TWO CLASSIC MILITARY TEXTS
By Nicolas Soames
To tell the truth it was by happenstance rather than planning that the Ukemi recordings of The Histories by Polybius (c200BCE-c118 BCE) and On War by Claus von Clausewitz (1780-1831) have been released within days of each other on Audible. Yet it is a fine pairing – one a detailed account of the three Punic wars which led to the establishment of Rome as the dominant power in the Mediterranean; and the other a systematic analysis of military strategy. The fact that some 2,000 years separate their publication does not disguise the continuity that exists: both authors would acknowledge the other’s expertise!
The Histories by Polybius is the single most important extant source which outlines how the growing power of Rome crushed the Carthaginian Empire, and then subjugated the Greek city states. The Punic Wars lasted for over a century (264-146 BCE) and significantly Polybius was there to record the final moments as well as traveling over old battlefields to research his great project. The remarkable exploits and generalship of Hannibal dominate the Carthaginian story though there are many other fascinating aspects of Rome’s dogged path to victory in the Western Mediterranean, including how it developed a fighting navy from scratch. Rome’s ultimate domination of the Eastern Mediterranean, and the complex political Greek factions which saw some states siding with Rome and others with Macedonia, was a very different campaign. Polybius, being an enslaved Greek but gaining his freedom and acknowledging Roman suzerainty sets out to follow, where possible, the progress of both campaigns in chronological order, while at the same time setting the scene with back-stories. It is not an easy task, and it is not helped by the fact that of the 40 books, only the first 5 have survived in full, and the rest in Fragments of varying lengths. But his account is still vibrant and informative, with some highly detailed descriptions of battles, deft political manoeuvres, and individual personalities. Ukemi Audiobooks supports The Histories through a pdf with a timeline and maps to clarify the audio narrative, which is presented in lively manner by Jonathan Booth.
On War is a very different matter. It is remarkable in that, though first published posthumously (by his wife) in 1832, and written at a time when the Napoleonic Wars, muskets and cavalry were intrinsic to military awareness, it remains a reference book on military strategy even in the 21st century. It wasn’t completed by the time of Clausewitz’s sudden death (cholera) but it contains the bulk of his thoughts and his overall plan. There are six complete Books and substantial sketches for Books VII and Book VIII. The Ukemi recording opens with an authoritative Introduction by Louise Wilmot, Lecturer in History, Open University, who sets the scene.
A QUINTET OF IMPORTANT TITLES
As Autumn 2021 beckons, Ukemi presents five new titles which, in their reach and variety, demonstrate a major purpose of the label – to bring important non-fiction unabridged classics to audiobook for the first time.
The Antiquities of the Jews by Josephus (37-c 100 CE) is a fascinating but also an idiosyncratic historical document. Born Yosef ben Maitityahu, Josephus went from militant Jewish fighter opposed to the Roman Empire, to slave, then becoming a respected scholar before finally, as his adopted name suggests, espousing Roman ways. In his ‘Antiquities’ he set out to tell the history of the Jews by retelling the early Bible stories and segueing into more carefully documented history – right up to the First Jewish Revolt (66-73 CE). It is interesting to note that it is through this huge work that particular knowledge of the rule of emperors such as Caesar, Pompey, August, as well as other figures such as Herod, have come down to us; and it is here that a teacher called Jesus Christ is mentioned for the first time in a Classical text. Admirably read by Allan Corduner, it is his first recording for Ukemi Audiobooks.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau regarded Emile or On Education as his most important work, behind The Social Contract – and it certainly caused considerable controversy on its publication in 1762. Essentially, Rousseau set out to present an ideal educational path for a boy from infancy to adulthood. He emphasised the role of nature and the development of a craft above book learning in the early years; and he also proposed more open religious education rather than unquestioning indoctrination. It had an immediate impact on European society and changed views on nurture and upbringing. It certainly retains some relevance to education today – though his views on girls and women (rooted in attitudes of the time) prompted a vigorous response from Mary Wollstonecraft among others.
Duc de la Rochefoucauld’s collection of The Maxims was another French best-seller of its time, though it dates from a century earlier (1665). Here are some 600 aphorisms and cool observations on human attitudes and behaviour, many of which have become embedded in Western culture: ‘There’s no fool like an old fool’…’The world is full of pots calling kettles black’… ‘We can no more set a term to our passions than to our life’.
Continuing the French theme, the spotlight now falls on Pierre-Simon Laplace, often regarded as the ‘French Newton’ though he lived a century later (1749-1827). He was certainly a remarkable polymath, producing innovative works on engineering, mathematics, statistics, physics, astronomy and philosophy. A Philosophical Essay on Probabilities (1825) looks at the wide range of probability, and applies it to demographics, games of chance and even to the reliability of witnesses in a trial. It was a groundbreaking work on the subject and is still studied today.
Finally, over to Germany for another sensationally controversial book published in 1841 – The Essence of Christianity by Ludwig Feuerbach, which is nothing less than an anthropological dissection of Christianity in particular and a critique of religion in general. This received its first English translation ten years later from the pen of Marian Evans – George Eliot! – for the work had a profound effect on her views as they emerged in her life and her novels. It is a remarkable – and brave – document for its time in its honest commitment to questioning long-held attitudes.
So – quite a quintet of releases for Autumn 2021. And there are more on the way.