Excerpt from The Weekly Standard, May 9, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 32
“Xenophilia: No longer blind to the greatness
of this versatile Greek”
by Joseph Epstein
The Landmark Xenophon’s Hellenika
Edited by Robert B. Strassler

“ . . . A new edition of this history is now published under the
general editorship of Robert B. Strassler, who earlier brought
out Landmark editions of Herodotus and Thucydides. Strassler is what is today known as an
independent, which really means amateur, scholar, taking the word amateur in its root meaning
of lover. After a successful career in business—oil drilling—he retired, and soon thereafter
devoted himself to ancient history, the love of which he acquired as an undergraduate at
Harvard and never lost.

The result of this devotion has been Strassler’s Landmark editions. These books print the
central texts in solid new translations, with marginal notes and useful footnotes, introduced by
scholars, with still other scholars writing upon specialized topics pertinent to the central texts.
Perhaps best of all in the Landmark editions are the maps, which are clear, plentiful, and
immensely useful. One can read Herodotus and Thucydides over and over without having such
basic knowledge as how large Attica and the Pelopponnese are, how far is the distance between
Athens and Sparta, or Corinth from either. Robert Strassler is himself, one learns, without
Greek, and he has devised books of immense aid for the Greekless Hellenophile, of whom your
reviewer is one.

A Landmark edition is especially useful for Xenophon’s Hellenika, for it is a work over which
much controversy hangs. Until early in the 20th century, Xenophon’s history was taken to be
definitive. Then, in 1906, the papyrus of an incomplete manuscript since known as the
Hellenica Oxyrhynchia was found in Egypt that contradicted Xenophon in many particulars. A
later, Roman chronicle by Diodorus Siculus, who tends to agree with the Oxyrhynchia historian,
has further reduced the reputation for accuracy of Xenophon’s
Hellenika. Yet another
controversy has to do with when Xenophon wrote his history. Some scholars have him writing
different parts of it at different stages of his life. One of Xenophon’s strongest critics, the Oxford
classicist G. L. Cawkwell, holds that the
Hellenika isn’t history at all but essentially memoirs,
the memoirs written by an old man, and as Cawkwell notes, “old men forget.” Yet, whatever his
faults, however much he falls short of the precision required by modern historical scholarship,
Xenophon remains immensely readable and instructive. Without Xenophon’s
Hellenika, as
Robert Strassler notes, “we would know nothing or very little of many events and developments
of that dynamic period” from the end of the Peloponnesian War through 362
B.C. . . .”

For the full article, go to The Weekly Standard, May 9, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 32 (subscription