de Gruyter (2019) h/b 295pp £91 (ISBN 978-3-11-066065-4)

Xenophon’s narrative of the final years of the war has often seemed rather a let-down after Thucydides. Some moments are acknowledged to be high spots: the news of Aegospotami reaching Athens, and ‘on that night no-one slept’ (Hell. 2.2.3); the taking down of Athens’ walls to the sound of flutes, with the thought that ‘this day marks the beginning of freedom for Greece’ (2.2.23). It is easy too to sense, and to share, the author’s indignation at the unfairness and injustice to the Arginusae generals (1.7). But much of the rest seems less gripping than the stirring tale of the Anabasis. What scholarly attention there has been has often focused on the differences between these sections and the later parts of the Hellenica. These were generally explained in terms of composition, with Xenophon writing the rest of the history some time, perhaps a long time, later; these days we might be more inclined to see it in terms of the changing history, with narrative shape itself reflecting the move away from the bipolar clash of two superpowers, with Sparta first in unchallenged domination, then the complications of a resurgent Athens and a buoyant Thebes, and finally the drift into even greater confusion and unpredictability after Mantinea (Hell. 7.5.27). Another feature of recent research is the increasing alertness to intertextuality, so that he can be seen as an exploiter and not just a continuator of Thucydides, and narratology too has given sharper tools for formulating old insights and developing new ones. There was indeed a gap waiting for a focused treatment of Hellenica 1–2.3.10.

Aggelos Kapellos’ book goes some distance to filling that gap, but only some. It is presented as ‘a literary approach’ (8), but in fact much of its merit lies in its close historical analysis, weighing the details of Xenophon’s account and teasing out their implications. This makes it a valuable complement to Krentz’s Aris and Phillips commentary on the books and Kagan’s The Fall of the Athenian Empire, both dating from the late 1980s, and Lazenby’s admirable but briefer The Peloponnesian War of 2004. The literary side is more disappointing, paradoxically because K. keeps his eye so firmly on the ball and does not allow enough play to his peripheral vision. He acknowledges the gaps in Xenophon’s account, and Plutarch and Diodorus often figure in the footnotes; but there is no more substantial discussion of where they might have got their information and what they might have done to it. Even the later books of the Hellenica seldom come into view. He briefly weighs (and dismisses) the possibility that Lysander’s uncompromising execution of Philocles might carry implications for his involvement with the Thirty at Athens (252); we might rather wonder how far one can sense the coming manner of Spartan domination, with those unpleasant harmosts and decarchies. He finds a bigger emphasis on Persian gold than Thucydides had afforded, but does not ask how far this may presage the mighty role that Persia will play in the following forty years. He does not explore the relation between the travesties of the Arginusae debate and those in the show trial of Theramenes at 2.3. Narratology barely figures at all. 

That said, the overall characterisation of Xenophon is largely convincing. K. sees him as developing Thucydides’ analysis, especially the stress that Thucydides’ gave at 2.65 to Athens’ internal dissensions as the main reason for their losing the war. Xenophon lays stress on the role of individuals, and invites moral evaluation without making his verdicts explicit. There is admiration for the military skills of Alcibiades, again picking up a Thucydidean stress (Thuc. 6.15); Lysander too shows great military sense, though in each case the judgement is mixed, with serious reservations about their moral behaviour. In other cases K. prefers to find Xenophon more unequivocally pro- or anti-. Thus Theramenes, as we shall see, is an out-and-out baddy. Thrasyllus is an incompetent, used to set off Alcibiades’ merits. Callicratidas is seen as egocentric (there are some good remarks on his frequent use of the first person, what Syme called the ‘odious pronoun’), and as simply unrealistic in his Spartan pride when he bridles at having to wait for Cyrus to grant an audience (1.6.6–7). Some will be prepared to be more generous. Plutarch has not been the only reader to feel some sneaking admiration for Callicratidas, while accepting that he could have done with a bit more of Lysander’s street-wisdom.

A good idea of the book’s strengths and weaknesses is given by the core ch. 3, with 84 pages on the Arginusae trial. The treatment certainly has good things. It is right, for instance, to stress the importance not just of popular anger but of a quest for revenge. Funerals and laments are known often to provoke that lust; here it is more the lack of a funeral and the silent equivalent of a lament by those claiming to be the drowned men’s relatives, black-clothed and with close-cropped hair, at the festival of the Apatouria (1.7.8), and K. may well be right to find the very name of the festival suggestive of the deceit of that staged parade. It is reasonable too to think that memories of Thucydides may prime the reader to anticipate a less than fair or favourable treatment of the generals; quite a few Thucydidean commanders felt the lash of an unappreciative dêmos. Still, he pushes the intertextual arguments a long way, and even those sympathetic to the approach may have their doubts. Recollections of the frenzy stirred up against Thucydides’ Alcibiades are made to suggest that similar apprehensions were in play now: K. thinks the assembly suspected that the generals were conspiring against democracy, deliberately leaving the sailors to drown to reduce the city’s manpower and leave it at Sparta’s mercy. But why should Xenophon not have made this suspicion explicit if so? It would have gone well enough with the other outlandish accusations. This assumed suspicion is then taken to underlie the whole debate; for instance, he makes Lyciscus (by a slip he is several times ‘Lysicles’) urge the assembly ‘to regard the supporters of the generals as supporters of the conspiracy against the democracy’ (172), though there is not a hint of that in Xenophon’s own words (1.7.13). It is equally hard to think that the unnamed ‘someone’ (τις) who claims he saved himself on a barley-tub at 1.7.11 recalls the ‘someone’ who intervenes at Thuc. 6.25.1 to upgrade the scale of the Sicilian expedition.

The characterisation is again seen as morally stark. Theramenes is ‘a villain and an opportunist’ who is driven by envy and ambition to exploit the assembly ‘to achieve his evil plans’: one would have liked to hear more about whether the clash with Critias at 2.3 should lead the reader to rethink that view, or at least to feel that, as with Tacitus’ Otho, much could be forgiven for so fine a death. But a glowing verdict is passed on Euryptolemus, the man who speaks at such length on the generals’ side. He is indeed a sympathetic figure, but not everything he says is quite so easy to reconcile with Xenophon’s own narrative. Euryptolemus claims that only twelve ships were lost whereas Xenophon said twenty-five (1.6.34 and 1.7.30), and K.’s attempt to resolve the discrepancy (p. 199) does not convince. It is quite a strain too to take the reference to witnesses who were saved ἀπὸ τοῦ αὐτομάτου—‘accidentally’, as LSJ renders it—as an indication that they owed that safety to the generals’ intervention: Xenophon has made it plain at 1.6.34 that some made their own way to shore. Nor does K. have any doubts that the proceedings were a breach of legality. Xenophon makes several people say as much, significantly including Socrates, and that adds an air of moral impeccability to the claim; but several modern scholars have had their doubts, and this may be a subtle use of focalisation to leave an impression without the narrator ever taking full responsibility for it.

This, then, is a useful book, and K. has certainly deserved well of Xenophon: his edited collection on Xenophon on Violence appeared almost simultaneously, and a review of that too will shortly appear. But there is still work to be done.

Christopher Pelling