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Xenophon (c.431 - c.355 BC)


Greek historian, essayist, and soldier, the author of Anabasis Kyrou (The Persian Expedition), a tale of Greek mercenaries who fought their way back from the gates of Babylon to the Euxine (Black Sea). Among Xenophon's other works are Hellenica, a continuation of Thucydides' history of the Greeks from 411 to 362 BC, the Memorabilia of Socrates, and the Cyropedia (Education of Cyrus), a historical novel about Cyrus the Elder, the founder of the Persian empire.

"To read his Anabasis at school is memorable, not merely as a coming into contact with one of the great literary mouthpieces of the world, but as if it were an adventure that you made yourself. You are one of the ten thousand men retreating in good order from the defeat of the monarch who employed you. ... And you were surrounded by semi-hostile tribes just as today would be the case in the hot sands of the desert; and you fought an outpost battle here and there. But always you had at the back of your mind the feeling of the comfortable, quiet brain of General Xenophon who was never unduly disturbed or despondent and who knew always what to do and how to do it." (Ford Madox Ford in The March of Literature, 1938)

Xenophon was born in Attica into a land-owning family of moderate oligarchs. His father, Gryllus, was a citizen of Athens. A later biographer, Diogenes Laertius, called Xenophon "a man of great modesty, and as handsome as can be imagined." His name means "strange voice"– its has been suggested that Xenophon is an assumed name, which he adapted after the Athenians drove him into exile. 

Xenophon grew in the early years of the war between Athens and Sparta (431-404 BC). As a member of the class of Knights, men rich enough to maitain a horse, Xenophon took part in the wars in the Athenian cavalry. At an early age he became a friend of Socrates, but he did not mention later in his books, did his father Gryllus defend Socrates, who was accused of corrupting the youth. In his own writings Xenophon focused mostly on practical subjects or historical questions, without showing much enthusiasm for philosophical speculation. Xenophon tackled philosophical issues as they relate to everyday life. His own favarite virtue was self-control, "the foundation of moral goodness".In the Memorabilia, which consist of short conversations, he gives a much lighter version of Socrates' teachings than Plato, also his contemporary.

Xenophon portrayed Socrates as a cheerful, down-to-earth character, who, like Aesop, solves moral problems pragmatically and instructs on duties and even on table manners. When his friend Aristarchus complains that his house is full of deserted, bad-tempered female relatives, and he cannot feed so many mouths, Socrates advises him to give them productive work: "And so do you tell your flock yonder that like the dog in the fable you are their guardian and overseer, and it is thanks to you that they are protected from evil and evildoers, so that they work their work and live their lives in blissful security." (Memorabilia, tr. H. G. Dakyns) The idea that the statesman is a sort of herdsman Xenophon  attributed to Socrates. In a similar uncomplicated narrative style, he wrote on horses, too.

In Xenophon's Symposion (Banquet) Socrates participates in an imaginary wine party as a guest. Apologia Socratous was written some fifteen years after Socrates' condemnation and death. Xenophon argues that the philosopher wanted to die partly to end his old age the easiest way. "I know that I cannot escape paying the penalty of old age, in increasing dimness of sight and dullness of hearing. I shall find myself slower to learn new lessons, and apter to forget the lessons I have learnt. And if to these be added the consciousness of failing powers, the sting of self-reproach, what prospect have I of any further joy in living?" (Apologia Socratalous, tr. H. G. Dakyns)

Xenophon himself was not present when Socrates killed himself by drinking a cup of hemlock; his second-hand source was Hermogenes, whom Plato mentions in his Phaedo. Apology of Socrates and Symposion were probably intended as responses to Plato's Apology and Symposium, but generally they are considered inferior to Plato in their philosophical importance. The speech in court in Apologia probably bears only a little resemblance to the actual defence. Socrates also appeared in Xenophon's Oeconomicus, in a discussion between the philosopher and his disciple Critobulus on the good life and household and estate management. Xenophon put into Socrates's mouth words which he had never heard himself.

Although Xenophon was an Athenian, he spent much of his life in Sparta. When democracy was re-established in Athens in 401 BC, Xenophon, a man of right-wing political opinions, turned his back on its new leaders and went abroad. He joined with ten thousand Greek mercenaries the expedition (anabasis, march up country) of Cyrus the younger into the hinterland of Asia Minor. However, Cyrus's real aim was to oust his brother King Artaxerxes II of Persia. His plan failed – Cyrus lost his life in the battle of Cunaxa.

