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The Ten Thousand: A Novel of Ancient Greece

1 rating: 3.0
A book by Michael Curtis Ford

The ill-fated campaign of Xenophon's army in the political chaos following the Peloponnesian War is the subject of Ford's debut, a long and labyrinthine affair that begins with the army's successful journey to Babylon and an initial battle in which the … see full wiki

Tags: Books, Cafe Libri
Author: Michael Curtis Ford
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
1 review about The Ten Thousand: A Novel of Ancient Greece

A very fine rendering of a much older tale!

  • Sep 20, 2001
I read the Anabasis, the narrative by the Greek historian Xenophon, upon which this book is based, many years back and, when I saw this book, I was pleasantly surprised that someone had actually taken a crack at novelizing it.

The original text of the Anabasis essentially records the vicissitudes of a troop of Greek mercenaries who got stuck in the middle of the Persian empire, far from their native Hellenic hills, on the wrong side of a civil war between two Persian bluebloods. With their leader and employer taking an untimely powder in the midst of the critical battle, they are left without a patron, ten thousand against a hundred thousand or more, and no way out across a vast inhospitable desert lying between them and their Mediterranean road home, while being shadowed by a treacherous Persian general.

How they pull it together in the face of incredible hardships and fight their way home again is the crux of this tale . . . and it's a rousing one. Still, having read Xenophon, I was faced with the fact that there was little suspense for me in this adventure since I already knew how the basic narrative would work itself out. Worse, the interior sub-plots were all too easy to second guess, while the characters were not as sharply drawn as I'd have liked and so not as compelling, for their part, as they might have been.

More, there was a rather distant, abstractness to the writing itself that tended to leave me a trifle cold. It did not engage me as much as Pressfield's GATES OF FIRE had, the novel about the Spartan stand against Xerxes' invading Persians, roughly a generation or so before the events which Xenophon recorded. In fact, Pressfield's book's success probably inspired the decision to publish this one, though that, by itself, is not necessarily an adverse comment on this work. This tale is, in fact, nicely written and a well-wrought tribute to the Anabasis, despite my carping above. It is, despite its flaws, a vivid and convincing recreation of the ancient world in the time of the Greek Golden Age and that mighty Persian empire with which the Greeks alternately fought and dickered. Although the philosophizing built into the narrator's voice left me a trifle cold, as it seemed to be more for effect (to mimic the Greek penchant for reflecting deeply), than to really present a coherent and insightful world view . . . or to raise great questions . . . I found the narrator's "voice" reasonably convincing despite the modern tone it set.

I did find a few irritating errors, however, the most annoying being the reference to the upper Euphrates River near the end when a glance at the map on the inside cover clearly shows the upper Tigris to have been meant (unless that map got it wrong -- I don't know, myself, since I didn't go back to check my atlas).

Oh and one rather clever maneuver kind of stuck out for me: a quote attributed to the Gallic Yourcenar, a personage with which I am entirely unfamiliar, though I note the author thanks a colleague of the SAME last name in his afterword! A clever ploy indeed.

On balance, I really did like this one since it brought Xenophon's narrative to life in a somewhat modern idiom which still manages to sucessfully evoke the ancient world from which it was sprung. And, if it was not wholly satisfying for lack of suspense and vivid characters, well, at the least, it did its job in breathing life into the ancient text. I looked for more from this book than I got. But, in truth, I got enough. If you like ancient worlds and fascinating adventure, this true life tale reported by Xenophon and novelized by Mr. Ford, is worth the money and the time!

author of The King of Vinland's Saga

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