A. Kapellos: Xenophon's Peloponnesian War

Xenophon's Peloponnesian War.

Kapellos, Aggelos
Trends in Classics – Supplementary Volumes 82
Berlin 2019: de Gruyter
Anzahl Seiten
IX, 295 S.
€ 99,95
Rezensiert für H-Soz-Kult von
Richard Fernando Buxton, Colorado College

Kapellos’s monograph takes the form of an interpretive paraphrase of Xenophon’s coverage for the final years of the Peloponnesian War (411–404 BC). He argues that the author shapes his reader’s evaluation of events through careful but implicit characterization achieved using suggestive detail and extensive allusion to Thucydides. Thucydides died with his history of the great war between Athens and Sparta unfinished and, over the course of the fourth century, several authors would attempt to complete the work. The only of these to survive intact is Xenophon’s, whose treatment forms much of the first two books of what he would in later years expand into the Hellenica, a moralizing and Sparta-focused history of Greek affairs through the Battle of Mantinea in 362. Beginning without a preface more or less where Thucydides leaves off and emulating his seasonal organization, Xenophon’s “completion” offers a sketchy narrative devoid of programmatic remarks and featuring only one extended speech. But it is also one full of arresting passages, such as the deployment of black-clad false mourners to turn the Athenian popular assembly against the generals who had just won the battle of Arginusae but failed to recover the war dead due to a storm (1.7.8). Further, it exhibits Xenophon’s characteristic interest in exploring the psychology of successful military-political leadership through examples both good and bad.

The author situates himself within two ascendent schools of Xenophontic scholarship. The first views Xenophon as a consummate master of suggestive details that deepen and extend his explicit moral pronouncements, rather than subverting these as in earlier “dark” readings pioneered by Leo Strauss. In this view, Xenophon subtly shapes his reader’s evaluation of events through connotative vocabulary, suggestive juxtapositions of episodes and personalities, knowing breaks in chronological sequence, and tensions between how narrator and characters recall events.[1] But, whereas such scholarship has often focused on how Xenophon’s various works inform each other, with their recurrent themes and motifs cutting across the many genres in which he wrote, Kapellos largely ignores the rest of Xenophon’s oeuvre. Instead, he focuses on how the completion relies on the reader filling out its meaning through internal cross-references and frequent callbacks to Thucydides. This falls in line with a second recent trend, which sees Xenophon as engaged in extensive dialog with his historiographic predecessors.[2]

The result is a new path for arriving at a reading of major characters and events that is largely consistent with Peter Krentz’s 1989 literary-historical commentary, the previous comprehensive treatment.[3] Thus, Xenophon’s interpretation of history is still seen as focused primarily on powerful personalities. Like Thucydides (2.65.12), he is fiercely critical of an Athenian democracy that allowed unscrupulous politicians to turn the citizenry against its effective military leaders, seeing this as more decisive for the city’s defeat than Persia’s financial aid to Sparta. Accordingly, Alcibiades is a brilliant general hobbled by the distrust his past political machinations engender at Athens (cf. Thucydides 6.15.4), while the sleazy manipulation of the Athenian assembly into condemning the Arginusae generals deprives Athens of those able to secure it victory. Even if Athens ultimately dooms itself, the ruthless Spartan general Lysander allows Xenophon an opportunity to sketch out a model of disciplined tactical command who forms a telling contrast with his counterpart Callicrates, an ineffective bully and sham Panhellenic patriot.

If the overall picture is familiar, the exhaustive handling of individual details offers a host of stimulating new readings that are quite often convincing. An excellent contribution is to make sense of the programmatic purpose served by the many minor historical details that serve as seeming historiographic filler between major episodes. For instance, a passing reference to Sparta’s recapture under Lysander of Delphinium on Chios (1.5.15) not only picks up a thread left hanging in Thucydides (8.38, 40), but also anticipates the island’s availability as a refuge for the Spartan fleet after its defeat at Arginusae (1.6.33, 37–38). This retreat occurs the following year, after Callicratidas had succeeded Lysander, so the cumulative effect is to consolidate an impression of Lysander’s strategic competence and foresight that his later successes, once returned to command, confirm (pp. 89–90, 137).

The book ends with an ingenious reading of the miscellaneous note Xenophon places after the definitive defeat of Athens at Aegospotami: Lysander executes the captured Athenian general Philocles, together with the other Athenian prisoners, as punishment for having proposed a successful motion at home to mutilate Spartan prisoners after their hoped-for victory. For Kapellos, the anecdote’s analeptic element allows Xenophon to cast Aegospotami as a thematic sequel to Arginusae, where a callous politician again manipulates the Athenians into unethical behavior with self-destructive consequences for their war effort (pp. 247–251, 257).

While many of the callbacks to Thucydides that Kapellos illustrates are illuminating, particularly in the case of Alcibiades, some are sufficiently general that one wonders whether it is simply a case of both authors tapping into a common contemporary discourse. Consider the book’s welcome attention—for this reviewer especially—to the leitmotif running throughout the “completion” of factional conflict (stasis), whereby leaders in both Athens and Sparta pursue personal vendettas against rivals even when this risks wartime defeat (pp. 60-65, 68–69, 84–85, 102–103, 144, 158, 163, 167–168, 181, 256–258). Rather mechanically, Kapellos connects the generic progress and fallout of such conflicts as described by Xenophon to specific points in Thucydides’ famous meditation on the stasis at Corcyra (3.81–84). A more serious problem is that although Kapellos makes a strong case for the intentional interpretive work performed by even minor details, he ignores whether Xenophon’s compositional symmetries involved distorting or manipulating historical facts. But several details key to Kapellos’s interpretation are contradicted by the alternative historical tradition preserved in the Roman-era author Diodorus Siculus, which, for example, attributes the Spartan capture of Delphinium to Callicratidas (13.76.3–4; p. 90, note 338). This renders his study of limited use to historians.

No attempt to produce so impressively thorough a reading of the “completion” as forming a consistent program in its every detail will prove entirely convincing. Nevertheless, for those interested in Xenophon’s artistry as an author, Kapellos provides a welcome and thoughtful study that does much to rehabilitate the literary reputation of a fascinating text too often dismissed as a haphazard summary.

[1] Two excellent examples that treat material from the “completion” in a manner complementary to Kapellos’s conclusions are Edmond Lévy, L’Art de la déformation Historique dans les Helléniques de Xénophon, in: Herman Verdin / Guido Schepens / Els de Keyser (eds.), Purposes of History: Studies of Greek History from the 4th to the 2nd Centuries, Louvain 1990, pp. 125–157; Frances Pownall, Shifting Viewpoints in Xenophon’s Hellenica. The Arginousai Episode, in: Athenaeum 88 (2000), pp. 499–513.
[2] Of especial relevance to Kapellos’s study is Tim Rood, Xenophon and Diodorus. Continuing Thucydides, in: Christopher Tuplin (eds.), Xenophon and his World (Historia Einzelschriften 172), Stuttgart 2004, pp. 341–396.
[3] Peter Krentz, Xenophon: Hellenika I-II.3.10, Oxford 1989. He, like Pownall, gives more weight to the religious dimension of Xenophon’s analysis, which Kapellos, following Thucydides, underplays.

Veröffentlicht am
Redaktionell betreut durch
Mehr zum Buch
Inhalte und Rezensionen
Weitere Informationen
Sprache Publikation
Sprache Beitrag