Colonisation, Nostos and the Foreign Environment in Xenophon’s Anabasis

Authored by: Rosie Harman

The Routledge Handbook of Identity and the Environment in the Classical and Medieval Worlds

Print publication date:  December  2015
Online publication date:  January  2016

Print ISBN: 9780415738057
eBook ISBN: 9781315686622
Adobe ISBN: 9781317415701


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The representation of the foreign landscape and environment plays a large part in the experience of Asia offered to the reader of Xenophon’s Anabasis. We are given sensual and evocative descriptions of fertile plains lush with unusual and delicious game and enormous, exotic fruit; but we also accompany the Greeks as they struggle over harsh and forbidding mountain ranges, through ice and snow, beset by enemies. The text’s admiring descriptions of fecundity and abundance have been read as indicative of an ethnographic gaze which figures the Greeks as discoverers and exploiters of rich foreign resources, and so ideologically constitutes Greek identity through opposition to the exotic and consumable world they survey. 1 In contrast, the frequent depictions of the hopelessness of the Greeks lost in a hostile and unfamiliar land from which they are desperate to escape have been read as indicating a concern with a loss of self and the dislocation of Greek identity in the fourth century bce. 2 Both sets of experiences co-exist in the text: the Greeks are a marauding army who loot and destroy, but they also suffer great deprivation, hardship, and uncertainty on their journey. As I argue, the contradictions involved in the Greek relation to the foreign environment mark, and produce, contradictions in Greek self-consciousness.

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