Little experiment: I just grabbed an online copy of Caesar’s “De Bello Gallico” and scrolled down to a random location. These are a few sentences:
Ita ancipitī proeliō diū atque ācriter pugnātum est. Diūtius cum sustinēre
nostrōrum impetūs nōn possent, alterī sē, ut coeperant, in montem
recēpērunt, alterī ad impedimenta et carrōs suōs sē contulērunt. 2. Nam hōc
tōtō proeliō, cum ab hōrā septimā ad vesperum pugnātum sit, āversum
hostem vidēre nēmō potuit.
My (admittedly poor) translation:
So, a long and bitter battle was fought in two fronts. Since they could not resist our attack, some of them withdrew to the mountains, others gathered around their baggages and wagons. During the whole battle, which was fought from the seventh hour to the evening, nobody could see an enemy fleeing.
To my mind, this is simple, effective and two the point. It spells things out, doesn’t try to “cut corners” or be succint and it uses simple, general-meaning words that exist in most all languages. I can’t see a single set expression or “metaphor”, … You can tell the same story with almost equivalent words in a modern language. It would be comprehensible, simple and nice.
Now, I googled “Iraq war battle story” and got the first account of a battle I could find, this is the beginning:
“This time of year marks the anniversary of one of the most storied battles in recent Marine Corps history: the Second Battle of Fallujah. The city became the scene of brutal urban combat when American, Iraqi, and British forces launched an all out assault on Nov. 7, 2004, to seize it from Iraqi insurgent hands”
You get: hpye (most storied battle) together with a strange and certainly “dying” metaphor (“most storied”???)
A couple of set expressions which are clearly cliche: “all out assault” “seize from … hands”, “marked the anniversary”. Unnecessary clutter and convoluted wording: “The city became the scene of…” Caesar would have written “In the city…”
Notice that the modern account is in fact more succint. Writing an “all out assault” is terse and quick but also cliché, Caesar’s equivalent is “a long and bitter battle was fought”. Notice that Caesar doesn’t even avoid repeating himself: he has “was fought” (pugnatum est) twice in a row and uses “proelio” (in the battle) also twice.
I stand by my opinion: Ancient (or pre-modern) writers tended to spell things out, took time to explain things in a clear, to the point way and used simple but precise vocabulary easily replicable in modern languages. Usual contemporary writing tends to overuse clichés, hype and empty expressions, which is why ancient writing sounds elegant and precise and modern writing is mostly crap: it’s not about language but about how you use it