Now, since many writers have reported to us this battle, and since Xenophon1
brings it all but before our eyes, and by the vigour of his description makes his reader always a participant in the emotions and perils of the struggle, as though it belonged, not to the past, but to the present, it would be folly to describe it again, except so far as he has passed over things worthy of mention.
The place, then, where the armies were drawn up, is called Cunaxa, and it is five hundred furlongs distant from Babylon. And we are told that Cyrus, before the battle, when Clearchus besought him to remain behind the combatants and not risk his life, replied:
‘What sayest thou, Clearchus? Dost thou bid me, who am reaching out for a kingdom, to be unworthy of a kingdom?’
It was a great mistake for Cyrus to plunge headlong into the midst of the fray, instead of trying to avoid its dangers; but it was no less a mistake, nay, even a greater one, for Clearchus to refuse to array his Greeks over against the king, and to keep his right wing close to the river, that he might not be surrounded. For if he sought safety above everything else and made it his chief object to avoid losses, it had been best for him to stay at home.
But he had marched ten thousand furlongs up from the sea-coast under arms, with no compulsion upon him, but in order that he might place Cyrus upon the royal throne; and then, in looking about for a place and position which would enable him, not to save his leader and employer, but to fight safely and as he pleased, he was like one who, through fear of instant peril, had cast aside the plans made for general success and abandoned the object of the expedition.
For had the Greeks charged upon the forces arrayed about the king, not a man of them would have stood his ground; and had these been routed and the king either slain or put to flight, Cyrus would have won by his victory, not only safety, but a kingdom. This is clear from the course of the action. Therefore the caution of Clearchus rather than the temerity of Cyrus must be held responsible for the ruin of Cyrus and his cause.
For if the king himself had sought out a place to array the Greeks in which their attack would be least injurious to him, he could have found no other than that which was most remote from himself and his immediate following, since he himself did not know that his forces had been defeated there, and Cyrus could take no advantage at all of the victory of Clearchus, because he was cut down too soon.
And yet Cyrus well knew what was for the best, and ordered Clearchus to take his position accordingly in the centre. But Clearchus, after telling Cyrus he would see to it that the best was done, ruined everything.