Cyropaedia

Have you guys checked out Coursera yet? If not, you definitely should. It’s a website solely devoted to providing quality online college courses from real professors from real colleges for free (you can pay for certificates if you want/need them). I’m on my second class now–a class about historical fiction called “Plagues, Witches, and War.” Sounds super interesting, right?

Because it’s a class on fiction, there’s a pretty substantial reading list, and the class is “Go At Your Own Pace.” Now, the professor told us we don’t have to read everything on the syllabus but…come on, you guys know me well enough to know I’m sure as hell gonna try. Or at least the ones I can get for free on Kindle and Google Books.

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First on the list is Cyropaedia, an ancient book written by a student of Socrates. Composed around 370 BC, it is supposedly the first historical fiction novel–a political romance.

The eight books follow Cyrus the Great of Persia from his early beginnings as a rambunctious teenager until he is old and dying. During his lifetime he builds a magnificent empire in what today is the Middle East. He did this not just by conquering nations, but by also gaining the love and trust of his people and soldiers, and thus made many allies.


Image credit:  http://syria.ewas.us/

I never quite understood the “romance” part of the book, though I’m sure it’s buried in there somewhere. However, this book is very much a war epic. I kept wondering if this was required reading at West Point or during any Officer’s Training, because if not, it should be. The military strategy discussed is probably ancient and outdated for use with our technology now, but the motivational speeches made by Cyrus and his generals are some of the most epic I’ve ever read. I did run out of steam towards the middle because of the battle descriptions, as I tend to do with this sort of thing, but otherwise, the characters are absolutely captivating.

Xenophon is not an author we hear about much (ok, at all) in the literary world today, at least for those of us average folk. Plato, Socrates, Cicero, Homer, sure. Xenophon is never mentioned. But this book was excellent, for what it was. Perhaps not to my usual tastes, but it was captivating from beginning to end.

 

Buy it here!

The Iliad

Well guys, I did it! I made it through my very first “Study Book!” The Iliad was first on my list for a reason–I’ve been trying to get to it since high school. I read The Odyssey as required reading, but Homer’s original epic poem never made the cut.

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I’ve always loved Greek mythology–I think it’s the basis of many of my other fascinations with old cultures. The stories are just so bizarre and interesting, and often hilarious now that I’m old enough to understand what Zeus’s swan form is actually doing. But epic poetry is just not my cup of tea, and, unfortunately…neither are war stories.

The Odyssey was interesting because it is post-war, and it is a journey. It tells of monsters and treachery, and in the end, a woman waiting at home.

The Iliad…well…Hector always has a bronze flashy shield, Ajax is Giant and Little. Zeus and Hera hate each other more than a suburban married couple. And it seems to me that Patroclus is the real hero of the story, not Achilles, but that’s me. Oh, and Menelaus really does have red hair (I always thought it was weird that they cast him with an Irish guy in the movie, but I guess it actually makes sense!).

Other than that, it was just a bunch of cocky guys fighting each other. The gods had much more of a presence than I expected, but mostly it was all battles an bloodshed, and I just didn’t care much for it.

 

And that, my friends, is my terrible interpretation of Homer’s great war epic. I can hear the academics groaning. It’s ok. I understand. I said I was going to read the list…I didn’t say I was going to enjoy it! I was going to read The Odyssey again right after this, but I think I’m going to switch to some prose for now.

 

Fulfills PopSugar #23:   book more than 100 years old

Fulfills Boxall #73

Wars

We read The Odyssey by Homer in high school, and I remember being fascinated by Penelope. I thought her even stronger than Odysseus, though he was the manly soldier off fighting the crazy monsters on the way home. How strong she had to be, to wait so long, and then outwit the suitors who were wooing her.

I know the story of The Iliad too, of course, and I’ve seen Troy, with Brad Pitt. But I don’t think I’ve actually ever read the epic. It’s on my list, and has been forever.

My husband has these gorgeous hard paperbacks of the two epic poems, and I love to take them out and flip through them. Eventually I will sit down and tackle them, but not yet. I’m not brave enough yet.

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