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'A Pestilent Fellow'
Impressions of Decisive Actors from Thucydides and Aechylus
© 2021 James LaFond
From Aechylus
This poet fought as a hoplite at Fennel-field [Marathon], and in this reader's opinion was the truest inheritor of Homer. He lived a full generation before Thucydides. The characters in his plays are alluded to as powers that are prayed to in the histories and invoked and also minor players who never get fleshed out in such a large scale history as the Red-face-island War. Hence drama, myth, fiction is often the only place that participants of war on the tip of the spear write of it, in such novels as From Here to Eternity and The Thin Red Line.
Strength and Force
In Prometheus Bound, as the nymphs mourn the fate of the Titan of foreknowing and forethinking, the divine aspects most consistently associated with Zeus, the powers which decree that might makes right, consign Prometheus to ages of torment for his “crime of philanthropy.”
The Lookout of Argos in the Orestia is a very sympathetic and well-wrought soul of the kind who is only alluded to, and served many a cruel and anonymous fate in Thucydides.
The loyal elder who questions the evil traitress queen about how she knows that Agamemnon is returning from fallen Troy [it was signal fires, mentioned in the Iliad by Homer] and who takes such pity on Cassandra, is the kind of man that is only seen as anonymous bodies of ephors, counselors, elders and faction members listening to the detailed arguments of men like those in the list below in Thucydides. Keep in mid that such historically anonymous fellows, as a small body, often gave the commands to and validated the decisions of the named actors.
Named Actors
Alcibiades the Athenian is the most dastardly, egomanical, brilliant, conniving politician in the historic record. He outdoes any of the characters in Homer, pointing again to the fact that reality is often stranger than fiction and that poets tended to great conservatism of theme and characterization. Alcibiades is an argument that Odysseus and the Suitors really existed as depicted by Homer in the Odyssey.
Nicius the Athenian was the best man of his nation and met the most underserved end. He advised against the Syracuse expedition, was made leader of it and was unable to do anything to save his raging democratic fanatic countrymen from dashing themselves and their community upon the jagged rocks of their hubris.
Thucydides the Athenian was an unsuccessful general and a civically conscious leader who survived plague and war long enough to write an operational and political history of the first 21 years of the 30 year war he would not see the end of. If only a man of his moral stature had lived in 1700s America, we might have had a nation founded on Truth rather than the Lie.
One Athenian, whose name I have failed to remember, was a democratic faction activist in one of the Ionian islands, and was such a reprehensible person that his countryman, Thucydides referred to him as “that pestilent fellow.” This character reminds one of the French Jacobins in Haiti during the French revolution.
Tisaphernes is a villainous governor of Darius, King of Kings of the Medes. This man never played square, was worse than any Athenian democratic activist, and would be the bad guy in Xenophon's Anabasis, still making promises so as to break them a decade after the Ionian War.
Dorieus, [Spear-lord] of Rhodes, son of the champion boxer Diagoras, brother of a champion, uncle of a champion, and greatest athlete of his age, commanded ten ships for the Dorian [Spear-people] alliance. He would go on to be murdered by his Spartan cousins years later after being spared by his Athenian enemies. It is apparent why he will be killed here, at the height of the Ionian War, when his crews shame the Spartan commander who is threatening to beat Dorieus with his rod of discipline. Dorieus was a successful leader of small naval actions and represented both Rhodes and the small Italian Greek Polis of Thuri. He demonstrated the general superiority of the colonist over the hiararchs of the mother country.
Brasias and the Spartan Brigadiers were the key to Spartan success, as they were the best Spartans, with their kings and major generals usually corrupted by their high place and lacking in imagination and initiative. These men were so honorable and capable, particularly Brasias's successor who lead the allied forces of Syracuse against Nicius, that the Spartans could benefit their allies greatly by simply sending one of these men with a few shield men to lead an army of strangers.
A great example of the higher ranking idiots and goons of the Spartan high command, who were as bad at leading armies as their lower ranking subordinate were good at it, was the lick-spittle Spartan given command of the allied forces early in the Ionian War, who Thucydides referred to as “...the Paid Creature of Tisaphernes.” Such idiots and posturing aristocrats of Sparta not only doomed their short-lived hegemony over Hellas, but prefigured the extremely poor high command structure of the British Army for most of the 1700s, 1800s and 1900s. Another future example of a degenerate warrior class, would be the Confederate States of America, having the best major generals and brigadiers of the war and promoting such fools as Hood, Bragg, Pendleton, Polk, Price and others to command corps and even armies, while a genius of action like Forrest was not permitted to command even a corp because of his low birth. The prominence of such low-quality men at the top, commanding the best men in the middle, demonstrate the military limitations of the aristocratic order once it has become hereditary.
The decisive engagements of the war were at sea. These were decided by some pilots by name and others unnamed, naval men who would be the rank of destroyer captains and battleship commanders in the modern era, the Cochranes and Horatio Nelson's of their time, who employed crews of free sailors. These crews, such as the famous “Crew of the Perilous, small men who could out-row any of the towering and pampered athletes of our own time, were lead by thinking men who made technical adjustments to their ships as devoted practitioners of naval “science.”
The thousands of men who dared to fight against the odds and even against the gods, on both sides of this conflict, have left us a great example of folly and tenacity. Thucydides, who wrote with an honesty far beyond modern historians of the foremost events and calamities of his time has made of his story the greatest gift of martial history that a man can give to posterity. The reader may not realize that the history of modern wars fought during our lifetime and in the times of our fathers and grandfathers, were falsified by the press and the academics and the military themselves. This behavior, so common today as to be expected of everyone, was only shared by politicians in the time of Thucydides. That he dared earning the displeasure of the powerful and reprehensible “paid creatures” and mob politicians of his time and home town, while honestly recording their triumphs and tribulations, their rise and their fall, reminds us that there was a time, when not every member of the ruling class, not every academic bent over his work, was a liar.
May such a time once again come, a time when we are not all either a “paid creature” or “a pestilent fellow.”
Thank you Thucydides and Aechylus of Athens.
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Terres Rouges     Sep 7, 2021

I hear Thucydides is required reading for spooks in my country. Also some difficult to find text from Frederick the Great.

Other authors, usually advocating realism in politics (e.g. Getano Mosca), were, for some time, banned from the shelves here. The almighty internets put an end to much of this. Age of Aquarius indeed!
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