I’ve been continuing to read Xenophon slowly in the Loeb edition, understanding most of the Greek only after checking the translation. I was on campus, hiding from punishing August under a redwood, and got to this part:
μετὰ δὲ το δεῖπνον ἔτυχον ἐν περιπάτῳ ὄντες πρὸ τῶν ὅπλων Πρόξενος καὶ Ξενοφῶν· καὶ προσελθὼν ἄνθρωπός τις ἠρώτησε τοὺς προφύλακας ποῦ ἂν ἴδοι Πρόξενον ἢ Κλέαρχον· Μένωνα δὲ οὐκ ἐζήτει, καὶ ταῠτα παρ’ Ἀριαίου ὤν τοῦ Μένωνος ξένου. ἐπεὶ δὲ Προξενος εῖπεν ὅτι αὐτός εἰμι ὅν ζητεῖς, εἶπεν ὁ ἄνθροπος τάδε.
After the evening meal Proxenus and Xenophon chanced to be walking in front of the place where the arms were stacked, when a man came up and asked the outposts where he could see Proxenus or Clearchushe did not ask for Menon, despite the fact that he came from Arianus, Menon’s friend. And when Proxenus said “I am the one you are looking for,” the man made this statement:
And goes on to warn them about a risk of attack. Xenophon hasn’t taken command yet and is still a minor character; this is one of the first of his third-person appearances. But something about the humble details of the incidentthe dinner, the two friends walking, versions of words actually spoken in fifth-century-B.C. airgave the scene a bizarre solidity in my mind. I wondered about the falling sunlight, the arrangement of the stacked weapons, whether their skins itched. The effect was happenstance, I think, dependent on my trying to learn the language (and on it being a historical account), but any writer who could consistently evoke it would have the devil’s own power. I remember something like it happening with Tolstoy, and I wonder if that’s what John Gardner meant when he said (if I’m not misremembering) that Tolstoy was at his best when at his strangest, and that strangeness is the one quality an author cannot fake.