FIND in
<--prev V4 next-->

From: "Alice Turner" <al@interport.net>
Subject: (urth) SOLDIER-History
Date: Thu, 2 Oct 1997 09:11:59 

[Posted from URTH, a mailing list about Gene Wolfe's New Sun and other works]


In Wolf's other books, we have to puzzle things out for ourselves, but in
the Soldier books we have plenty of help. I recommend the last chapter of
Herodotus's HISTORY (though you will want to browse through earlier
chapters), the admirably succinct backgrounder (about 5 pages) on Pausanius
and Themistocles in the first chapter of Thucydides's THE PELOPONESIAN
WARS, and Plutarch's lively Life of Themistocles. Military historians love
this conflict, and you will find analyses everywhere, including most
encyclopedias, though Britannica is best (look under Graeco-Persian War).

Here, I give you a brief SOLDIER companion in three parts: first, a
simplistic history; in Part 2 a look at the theological situation; in Part
3 place-names. I suggest printing Part 3 to slip into your book—it could
prevent considerable aggravation.

At the beginning of the fifth century BC, Persia was by far and away the
greatest power in the world; the empire reached east to India, north to
Russia, across supra-Saharan Africa (though not as far down as the black
man's Ethiopia), and westward into Macedonia, holding half of Thrace.
Darius the Great (-522-485) had done a spectacular job not only of
conquering territories but of organizing them as colonies. The army was
vast, the navy the wonder of the world. The next step was obviously to
swoop into the peninsula of Hellas and take it over. This looked to be
easy. Each of the little city-states there, Athens, Corinth, Thebes, Argos,
Sparta, etc. was usually more at less at war with the others, and their
alliances short-lived and distrustful.

In –492 (after quite a lot of preliminaries which I leave out, as does
Wolfe) Darius sent messengers to all the little city-states and the Greek
islands asking for a token tribute of earth and water. Quite a few of them
gave it, causing consternation among the others and causing just what
Darius did not bargain for, a newly alert alliance among rivals and
promises of mutual support. Darius landed forces at Marathon (Fennel Field)
in –490, and in a battle already legendary by the time of our books, the
Greeks, led by Miltiades of Athens (Cimon's father), defeated them, leading
to an absolute orgy of self-congratulation and euphoria among the Hellenes,
supported by Persia's10-year retreat. During that time, Darius died, and
his son Xerxes (whom history would never call "the Great") took over.

In –480, the year before our story begins, the Persians returned in force,
led by their redoubtable general, Mardonius. They won the first skirmish,
the Battle of Thermopylae (Hot Gates) against the Spartans, led by King
Leonides who died there, his army vastly outnumbered, leaving Pausanius as
regent (with Queen Gorgo) for the boy-king Pleistoanax. Latro was in this
battle. Meanwhile, in Athens (Thought), the remarkable Themistocles managed
to convince the city  to gamble on two risky courses of action that seem in
retrospect almost uncanny. You must remember that this was a small
democracy. A vein of silver had been a few years earlier discovered nearby,
and the profits from mining this would ordinarily have been distributed
among the citizens—Themistocles managed to persuade the senate to instead
put all the money generated into building a fleet. Second, at the point
when the Persian fleet was at the attack, he persuaded the citizens to
abandon Athens altogether, sending the women, children and old men south,
and co-opting every able-bodied man and boy in the city for his navy.
Unbelievably, it worked. The Persians tore down the walls of a deserted
city, then were trounced afloat, and their ships sunk, at the Battle of
Salamis (Peace), by a navy that knew the coastline far better than they.
Themistocles is considered, both by his contemporaries and ours, to be
history's first naval genius. 

The next famous event of the war, in –479, is where we come in, the Battle
of Plataea (Clay), a village near Thebes (Hill). The Greeks, united under
Pausanius of Sparta (Rope), won this battle, notorious for the fact that
the near-by Thebans did not join them. (The three important cities of the
series to date are Thought, Rope and Hill—remember their grudges.)  On the
same day, the Persians suffered a second naval defeat at Mycale, the Greek
fleet being led by Leotychides, the second Spartan king. Hegesistratus was
at this battle, though ordinarily he was attached to Mardonius. Though I
don't think Wolfe mentions it, Herodotus makes note of the fact that at
both Plataea and Mycale, a temple of Demeter (the Great Mother) was hard by
the battlefield. 

At Plataea-Clay, two important things happen: Mardonius, the seasoned
Persian general dies—he is succeeded by Artabazus—and Latro, the Italian
mercenary, is bonked on the head and then captured, together with his
fellow mercenary, the Ethiopian Seven Lions. When they are taken to Hill,
remember that the Thebans are in disgrace; it is wise of little Io to cling
to whoever looks strong enough to save her; the Theban poet Pindaros, from
an aristocratic and political family, is in a far better position.

MIST  takes place in –479, ARETE in –478, as the walls of Athens are being
rebuilt and the harbor at Piraeus (Tieup) fortified. Athens is just
beginning its time of glory. Young Cimon has a formidable career ahead.
What happens to Pausanius and Themistocles is…interesting. But that you
must find out for yourselves, O Best Beloved.

<--prev V4 next-->