Study Guide


by Xenophon

Anabasis Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

After the death of King Darius of Persia, his son Artaxerxes takes possession of the throne. Cyrus, the younger son, with the support of his mother, Parysatis, begins to build up an army to wrest control of Persia from his brother. By pretending to need troops to fight the Persian general Tissaphernes and the Pisidians, Cyrus acquires armies from the Peloponnese, the Chersonese (under the Spartan exile Clearchus), the Thessalians (under Aristippus), the Boeotians (under Proxenus), the Stymphalians (under Sophaenetus), and the Achaeans (under Socrates, the mercenary).

Cyrus marches from Sardis to Tarsus, gathering the elements of his army. At Tarsus the troops under Clearchus refuse to move forward, arguing that they were not hired to fight against the king. Clearchus deals with the mutiny by first enlisting the loyalty of the men to himself (by pretending he will stay with them and not with Cyrus) and then by supporting Cyrus’s claim that the enemy is not the king but Abrocomas, one of the king’s commanders.

By marches averaging fifteen miles a day Cyrus brings his army from Tarsus to Issus, the last city in Cilicia, where he is joined by ships from the Peloponnese. The march continues through the gates of Cilicia and Syria without opposition.

When Cyrus arrives at the city of Myriandrus, Xenias the Arcadian and Pasion the Megarian desert the army. Cyrus refuses to pursue or punish them, declaring that they served him well in the past.

The army moves on to the Euphrates and the city of Thapsacus. Here the word is finally given to the Greek soldiers that the campaign is to be against King Artaxerxes. At first the soldiers refuse to go further without more pay, but when Menon leads his forces across the Euphrates in order to set a good example and to win Cyrus’s favor, and when Cyrus promises to give each soldier additional pay, the Greeks cross the river in force on foot. Since the Euphrates is usually too high for such a passage, the army is encouraged by this good sign.

When they reach the Arabian desert, Cyrus forces the troops on long marches in order to bring them to water and fodder. He keeps discipline by ordering important Persians to help with the wagons when the road is difficult. A quarrel between the soldiers of Menon and of Clearchus is halted by Cyrus’s warning that they will all be destroyed if they fight among themselves.

Orontas, a Persian under Cyrus, attempts to transfer his army to the king’s forces, but Cyrus learns of the plan by intercepting a letter from Orontas to the king. At a trial held in Cyrus’s tent Orontas is condemned to death. He is never seen again.

Cyrus moves through Babylonia and prepares for battle with King Artaxerxes, but when the king’s forces fail to take a stand at a defensive ditch, Cyrus proceeds with less caution.

The two armies meet at Cunaxa, and the Greeks put the opposing Persian forces to flight. Cyrus, with six hundred Persian cavalry, charges the center of the Persian line in order to reach the king, but after wounding King Artaxerxes, Cyrus is killed by a javelin blow. The cavalrymen with Cyrus are killed, except for the forces under Ariaeus, who hastily retreats.

While the main Greek armies under Clearchus and Proxenus are pursuing the Persians, the king’s troops break into Cyrus’s camp and seize his mistresses, money, and property. Tissaphernes then joins the king’s force and attacks the Greeks, but again the Greeks put the Persians to flight.

Phalinus, a messenger from King Artaxerxes, attempts to force Clearchus to surrender, but the Spartan, regarding the Greeks as victors, refuses. The Greeks then ally themselves again with Ariaeus, who was second to Cyrus, and pledge their support of him. When Ariaeus refuses to attempt further battle against the king,...

(The entire section is 1571 words.)

Anabasis Bibliography (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Further Reading

Anderson, J. K. Xenophon. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1974. Complete and scholarly study of Xenophon’s life and works. Judges Anabasis as the work of a reporter, not a historian. A list of important dates, twelve pages of plates, suggestions for further reading, and concise footnotes enrich this study.

Fox, Robin Lane, ed. The Long March: Xenophon and the Ten Thousand. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2004. Twelve essays provide various interpretations of Anabasis, including discussions of sex and gender, the religious dimension, the depiction of the army, and displacement and identity in the work. Another essay examines when, how, and why Xenophon wrote Anabasis.

Livingstone, R. W., ed. The Pageant of Greece. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1923. Reprint. 1953. A history of the literature and culture of classical Greece, with a broad introduction followed by excerpts from the major writers and commentary on them. Characterizes Xenophon as “a man of action” and praises his “natural, unaffected style.”

Nussbaum, G. B. The Ten Thousand: A Study in Social Organization and Action in Xenophon’s “Anabasis.” Leiden, the Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1967. A scholarly study that addresses basic questions about military organization. Separate sections examine the common soldiers, the captains, the generals, and the assembly; others treat the public and the leadership.

Rood, Tim. The Sea! The Sea! The Shout of the Ten Thousand in the Modern Imagination. New York: Duckworth Overlook, 2005. Examines the cultural influence of Anabasis in Europe and America during the past two hundred years. Discusses literary works by Heinrich Heine, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and James Joyce, travel and adventure literature, magazine articles, romantic novels, plays, and films that adapt Xenophon’s work.

Waterfield, Robin. Xenophon’s Retreat: Greece, Persia, and the End of the Golden Age. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2006. Attempts to round out Xenophon’s account of Cyrus’s Persian campaign by providing additional details of military logistics, the lives of Greek and Persian soldiers, motivations for the war, and other aspects of the battle. Compares Cyrus’s experiences in Persia with present-day developments in the Middle East.

Xenophon. The Persian Expedition. Translated by Rex Warner. New York: Penguin Books, 1972. Excellent paperback edition, with a map and an informative introduction by George Cawkwell. A six-page glossary of names is useful, as is the comprehensive index. The complicated historical context is spelled out in detail.