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Tides of War

Tides of War

Author: Steven Pressfield
Rating: 9/10
Last Read: September 2014

Quick Summary: Another novel in Steven Pressfield's historical series - this one focuses on the  Peloponnesian War and the historical figure Alcibiades.  The novel is again told through the eyes of a minor character, an Athenian soldier fighting in the war.  Other historical characters make an appearance, including Lysander, Socrates, and Pericles.  

Alcibiades is a prime example of an individual who was brought down by his own ego.  Ego is your enemy, remember that.

Further Reading: The Virtues of War, Gates of Fire

My Highlights

Men hate nothing worse than that mirror held before them whose reflection displays their own failure to prove worthy of themselves. --loc 273

“Banish all thought of retreat, brothers. No avenue remains but to advance, and no alternative save victory or death.” --loc 396

Experience teaches that however numerous the brigade or army, the work of war is performed by small units, and each must possess to be effective one man like Lion who is unacquainted with fear, who arises cheerful each morning despite all hardship, ready to shoulder another’s load with a laugh and turn his hand to all tasks, however mean or humble. A unit lacking a man like Lion will never endure, while one with such a mate may be beaten but never broken. --loc 449

A beautiful woman is in the same fix. She cannot but perceive herself as two creatures—the private soul known to her intimates and that external proxy presented to the world by her good looks. The attention she receives may be gratifying to her vanity, but it is empty and she knows it. --loc 538

They sought only the surface, and for reasons of their own vanity. --loc 543

As an actor you of all people should know that death takes many and far more evil forms than the physical. Isn’t that what tragedy is all about? --loc 550

“Note further, gentlemen, that this single quality by which we convict these women and sentence them to exile from humanity is one over which they themselves possess no authority, a quality thrust upon them willy-nilly at birth. This is the antithesis of freedom, is it not? It is the use one makes of a slave. We treat even our dogs and horses better, granting to them their subtleties and contradictions of character and esteeming or contemning them thereby.” Socrates drew up and inquired of the company if any found fault with his meditation thus far. He was endorsed by all and exhorted to continue. “And yet we who consider ourselves free men often act in this manner not only toward others but toward ourselves as well. We account and define our persons by qualities gifted to or deprived us at birth, to the exclusion of those earned or acquired thereafter, brought into being by enterprise and will. This to my mind is an evil greater than degradation. It is self-degradation.” --loc 575

Socrates resumed. “Pondering this state of self-slavery, I began to puzzle: what precisely are the qualities which make men free?”
“Our will, as you said,” put in Acumenus the physician.
“And the force to exercise it,” added Mantitheus.
--loc 584

“No doubt with my poor cloak and sword–barbered beard I am perceived throughout the camp as a figure of fun. Yet I maintain that, unfettered by the constraints of the mode, I am the most free of men.” --loc 600

“Which takes precedence, do we believe, man or law? To set a man above the law is to negate law entire, for if the laws do not apply equally to all, they apply to none. To install one man upon such a promontory founds that flight of steps by which another may later ascend. --loc 623

In fact I suspect, don’t you, brothers, that when our companion nominates myself as indispensable, his intent is to establish that precedent by which he may next anoint himself.” --loc 625

His Theory of Forms arises from that selfsame interpretation. As the material manifestation of an individual horse embodies the particular and the transitory, Plato suggested, so must there exist within some higher realm the ideal form of Horse, universal and immutable, of which all corporeal horses “partake” or “participate in.” --loc 864

Democracy is a sword which cuts two ways. It emancipates the individual, setting him free to shine as no other scheme of governance. But that blade possesses an under-edge. Its spawn is spite and envy. This is why Pericles bore himself with modesty, remote from the multitude, for fear of their jealousy.” --loc 1167

“You came this close, Alcibiades,” Lysander is said to have spoken.
In response his adversary quoted the proverb “Close captures no crowns.”
To which Lysander replied, “God grant that be your epitaph,” and, turning, spurred away. --loc 1700

What I fear has nothing to do with groves or vines, Callicles, but the virtues which cultivation of the land imparts: modesty, patience, reverence for the gods, of which this Alcibiades knows little and cares less. He is a product of the city and evinces all its vices: vanity, arrogance, impatience, and immodesty before heaven.” --loc 2041

You define yourselves not as who you are, but as who you may become, and hasten over oceans to this shore you can never reach. --loc 2133

