Horses and Hoplites – John France

Synopsis:

Perilous Glory chronicles the ascendancy of Western military power in world history. Military historian, John France dedicates a chapter of his book to a comparison of the competing styles of warfare of the ancient Greeks and Persians. Both styles of warfare were well adapted to distinct geographical settings, and both were notably hamstrung operating outside of those settings. The Persian military relied on cavalry mobility whereas their Greek counterparts utilized heavy infantry hoplites.

Excerpts:

“Like almost all who wrote about war, Greek writers, Herodotus amongst them, liked to emphasise its noble aspect: the valour of the hoplite, fighting honourably face to face and breast to breast against his enemies. They preferred to forget the sneaking around to surprise and destroy villages and cities, the bullying of peasants and the squalid destruction of their crops.

“Bloody though hoplite confrontations were, it has been suggested that the citizens perceived them as a rapid and efficient way of settling quarrels between states, and certainly better than drawn-out struggles in which severe long-term harm to the countryside and city might get out of hand. Moreover, the brutal violence of this clash of arms with its rigid subordination of the individual to the collective mass was possible because the citizens had agreed to this style of war and thus were bound to it by public commitment.

“For the Delian League became an Athenian empire. Athens meddled in the politics of the Delian cities to favour democratic regimes, and planted colonies of Athenians in their lands where they formed military bases. The tributes from the League and the taxes upon foreigners trading with Athens created enormous incomes which could be used to pay towers for the fleet and to support strong armies. Here was the Athenian culture of leisure and greed at work.

“The Persian wars and then the long quarrels of the Greek city-states created a kind of military laboratory in Greece, stimulating ideas and new developments. The most obvious effect of this was the development of the hoplite phalanx. It became the very embodiment of close-order, a tight mass of men working together, able to resist enemies with their hedgehog of spears and to threaten them by sheer weight and momentum. However, this was only really achieved as the citizen-soldier was superseded by the professional soldier.

“The Greek front was not all that vital to the Persian Empire, and it managed to regain Anatolia by an adroit diplomacy which exploited the quarrels of the Greeks. The priority for the Persian Empire was speed of movement and the ability to fight in other places, especially on the long Asian frontiers where cavalry was the most useful arm. No power can be strong everywhere and in every aspect of war, and the Persian army was no exception to this general rule. And when they wanted heavy infantry, they could always hire them at need from the quarrelsome city-states of Greece whose mercenaries were perfectly willing to serve for money.

*All excerpts have been taken from Perilous Glory: The Rise of Western Military Power, Yale University Press.

Rhetoric – Aristotle (Part III)

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Synopsis:

In his treatise on Rhetoric, Aristotle considers the requisite building blocks of rhetoric as well as its existent contemporaneous forms. He also examines the subjects of politics, virtue, happiness, and morality in his customary common-sense way.

Excerpts:

“Victory is pleasant, not only to those who love to conquer, but to all; for there is produced an idea of superiority, which all with more or less eagerness desire.

“Therefore our recollections are pleasant, not only when they recall things which when present were agreeable, but also some things which were not, if their consequence subsequently proves honorable or good; whence the saying: ‘Truly it is pleasant to remember toil after one has escaped it,’ and, ‘When a man has suffered much and accomplished much, he afterwards takes pleasure even in his sorrows when he recalls them.’ The reason of this is that even to be free from evil is pleasant.

“Since, then, all men are selfish, it follows that all find pleasure in what is their own, such as their works and words. That is why men as a rule are fond of those who flatter and love them, of honor, and of children; for the last are their own work.

*All excerpts have been taken from Aristotle: Rhetoric, Chios Classics.

Solon of Athens – Plutarch

Synopsis:

Solon the lawgiver of ancient Athens was one of the two most venerated lawgivers of Greek antiquity – the other was Lycurgus of Sparta. Invariably the moralist, Plutarch recounts a biography of Solon which reinforces the moderation, and moral virtues of Solon. Plutarch also chronicles the development of the balanced constitution which Solon bestowed to Athens.

