[v] MISS YOUNGHUSBAND kindly insists that I should write a preface to her new
volume, and I cannot refuse. It contains a
translation by her hand from the German of Professor C. Witt's version of
the Retreat of the Ten Thousand.
Such a book ought, I think, no less than its predecessors The Myths of
Hellas, The Tale of Troy, and The Wanderings of
Ulysses, to become a favourite with those youthful readers, to whom it is
primarily addressed. Indeed, considering the nature
of the history, older persons may perhaps find an interest in it.
The original Greek narrative, on which Professor Witt has based his version,
is, of course, the well-known Anabasis of
Xenophon, which is one of the most fascinating books in the world. And I
agree with the translator in hoping that some of
those who read the story for the first time in English will be led to study
Greek sufficiently to read it again and again in the
language of Xenophon himself.
[vi] That remarkable personage, who in spite of his Spartan leanings was a
thorough Athenian at heart—found himself on
a sudden called upon to play the part of a leader: and played it to
perfection. But if he deserved well of his countrymen and
fellow soldiers by his service in the field, he has deserved still better of
all later generations by the vigour, not of his sword,
but of his pen.
Perhaps we owe it to his Socratic training that whilst the memories were
still fresh he sat down to describe the exploits of the
Ten Thousand in a style admirably suited to the narrative; and produced a
masterpiece. I do not think there is a dull page in
The incidents, albeit they took place in the broad noonday of Grecian
history, are as thrilling as any tale told by the poets in
the divine dawn of the highly gifted Hellenic race. The men themselves who
play so noble a part are evidently true
descendants of the Homeric heroes. If they have fits of black despondency
—the cloud is soon dispelled when there is
need for action, and by a sense of their own dignity. The spirit of their
forefathers, who fought and won at Marathon and
Salamis and Plataeae, has entered into them. They enter the lists of battle
with the same gaiety. They confront death with
similar equanimity. Buoyancy is the distinctive note of the Anabasis.
[vii] But there is another side to the matter. These Xenophontine soldiers are
also true enfants du siecle. They bear the impress of
their own half century markedly: and it was an age not by any means entirely
heroic. It had its painful and prosaic side.
'Nothing,' a famous Frenchman, M. Henri Taine, has remarked in one of his
essays entitled Xénophon,' is more singular than
this Greek army—which is a kind of roving commonwealth, deliberating
and acting, fighting and voting: an epitome of
Athens set adrift in the centre of Asia: there are the same sacrifices, the
same assemblies, the same party strifes, the same
outbursts of violence; to-day at peace and to-morrow at war; now on land and
again on shipboard; every successive incident
serves but to evoke the energy and awaken the poetry latent in their souls.'
How does this happen? It is due, I think, to the Ten Thousand to admit: It
was so, because in spite of personal defects they
were true to themselves. 'The Greeks,' as the aged Egyptian priest exclaimed
to Solon, in another context, 'are always
This something childlike—this glory had not as yet in the year 400
B.C. faded into the light of common day. But as M.
Taine adds concerning the writing itself, 'The beauty of style transcends
even the interest of the story,' and we may well
imagine that a less capable
[viii] writer than Xenophon (Sophaenetus for instance) would have robbed the
narrative and the actors alike of half their
And what of Xenophon himself? There is much to be said on that topic. But it
is 'another story.' In this he must speak for
[ix] IN translating Professor Witt's version of the Retreat of the Ten Thousand,
I have ventured to divide the chapters, and also to
re-arrange in some cases the grouping of sentences and paragraphs, for the
sake of greater clearness. The figures given for
numbers, distances and sums of money, are the same as in Mr. Dakyns'
translation of the works of Xenophon. Here and
there too I have modified or omitted or added a phrase, as for instance in
substituting, on the first page, Alfred the Great for
Karl der Grosse, as an example more familiar to English readers; and in
adding to the description of Persepolis one or two
details to explain the illustrations. But in the main I have endeavoured to
reproduce accurately Professor Witt's text in simple
English, without either addition or omission.
The illustrations are mostly taken (by permission) from MM. Perrot and
Chipiez's 'Histoire de l'Art daps l'Antiquité.' Some few
are from Baumeister's Dictionary.
[x] The two views are from photographs kindly lent for the purpose by Mr. Cecil
Smith, of the British Museum.
I am glad to take the opportunity of expressing my very grateful thanks to
Mr. Dakyns for his kindness in forwarding this
attempt to interest English children in the writings of an author to whom he
has himself given so many hours of sympathetic
study. And I hope that many readers of this little book may be stimulated to
the effort of studying for themselves the works of
the great historian in the original Greek.
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