“Hope is a dangerous liquor,” my savior Lysander had addressed the ephorate in a speech so notorious it had actually been written down and circulated, unheard-of in Lacedaemon. “War has unstoppered the flasket, and nothing may seal it again.” --loc 3768

“How does one lead free men?”
“By being better than they,” Alcibiades responded at once. --loc 4089

“A commander’s role is to model arete, excellence, before his men. One need not thrash them to greatness; only hold it out before them. They will be compelled by their own nature to emulate it.” --loc 4096

If force must be employed with a subordinate, take care that it be minimal. If I command you, “Pick up that bowl,” and set a swordpoint to your back, you will obey but no part will own the action. You will exculpate yourself, accounting, “He made me do it, I had no choice.” But if I only suggest and you comply, then you must own your compliance and, owning it, stand by it. --loc 4223

Corollary to the principle of minimal force was that of minimal supervision. When Alcibiades issued a combat assignment, he imparted the objective only, leaving the means to the officer himself. The more daunting the chore, the more informally he commanded it. I never saw him issue an order from behind a desk. --loc 4242

Always assign a man more than he believes himself capable of. Make him rise to the occasion. In this way you compel him to discover fresh resources, both in himself and others of his command, thus enlarging the capacity of each, while binding all beneath the exigencies of risk and glory. --loc 4245

As we seek to make our enemies own their defeats at our hands, so we must make our friends own their victories. The less you give a man, and have him succeed, the more he draws his achievement to his heart. Remember we may elevate the fleet in two ways only. By acquiring better men or making those we have better. Even were the former practicable I would disdain it, for a hired man may hire out to another master but a man who makes himself master stays loyal forever. There was an oarsman --loc 4248

Shit rolls downhill, soldiers say, but so does confidence. --loc 5327

Courage is born of obedience. It is the issue of selflessness, brotherhood, and love of freedom. Boldness, on the other hand, is spawned of defiance and disrespect; it is the bastard brat of irreverence and outlawry. --loc 5385

“Let me phrase the question differently. Do we believe that the law, even an unjust law, must be obeyed? Or may the individual take it on himself to decide which laws are just and which unjust, which worthy of obedience and which not?”
I protested that it was not justice which Socrates had received, and thus its disallowance was legitimate.
“Let us hear your opinion, Jason. Is it better to perish through injustice inflicted upon one by others, or to live, having inflicted injustice on them?” --loc 5964

“You forget one, Jason, upon whom I would be inflicting injustice. The Laws. Suppose the Laws sat among us now. Might they not say something like this: ‘Socrates, we have served you all your life. Beneath our protection you grew to manhood, married, and raised a family; you pursued your livelihood and studied philosophy. You accepted our boons and the security we provided. Yet now, when our verdict no longer suits your convenience, you wish to put us aside.’ How would we answer the Laws?”
“Some men must be set above the laws.”
“How can you strike this posture, my friend, who argued with such fervor, that day, the contravening course?” --loc 5970

The supreme mystery of existence is this: that, perceiving it for what it is, we yet cling to it. And existence, despite all, discovers measures to reanimate our despoliated hearts. --loc 6186

He would lecture me, I knew, on vices. Three he abhorred—fear, hope, and love of country. He abominated only one beyond these: contemplation of past or future. These were offenses against nature, Telamon maintained, as they bound one to aspiration, to a result whose issue was adjudicated by forces, above the earth and beneath, which mortals may neither alter nor apprehend. Alcibiades was guilty of these, my mate observed, and of another violation of heaven’s law. Alcibiades perceived war as a means. In truth it was an end. Where our commander claimed to honor only Necessity, Telamon served a divinity more primordial. --loc 6414

War waged for advantage yields only ruin. Yet one may not disown war, which abides as constant as the seasons and eternal as the tides. --loc 6424

“What world is it you seek, Pommo, that is ‘better’ than this? Do you imagine like Alcibiades that you, or Athens, may elevate yourselves or anyone to some loftier sphere? This world is the only one that exists. Learn its laws and obey them. This is true philosophy.” --loc 6426

what is nobility that a beast may own it as well as a man? Is it not that capacity of soul by which one donates himself to an object greater than his own self-interest? --loc 6662

How lead free men? Only by this means: the summoning of each to his nobility. --loc 6663

The Warrior Ethos

The Warrior Ethos

The Virtues of War

The Virtues of War