Wednesday, September 29, 2004

The Battle of Salamis : The Naval Encounter That Saved Greece -- and Western Civilization

Abstract of Review by Franklin Crawford

"As the book's flyleaf states, the battle of Salamis "was the most important naval encounter of the ancient world. In the narrow strait between the island of Salamis and the Greek mainland, a heavily outnumbered Greek navy defeated the Persian armada ... The Greek triumph at Salamis stopped the advancing Persians and saved the first democracy in history. It made Athens the dominant city in Greece, gave birth to the Athenian empire, and set the stage for the Age of Pericles."

The story is populated with a star-studded cast of characters: "Themistocles, the Athenian commander who masterminded the victory (and tricked his fellow Greeks into fighting); Xerxes, the Persian king who understood land but not naval warfare; Aeschylus, the Greek playwright who took part at Salamis and later immortalized it in drama; and Artemisia, the half-Greek queen who was one of Xerxes' trusted commanders and who turned defeat into personal victory."

With all these elements, it's easy to see the appeal of Salamis as both historical set piece and heroic seafaring thriller. And Strauss didn't simply wish to pen another military history of the battle of Salamis; he wanted to bring entirely new scholarship into the court of memory, drawing on nautical science, archaeology, forensic anthropology and meteorology, among other specialties -- in short, all the latest advances in the field of classical history.

"What I've been doing as a scholar before writing this book was an exercise in reading between the lines," Strauss said. "By applying the knowledge of naval archaeology or meteorology, for example, we can reconstruct an ancient world that is much richer than the pictures we get from just literary sources. When we read Thucydides or Herodotus or any of the ancient sources without that knowledge, we think, 'gosh, those guys left a lot of gaps.' [But] when we have that stuff in mind, suddenly it begins to make sense and a lot of the gaps get filled in."

In addition to bolstering ancient sources with modern scholarship, Strauss crafted a visceral accounting as full of sun, sea, sweat and blood as necessary to spice the tale. Strauss also details the "Persian campaign in Greece and flesh[es] out a picture of society and warfare in the ancient world, illuminating such topics as Persian court protocol, the prayers of Corinthian temple prostitutes and the proper method of ramming an enemy trireme," according to Publisher's Weekly.

He boldly enters into the heads of the major players on the field of battle, speculating on their states of mind. In choosing a novelistic approach to the narrative, he followed the leads of military historians like John Keegan and Stephen Ambrose, who err on the side of creative verisimilitude."

The Talisman of Troy

"A castaway tossed onto a deserted beach is the last survivor of a world that no longer exists. He has a terrible, fascinating story to tell - the true reason for which the Trojan War was fought...

The protagonist of this tale is Diomedes, the last of the great ancient Greek Homeric heroes, who seeks to return to his beloved homeland after years of war against Troy. But destiny has other plans for him.

Betrayed by his wife, who plots to murder him and persecuted by hostile gods, he has no choice but to turn his sails west, towards Hesperia, the mysterious mist-shrouded land that will one day be called Italy.

He ventures boldly into this new world, for he carries with him the magic Talisman of Troy, a mysterious, powerful idol that can make the nation that possesses it invincible.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Empire Of Ashes

by Nicholas Nicastro

"The great Alexander is dead. Machon-the late emperor's renowned friend and ally-is being scapegoated for his downfall. An outsider on trial for his life, Machon will tell his Greek accusers the stunning, tragic truth behind the meteoric rise and fall of a peerless military leader who proclaimed himself a god-and lost his humanity."

Due to be released December, 2004. (Hmmm...I wonder why?)

Owls to Athens

by Harry Turteltaub
Owls to Athens (Hellenistic Seafaring Adventure): "Cousins Menedemos and Sostratos are preparing for a trading expedition to Athens. While philosophy-minded Sostratos is thrilled to return to Athens, Menedemos is both reluctant to leave his father's wife Baukis, with whom he has fallen in love, and relieved to be removed from temptation. They stock up on luxury goods and rush to Athens so Sostratos can make it there in time for Greater Dionysia, a parade and dramatic festival in honor of Dionysus.

