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From the Files of the River Journal's Surrealist Research Bureau

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The March of the 10,000

At the beginning of the 4th century B.C. there occurred one of the most remarkable feats of arms in history: the march of the 10,000 Greeks from Babylon home to Athens, surrounded by a million man army of their enemies, fighting constantly. Students of war and modern generals still study it ceaselessly. Erwin Rommel, the famed Desert Fox, used it as the basis for his masterful retreat across Africa in WWII, as did Robert E Lee in the American Civil War.

While the stand of the 300 Spartans at Thermopalae may have been one of the more well known and undoubted turning points in the history of the Western world, the march of the 10,000, though lesser known, is still a noteworthy and awe-inspiring feat of arms and stands alone as an example of brave men, resolute and determined in the face of disaster, to see their homes again.

In brief, King Cyrus hired as mercenaries 10,000 Greek soldiers, recognized as the best, most disciplined warriors of their time, to help him wrest the throne of Persia from his half brother, Ataxerxes. Though his forces won the battle, Cyrus himself was killed and the 10,000 Greeks found themselves stranded a thousand miles from home, surrounded by their enemies. Ataxerxes, by a ruse, convinced the Greek generals and captains to attend a feast at his palace to discuss their options but had them cut down to a man by unseen archers and spears on arrival.

The Greeks were now not only stranded but leaderless; but here the Greek traditions of discipline and democracy came to the fore. The troops hurriedly voted on electing new generals and officers and, rebuffing offers from Ataxerxes of soldiering in his own army, began their masterful fighting retreat homewards.

Xenophon was one of those elected a general and his account, "Anabasis" (The Persian Expedition, at Sandpoint library) is a fascinating tale of ad hoc improvisational warfare on the run, though modern readers might be a tad disconcerted by both the Greek’s treatment of young, good-looking male captives and by the constant sacrifices of captured prisoners in the hopes of divining the wishes of the Gods in their entrails.

The successful release last year of the movie "300," about the famous Spartan stand at Thermopalae, has caused many Hollywood studios to cast about for similar "sword and sandal" low-budget tales and Sony Pictures has reportedly almost finished a version of Xenophon’s "Anabasis." The story had previously been filmed as "The Warriors," a modern day tale of a street gang surrounded in their rival’s territory and forced to fight their way home.

At least two other novels, Micheal Ford’s 2001 book "The Ten Thousand," and Harold Coyle’s 1993 "The 10,000," which show the tale transplanted to modern Europe with U.S. forces fighting their way out of Germany, also reveal modern man’s fascination with the subject. My own favorite is John Ringo’s 2008 "The Last Centurion" which involves a march away from Baghdad by U.S. troops abandoned in Iraq after a global catastrophe.

One of the most poignant moments in Anabasis is when, after fighting upwards toward a mountaintop, the Greeks finally see from afar the Mediterranean and weep and shout as one "The sea! The sea!" That cry is also used in James Joyce’s great novel "Ulysess," when Buck Mulligan says, "Ah, sweet Daedalus and Xenophon! The Greeks! You must read them in the original, Thalatta! Thalatta! (The Sea! The Sea!) She is our great sweet mother!"

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Jody Forest Jody Forest When he's not hidden behind the palatial gates of his Dover estate, Casa de Bozo, Jody is out using outdated and corny pickup lines on various gullible women.

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