The mercenaries were left leaderless on the plains between the Tigris and the Euphrates, over 1,600 kilometers (about 1,000 miles) from home. Xenophon was elected one of the generals. In this role he took the principal part in the struggle of the Greeks to return home through the "barbarian" world – the Greeks referred to the Persians as "barbarians". Less than 6,000 mercenaries survived. The Anabasis became not only an account of the expedition, but also a tale of military virtues, discipline, leadership, and courage. L. Tritle has argued that the portrayal of the veteran Spartan soldier, Clearchus, "lover of war," provides the first known case of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, in the western literary canon. (Xenophon and His World, ed. by Christopher Tuplin, 2004, pp. 325-339)

Xenophon wrote his book in the third person, but there are first person interventions. Possibly Julius Caesar borrowed this narrative strategy in his two books Gallic War and Civil War, in which he referred to himself in the third person. The author himself rides casually onto the scene in the first book: "Cyrus, riding past at some distance from the lines, glanced his eye first in one direction and then in the other, so as to take a complete survey of friends and foes; when Xenophon the Athenian, seeing him, rode up from the Hellenic quarter to meet him, asking him whether he had any orders to give. Cyrus, pulling up his horse, begged him to make the announcement generally known that the omens from the victims, internal and external alike, were good." (tr. H. G. Dakyns)

A famous part of the Anabasis is Xenophon's description of the Greeks, shouting "Thalassa, thalassa" (the sea, the sea) at the top of a great dune, when they saw the sea. "Thereupon they began running, rearguard and all, and the baggage animals and horses came galloping up. But when they had reached the summit, then indeed they fell to embracing one another – generals and officers and all – and the tears trickled down their cheeks."

Socrates was put to death in 399 BC, and it seems probable that Xenophon was banished by Athens. After "the march of the 10,000" Xenophon entered the service of the Thracian king Seuthes and in 396-394 he served the Spartan king Agesilaus II, who defeated a coalition of Greek states at the Battle of Coronea in 394. About 365 Xenophon returned home, and settled with his wife Philesia and two sons at Scillus in Elis. There, during the following two decades, he probably composed most of his works. The Hellenica, his chief historical work, covers the end of the Peloponnesian War to the restoration of democracy in 403 BC. Again Xenophon's Spartan bias is evident.

Xenophon's experiences in cavalry and his love of horses prompted two books, Hipparchikos (Cavalry Officer) and Peri hippikes (On Horsemanship), the oldest surviving complete manual on this subject. Xenophon starts the latter work by explaining, how to avoid being cheated when buying a horse. No doubt Xenophon himself had bought and sold horses, and spent much time with them. In Hieron, a fictitious discussion between King Hiero I of Syracuse and the poet Simonides of Ceos, Xenophon presents his ideas on how an autocrat can secure his subjects' loyalty. Agesilaos, one of the earliest Greek biographies, dealt with King Agelilaus II of Sparta.

After Sparta lost possession of Scillus, Xenophon moved to a new residence on the isthmus of Corinth. The sentence of his banishment from Athens was repealed. It is possible that before his death he lived in Athens; at least his sons Gryllus and Diodorus fought with Athens and Spartans against the Thebans. Xenophon died in Corinth. His last book was probably Poroi e peri prosodon (Ways and Means), in which he suggested methods for improvement of Athenian public to become famous in the Roman imperial period. The Roman orator Cicero (106-43 BC) praised especially his Education of Cyrus, a summarization of Xenophon's practical and moral teachings. Its clear and pure style perhaps inspired Julius Caesar's Commentarii, the unfinished histories of the Gallic and Civil wars.

By the fifteenth century Xenophon had secured his place among the great writers of antiquity, and from the 16th century his works were printed in many European languages. Xenophon's elegant style, sometimes rhetorical but straightforward, was much admired, although Xenophon did not enjoy a reputation as an original thinker. On the other hand, it has been argued that Xenophon's writings demand more serious philosophical analysis than they have received. The Anabasis inspired the Swedish Nobel writer Gustaf Fröding's (1860-1911) poem 'Ur Anabasis'. Italo Calvino noted in his essay 'Xenophon's Anabasis' (1978), that the work is similar to the memoirs written by Italian Alpini troops on their retreat from Russia. Calvino also draws parallels between Xenophon, Hemingway's novels, and "the modern ethic of perfect technical efficiency".

