XENOPHON, Greek historian and
philosophical essayist, the son of Gryllus, was born at Athens about 430 B.C.'
He belonged to an equestrian family of the deme of Erchia. It may be inferred
from passages in the Hellenica that he fought at Arginusae (406), and
that he was present at the return of Alcibiades (408), the trial of the
Generals and the overthrow of the Thirty. Early in life he came under the
influence of Socrates, but an active life had more attraction for him. In 401,
being invited by his friend Proxenus to join the expedition of the younger
Cyrus against his brother, Artaxerxes II. of Persia, he at once accepted the
offer. It held out the prospect of riches and honor, while he was little likely
to find favor in democratic Athens, where the knights were regarded with
suspicion as having supported the Thirty. At the suggestion of Socrates,
Xenophon went to Delphi to consult the oracle; but his mind was already made
up, and he at once proceeded to Sardis, the place of rendezvous. Of the
expedition itself he has given a full and detailed account in his
Anabasis, or the "Up-Country March." After the battle of
Cunaxa (401), in which Cyrus lost his life, the officers in command of the
Greeks were treacherously murdered by the Persian satrap, Tissaphernes, with
whom they were negotiating an armistice with a view to a safe return. The army
was now in the heart cf an unknown country, more than a thousand miles from
home and in the presence of a troublesome enemy. It was decided to march
northwards up the Tigris valley and make for the shores of the Euxine, on which
there were several Greek colonies. Xenophon became the leading spirit of the
army; he was elected an officer, and he it was who mainly directed the retreat.
Part of the way lay through the wilds of Kurdistan, where they had to encounter
the harassing guerrilla attacks of savage mountain tribes, and part through the
highlands of Armenia and Georgia. After a five months' march they reached
Trapezus [Trebizond on the Euxine (February 400), where a tendency to
demoralization began to show itself, and even Xenophon almost lost his control
over the soldiery. At Cotyora he aspired to found a new colony; but the idea,
not being unanimously accepted, was abandoned, and ultimately Xenophon with his
Greeks arrived at Chrysopolis [Scutari] on the Bosporus, opposite Byzantium.
As the description of the Ionian campaign of Thrasyllus in 410
(Hellenica, i. 2) is clearly derived from Xenophon's own reminiscences,
he must have taken part in this campaign, and cannot therefore have been less
than twenty years of age at the time.
After a brief period of service under a Thracian chief, Seuthes, they were
finally incorporated in a Lacedaemonian army which had crossed over into Asia
to wage war against the Persian satraps Tissaphernes and Pharnabazus. Xenophon,
who accompanied them, captured a wealthy Persian nobleman, with his family,
near Pergamum, and the ransom paid for his recovery secured Xenophon a
competency for life.
On his return to Greece Xenophon served under Agesilaus, king of Sparta, at
that time the chief power in the Greek world. With his native Athens and its
general policy and institutions he was not in sympathy. At Coroneia (394) he
fought with the Spartans against the Athenians and Thebans, for which his
fellow-citizens decreed his banishment. The Spartans provided a home for him at
Scillus in Elis, about two miles from Olympia; there he settled down to indulge
his tastes for sport and literature. After Sparta's crushing defeat at Leuctra
(371), Xenophon was driven from his home by the people of Elis. Meantime Sparta
and Athens had become allies, and the Athenians repealed the decree which had
condemned him to exile. There is, however, no evidence that he ever returned to
his native city. According to Diogenes La'ertius, he made his home at Corinth.
The year of his death is not known; all that can be said is that it was later
than the date of his work on the revenues of Athens.
The Anabasis (composed at Scillus between 379 and 371) is a work of
singular interest, and is brightly and pleasantly written. Xenophon, like
Caesar, tells the story in the third person, and there is a straightforward
manliness about the style, with a distinct flavor of a cheerful
lightheartedness, which at once enlists our sympathies. His description of
places and of relative distances is very minute and painstaking. The researches
of modern travelers attest his general accuracy. It is expressly stated by
Plutarch and Diogenes La'ertius that the Anabasis was the work of Xenophon, and
the evidence from style is conclusive. The allusion (Hellenica, iii. i,
2) to :Themistogenes of Syracuse as the author shows that Xenophon published it
under an assumed name.