Excerpts:

“Then the wisest of the Athenians, perceiving Solon was of all men the only one not implicated in the troubles, that he had not joined in the exactions of the rich, and was not involved in the necessities of the poor, pressed him to succor the common wealth and compose the differences.

“Soon, however, becoming sensible of the good that was done, they laid by their grudges, made a public sacrifice, calling it Seisacthea, and chose Solon to new-model and make laws for the commonwealth, giving him the entire power over everything, their magistracies, their assemblies, courts, and councils; that he should appoint the number, times of meeting, and what estate they must have that could be capable of these, and dissolve or continue any of the present constitutions, according to his pleasure.

“It is said that he was obscure and ambiguous in the wording of his laws, on purpose to increase the honor of his courts; for since their differences could not be adjusted by the letter, they would have to bring all their causes to the judges, who thus were in a manner masters of the laws.

“Asked what city was best modelled, ‘that,’ said he, ‘where those that are not injured try and punish the unjust as much as those that are.’

“The law concerning naturalizing strangers is of doubtful character; he permitted only those to be made free of Athens who were in perpetual exile from their own country, or came with their whole family to trade there; this he did, not to discourage strangers, but rather to invite them to a permanent participation in the privileges of the government; and, besides, he thought those would prove the more faithful citizens who had been forced from their own country, or voluntarily forsook it.

*All excerpts have been taken from Plutarch’s Lives – Vol. I, Modern Library.

The Career of Alexander the Great – H.G. Wells

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Synopsis:

In The Outline of History H.G. Wells chronicles the metamorphosis of humanity from its earliest beginnings until the time of his own contemporary epoch. He maps the rise and decline of civilizations by describing the world historical individuals that were influential in setting the course of society. His biography of Alexander the Great offers his own keen insights, and exhibits the intellectual dispositions of the era in which Wells lived.

Excerpts:

“Alexander was, as few other monarchs have ever been, a specially educated king; he was educated for empire. Aristotle was but one of the several able tutors his father chose for him. Philip confided his policy to him, and entrusted him with commands and authority by the time he was sixteen. He commanded the cavalry at Chaeronea under his father’s eye. He was nursed into power – generously and unsuspiciously. To any one who reads his life with care it is evident that Alexander started with an equipment of training and ideas of unprecedented value.

“The strong sanity he inherited from his father had made him a great soldier; the teaching of Aristotle had given him something of the scientific outlook upon the world. He had destroyed Tyre; in Egypt, at one of the mouths of the Nile, he now founded a new city, Alexandria, to replace that ancient centre of trade. To the north of Tyre, near Issus, he founded a second port, Alexandretta. Both of these cities flourish to this day, and for a time Alexandria was perhaps the greatest city in the world.

“…he was forming no group of statesmen about him; he was thinking of no successor; he was creating no tradition – nothing more than a personal legend. The idea that the world would have to go on after Alexander, engaged in any other employment than the discussion of his magnificence, seems to have been outside his mental range. He was still young, it is true, but well before Philip was one and thirty he had been thinking of the education of Alexander.

“We are too apt to consider the career of Alexander as the crown of some process that had long been afoot; as the climax of a crescendo. In a sense, no doubt, it was that; but much more true is it that it was not so much an end as a beginning; it was the first revelation to the human imagination of the oneness of human affairs. The utmost reach of the thought of Greece before his time was of a Persian empire Hellenized, a predominance in the world of Macedonians and Greeks. But before Alexander was dead, and much more after he was dead and there had been time to think him over, the conception of a world law and organization was a practicable and assimilable idea for the minds of men.

“For some generations Alexander the Great was for mankind the symbol and embodiment of world order and world dominion. He became a fabulous being. His head, adorned with the divine symbols of the demi-god Hercules or the god Ammon Ra, appears on the coins of such among his successors as could claim to be his heirs. Then the idea of world dominion was taken up by another great people, a people who for some centuries exhibited considerable political genius, the Romans; and the figure of another conspicuous adventurer, Caesar, eclipsed for the western half of the old world the figure of Alexander.

