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Combat and Classics Podcast

Combat and Classics Podcast

By Brian Wilson
Combat and Classics is a series of podcasts and free online seminars for active duty, reserve, and veteran U.S. military members, sponsored by St. John’s College. The podcasts and seminars encourage deep thought and reflection by leaders in the company of their peers. In the discussion-based seminars devoted to what a leader must be and know, participants study historical and fictional leaders from the great books of the western canon. We examine techniques and examples of persuasion and fundamental questions on the nature of man. When participants take the time to reflect, with their peers, on the principles of leadership, they find that they return to their lives and professional positions energized and focused, with a deeper understanding of the context of their decisions, decision-making processes, and leadership roles.
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Currently playing episode

Ep. 36: Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

Combat and Classics Podcast

Ep. 50 Warspeak by Lise van Boxel
Brian and Jeff are joined by Michael Grenke, St. John's College - Santa Fe, to discuss Lise van Boxel's posthumously published book "Warspeak" from Purchase your copy here.
December 18, 2020
Ep. 49 Xenophon's "The Education of Cyrus" Book VIII with Shilo Brooks
All good things must come to an end -- but so must all bad things, and Cyrus' empire ends badly.  Was Cyrus happy?  Is it possible to rule human beings the way he did, like a god, and also make yourself and them happy?  And why did such a cold king have two sons?  Brian, Shilo, and Jeff have answers, and these answers raise new and interesting questions, and point to another of Xenophon's books.
August 12, 2020
Ep. 48 Xenophon's "The Education of Cyrus" Book VII with Shilo Brooks
Abradatas is hacked to pieces, and Panthea kills herself over his corpse.  Croesus is defeated by Cyrus, and tries to teach him what "know thyself" means.  And Cyrus surrounds himself with a bodyguard... of eunuchs?  In this episode, Brian, Shilo, and Jeff finally confront the question of what "the education of Cyrus" really means.  To suffer is to learn... but do any of these people really learn anything?
August 4, 2020
Ep. 47 Xenophon's "The Education of Cyrus" Book VI with Shilo Brooks
Brian, Shilo and Jeff get together to talk more about the difference between sexual and political love, or eros, and about the connection between eros and gratitude.  We end on another cliffhanger, as Cyrus' army, complete with siege engines, is about to attack the Assyrian host.  And Jeff admits to a crackpot theory about the connection between love, chariots, and... Plato?
July 21, 2020
Ep. 46 Xenophon's "The Education of Cyrus" Book V with Shilo Brooks
Shilo Brooks returns for the next podcast in our series on Xenophon's Education of Cyrus.  We talk about Book V, the love book -- easy now -- and especially about the differences between sexual and political love.  Cyrus' special friend returns, as does his boyfriend, and the Susan woman.  And the book ends with another kiss!  We also learn the secret of when Cyrus, and Xenophon, use names. Check out our newsletter by signing up on our website,  You can follow us on Instagram too, @combatandclassics.
July 14, 2020
Ep. 45 Xenophon's "The Education of Cyrus," Book IV with Shilo Brooks
Shilo Brooks returns for Book IV of Xenophon's "The Education of Cyrus." We discuss Cyrus' attack on the Assyrians, consolidation, cavalry, and Cyrus' first boyfriend returns (::kiss::kiss::) and the Susan woman. For more info check out We now have a newsletter, Instagram (@combatandclassics), and twitter (@combat_classics).
July 9, 2020
Ep. 44 Xenophon's "The Education of Cyrus" Book III with Shilo Brooks
Shilo Brooks returns for another episode of "The Education of Cyrus" by Xenophon. We discuss moderation, virtue, risk and a brief mention of the ugly boyfriend.
June 30, 2020
Ep. 43 Pierre Manent's "The Metamorphoses of the City" with Dr. Joseph Wood
Dr. Joseph Wood (Institute for World Politics and Cana Academy) joins Brian and Jeff to discuss Pierre Manent's "The Metamorphoses of the City," Chapter 2: The Poetic Birth of the City. We discuss the relationships between war and politics, especially as it relates to The Iliad.
June 30, 2020
Ep. 42 Xenophon's "The Education of Cyrus" Book II with Shilo Brooks
Shilo Brooks returns to continue our exploration of Xenophon's "The Education of Cyrus" Book II where Cyrus goes to war against the Assyrians and we try to tease out what fundamentals of warfare Cyrus discovers versus what he's taught by the Persians.
June 26, 2020
Ep. 41 Xenophon's "Education of Cyrus," Book I, with Shilo Brooks
Shilo Brooks returns to the pod to discuss Book I of Xenophon's "Education of Cyrus" examining the early upbringing of Cyrus and the nature of government.
