Agesilaus Review

While other works of Xenophon's have taken me a week or even longer to get through, I finished this one in just a night, and it wasn't even the only thing that I read that evening. Agesilaus is a biography of the titular Spartan king, and unlike Xenophon's "biography" of Cyrus the Great, is thought to be fairly accurate historically, if very brief, and somewhat biased. Where a modern biographer often goes out of his or her way to find "dirt" on their subject, highlighting their shortcomings and failures no matter how respected and revered a figure they might be, or how significant of feats they might have accomplished, it has been more common in history to write biographies that are meant to praise a figure and elucidate the person's admirable traits, that others might follow suit. Xenophon certainly falls into the latter category, and his effusive praise for Agesilaus renders him as a veritable paragon of virtue, representative of every admirable characteristic and quite devoid of any flaws of blemishes.

Hellenica Review

Continuing on through the collected works of Xenophon, we next have Hellenica, which much like Herodotus's Histories is intended as a historical narrative. This time, it picks up the account in 411 BCE, and covers about fifty years, to 362 BCE, which is apparently the year of the Battle of Mantineia. Apparently, it picks up the narrative thread of the Peloponnesian War immediately where Thucydides' history abruptly ends (which is also on my reading list, and I only know this because the information was conveniently included in the front of my translation of Hellenica), and may have been written just for his friends as a sort of historical "vanity" publication. Like The Ten Thousand, this is covering a topic to which Xenophon was a contemporary, so it is considered an important primary source, and hopefully has a bit more historical veracity than his not-really biographical treatment of King Cyrus, who founded the Persian Empire.

Cyropaedia Review

Literally, the title of this piece translates to "the education of Cyrus," though in truth only about the first book or two cover Cyrus's "education," while the others describe the rest of his life. This is meant as a sort of "how to" book on how to rule well, in the form of a biographical treatment of Cyrus, but unlike in The Ten Thousand, Xenophon is not here describing contemporary events, and many historians doubt that this is in more than the most general of ways an accurate depiction of Cyrus's life. Note: by "how to," I mean a book on how to rule as a semi-benevolent authoritarian dictator who is loved and feared by his subjects.

The Ten Thousand Review

I've actually read this part before, but decided to re-read it in light of my recent reading of Herodotus's Histories, which covered the period about a hundred years or so before the events in The Ten Thousand, and provided a lot of valuable context for understanding what was happening in Xenophon's story. Unlike Herodotus, Xenophon is not writing about history in The Ten Thousand; he is writing a semi-autobiographical account of what happened to him and his companions during a campaign as mercenaries in a decidedly short-lived Persian civil war. Like Caesar in his Commentaries, Xenophon refers to himself in the third person, and the result is perhaps the most story-like and modern-seeming of all the ancient works that I've been reading recently. In fact, Conn Iggulden wrote a historical fiction novella primarily based upon the events in The Ten Thousand, and it was a very interesting experience to read that having already read its primary source.

Babur-Nama Review

Well, I did it again. When I consulted my reading list to pick a new book to read after finishing Meditations With Cows, instead of picking a new or well-known or at least commonly approachable book that people actually would search for and by extension perhaps find my site, I picked another ancient text that only a few people have heard of and fewer decide to read. Let it never be said that I am a slave to the search engine algorithms. That being said, it does continue my tour of historic pieces of world literature (we recently reviewed The Bhagavad Gita, and The Story of Burnt Njal, checking off (roughly) India and Iceland, plus the Middle East with the Babur-Nama), and I have legitimately been interested in reading this for awhile, it being one of the few historical autobiographies from that region of the world. In truth, doing a sort of world-tour of ancient literature is proving a very fascinating exercise, and one that I would wholly recommend (as long as you have some patience).

The Silmarillion Review

In my most recent reread of The Lord of the Rings, I expressed that there is a certain mythical quality to the story and its manner of telling, and that is even more so present in The Silmarillion, which makes sense: according to the letter of Tolkien's included with the text, Middle Earth was intended to be a sort of original mythology, evolved from the languages he had invented.

The Lord of the Rings Review

I've said it in every other post about these books so far, but I will say it again: you should read The Lord of the Rings. If you haven't read them, then a) I'm very sorry for the sad life you have heretofore lived, and b) you should read them immediately. If you have read them, then you should reread them. These are the kinds of books that spoil you for everything else that isn't nearly half as good as they are.

The Return of the King Review

At the end of The Two Towers, if you're not familiar with the plot already, you'd probably believe that this story is not going to end well. Of course, the biggest spoiler of this book is its own title, which Tolkien did not pick. His original choice for the title of the third part of The Lord of the Rings was The War of the Ring, but he was persuaded to change it to the more positive, and arguably more descriptive, The Return of the King. Knowing this history, I'm not entirely certain which title I prefer. However, I am entirely certain that I enjoyed this part of the story just as much as the others.

The Two Towers Review

There is a fair consensus amongst those who come to consensuses about such matters that Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings primarily as a way of exploring Middle Earth - that is, this is what is known as a milieu story, in which the setting, the world, drive much of the plot. In The Two Towers this is on fine display again. One of the more interesting things to do with a copy of The Lord of the Rings is to sit down and look at just how much ground is covered by the various journeys; you then realize just how large a world Middle Earth is, and how small a section is explored in these tales. The distance covered by Frodo and Sam through such great peril and difficulty in the entirety of their chapters in The Two Towers is essentially a tiny corner on the map.