For further reading: Lexicon Xenophonteum by Friedrich Wilhelm Sturz (1801); A Commentary with Introduction and Appendix on the Hellenica of Xenophon by G.E. Underhill (1900); Schools of Hellas by K.J. Freeman (1907); Soldier of Fortune by L.V. Jacks (1930); The Republica Lacedaemoniorum Ascribed to Xenophon by K.M.T. Atkinson (1948); Essai sur la vie de Xénophon by F. Delebecque (1957); Ancient Greek Horsemanship by J.K. Anderson (1961); Greek Historical Writing by W.P. Henry (1966); The Ten Thousand by G.R. Nussbaum (1967); Aristotle and Xenophon on Democracy and Oligarchy, ed. J. M. Moore (1975); Xenophon the Athenian by W.E. Higgins (1977); The Character of Xenophon's Hellenica by Vivienne Gray (1989); Xenophon's Socrates by Leo Strauss et al (1997); Xenophon and the Art of Command by Godfrey Hutchinson (2000); On Tyranny: Including the Strauss-Kojeve Correspondence by Leo Strauss et al. (2000); Xenophon's Spartan Constitution by Michael Lipka (2002); Xenophon's March: Into the Lair of the Persian Lion by John Prevas (2002); Xenophon and His World: Papers from a Conference Held in Liverpool in July 1999, ed. by Christopher Tuplin (2004); A Greek Army on the March: Soldiers and Survival in Xenophon's Anabasis by John W. I. Lee (2007); Xenophon's Anabasis, or, The Expedition of Cyrus by Michael A. Flower (2012) 

Selected works in alphabetical order:

  • Agesilaos (On hunting with dogs)
    - Agesilaos, in The Works of Xenophon, 1897 (tr. H. G. Dakyns) / Agesilaus, in Scirpta minora, 1925 (tr. E.C. Marchant and G.W. Bowersock)
  • Anabasis
    - The Anabasis of Xenophon, 1847 (ed. Charles Anthon) / The Anabasis; or, Expedition of Cyrus, and the Memorabilia of Socrates, 1854 (tr. J. S. Watson; with a geographical commentary by W. F. Ainsworth) / Xenophon's Anabasis: Seven Books, 1893 (by William Rainey Harper and James Wallace) / Anabasis, 1907-12 (ed. W. Vollbrecht) / Xenophon's Anabasis, Books I-IV, 1910 (ed. Maurice W. Mather and Joseph William Hewitt) / Xenophon's Hellenica, Anabasis, Apology, and Symposium, 1921-47 (3 vols., tr. Carleton L. Brownson and Otis J. Todd) / The March Up-Country, 1947 (tr. W.H.D. Rouse) / The Persian Expedition, 1949 (tr. Rex Warner) / Anabasis, Books I-IV, 1961 (ed. Maurice W. Mather and Joseph William Hewitt) / The Persian Expedition, 1978 (ed. J. Antrich and S. Usher) / Anabasis, 1972 (ed. Carl Hude, revised by J. Peters) / The Expedition of Cyrus, 2005 (tr. Robin Waterfield) / The anabasis of Cyrus, 2008 (translated and annotated by Wayne Ambler; with an introduction by Eric Buzzetti)
    - Kyyroksen sotaretki, 1929 (suom. K. Jaakkola)  / Kyyroksen sotaretki, 1960 (suom. ja selittävällä hakemistolla varustanut J. A. Hollo; johdannon kirj. Edwin Linkomies); Anabasis 1-2 by Petri Hiltunen, 2011-2013 (comic book adaptation)  
  • Apologia Socratis (Apology)  
    - Xenophon's Hellenica, Anabasis, Apology, and Symposium, 1921-47 (3 vols., by Carleton L. Brownson and Otis J. Todd) / Memorabilia, Symposium, Apologia, Oeconomicus, 1961 (ed. R. Laurenti) / Recollections of Socrates, and Socrates´ Defense Before the Jury, 1965 (tr. Anna S. Benjamin) / Conversations of Socrates, 1990 (tr. Hugh Tredennick and Robin Waterfield, ed.  Robin Waterfield)
    - Sokrates: muistelmia: pidot: Sokrateen puolustuspuhe, 1960 (suom. Pentti Saarikoski) 
  • Apomnemoneumata (Memorabilia / Memoirs)
    - Xenophon's Memoirs of Socrates, 1767 (tr. Sarah Fielding) / The Anabasis; or, Expedition of Cyrus, and the Memorabilia of Socrates, 1854 (tr. J. S. Watson; with a geographical commentary by W. F. Ainsworth) / Memorabilia, 1903 (edited on the basis of the Breitenbach-Mücke edition by Josiah Renick Smith) / Xenophon's Memorabilia and Oeconomicus, 1938 (tr. Edgar C. Marchant) / Memorabilia, Symposium, Apologia, Oeconomicus, 1961 (ed. R. Laurenti) / Memorabilia, 1994 (tr. Amy L. Bonnette; with an introduction by Christopher Bruell) / Memorabilia, 1969 (ed. Carl Hude, as Recollections of Socrates, tr. A.S. Benjamin, 1965; as Memoirs of Socrates, tr. H. Tredennick, 1970) / Memoirs of Socrates and the Symposium, 1970 (tr. with an introd. by Hugh Tredennick) / Conversations of Socrates, 1990 (tr. Hugh Tredennick and Robin Waterfield, ed.  Robin Waterfield) / Memorabilia, 1994 (translated and annotated by Amy L. Bonnette; with an introduction by Christopher Bruell)
    - Sokrates: muistelmia: pidot: Sokrateen puolustuspuhe, 1960 (suom. Pentti Saarikoski) 
  • Athenaion Politeia (Libellus de republica Atheniensium / The Athenian Constitution, wrongly attributed to Xenophon)
    - The Polity of the Athenians & the Lacedaemonians, in The Works of Xenophon, 1897 (tr. H. G. Dakyns) / The Old Oligarch: Pseudo-Xenophon's Constitution of Athens, 1986 (by Kenneth Hughes, Margaret Thorpe, Martin Thorpe)
  • Cynegetica (On Hunting)
    - Arrian on Coursing. The Cynegeticus of the Younger Xenophon, 1831 (tr. William Dansey) / Xenophon and Arrian on Hunting, 1998 (ed. A.A. Phillips and M.M. Willcock) / Xenophon on Hunting, 2001 (edited and translated by Ralph E. Doty)
  • Cyropaedia (Education of Cyrus)
    - The Cyropaedia, or, Institution of Cyrus, and the Hellenics, or Grecian History, 1855 (tr. J.S. Watson and Henry Dale) / Cyropaedia, Oeconomicus, 1883-89 (ed. H.A. Holden) / The Education of Cyrus, 1914 (tr. Henry Graham Dakyns) / Xenophon's Cyropaedia, 1914-25 (2 vols., by Walter Miller) / Cyropaedia, 1968 (ed. W. Genoll) / The Education of Cyrus, 2001 (tr. Wayne Ambler) / Xenophon’s Cyropaedia: A Late Byzantine Recension with Facing Page English Translation, 2010 (tr. Ralph E. Doty)  
