The Chilling Challenge–To Find a Way Out!

Yesterday: Annals (Tacitus)  Tomorrow: The Song of Roland  Twitter: @GreatBooksDude

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Who has not been to Disneyland and gone to the Haunted Mansion!?!  We can all remember the creepy disembodied voice’s taunt that the chamber has “no windows…and no doors.  Which offers you this chilling proposition: to find a way outttttt!”  This is exactly the task that faced Xenophon and the surviving members of the Ten Thousand mercenaries ( whom the challenger Cyrus the Younger ( had led from Greece in his campaign to wrest the Persian Empire from his brother, Artaxerxes II (

Cyrus’ invasion failed when on September 3, 401 BC, despite his troops having gained the upper hand in the Battle of Cunaxa (, he himself made a move straight at Artaxerxes and was killed on the field.  Now the Greeks were an enemy army, thousands of miles away from home, without a leader and facing the prospect of marching through hostile territory during the inhospitable winter months. These prospects became more grim and more dire as their leader Clearchus and other high-ranking officers were systematically killed by treachery by the satrap Tissaphernes.  Harassed by Artaxerxes’ army, short of food and freezing in the snow, the Greeks elected Xenophon, who had no previous military experience, as one of their leaders.  With a shrewd capacity for in-the-moment decisions, Xenophon successfully marched them north to the Black Sea and they arrived safely in Greece.

This is one of the most engaging and instructive historical texts ever written.  It is among the great adventure stories, but unlike those of Gulliver and Huckleberry Finn it is, for the most part, nonfiction.  There are times when Xenophon misremembers things, and it appears intentional in some cases, but even given that it is such a remarkable book that every student should read it at least once before they leave high school.  They don’t.  Beyond its adventure, its vision of leadership and decision-making and grace under pressure have inspired thousands of men over the course of several millennia, and can inspire thousands more in a much shorter period due to the cheap press of the present age.

I legitimately believe that EVERY army general should have read this book, and that every statesman should have read this book.  I wholeheartedly agree with Will Durant’s commonplace remark that it is “one of the great adventures in human history.”  There is, so far as I am concerned, no possible way to view it otherwise.  And that’s all I can say about it.  Read the goddamned thing and study it with me!!!!

You can see more at, but (as with all links I post) this does not excuse you from reading the actual book.


One thought on “The Chilling Challenge–To Find a Way Out!

  1. Pingback: Manly Men (and sometimes Girly Girls) | greatbooksdude

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