An Introduction to The Art of War
Date: Thu, October 29, 2009
Topic: The Library
Once almost lost to the mists of time, a now popular manual of tactics has been applied to everything from management to goldfish breeding. Read more about the text that has been called The Art of War.
Not every aspect of ancient Suloise life has been lost. There are a handful of ancient texts that have survived the Great Cataclysms, and the most popular, and the most common of them may well be that subsequently known as The Art of War. Not much is known about it, since all current copies are derived from a single text found at Rauxes. Sans title, sans author's name, this copy has seen subsequent editions and translations in all the written languages of the Flanaess.
The Art of War is a slim book of tactical advice for the warrior or general. Cast in an aphoristic form, it is enigmatic enough, yet pertinent enough to have be adapted to many circumstances. Because, further, it lacks reference to magic, it has been seen by some, Ruthar Yewal amongst them, as to predate the first stirrings of the magic arts. Such conjecture remains unsupported speculation alone.
It also contains a number of enigmatic words, over which there have been some speculation. One school of thought is that these are archaic terms that have survived, and which are now little understood. Others argue is that they are the survivals of older texts which have yet to be erased in the process of scribal copying; they are palimpsests, that is, of the original copy, or the original text. A third school posits that they are misreadings of an earlier copy, or that they are scribal errors. As a result, the debate continues among serious scholars, and, whilst abstruse and arcane, it can lead (and has led) to bitter disputes.
As a result of the popularity of The Art of War, the text is easy to find; it is, almost literally, everywhere, nowadays. It has also seen a large number of commentaries of various, and often dubious, value. The oldest is Znuust's A Commentary upon an Ancient Suloise Manual of War which barely postdate's the original discovery of the text. This summarises the essentials positions on the text, the text's origins, and of the metaphors and language used, and it is a model of scholarly prose.
At a far less useful end is The Art of War for Goldfish Fanciers (by the author of A Consignment of Geriatric Shoemakers: and Other Fresh Legends), which attempts to marry The Art of War to a tedious text about the care and breeding of ornamental fish. Too many similar editions have appeared, for a vast array of unrelated topics, leading one wag to suggest The Art of War for Artists.
Underlying the popularity of the book is a solid core of practical advice. While the work could easily be read within a day, or two days at most, each paragraph is crammed with advice that is relevant centuries, maybe millenia after it was first written. That the work has been so popular, and has been repackaged and paraphrased for a bewildering variety of subjects and situations is something that has not been lost on the student of tactics. However, for the serious warrior, and for the serious leader of adventuring companies, The Art of War is, at least in its basic form, an indispensable resource of wisdom and time-tested knowledge.