October 22, 2013, by Alan Sommerstein


In last week’s post, I asked:

“How does Menander connect a Japanese warlord, a world chess champion, a British prime minister, a Native American chief, and a song about a lamp-post?”

The answer will be found in Mario Lamagna’s chapter, “Military Culture and Menander”, in my forthcoming edited volume Menander in Contexts (London: Routledge, 2014).  Four of the five items are related to the same passage in Menander’s play Aspis (The Shield).  Young Kleostratos has gone abroad as a mercenary soldier, and at the start of the play his slave Daos comes home with news of his death in action (which later turns out to be false).  Daos gives a full narrative of the episode, which – as Lamagna shows – provides considerable evidence that Kleostratos was serving under an incompetent commander.  He draws parallels with three other military disasters, inflicted respectively by the Japanese warlord Nobunaga Oda on his rival Yoshimoto Imagawa, by Sitting Bull on Lt.-Col. [sic] George Custer, and by Pathan tribesmen on a British force, in which Second Lieutenant Winston Churchill was serving, on what was then the north-west frontier of the Indian Empire.  Kleostratos’ force, and its commander, had been rendered over-confident by previous successes, and Lamagna cites some wise words of J.R. Capablanca, world chess champion 1921-27 (and joint winner of the great Nottingham tournament of 1936), who sometimes recognized this feeling in himself and almost welcomed the (rare) defeats that helped to cure it.  As to the song (Lili Marleen, of course), Lamagna cites that in illustration of an episode in another play of Menander, The Eunuch (lost, but reworked by the Roman dramatist Terence) in which the sight of a beautiful girl led a young man to desert his training camp.

Those are the connections!

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