June 18, 2020
Ep. 40 The Sicilian Expedition, with Andrea Radasanu
Andrea Radasanu returns to discuss the Sicilian Expedition from Thucydides "History of the Peloponnesian War."
June 17, 2020
Ep. 39 The Wright Brothers, with Shilo Brooks
Jeff and Brian are joined by Shilo Brooks, Director of the Engineering Leadership Program at the University of Colorado - Boulder, to discuss the role of engineering in the liberal arts and his lovely essay on the Wright Brothers for Scientific American:
June 17, 2020
Ep. 38 Thucydides Part I with Andrea Radasanu
Jeff and Brian are joined by Dr. Andrea Radasanu, Acting Director of the University Honors Program at Northern Illinois University, to discuss Thucydides "History of the Peloponnesian War," specifically the Athenian plague and Pericles funeral oration. For more info on Andrea and NIU, click here:
June 17, 2020
Ep. 37 Claudia Hauer "Strategic Humanism"
Brian and Jeff are joined by Claudia Hauer, St. John's College Tutor and Visiting Professor at the United States Air Force Academy to discuss her new book "Strategic Humanism: Lessons of Leadership from the Ancient Greeks." To pre-order, click below:
June 14, 2020
Ep. 36: Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Join Brian, Ashley Johnson ( and Anne Kniggendorf (twitter: @annekniggendorf) in their discussion of the 19th century classic, Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert.
March 18, 2020
Ep. 35 In Memoriam: Lise van Boxel
Our dear friend, co-founder, co-host and great souled human, Lise van Boxel, has passed away. We present our humble tribute.
March 11, 2020
Ep. 34 Homer's Iliad, Book 6
ANNOUNCEMENT: We recently learned that C&C co-founder Lise van Boxel has been diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer. She is currently undergoing treatment. If you would like to help and express your support, please visit the GoFundMe page created for her benefit. In this episode, Brian is joined by guest Scott Hambrick, founder of Online Great Books. Brian will be teaching a seminar through Scott's website starting in January. Sign up here and receive a 25% discount. Brian and Scott discuss questions raised about war in Book 6 of Homer's Iliad.
January 7, 2020
Ep. 33: Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra
We begin our next "close read" series with the first two sections of Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra, which conclude with the famous line "God is dead." Lise, Jeff, and Brian discuss Nietzsche's imagery, allusions, and treatment of questions of love, envy, and humanity.
November 25, 2019
Ep. 32: Veterans Education Project
Brian interviews Daniel Elkins, founder and director of the Veterans Education Project, which works to address issues faced by veterans in higher education. You can find more information on the Project's website. And tune in to the Project's podcast "Coffee with Congress" here, where it shares conversations with members of Congress about everything but politics.
August 22, 2019
Ep. 31: Shakespeare's Julius Caesar
We're joined today by actor Matt Eitzen who is also a Shakespeare and Roman history aficionado. You can catch Matt in upcoming productions at The Guinea Pig Theater in Dallas, Texas through this link: You can rent Brian's favorite interpretation, "Caesar Must Die" on YouTube here:
July 30, 2019
Ep. 30: Shakespeare's King Lear
Brian is joined by guest George Eckerle, St. John's grad and co-founder (with Brian) of the Plato Project, a series of online seminars for discussion of Plato's complete works. In this episode they discuss one of William Shakespeare's most well-known tragedies, King Lear. Referenced Links: Peter Burke version of King Lear - Ismail Kadare "Essays on World Literature" -
June 12, 2019
Ep. 29: Emerson's Divinity School Address
How does speech move the human soul? How can a leader use speech inspire others to action? Lise, Jeff, and Brian tackle those questions in their discussion of Ralph Waldo Emerson's address to the graduating class of Harvard's divinity school in 1838.
April 30, 2019
Ep. 28: Aristotle’s Politics Bk. I, part 4
Jeff, Lise, and Brian continue our "close-read" series on Aristotle's Politics. They continue to tackle Aristotle's discussion of slavery, which raises questions about nature, law, and virtue.
March 8, 2019
Ep. 27: Interview with Jennifer Wright
Brian sits down with St. John's College alum Jennifer Wright, who is a writer and the author of several books including It Ended Badly: Thirteen of the Worst Breakups in History. They talk about Ms. Wright's informed and fun take on history, as well as her career path from SJC to professional writer.
November 26, 2018
Ep. 26: Edgar Allan Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher"
What is the relationship between the natural world and the human world? In this belated Halloween episode, Lise, Jeff, and Brian discuss Edgar Allan Poe's short story "The Fall of the House of Usher."
November 19, 2018
Ep. 25: Aristotle's Politics, part 3
What is slavery? What does slavery have to do with the household or the state? Brian, Lise, and Jeff dig deeper into the Politics in Part 3 of their discussion of this series.
