Xenophon's life and personality is better known to us, perhaps, than that of any other Greek who lived before Alexander the Great. Much of his considerable output of historical writing and essays is frankly or implicitly autobiographical. He reveals himself as one of those many Athenians and other Greeks who turned to autocratic political models, including admiration of Persia, after the excesses of the Athenian democracy led to disaster in the Peloponnesian War. He also reveals himself as much more than a literary man and a critic of his times. A gentleman adventurer and something of a professional soldier, he followed in turn the philosopher Socrates, the Persian prince Cyrus the Younger, and the Spartan king Agesilaus, all of whom he wrote about with an air of close personal knowledge. His works include the autobiographical Anabasis, an account of his service with a mercenary Greek army that marched from Mesopotamia to the Black Sea after the defeat and death of the younger Cyrus. It provides the most detailed single perspective on the military practices and military mentality of Xenophon's age. His Hellenica, by contrast, is an impersonal continuation to the end of the Peloponnesian War of the work of Thucydides and a patchy memoir that concentrates on Sparta's fortunes until the definitive end of its power in 362 b.c. Xenophon's other major works are the Cyropaedia and the rambling Socratic dialogues known as the Memorabilia. The Cyropaedia is a fictional idealization of the career of Cyrus the Great, the only great conqueror known to the Greeks before Alexander. Often regarded merely as a novel, it is a species of a priori historical reconstruction. A retrojection of the military science and political values of the day into a largely unknown Persia of the past, it is intended to explain Cyrus's success on rational principles. The Memorabilia and the Socratic Apology that comes down with them contain nothing of philosophical value but are thought by some scholars to offer a possible corrective to Plato's altogether too Platonic Socrates. Xenophon had a conventional and second-rate mind, but he is a valuable resource because of his mediocrity. He enables us to make contact with an ordinary intellect from a world that often seems dominated by geniuses.
Paul Cartledge is Professor of Greek History in the Faculty of Classics at the University of Cambridge, where he has taught since 1979; he is also a Fellow of Clare College. His undergraduate and doctoral qualifications where obtained at Oxford, where he completed a dissertation on the archaeology and history of early Sparta under the supervision of Professor Sir John Boardman. He is the author, co-author, editor or co-editor of a score of books, including most recently The Cambridge Illustrated History of Ancient Greece; The Greeks: Crucible of Civilization; Sparta and Lakonia: A Regional History c.1300-362 BC; The Greeks: A Portrait of Self and Others; The Spartans: An Epic History; Alexander the Great: The Hunt for a New Past and Thermopylae: The Battle that Changed the World . He co-edits two monograph series, sits on the editorial boards of three learned journals and serves as consultant in ancient history to Duckworth publishers. He is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London and holds the Gold Cross of the Order of Honour awarded by the President of the Hellenic Republic.
Roland Chambers studied film and literature in Poland and at New York University before returning to England in 1998. He has worked as a private investigator specialising in Russian politics and business, and is also a children's author. He currently divides his time between London and Connecticut, where his wife teaches literature at Yale. The Last Englishman is his first biography.Robin Waterfield's previous book for Faber was Xenophon's Retreat. In 2005 he published a new translation of Xenophon's Anabasis as Xenophon: The Expedition of Cyrus. He is also the author of Athens: A History and has translated works by Euripides, Plutarch, Herodotus, Aristotle, and Plato, as well as other works by Xenophon.