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Old October 13th, 2017, 07:39 AM   #11

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Am about halfway through this. Some parts, I'm enjoying. Others are pure drudgery.

I love reading about ancient history, have read some of Hanson's nonfiction, so figured he knows enough about the subject matter to make it interesting. I knew before starting that he hates the Spartans and loves Thebes. I also knew Hanson is a columnist and an arch conservative. Which I have a bit of a problem with, because I feel the opposite. But I still thought I'd give it a try.

The story is told from the perspective of a man named Melon from Thespiae, one of Thebes' allies. There is really nothing noteworthy about the man other than he hates the Spartans because in a prior battle against them he was wounded in the leg and has a limp. This is probably my biggest gripe with Hanson and the book. He's not a fiction writer. He writes long swathes of narration where nothing happens. His characters are one dimensional. His dialogue makes my eyes bleed.

His depiction of the Spartans is brutal. They're animals trained to kill, with no code of honor, that must be exterminated for the good of Hellas. Worst of all, some of their characters, deliver long-winded speeches that go against everything I know about the Spartans. The word 'laconic' (a style of speech using very few words) originated in Sparta. They prided themselves in getting their thoughts across as succinctly as possible. Not in the world according to Hanson. Here, all the characters, including the Spartans blabber on and on.

The best part of the book so far, has been his depiction of the Battle of Leuctra. It takes up 5-6 chapters, which is kind of cool. Because we're following a Thespian, unfortunately the reader does not experience the battle from the perspective of the Theban Sacred Band, who are the ones that broke the myth of Spartan invincibility by using an innovative 50-deep phalanx.

Melon and his slave Chion stagger around killing Spartans left and right with very little trouble, which is a little odd, considering Melon is a farmer, and the Spartans have trained all their lives for war. One of the things that bothered me here was that Hanson has the Spartans constantly breaking ranks, leaping forward, crashing into the Theban line, where they are immediately speared from all sides. That's just wrong. I can't imagine the well-disciplined Spartan hoplite breaking ranks. But, if you love the Thebans and hate the Spartans, you'll probably love Hanson's depiction of the battle.

Another thing I found odd was that Hanson has the Thebans and their allies surround the 1200 or so Spartans who were in the Lacedaemonian army (while Sparta's allies sit around doing nothing - which they actually did do). I don't recall any historians claiming the Spartans and their King Kleombrotus were surrounded.

Too, Hanson is a believer in 'othismos' or that hoplites conducted a rugby-like scrum during battle. The rear ranks pushed against the backs of the men in front of them, resulting in a great collision among the front ranks. The newer paradigm is that the rear ranks of hoplites did not push forward, that the front ranks attacked over their shields, and when a man died, the man behind him stepped forward and took his spot. So did the Sacred Band literally run over the Spartans, or did they win because they were ranked 50 deep, they simply had more reinforcements? Hanson believes the former.

Even though I had my share of problems with Hanson's depiction of the battle, and the Spartans get the worst of it, he does present the Spartans as fearsome fighters. The Thebans are pissing themselves before the start of the battle at the thought of facing Hellas' greatest warriors. A lot of this rings true.

Those are some of my thoughts and observations of the book. I'm guessing the second half covers the Thebans march into Sparta, the freeing of the helots, and the 'end of Sparta's' power in the Peloponnese. Read it at your own risk.

Last edited by Aristodemus; October 13th, 2017 at 07:42 AM.
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Old October 14th, 2017, 05:16 AM   #12

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I still haven't got it yet. Thanks for taking the trouble to dig up this old thread and report!
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Old October 14th, 2017, 10:27 PM   #13

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Originally Posted by Aristodemus View Post
Melon and his slave Chion stagger around killing Spartans left and right with very little trouble, which is a little odd, considering Melon is a farmer, and the Spartans have trained all their lives for war. One of the things that bothered me here was that Hanson has the Spartans constantly breaking ranks, leaping forward, crashing into the Theban line, where they are immediately speared from all sides. That's just wrong. I can't imagine the well-disciplined Spartan hoplite breaking ranks. But, if you love the Thebans and hate the Spartans, you'll probably love Hanson's depiction of the battle.
LOL. What else wud a man named MÍlon be, but a farmer. He must hv some sense of humour, this Victor Hanson.

I might get that book. I usually enjoy reading hist fict. WTH, if the story is good, why not.

OTOH, I wud not discount or under-rate a farmer's ability to fight & kill though, like some folks seem to be wont to do. These dudes grow up working with their limbs & bodies practically from day one, uprooting plants, hefting goats & sheep, felling trees, digging holes & trenches, building huts & stuff. In terms of brute strength, they'd be a match for anyone. While killing animals for meat wud be second nature to them.

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Old October 16th, 2017, 08:16 AM   #14

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LOL. What else wud a man named MÍlon be, but a farmer. He must hv some sense of humour, this Victor Hanson.
You make some good points about farmers, which was probably true for the bulk of hoplites throughout Greece. As far as I can tell, Hanson does not have a sense of humor.

What he tries to do, and I give him credit, is adopt what he knows about the ancient Greek language to their speaking style. Whereas most historical novels today adopt a modern way of speaking, Hanson tries something new. He tries to 'talk the talk' of the times, which is not easy, and often comes off somewhat stilted.

One of the things I like about Hanson's style is how during the Battle of Leuctra, he adopts a 'Homeric' style. In the battle scenes in the Iliad, Homer will give you little tidbits of information about the minor character that Achilles or Diomedes is skewering on their spear. Hanson tries to do something similar here, and when it works, it's brilliant.
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