Cross-Post: Dis Manibus Paul ‘Xenophon’ McDonnell-Staff (12 March 2020)
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Categories: Ancient, Modern, Not an expert

Cross-Post: Dis Manibus Paul ‘Xenophon’ McDonnell-Staff (12 March 2020)


Hi all,

Just a note to say that regular contributor and poster Paul McDonnell-Staff – “Xenophon” as members would know him – died on March 12th. Paul suffered from an illness, which I won’t go into here, for the last five years of his life. Though it did not always look like it here, Paul and I were strong friends over a couple of decades. There’s nothing better than pointing out the foibles of your mate! The “Old Man” (as I called him) and I (“Bertie Old thing” as he’d address me) had an ongoing relationship for some two decades. I recall us downing three bottles of red (after a beer or two over dinner) in “Brisvegas” going over the Second Diadoch War, the nature of the hypaspists and the foibles of “certainty” in a hotel in Brisbane some thirteen years ago. What others in the bar made of the hard copies of Diodoros, the Tacticians and Plutarch is anyone’s guess. As ever, we parted in disagreement on whatever sticking point(s) we’d arrived at by bottle three.

One of the effects of the Old Man’s serious and restrictive illness was that it attacked his phalanges. Given this, I was constantly surprised at the amount he could type – the email trees, on many subjects, were no bonsai – more like giant redwoods. Though one had to be patient. That back and forth will be missed.

Paul had been writing on ancient military history for decades going back to John Warry’s Warfare in The Classical World. From it’s inception, we both wrote for Ancient Warfare. The articles we prepared were the source of much private and occasional Pothosian debate. I recall calling him, at the editor’s suggestion, to see if he was still corporeal as he’d he’d missed a deadline by a couple of days (something he never did). He suggested that were he not “the whole world would…”. I suggested Demades’ acid quip was a little beyond the pale. He continued writing for Ancient Warfare under the nom de plume “Tacticus”. The journal will miss him and so will I.

Vale “Old Man”

Michael Park.

Paul was more of a rhetorician and less of a scientist than I am, but I still learned a lot from him. He knew the classical literary sources, including the unfashionable ones like Aelian, very well. There is another memorial from Jasper Oorthuys at Karwansaray and some of his comments on In Antiquity, Fighting Wasn’t a Young Man’s Game and How Many Arrows in a Scythian’s Gorytos?

I am surrounded by the ghosts of dead friends, dead communities, and dead activities. For an age that has made it hard to move at all: its hard to keep putting my heart into communities which will just vanish like the fog on a sunny day however hard I work, and hard to keep reaching out to new communities when the last one cut off my hand or used it to toss me into the nearest wall. But I also know that in this life there is one thing to do and that is to make good art. For in Sheol where we are going there is no work or planning or knowledge or wisdom.

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5 thoughts on “Cross-Post: Dis Manibus Paul ‘Xenophon’ McDonnell-Staff (12 March 2020)

  1. greensquire says:

    Oh goodness. So sorry to hear this. Such an interesting man. We had many arguments snd debates and equally many agreements. I learned so much from him!

    1. Sean Manning says:

      I agree, I will miss him! I think everyone who argued with him learned something even if both sides usually stuck to their ground like tanners stretching an oxhide.

  2. woodcrafter1372 says:

    Everything comes and goes. Including you. What you can do, is be you. You are doing awesome!

  3. Prufrock says:

    A lovely tribute. I didn’t know Paul personally but encountered him on the ANCMED group during various discussions. It’s been a bad year, losing both Paul and Patrick Waterson.

    1. Sean Manning says:

      Fortunately the proofs of my book are still open so I can add them to the acknowledgements page!

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