01. Ancient Alexandrographs + Comments, 1.6 Other Ancient Authors, Alexander - Non Fiction Book, Alexander's Alexandria

English Book Review/Collaboration: “Gli Stratagemmi di Polieno. Introduzione, traduzione e note critiche” by Elisabetta Bianco

Versione in Italiano: QUI.

Hello everyone, thank you for being on Alessandro III di Macedonia- your resource on Alexander the Great!

You are about to read the latest review of 2019 and it will be from the book:

Gli Stratagemmi di Polieno Introduzione, traduzione e note critiche

by Elisabetta Bianco

published by: Edizioni dell’Orso

Pages: 296

ISBN: 978-88-7694-309-9

During the reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus and his adopted brother Lucius Verus, Polyaenus, a Greek lawyer who moved to Rome, dedicates to the two emperors a collection of 900 stratagems, which can provide a useful model of strategic and military behavior for the Parthian war erupted at the end of 161 AD In eight books that cover the history not only of Greece, but of all the known West and East, from the mythological era until the beginning of the Roman Empire, the Author collects a series of news and considerable historical material, transmitting to us otherwise unknown events and alternative sources now lost. The first Italian translation of Polyaenus’ Strategemata is offered here, accompanied by critical notes, which help the reader to contextualize the character and the historical situation to which it refers, thanks also to a precise mention of the parallel ancient sources.

4 stars.

Reading time: from 23rd to 26th December 2019.

First of all, I’d like to thank the publisher Edizioni dell’Orso for allowing me to buy this book at a discounted price in order to be able to review it here.

I had already told you briefly about this book in Ulteriore acquisto libresco: “Gli Stratagemmi di Polieno” di Elisabetta Bianco because when I wanted to buy it I had seen that there were two editions, but upon reading I can say that this edition is excellent.

Who was Polyaenus? Not much is known about him: we know that he was a Greek lawyer who moved to Rome with Macedonian origins and who lived during the reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus and brother Lucius Verus. We are left with only these Stratagems of war, a considerable work that consists of 900 anecdotes of events that many otherwise would have remained unknown to us because he used alternative sources now lost. The order of these stratagems is by ethnicity and in part chronological and with them Polyaenus wanted to give a model of imitation, as an example of military successes achieved with intelligence. Polyaenus found its greatest fame in the Byzantine era.

The author Elisabetta Bianco provides us with an edition which, although devoid of the original text opposite, is rich in critical notes and is also the first modern Italian translation. Polyaenus often speaks of unknown characters and often compacts two characters under the same name: it’s in the case of Antigono in book IV: the author explains that the stratagems reported by Polyaenus are related to Antigonus I Monophthalmus and to his nephew Antigonus II Gonatas: without the critical notes most readers would fail to make such a distinction.

Here are the treated ethnic groups to which the various books are dedicated:

  1. after mythological debut he speaks of the Greek characters of the V-IV century. B.C.;
  2. Spartans and Thebans of the 4th century .;
  3. Athenian strategists of the 4th century;
  4. Macedonians;
  5. West;
  6. it’s the most disordered and incomplete: it deals with Thessalian and Achaeans;
  7. barbarians;
  8. Roman characters and women.

From the work of Polyaenus Elisabetta Bianco outlines the necessary qualities of the successful commander thanks to some topoi that aren’t expressly mentioned but that often recur and therefore are important:

The successful captain had to be smart and know how to wait for the appropriate opportunity, without being afraid of seeming cowardly to delay the discount. He was attentive to the economic aspects, he knew how to manage money and get it when he lacked it; he knew the risk of facing desperate enemies and preferred to leave them an escape route; he wasn’t superstitious, but was able to take advantage of the superstition of his men; he was always provident and shouldn’t be exposed in person. He was very attentive to his soldiers and discipline: he was severe, but he knew how to encourage him by setting an example and forgiving them if necessary.

my translation

From these characteristics which according to Polyaenus were proper to the successful commander, many are also attributable to Alexander the Great but not all. The Stratagems on Alexander are contained in the IV book (which goes from page 113 to 150) is dedicated to the Macedonians and we find 22 on Philip and 32 precisely on Alexander. Other commanders have more, for example Iphicrates has 63, but what I think distinguishes Alexander from all the other commanders is that the others won battles, resorting to cunning and intellect, but also with deceptions and pitfalls. Alexander, on the other hand, shines with shrewdness and ingenuity. Furthermore, Polyaenus he also gives us examples of Alexander’s magnanimity (in Timoclea’s Stratagem) and there are no references to his defeats or to the pitfalls he suffered, while instead he is reported by his father Philip. Alexander’s Stratagems are clearly in non-chronological order because they jump from the countryside in India to battles against the Thracians and Thebes. The pages properly dedicated to Alexander are those from 118 to 128 and in my opinion these alone are worth the purchase of the book.

A negative note that highlights Polyaenus is that even in Italy of the fourth century BC. there was a fashion for public money to disappear. 😦 Overall it was a good read, interesting and witty because some tricks are really curious. I don’t know what the other edition of Polyaenus’ Stratagems is like but this is really excellent and I recommend it to everyone!

Once again I’d like to thank the publisher for allowing me to purchase this book at a discounted price! Find the aphorisms in italian: HERE.

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