The Aresan Clan is published four times a week (Tue, Wed, Fri, Sun). You can see what's been written so far collected here. All posts will be posted under the Aresan Clan label. For summaries of the events so far, visit here. See my previous serial Vampire Wares collected here.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Ancient historical research.

Doing historical research on Ancient events and persons is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, since there aren't many available sources, it's difficult - the details of ancient events can be vague and indeterminate and leave many questions and require much careful analysis. On the other hand, since there aren't many available sources, it's easy - it's pretty quick and easy to read through all available sources on many ancient events and persons.

Such is the case with the Battle of Cunaxa, a 5th century BC battle between the Persian king Artaxerxes II and his younger brother, Cyrus the Younger. There are four, and (I'm pretty sure only four), ancient sources of information about this battle, the Anabasis, by Xenophon (which details Xenophon's experience with the Greek mercenaries called on to help in the battle, who afterwards had to fight their way out of Persia, and is also the basis of the 1979 cult movie The Warriors), Photius' summary of Ctesias' Persica (a summary of a now lost work of history by Artaxerxes' physician), Plutarch's Life of Artaxerxes (one of several biographies by Plutarch, written some 500 years later), and Diodorus Siculus' Bibliotheca Historica (a broad sweeping history which attempts to tell a complete history of everything from the beginning of history, to his own day in the 1st century AD). You could gather together everything said in these primary sources about the Battle of Cunaxa into a few pages of text. Admittedly, it helps to know a lot about background, context, culture and so on, but such is the case with all history.

I first did some research on the Battle of Cunaxa when I was doing a paper on Plato's dialogue, the Meno. I was trying to help clarify that dialogue, which was about what is virtue and whether it could be taught, by talking about the life story of Meno and how it related to the philosophical message of the dialogue. Meno was among the Greek generals called to Cunaxa and features prominently in the early sections of the Anabasis. He was a young man who led a contingent of Thessalian troops, but, unfortunately, came to a rather bad end (which I'll discuss in my next post). Since, a Greek person reading Plato's Meno (written well after the events in question) would have been familiar with this history, I thought it might help to detail it. Thus, I delved into the rather scant information available on Meno and the Battle of Cunaxa, and very quickly became a leading expert on the life of Meno (which really isn't that hard and not something I should be too proud of, but we all got to have our accomplishments). Suffice it to say, I'm not going to start teaching classes on Meno, or create a Meno major for college students, since there isn't much to say. But I still quite enjoy Ancient historical research.

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