October 28, 2018
Ep. 24: Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants"
How do human beings confront a crisis? Anne Kniggendorf and Matt Young join Brian for a conversation about Ernest Hemingway's short story "Hills Like White Elephants." In case you missed it: Tune in to Brian's interviews with Anne and Matt in previous episodes.
October 21, 2018
Ep. 23: Aristotle Politics Bk. I, part 2
“Man is by nature a political animal.” Lise, Jeff, and Brian continue their conversation about Book I of Aristotle’s Politics, in which that famous line appears. They address Aristotle’s discussion of how a city comes to be, and his assertion that humans reach their full potential by living in a city.
October 9, 2018
Ep. 22: Interview with Matt Young
Brian interviews Matt Young, Marine Corps veteran, English professor, and author of Eat the Apple, an memoir that has been described as "The Iliad of the Iraq war." They begin by discussing maintaining your humanity (or not) while serving in and returning from war. They go on to talk about the relationship between civilian and military citizens and how literature and writing can help veterans to manage anger and build empathy after military service. Contains explicit language.
August 21, 2018
Ep. 21: Aristotle's Politics Bk. I, part 1
Jeff, Lise, and Brian roll up their sleeves and dig in to Aristotle's Politics. How are this and other "Great Books" relevant to how we live our lives? What is good political rule? What does it mean to be "just" within a political system? What problems can politics solve? What problems can it not solve? The team tackles those questions and much more in this episode.
August 6, 2018
Ep. 20: Interview With Doug Lensing
Douglas Lensing joins the show to talk about his path from the Navy to St. John's College and his paper "Passion and Mind: Homer's Formula for Victory in the Iliad." Doug joined the Navy on a Naval Special Warfare contract, but after failing to complete BUD/S went to Defense Language Institute, learned Farsi and worked at Fort Gordon, Georgia as a linguist. Doug will be starting his Ph.D. at Baylor University in Political Science in the fall of 2018.
July 1, 2018
Ep.19: Hemingway's "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place"
Is human life "nada" - nothing? In their discussion of Hemingway's (very) short story, Brian, Lise, and Jeff examine the contrast between youth and old age and the states of being hurried versus unhurried. How are those distinctions related to the question of whether there is a difference between those who need a clean, well-lighted place and those who do not?
May 28, 2018
Ep. 18: Racine's Phedre
Can you simultaneously hate and love the same thing? What is the relationship between virtue and love? Lise, Jeff, and Brian tackle those questions and more in this episode on Jean Racine's play Phedre. Also, as promised, you can find Jeff's Frankenstein lecture here and the book with Lise's essay here. Enjoy!
April 3, 2018
Ep. 17: Freud's "On Transience"
Jeff, Lise, and Brian discuss Freud’s "On Transience," in which Freud thinks about the transitory nature of life and of the beautiful things in life. The piece prompts a conversation about a variety of topics Freud raises, from death to libido to war.
March 20, 2018
Ep. 16: Interview with Anne Kniggendorf
Brian interviews St. John's College alum and U.S. Navy veteran Anne Kniggendorf. They have an engaging discussion about the relationship between liberal arts and the military. Check out Anne's website ( and Anne's article, mentioned in the pod (
March 15, 2018
Ep. 15: Shelley's Frankenstein
“I beheld the wretch – the miserable monster whom I had created.” Why did Victor Frankenstein create his monster? What role did beauty, love, science, and education play in his endeavor? Join Lise, Brian, and Jeff in a discussion of this classic, widely known novel. As a follow up, listen to Jeff's lecture on the book here (
January 29, 2018
Ep. 14: Chekhov's "Rothschild's Violin"
How should human life be valued? Is death something to suffer, or something that provides relief? Jeff, Lise and Brian discuss these questions and more in examining Anton Chekhov's short story "Rothschild's Violin" or "Rothschild's Fiddle."
December 18, 2017
Ep. 13: Plato's Phaedo
Should we fear death? Jeff, Lise, and Brian discuss Plato's Phaedo, in which Socrates is joined by his friends to discuss that and other questions while awaiting the time for Socrates' execution later the same day.
October 28, 2017
Ep. 12: Sophocles' Philoktetes
What role do lying and deception play in achieving strategic objectives? Jeff, Lise and Brian discuss that and other questions as raised by Sophocles in Philoktetes, in which a soldier (Philoktetes) is recovered from an island where he was left after being wounded. His significance arises from his possession is the famed bow of Heracles, which the characters Odysseus and Neoptolemus believe is necessary to win the Trojan war.
September 28, 2017
Ep. 11: Rousseau's Discourse on the Sciences and the Arts
Jeff, Lise, and Brian are joined by the distinguished Dylan Casey and Wes Alwan for this crossover episode with the Partially Examined Life. They discuss the Discourse on the Sciences and the Arts, or First Discourse, in which Rousseau argues that the arts and sciences tend to lead to "moral corruption". What is "moral corruption"? What does it mean for a human being to be "whole"? How can a society be structured to allow individual humans to achieve wholeness? What role do the arts and sciences play in that endeavor? Join the group for a lively discussion of those questions and more!