The Cyropaedia, a political and philosophical romance, which describes
the boyhood and training of Cyrus, hardly answers to its name, being for the
most part an account of the beginnings of the Persian empire and of the
victorious career of Cyrus its founder. The Cyropaedia contains in fact
the author's own ideas of training and education, as derived conjointly from
the teachings of Socrates and his favorite Spartan institutions. It was said to
have been written in opposition to the Republic of Plato. A distinct
moral purpose, to which literal truth is sacrificed, runs through the work. For
instance, Cyrus is represented as dying peacefully in his bed, whereas,
according to Herodotus, he fell in a campaign against the Massagetae.The
Hellenica written at Corinth, after 362, is the only contemporary account of
the period covered by it (411-362) that has come down to us. It consists of two
distinct parts; books i. and ii., which are intended to form a continuation of
the work of Thucydides, and bring the history down to the fall of the Thirty,
and books iiivi., the Hellenica proper, which deal with the period from
401 to 362, and give the history of the Spartan and Theban hegemonies, down to
the death of Epaminondas. There is, however, no ground for the view that these
two parts were written and published as separate works. There is probably no
justification for the charge of deliberate falsification. It must be admitted,
however, that he had strong political prejudices, and that these prejudices
have influenced his narrative.
He was a partisan of the reactionary movement which triumphed after the fall of
Athens; Sparta is his ideal, and Agesilaus his hero. At the same time, he was a
believer in a divine overruling providence. He is compelled, therefore, to see
in the fail of Sparta the punishment inflicted by heaven on the treacherous
policy which had prompted the seizure of the Cadmea and the raid of Sphodrias.
Hardly less serious defects than his political bias are his omissions, his want
of the sense of proportion and his failure to grasp the meaning of historical
criticism. The most that can be said in his favor is that as a witness he is at
once honest and well- informed. For this period of Greek history he is, at any
rate, an indispensable witness.
The Memorabilia, or " Recollections of Socrates," in four
books, was written to defend Socrates against the charges of impiety and
corrupting the youth, repeated after his death by the sophist Polycrates. The
work is not a literary masterpiece; it lacks coherence and unify, and the
picture it gives of Socrates fails to do him justice. Still, as far as it goes,
it no doubt faithfully describes the philosopher's manner of life and style of
conversation. It was the moral and practical side of Socrates's teaching which
most interested Xenophon; into his abstruse metaphysical speculations he seems
to have made no attempt to enter: for these indeed he had neither taste nor
genius. Moving within a limited range of ideas, he doubtless gives us
considerably less than the real Socrates, while Plato gives us something
more." It is probable that the work in its present form is an abridgment.
Xenophon has left several minor works, some of which are very interesting and
give an insight into the home life of the Greeks.
The Oeconomics (to some extent a continuation of the Memorabilia,
and sometimes regarded as the fifth book of the same) deals with the management
of the house and of the farm, and presents a pleasant and amusing picture of
the Greek wife and of her home duties. There are some good practical remarks on
matrimony and on the respective duties of husband and wife. The treatise, which
is in the form of a dialogue between Socrates and a certain Ischomachus, was
translated into Latin by Cicero. In the essays on horsemanship
(Hipparchicus) and hunting (Cynegeticus), Xenophon deals with
matters of which he had a thorough practical knowledge. In the first he gives
rules how to choose a horse, and then tells how it is to be groomed and ridden
and generally managed. The Cynegeticus deals chiefly with the hare,
though the author speaks also of boar-hunting and describes the hounds, tells
how they are to be bred and trained, and gives specimens of suitable names for
them. On all this he writes with the zest of an enthusiastic sportsman, and he
observes that those nations whose upper classes have a taste for field-sports
will be most likely to be successful in war. Both treatises may still be read
with interest by the modern reader.