  • Hellenica
    - Xenophon's History of the Affairs of Greece, in Seven Books, 1685 (tr. John Newman) / The Cyropaedia, or, Institution of Cyrus, and the Hellenics, or Grecian History, 1855 (tr. J.S. Watson and Henry Dale) / Hellenica, 1906 (ed. G.E. Underhill) / Xenophon's Hellenica, Anabasis, Apology, and Symposium, 1921-47 (3 vols., by Carleton L. Brownson and Otis J. Todd) / A History of My Times, 1966 (Penguin ed., translated with by Rex Warner, introduction and notes by George Cawkwell) / The Fall of Athens, 1978 (selections from Books I and II, ed. T.Horn) / The Landmark Xenophon’s Hellenika: A New Translation, 2009 (tr. John Marincola, ed. Robert B. Strassler, introduction David Thomas)  
  • Hiéron
    - On Tyranny: An Interpretation of Xenophon's Hiero, 1948
    (tr. L. Strauss, rev. ed., 1968) / Hiero the Tyrant and Other Treatises, 1996 (tr. Robin Waterfield) / Hiero: A New Translation, 2001 (tr. Ralp E. Doty)
  • Hipparchius (The Cavalry Commander)
    -  The Cavalry General, in The Works of Xenophon, 1897 (tr. H. G. Dakyns) / Cavalry Commander, in Scripta minora, 1925 (tr. E.C. Marchant and G.W. Bowerstock)  / A Translation from Ancient Greek into English of Xenophon’s Manual on the Duties of a Cavalry Commander, 2011 (introduction by Ralph E. Doty; with a preface by Samuel J. Huskey)
    - Ratsuväenkomentaja, teoksessa Hevostaito, 2003 (suom. Hilla Halla-Aho)
  • Lakedaimonion politeia (Spartan Constitution)
    - Spartan Constitution, 1934 (ed. F. Ollier) / Xenophon's Spartan Constitution. Introduction, Text, Commentary. Texte und Kommentare, 2002 (by Michael Lipka) / The Constitution of the Lacedaemonians by Xenophon of Athens: A New Critical Edition With a Facing Page English Translation, 2007 (tr. Donald Jackson)
  • Oeconomicus (Household Management)
    - Aristotelis & Xenophontis Oeconomica, 1558 (ed. Iacobo Lodoico Strebaeo) / Cyropaedia, Oeconomicus, 1883-89 (ed. H.A. Holden) / Oeconomicus, 1888 (ed. B.J. Hayes) / Xenophon's Memorabilia and Oeconomicus, 1938 (tr. Edgar C. Marchant) / Memorabilia, Symposium, Apologia, Oeconomicus, 1961 (ed. R. Laurenti) / Oeconomicus, 1970 (tr. Carnes Lord, in Xenophon's Socratic Discourse by Leo Stauss) / Oeconomicus: A Social and Historical Commentary, 1994 (tr. Sarah B. Pomeroy) / Xenophon’s Gynaikologia: The Training of a Greek Housewife, 1994 (edited with introduction, notes, and vocabulary by Ralph Doty)
    - Talouden taito, 2009 (suom. Ulla Tervahauta)
  • Peri hippikes (On Horsemanship)
    - On Horsemanship, in The Works of Xenophon, 1897 (tr. H. G. Dakyns) / Art or Horsemanship,  in Scripta minora, 1925 (tr. E.C. Marchant and G.W. Bowerstock)  / About Horsemanship, 1956 (translated and illustrated by Denison B. Hull) / The Art of Riding, 1968 (tr.  Zoltan Sztehlo; illustrated by M. B. Gergely)
    - Hevostaito, 2003 (suom. Hilla Halla-Aho)
  • Poroi e peri prosodon (Revenue / On Ways and Means)
    - A Discourse Upon Improving the Revenue of the State of Athens, 1697 (tr. W. M. esq.) / Ways and Means: A Pamphlet on Revenues, in The Works of Xenophon, 1897 (tr. H. G. Dakyns) / Poroi: A New Translation, 2003 (tr. Ralph Doty)
  • Symposium
    - Xenophon's Hellenica, Anabasis, Apology, and Symposium, 1921-47 (3 vols., by Carleton L. Brownson and Otis J. Todd) / Memorabilia, Symposium, Apologia, Oeconomicus, 1961 (ed. R. Laurenti) / Memoirs of Socrates and the Symposium, 1970 (tr. with an introd. by Hugh Tredennick) / Symposium, 1998 (translation and commentary by A.J. Bowen) / Conversations of Socrates, 1990 (tr. Hugh Tredennick and Robin Waterfield, ed.  Robin Waterfield)
    - Sokrates: muistelmia: pidot: Sokrateen puolustuspuhe, 1960 (suom. Pentti Saarikoski) 

Collected works:

  • The Whole Works of Xenophon, 1832 (tr. Ashley Cooper, Spelman, Smith, Fielding, and others)
  • The Works of Xenophon, 1897 (4 vols., tr. H. G. Dakyns)
  • Opera omnia, 1901-20 (5 vols., ed. E.C. Marchant, translated by C.L. Brownson et al.; 7 vols., 1914-1968)
  • Scripta minora, 1910 (ed. T. Thalheim)
  • Xenophon's Scripta Minora, 1925 (ed. Edgar C. Marchant)
  • Opuscula, 1937 (ed. G. Pierleoni)
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