Saturday 4 September 2021

The Virtues of War


I hit a bit of a slump with editing a while back, so I watched an interview with a couple of historical fiction authors to try and draw courage, and ended up buying a couple of their books. One of them was The Virtues of War by Steven Pressfield: 


He ascended to the throne of Macedon at the age of nineteen.

He conquered the seemingly invincible Persian Empire before he was twenty-five.

He died at the age of thirty-two, undefeated by any enemy.

His reputation as a warrior and leader of men remains unsurpassed in the annals of history. We remember him as Alexander the Great...

It was outstanding. Alexander the Great, told in first person. An astonishing undertaking and perfectly executed.

Certainly didn't reassure me about my own position, but I'm very glad I read it. It was a real insight into the Greek war machine and how battles were staged back then. It's a lot later than the period I'm writing about, but there's some similarities, in that Sargon must have been very young as well when he came to power. It's fairly inconceivable that such young men could command such great armies. But, I suppose that's what happens when you don't have television and Instagram. 

One of my least favourite things is writing battle scenes. I just don't enjoy it very much, but this really helped. It showed me how they can be written. How much detail to include and how much to leave out. How to involve the reader in the action. Pressfield confirmed my nagging suspicion that historical fiction is better in first person. It lends power to a powerful character. 

It was also beautifully written: 

The plain at Chaeronea runs northwest by southeast. The ground is in lavender and fragrant herbs, perfume plants, with the fortified acropolis on the rising ground to the south and Mount Acontion opposite across the pan. 


These fight under the colors of Arsites, whose pennant is a golden crane on a field of scarlet. The Persians call these standards "serpents" for their long snaky shape and the way they writhe upon the wind.


The passes across the Taurus out of the north are called the Cilician Gates. This is a wagon road, so steep in places that a mule's ass hole will open up and whistle, so mightily must the beast strain to haul its load, and so narrow in parts, the locals say, that four men abreast who start up as strangers will reach the other side as very good friends.


"Alexander, your character and works will be judged not by Athenians, however illustrious their city may once have been, or by any of your contemporaries, but by history, which is to say by impartial, objective truth." Antipater was right. From that day, I vowed never to squander a moment's care over the good opinion of others. May they rot in hell. 


The sight of their king in arms rendered timid men brave and brave men prodigious. His years of campaign were not thirteen. Who has won what he has? Who shall ever again? What Alexander said of his beloved Bucephalus may be applied to his own case: that he belonged to no one, not even himself, but only to heaven. Why does Zeus send prodigies to earth? For the same reason He makes a comet streak across the sky. To show not what has been done, but what can be.

Highly recommended. 

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