The Hipparchicus explains the duties of a cavalry officer; it is not,
according to our ideas, a very scientific treatise, showing that the art of war
was but very imperfectly developed and that the military operations of the
Greeks were on a somewhat petty scale. He dwells at some length on the moral
qualities which go to the making of a good cavalry officer, and hints very
plainly that there must be strict attention to religious duties.
The Agesilaus is a eulogy of the Spartan king, who had two special
merits in Xenophon's eyes: he was a rigid disciplinarian, and he was
particularly attentive to all religious observances. We have a summary of his
virtues rather than a good and striking picture of the man himself.
The Hiero works out the line of thought indicated in the story of the
Sword of Damocles. It is a protest against the notion that the
"tyrant" is a man to be envied, as having more abundant means of
happiness than a private person.This is one of the most pleasing of his minor
works; it is cast into the form of a dialogue between Hiero, tyrant of
Syracuse, and the lyric poet Simonides.
The Symposium, or " Banquet," to some extent the complement of
the Memorabilia, is a brilliant little dialogue in which Socrates is the
prominent figure. He is represented as "improving the occasion,"
which is that of a lively Athenian supper-party, at which there is much
drinking, with flute-playing, and a dancing-girl from Syracuse, who amuses the
guests with the feats of a professional conjuror. Socrates's table-talk runs
through a variety of topics, and winds up with a philosophical disquisition on
the superiority of true heavenly love to its earthly or sensual counterfeit,
and with an earnest exhortation to one of the party, who had just won a victory
in the public games, to lead a noble life and do his duty to his country.
There are also two short essays, attributed to him, on the political
Constitution of Sparta and Athens, written with a decided bias in favor of
the former, which he praises without attempting to criticize. Sparta seems to
have represented to Xenophon the best conceivable mixture of monarchy and
aristocracy. The second is certainly not by Xenophon, but was probably written
by a member of the oligarchical party shortly after the beginning of the
Peloponnesian War. In the essay on the Revenues of Athens (written in
355) he offers suggestions for making Athens less dependent on tribute received
from its allies. Above all, he would have Athens use its influence for the
maintenance of peace in the Greek world and for the settlement of questions by
diplomacy, the temple at Delphi being for this purpose an independent center
and supplying a divine sanction.
The Apology, Socrates's defense before his judges, is rather a feeble
production, and in the general opinion of modern critics is not a genuine work
of Xenophon, but belongs to a much later period.
Xenophon was a man of great personal beauty and considerable intellectual
gifts; but he was of too practical a nature to take an interest in abstruse
philosophical speculation. His dislike of the democracy of Athens induced such
lack of patriotism that he even fought on the side of Sparta against his own
country. In religious matters he was narrowminded, a believer in the efficacy
of sacrifice and in the prophetic art. His plain and simple style, which at
times becomes wearisome, was greatly admired and procured him many imitators.
The editions of Xenophon's works, both complete and of separate portions, are
very numerous, especially of the Anabasis; only a selection can be given here.
Editio princeps (1516, incomplete); J.G. Schneider (17901849); G. Sauppe
(186566); L. Dindorf (1875); E. C. Marchant (p~oo , in the Clarendon press
Scriptorum Classicorum Bibliotheca). ANABASIS: R. Kuhner (1852); J. F.
Macmichael (1883); F. Vollbrecht (1887); A. Pretor (1888); C .W. Kruger and W.
Pokel (1888); W.W. Goodwin and J. W. White (i.iv., 1894). CYROPAEDIA: G. M.
Gorham (1870); L. Breitenbach (1875); A. Goodwin (vi.viii., 1880); F. Hertlein
and W. Nitsche (1886);H. A. Holden (188790). HELLENICA :L. Breitenbach
(187484); R. Buchsenschutz (1880-91); J. I. Manatt