August 7, 2017
Ep. 10: Anton Chekhov's "The Student"
In this episode, Lise, Jeff and Brian discuss “The Student,” a (very) short story by Anton Chekhov. The central character is Ivan, a student, or disciple, whose depression is transformed into elation during the course of his conversation with a peasant mother and daughter about the suffering of Peter as he realizes his betrayal of Jesus.
July 5, 2017
Ep. 9: Joseph Conrad's "Typhoon"
Lise, Jeff and Brian discuss another work by Joseph Conrad, a rip-roaring, seafaring tale! In his novella Typhoon, Conrad tells the story of Captain McWhirr, his crew, and his ship’s brawling passengers as they sail through a typhoon. The work raises questions about leadership in the face of human conflict and natural disasters.
July 5, 2017
Ep. 8: Joseph Conrad's "The Secret Sharer"
In this episode, Lise, Jeff and Brian discuss Joseph Conrad’s short story “The Secret Sharer,” which features a psychological drama between an young, unnamed captain who is uncertain of his ability to lead his ship and a mysterious man named Leggatt who swims up to the side of the ship, naked and adrift.
July 5, 2017
Ep. 7: Shakespeare's Coriolanus
How do military leaders relate to the civilians they protect? In this episode, Lise, Jeff and Brian discuss that and other questions raised by this Shakespearean tragedy. The story of Coriolanus, a Roman general, starts with a heroic victory for Rome, but ends with exile, defection to the enemy, and ultimately death.
July 5, 2017
Ep. 6: Plato's Symposium
Join Lise, Jeff and Brian for another Platonic dialogue! Socrates and Alcibiades reappear at a party attended by several characters who decide to take turns praising Eros, who is often referred to in English as the “god of love.” As the dialogue progresses, we learn there is much more to love, or rather to “eros,” than sexual desire, and the characters’ conversation moves on to numerous other topics, including politics, law, and philosophy.
July 5, 2017
Ep. 5: Aristophanes' Birds
What can we learn from a farce about banishment? Where do politics, nature and religion collide with the absurd? Check out our discussion of Aristophanes' Birds.
June 19, 2017
Ep. 4: Plato's Alcibiades I
Let's do some more Plato! Alcibiades is one of the most famous figures in military history. An incredibly successful Athenian general who fled to Athens' enemy Sparta after being charged with with sacrilege. He and Socrates had a very "complicated" relationship. This particular dialogue raises questions about the nature of justice and who is worthy to lead.
June 19, 2017
Ep. 3: Interview with Professor Martin L. Cook
Join us for a discussion with Martin L. Cook, Distinguished Visiting Professor at United States Air Force Academy. Prior to that, Professor Cook was Admiral James B. Stockdale Professor of Professional Military Ethics at the College of Operational and Strategic Leadership at the U.S. Naval War College. He is also co-editor of The Journal of Military Ethics. Cook was previously a professor of philosophy and deputy department head at the Philosophy Department of the U.S. Air Force Academy from 2004 to 2009. He was also a professor of ethics at the U.S. Army War College from 1998 to 2003 and the Elihu Root Chair of Military Studies in 2000. In addition, Cook was assistant professor from 1982 to 1988 and associate professor from 1988 to 1998 at the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Santa Clara. He has also been an adjunct professor at Dickinson College and Fuller Theological Seminary in the Bay Area; visiting professor at the College of William and Mary; and a teaching assistant at The University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. Cook serves on the editorial boards of Parameters, the scholarly journal of the Army War College, and The Journal of Military Ethics. He is the author of The Moral Warrior: Ethics and Service in the U.S. Military and Issues in Military Ethics: To Support and Defend the Constitution and numerous scholarly articles and book reviews.
June 19, 2017
Ep. 2: Plato's Republic
Join Lise, Jeff and Brian for a conversation on Book I of the Republic. BUT FIRST! How to approach the "Great Books": How do you start from scratch with no background or without a group? We hope you like it!
June 19, 2017
Ep. 1: Sophocles' Ajax
Join Lise, Jeff and Brian as they discuss Sophocles' Ajax, the story of a great Greek warrior who takes his own life on the beach of Troy. Also, check out Stringfellow Barr's "Notes on Dialogue" as a follow-up to the discussion at the beginning of the episode about the student-led seminars at St. John's College, which form a critical part of the education it offers. 
June 12, 2017
Ep. 0: Introduction
Join Lise, Jeff and Brian for the kick off podcast explaining a little what we're about. Spoiler alert: it's a strange brew of classical literature, military history and culture, and the human experience of war.
June 4, 2017