interest appears to be to not only reclaim their own hegemony but to also put a stop to their hegemonic threat: the upstart Thebans. Xenophon’s narrative exactly encapsulates this feeling: a confusing merry-go-round of alliances, wars, and Persian intrigue. The narrative runs quickly, which is not helped by Xenophon’s propensity to bring up points in the narrative that he forgets to mention earlier (or even willfully ignore) and his tangents of the histories of people and places. I was quite worried at the start of the Hellenika. I knew I was rusty with my Greek history, but the first several chapters of this book were almost completely unintelligible. People and places just flew by. Some battles were even described in as little was one sentence. An apt comparison would be jumping onto a moving treadmill and being unable to keep up. Obviously, this was partly by design. Xenophon clearly wants his history to start off where Thucydides left off.

I can boil down the feeling of this period and Xenophons narrative into one quote from the very end of the book:
While each party claimed to be victorious, neither was found to be any better off, as regards to either additional territory, or city, or sway, than before the battle took place; but there was even more confusion and disorder in Greece after the battle than before.

My other interest with the Hellenika comes from Xenophon himself. While Thucydides comes off as this astute observer of human affairs, Xenophon comes off as an observer of military matters and the psychology of warfare. Xenophon constantly comments on what he deems to be good leadership. Pointing it out in an effect to show the reader how one should behave in a position of leadership. Iphikrate’s sound training decisions on his way to Corcyra are described and praised in detail. So too is Jason’s relationship with his mercenaries. Unsurprisingly, a great focus is placed on the well-formed male body. An army’s (and even generals) worth is told by their fitness. The Greeks contrast their muscular, sunburnt bodies to the pale and flabby bodies of the Persians. Even the leadership of Epaminondas is given a bit of praise from Xenophon.
Mentioning Epaminondas brings up what I felt to be the most interesting element of the Hellenika: What Xenophon chooses to include or not include. Xenophon and his sons, although playing an active role in several parts of the narrative are never once mentioned by name. Xenophon himself is mentioned only as the nameless general recently returned from Persia, and his sons death at the Battle of Mantinea is mentioned only as the “brave cavalry”. Xenophon also has a weird relationship with describing Sparta. He never balks from describing Spartan leadership in negative ways, but his staunch support for Sparta is felt. No where is this more prevalent than his narration of the Thebans.

No one is more negatively described than the Thebans. The crushing defeat of the Spartans at Leuctra is blown off as an act of divine retribution for the Spartan occupation of the Cadmeia. Most interestingly, Pelopidas and Epaminondas are never mentioned in association with Leuctra. Pelopidas is first mentioned by name in slightly shady attempts at making Thebes, and by association himself, the rulers of Greece. Epaminondas only ever really gets a spotlight during his failed reinvasion of the Peloponnese and his untimely death at Mantinea (although Xenophon does give him some much-needed praise). Mostly interesting is Xenophon’s decision to completely forgo describing the liberation of Messene, the establishment of megalopolis, and the formation of the Arcadian and second Athenian Leagues.

Anyway, thats my long winded sperging about Greek history. Would I recommend this book? Yes absolutely. Its an interesting period of Greek history written by an interesting man. Its made me want to look at Xenophon’s other surviving works.

J. Robert

Xenophon lacks the heart and soul which made Thucydides so readable. Numerous readers have commented on how biased he is towards Sparta but this is not his major shortcoming. Xenophon's major fault is that he simply isn't that readable. Gone are the speeches showcasing Greek civic virtue, gone are discussions of the advantages of different regimes and gone is a narrative where factual history has all the glory and excitement of the poets. When I read Thucydides, he was every bit as engaging to me as Homer; his neutral presentation of the Peloponesian War was as exciting as reading the Iliad. Xenophon really doesn't compare. His history reads as a series of descriptions and statements about the war with occasional speeches. Unlike in Thucydides, these speeches do not showcase any ideas or values, they mostly read like his descriptions.

To Xenophon's credit, there are bits and pieces here and there which make his history worth reading. The latter two books in particular are a bit more substantial than the rest of the history. However, I found myself zoning out pretty regularly and I'm left with the impression of having read a long series of people and places, none of which really stand out. I really didn't find any of it memorable and you won't find anything like the Melian Dialogue or the speeches given by Sparta at the very beginning of Thucydides' history.

Read it to get the whole history of the war, read it because Thucydides never finished his work or read it because you're genuinely interested in the period. Just don't expect an exciting read.

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