*All excerpts have been taken from The Outline of History, Norwood Press.

Rhetoric – Aristotle (Part II)

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Synopsis:

In his treatise on Rhetoric, Aristotle considers the requisite building blocks of rhetoric as well as its existent contemporaneous forms. He also examines the subjects of politics, virtue, happiness, and morality in his customary common-sense way.

Excerpts:

“…the moral excellences of a young man are self-control and courage.

“…the end of democracy is liberty, of oligarchy wealth, of aristocracy things relating to education and what the law prescribes, of tyranny self-protection.

“Achievements, in fact, are signs of moral habit; for we should praise even a man who had not achieved anything, if we felt confident that he was likely to do so.

“Thus all the actions of men must necessarily be referred to seven causes: chance, nature, compulsion, habit, reason, anger, and desire.

“Application, study, and intense effort are also painful, for these involve necessity and compulsion, if they have not become habitual; for then habit makes them pleasant. Things contrary to these are pleasant; wherefore states of ease, idleness, carelessness, amusement, recreation, and sleep are among pleasant things, because none of these is in any way compulsory. Everything of which we have in us the desire is pleasant, for desire is a longing for the pleasant.

*All excerpts have been taken from Aristotle: Rhetoric, Chios Classics.

Rhetoric – Aristotle

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Synopsis:

In his treatise on Rhetoric, Aristotle considers the requisite building blocks of rhetoric as well as its existent contemporaneous forms. He also examines the subjects of politics, virtue, happiness, and morality in his customary common-sense way.

Excerpts:

“Justice, courage, self-control, magnanimity, magnificence, and all other similar states of mind, for they are virtues of the soul. Health, beauty, and the life, for they are virtues of the body and produce many advantages…

“In regard to war and peace, the orator should be acquainted with the power of the State, how great it is already and how great it may possibly become; of what kind it is already and what additions may possibly be made to it; further, what wars it has waged and its conduct of them. These things he should be acquainted with, not only as far as his own State is concerned, but also in reference to neighboring States, and particularly those with whom there is a likelihood of war, so that towards the stronger a pacific attitude may be maintained, and in regard to the weaker, the decision as to making war on them may be left to his own State.

“…it is useful not only to understand what form of government is expedient by judging in the light of the past, but also to become acquainted with those in existence in other nations, and to learn what kinds of government are suitable to what kinds of people.

“Let us then define happiness as well-being combined with virtue, or independence of life, or the life that is most agreeable combined with security…

“Internal goods are those of mind and body; external goods are noble birth, friends, wealth, honor. To these we think should be added certain capacities and good luck; for on these conditions life will be perfectly secure.

*All excerpts have been taken from Aristotle: Rhetoric, Chios Classics.

The Trojan Women – Movie Review

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Synopsis and Review:

The eminent classicist Edith Hamilton provided the translation of the powerful Euripides play for this film from 1971, which stars Vanessa Redgrave as Andromache as well as Katharine Hepburn as Hecuba. The Trojan Women portrays the aftermath of the Trojan War, and the consequences of the Greek victory on the leading women of Troy.

Throughout the film as well as the play the mood is melancholy with moments of intense acrimony against Helen – played by Irene Papas. Although the Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca wrote his own more forceful version of The Trojan Women, this version – the original one by Euripides – has fewer of the graphic scenes Seneca depicts and relies more on the dramatic conditions these women find themselves in – i.e. a life of slavery awaiting them. Vanessa Redgrave is on another order of magnitude above the other performers in her portrayal of Andromache – the widow of Hector – and this is exquisitely revealed when Andromache learns that her young son is to be executed by being thrown off the walls of Troy.

For lovers of Classicism this film is a must watch, and for those that have not yet read the Seneca adaptation of the play it is absolutely recommended as well.

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