Last Updated on November 6, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1112
As Anabasis is Xenophon’s narration of a historical event, the characters of this work are real historical figures. Xenophon is both the author of Anabasis and a character in the narrative; he divides himself into two agents, one of which is—as described by the classicist Jonas Grethlein—the “narratorial persona,”...
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As Anabasis is Xenophon’s narration of a historical event, the characters of this work are real historical figures. Xenophon is both the author of Anabasis and a character in the narrative; he divides himself into two agents, one of which is—as described by the classicist Jonas Grethlein—the “narratorial persona,” and the other of which is the character himself. In the first two books, he is present mostly as the narrator, with the character Xenophon making only a few appearances. In the third book, however, Xenophon becomes one of the story’s central characters as he encourages the remnant of Cyrus’s army and calls for the appointment of new generals—an act of leadership that arguably saves the army from despair and destruction.
Xenophon is chosen as general over Proxenus’s battalion, and he and the general Cheirisophus command the army for most of the retreat. He leads with genuine care for his soldiers, as is evidenced by his discipline: in one case, he strikes soldiers for resting too long, but only because he fears they are letting themselves freeze. Xenophon is held in such high esteem by the rest of the army that they attempt to make him commander-in-chief, but he refuses, believing the army should remain divided or else be led by someone else. Throughout the story, Xenophon exhibits great wisdom and calm, and his strategies both in battle and in navigating hostile territory are considered genius by historians today.
Artaxerxes (or Artaxerxes II of Persia) is the eldest son of King Darius and assumes the throne at his father’s death. His younger brother, Cyrus, develops a plot and gathers an army of mercenaries to march to Persia and take the throne from Artaxerxes by force.
Artaxerxes’s and Cyrus’s armies meet in the Battle of Cunaxa. Cyrus succeeds in wounding Artaxerxes with a blow to the chest, but the king recovers. Artaxerxes sends messengers to the remnant of Cyrus’s army and tries to convince them to surrender; Clearchus and the other remaining generals refuse. The two armies ultimately reach a truce, but Artaxerxes’s general, Tissaphernes, posing as an “escort,” kills officers of the army and sends Cyrus’s generals to the king for execution. According to Xenophon, many close friends of Artaxerxes left him to serve Cyrus, believing “that their virtues would obtain a reward more adequate from Cyrus than from the king.”
Cyrus (or Cyrus the Younger) is the younger brother of King Artaxerxes. His father, King Darius, had made him satrap of Lydia, Great Phrygia, and Cappadocia. When Darius dies and Artaxerxes assumes the throne, Cyrus hires an army from Greece to march to Persia in an attempt to overthrow Artaxerxes; however, he initially deceives his soldiers with the lie that they have been hired to fight Tissaphernes, a Persian satrap. Cyrus’s attempted coup fails, and though he succeeds in wounding Artaxerxes in the Battle of Cunaxa, he is struck down and dies.
After describing the events leading up to Cyrus’s death, Xenophon writes a chapter as a sort of eulogy to Cyrus, in which he praises his character. He writes that Cyrus was
a man the kingliest and most worthy to rule of all the Persians who have lived since the elder Cyrus: according to the concurrent testimony of all who are reputed to have known him intimately.
Xenophon then details Cyrus’s upbringing and the nature of his governance: he was honest, loyal, faithful in fulfilling “every treaty or compact or undertaking entered into with others,” and eager to reward courage and sacrifice. Xenophon claims near the end of his chapter on Cyrus that “no one, Greek or barbarian, was ever so beloved.”
Tissaphernes is a satrap of Ionia and one of King Artaxerxes’s generals. Though formerly a friend of Cyrus, Tissaphernes betrays and slanders him before Artaxerxes. As a result, Artaxerxes attempts to execute Cyrus, but their mother intercedes, and Cyrus returns to his province. Many of the troops in Cyrus’s army join his force because they have been mistreated by Tissaphernes, and Cyrus claims he is going to war with him.
At the conclusion of the battle, Tissaphernes asks if the Greek army would allow him to accompany them as they march home to Greece. They agree to this, though not without suspicion that Tissaphernes means to betray them. Their suspicions are confirmed when, at a meeting with authorities in the Greek army, Tissaphernes massacres several captains and sends five of Cyrus’s generals to be executed. Tissaphernes pursues the Ten Thousand during their retreat, and at the end of Anabasis, the remnant of Cyrus’s army faces Tissaphernes once again after the soldiers are hired to fight against Tissaphernes with Thibron.
Clearchus is a Lacedaemonian exile and one of Cyrus’s generals. At Tarsus, Clearchus’s troops refuse to move onward, suspecting that Cyrus has gathered an army to fight the king and not Tissaphernes, as they had been told. Clearchus, through clever manipulation, convinces them to continue serving Cyrus. During the march to Persia, Clearchus is involved in a dispute with another general and is scolded by Cyrus for infighting. In the battle against Artaxerxes’s forces, Cyrus orders Clearchus to attack the center of the troops, where the king is; Clearchus hesitates and instead sends his soldiers to fight the troops on the right. Clearchus’s failure to charge at Artaxerxes results in the king’s attempt to encircle Cyrus’s army—which leads to Cyrus’s charge at the king and, ultimately, his death.
After Cyrus’s death, Clearchus refuses to surrender to Artaxerxes, and his fellow generals agree. He acts as a sort of honorary commander of the remnant of the army after the Battle of Cunaxa; he is not appointed to this position, but the other leaders and soldiers follow him because of his wisdom. Clearchus, against the advice of his peers, trusts Tissaphernes and attends a meeting with him along with several other generals and officers. There, Tissaphernes has the officers killed and the generals, including Clearchus, taken to Artaxerxes for execution.
Xenophon describes Clearchus and the other generals in the chapter following their execution. He portrays Clearchus as a lover of danger and war:
To put it briefly, war was his mistress; just as another man will spend his fortune on a favourite, or to gratify some pleasure, so he chose to squander his substance on soldiering.
Despite Clearchus’s harsh nature and severity in disciplining his men, Xenophon writes that his soldiers were always “eager to obey” and “would have no other in his place.”