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Adventures in Narcissism: Lines From Xenophon's Wikipedia Page I Wish Were About Me
Previously in this series: “Though he has been described as “the heir to Proust, via Nabokov,” Banville himself maintains that W.B. Yeats and Henry James are the two real influences on his work.” Lines from John Banville’s Wikipedia page I wish were about me.
As the military historian Theodore Ayrault Dodge wrote, “the centuries since have devised nothing to surpass the genius of this warrior.”
I have no living enemies among men — my only enemy is the centuries, and not once have they prevailed against the solid and unyielding rock of my reputation!
Xenophon established precedents for many logistical operations, and was among the first to describe flanking maneuvers and feints.
I’ve talked before about my envy for classical figures who only had to say something like “What if there were triangles?” in order to live forever as the Father of Triangles, when inventing simple machines or foundational principles was as easy as eating a grape, but this one in particular seizes my guts. Everyone remembers the first guy who thought of faking the other guy out!
Anabasis is a unique first-hand, humble, and self-reflective account of military leader’s experience in antiquity.
Not only was I unique for my thorough account of military campaigns in antiquity, I was also the first guy to be humble!!!! What a coup! Everyone remembers the first humble guy without him having to say anything about how humble he is and thereby ruining the entire effect. It just happens naturally! “Oh, him? You mean the guy who invented letting his achievements speak for themselves, immediately making all of his rivals look a bunch of damn chumps?” Yes! I do mean him!!! Say this about me!
Reading Xenophon’s Memorabilia inspired Zeno of Citium to change his life and start the Stoic school of philosophy.
ONCE AGAIN: “IT SPOKE TO YOU, AND THAT PLEASES ME”!!!!
“Obviously I didn’t write this book with the goal of inspiring Zeno of Citium to change his life and start the Stoic school of philosophy [pause for discreet ripple of learnéd laughter] but given the former trajectory of Zeno of Citium’s life, it was certainly a lovely bonus, wasn’t it?”
In my spare time, of course, when I’m not too busy inventing strategy or the concept of “daring” or living my life in such a way as to influence people two thousand years in the future to write The Warriors, I like to influence people into founding new schools of philosophy. It’s relaxing to me, you know, some people knit or write a little poetry to unwind, but I indirectly-yet-permanently change the course of human thought.
For at least two millennia, Xenophon’s many talents fueled the debate of whether to place Xenophon with generals, historians or philosophers.
Boys, please! You can both marry me…two millennia of fighting over me is enough. I’m sick and tired of seeing friend turn against friend, brother take up arms against brother, all because they cannot agree whether I am the greatest general before Alexander, the noblest historian, or the father of philosophers…don’t you see? I am all of those things…
In the Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, Diogenes Laërtius observed that Xenophon was known as the “Attic Muse” because of the sweetness of his diction.
Because I’m not just tough, I’m also a poet! Maybe a warrior poet, I don’t know, maybe an entirely new kind of person…an entirely new genre just for me…they call me Athena’s favorite baby…
Several centuries later, Roman philosopher and statesman Cicero described Xenophon’s mastery of Greek composition in Orator with the following words: “The Muses were said to speak with the voice of Xenophon.” Roman orator, attorney and teacher of rhetoric Quintilian echoes Cicero in The Orator’s Education saying “the Graces themselves seem to have molded his style and the goddess of persuasion sat upon his lips.”
Some people say the Muses speak through me….others the Graces….still others the goddess of persuasion Pietho herself…I make no such claims, I simply note what other people are saying about me centuries later, since I’m still the first topic of conversation among subsequent generations.
When Xenophon returned to Athens and told Socrates of the oracle’s advice, Socrates chastised him for asking so disingenuous a question.
Yeah, Socrates and I had that kind of really close, informal relationship where he scolded me for being a little scamp and a rascal….it was all in good fun though….I scamped my way through all of Mesopotamia unscathed, so clearly the gods did favor my journey after all…I think Socrates knew that. I think he “got it,” you know?
Tissaphernes pursued Xenophon with a vast force, and when the Greeks reached the wide and deep Great Zab River, it seemed they were surrounded. However, Xenophon quickly devised a plan: all goats, cows, sheep and donkeys were slaughtered and their bodies stuffed with hay, laid across the river and sewn up and covered with dirt so as not to be slippery. This created a bridge across which Xenophon led his men before the Persians could get to them.
Just so people know it is not possible to overestimate me!!! The “Rose’s Turn” of the Axial Age! “He’s a genius but he’s also a little crazy….Wow, I wouldn’t want to be pursuing him with a vast force and think I had him cornered…that’s when he goes into goblin mode…Underestimate his ingenuity at your peril! If he’s outnumbered and trapped before the Zab river, if there’s even a single goat nearby, you’re toast…”
These works were probably written by Xenophon when he was living in Scillus. His days were likely spent in relative leisure here, and he wrote these treatises about the sorts of activities he spent time on.
All I want is some sort of assurance that thousands of years after my death, historians say things like “he probably really enjoyed relaxing during this time…he’d really earned it…he’d already irrevocably established himself as one of the most incredible person to ever live so it was time just relax and invent dressage…”