In Athens, the cousins watch political history being made as Athens trades their sovereign ruler for an invader who announces plans to institute a newfangled 'democracy.' Meanwhile, Sostratos visits the Lykeion, the site of his unfinished education, but his fears of being mocked turn into triumph when he gets a good price for his wares. Menedemos, in typical fashion, starts an affair with a married woman, this time having the audicity to get their host's wife pregnant. In love as in trade, Menedemos's and Sostratos's quick wits have usually been enough to get them out of their self-created messes, but this may be pushing it...

Like a Patrick O'Brian novel set in the third century B.C., Owls to Athens is an entertaining tapestry of cameraderie and adventure amidst the world of classical antiquity in all its living, breathing, earthy reality."

The Eagle and the Wolves

By Simon Scarrow

"It's AD44, and as Vespasian and the Second Legion forge ahead in their campaign to seize the south-west, Macro and newly-appointed centurion Cato are ordered by Vespasian to provide Verica, aged ruler of the Atrebatans, with an army. They must train his tribal levies into a force that can protect him, enforce his rule and take on the increasingly ambitious raids that the enemy is launching. But despite the Atrebatans'official allegiance to Rome, open revolt is brewing, for many are wary of the legions and want to resist the Roman invaders. Macro and Cato must first win the loyalty of the disgruntled levies, before tackling the enemy without. But can they succeed whilst surviving a deadly plot to destroy both them and their comrades serving with the eagles? In the midst of this highly volatile situation, Macro and Cato face the greatest test of their army careers as only they stand between the destiny of Rome and bloody defeat..."

Now availabe in the U.K. Set for November release in the U.S.

Anabasis of Alexander the Great by Flavius Arrianus

I just finished listening to Arrian's anabasis of Alexander the Great. It seemed as though after Alexander's men refused to go any farther in India, Alexander seemed to have developed a death wish. Even before he was critically wounded by the Mallians, Arrian reports how he exposed himself recklessly to enemy fire several times, standing alone on the top of a wall or high point, very obvious in his glittering armor. Arrian also mentioned that in one of his major engagements on his trip south to the Indian Ocean he charged into combat without waiting for his infantry to catch up with his cavalry, like he usually did. Even Arrian makes the comment that Alexander never would have been satisfied to simply govern. He loved the challenge that conquest always presented and overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

Arrian also pointed out that neither of his sources, Ptolemy or Aristabulous, mentioned that Alexander said anything about his successor. Arrian surmises that the story of Alexander saying his kingdom would go "to the best man" was probably just made up by later writers. One of the Alexander biographies I read speculated that he started to indicate Krateros, whose name is very similar to the Greek words for "the best" or "the strongest" but I noticed that Arrian said Krateros was getting quite old at the time Alexander sent him back to Macedon. In fact, Alexander even sent another officer to take charge if Krateros did not survive the trip so this would seem to indicate Alexander would not have considered Krateros as capable of ruling the entire empire.

Arrian also seemed to discount the later stories about animosity between Alexander and Antipater. Alexander's main concern about Antipater was trying to keep Antipater and Olympias from each other's throats. Arrian also mentioned nothing about a physical relationship with Hephaistion. So is this another case of people reading things into references to their friendship like they do with Achilles and Patroklas? I was surprised when I listened to the complete unabridged Iliad and found nothing definitive there either about the much talked about relationship between Achilles and Patroklas.

I always thought Arrian is considered the most reliable account because he bases his narrative on the eyewitness accounts of Ptolemy son of Lagos and Aristabulous. I had always heard that the account given by Curtius Rufus was more akin to the likes of Suetonius' gossipy passages. However, maybe I should read Rufus as well to get additional perspective. (I have already read Mary Renault's trilogy and biography of Alexander and Howard Lamb's biography. I purchased Manfredi's and plan to start it soon).