Xenophon (Ancient Greek Ξενοφῶν, Modern Greek "Ξενοφών", "Ξενοφώντας"; ca. 431 – 355 BC), son of Gryllus, of the deme Erchia of Athens, was a soldier, mercenary and a contemporary and admirer of Socrates. He is known for his writings on the history of his own times, preserving the sayings of Socrates, and the life of Greece.
Life and writings
Xenophon's birth date is uncertain, but most scholars agree that he was born in 431 BC around Athens, in the city-state of Attica [modern Greece]. Xenophon was born into the ranks of the upper classes , thus granting him access to certain privileges of the aristocracy of ancient Attica. While a young man, Xenophon participated in the expedition led by Cyrus the Younger
against his older brother, the emperor Artaxerxes II
, in 401 BC. Xenophon says that he had asked the veteran Socrates
for advice on whether to go with Cyrus, and that Socrates referred him to the divinely inspired Delphic oracle
. Xenophon's query to the oracle
, however, was not whether or not to accept Cyrus' invitation, but "to which of the gods he must pray and do sacrifice, so that he might best accomplish his intended journey and return in safety, with good fortune." The oracle answered his question and told him to which gods to pray and sacrifice. When Xenophon returned to Athens
and told Socrates of the oracle's advice, Socrates
Under the pretext of fighting Tissaphernes, Cyrus assembled a massive army composed of native Persian soldiers, but also a large number of Greeks, whom he viewed as superior fighters. Prior to waging war against the emperor, Cyrus proposed that the enemy was the Pisidians, and so the Greeks were unaware that they were to battle against the larger army of King Artaxerxes II. At Tarsus the soldiers became aware of Cyrus' plans to dispose of the king, and as a result refused to continue. Clearchus, however, convinced the Greeks to continue with the expedition. The army of Cyrus met the army of Artaxerxes II in the Battle of Cunaxa. Despite effective fighting by the Greeks, Cyrus was killed in the battle. Shortly thereafter, the Greek general Clearchus of Sparta was invited to a peace conference, where, alongside four other generals and many captains, he was betrayed and executed. The mercenaries, known as the Ten Thousand, found themselves without leadership far from the sea, deep in hostile territory near the heart of Mesopotamia. They elected new leaders, including Xenophon himself, and fought their way north through hostile Persians, Armenians, and Kurds to Trapezus on the coast of the Black Sea. They then sailed westward back to Greece. On the way back, they helped Seuthes II make himself king of Thrace. Xenophon's record of the entire expedition against the Persians and the journey home was titled Anabasis ("The Expedition" or "The March Up Country"). It is worth noting that the Anabasis was used as a field guide by Alexander the Great during the early phases of his expedition into Persia.
Xenophon was later exiled from Athens, most likely because he fought under the Spartan king Agesilaus II against Athens at Coronea. (However, there may have been contributory causes, such as his support for Socrates, as well as the fact that he had taken service with the Persians.) The Spartans gave him property at Scillus, near Olympia in Elis, where he composed the Anabasis. However, because his son Gryllus fought and died for Athens at the Battle of Mantinea while Xenophon was still alive, Xenophon's banishment may have been revoked. Xenophon died in either Corinth or Athens. His date of death is uncertain; historians only know that he survived his patron Agesilaus II, for whom he wrote an encomium.
Diogenes Laertius says Xenophon was sometimes known as the "Attic Muse" for the sweetness of his diction; very few poets wrote in the Attic dialect. Xenophon is often cited as being the original "horse whisperer", having advocated sympathetic horsemanship in his "On Horsemanship".
Xenophon's standing as a political philosopher has been defended in recent times by Leo Strauss, who devoted a considerable part of his philosophic analysis to the works of Xenophon, returning to the high judgment of Xenophon as a thinker expressed by Shaftesbury, Winckelmann, and Machiavelli. Strauss's reading has been heavily criticized, notably by classicist Myles Burnyeat, as attempting to force Socrates into the mould of Strauss's own philosophical views.
Ponting (1991) cites Xenophon as one of the first thinkers to argue that the ordered world must have been conceived by a God or gods. Xenophon's Memorabilia poses the argument that all animals are "only produced and nourished for the sake of humans" (Ponting, 1991 p.142) and Ponting argues that this reasoning is not undermined until the emergence of scientific thought and Darwinian evolution in the nineteenth century.
List of works
Xenophon's writings, especially the Anabasis
, are often read by beginning students of the Greek language
. His Hellenica
is a major primary source for events in Greece from 411 to 362 BC, and his Socratic writings, preserved complete, are the only surviving representatives of the genre of Sokratikoi logoi
other than the dialogues of Plato
Xenophon in Pop Culture
The 1979 cult classic film The Warriors
is loosely based on Xenophon's Anabasis
. In it a gang (The Warriors) has to fight its way home through hostile territory after fleeing a meeting called by a prominent gang leader, Cyrus, whose subsequent murder is blamed on them.
In the 1976 novel Spock, Messiah!, James Kirk is re-reading Xenophon's Anabasis with evident pleasure as a diversion from the ongoing pressures of being a Starship Captain.
Historical and biographical works
Socratic works and dialogues
In addition, a short treatise on the Constitution of Athens exists that was once thought to be by Xenophon, but which was probably written when Xenophon was about five years old. This is found in manuscripts among the short works of Xenophon, as though he had written it also. The author, often called in English the "Old Oligarch", detests the democracy of Athens and the poorer classes, but he argues that the Periclean institutions are well designed for their deplorable purposes. Leo Strauss has argued that this work is in fact by Xenophon, whose ironic posing he believes has been utterly missed by contemporary scholarship.
References and further reading
- Anderson, J.K. Xenophon. London: Duckworth, 2001 (paperback, ISBN 1-85399-619-X).
- Dillery, John. Xenophon and the History of His Times. London; New York: Routledge, 1995 (hardcover, ISBN 0-415-09139-X).
- Evans, R.L.S. "Xenophon" in The Dictionary of Literary Biography: Greek Writers. Ed.Ward Briggs. Vol. 176, 1997.
- Gray, V.J. "The Years 375 to 371 BC: A Case Study in the Reliability of Diodorus Siculus and Xenophon, The Classical Quarterly'', Vol. 30, No. 2. (1980), pp. 306–326.
- Higgins, William Edward. Xenophon the Athenian: The Problem of the Individual and the Society of the “Polis”. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1977 (hardcover, ISBN 0-87395-369-X).
- Hirsch, Steven W. The Friendship of the Barbarians: Xenophon and the Persian Empire. Hanover; London: University Press of New England, 1985 (hardcover, ISBN 0-87451-322-7).
- Hutchinson, Godfrey. Xenophon and the Art of Command. London: Greenhill Books, 2000 (hardcover, ISBN 1-85367-417-6).
- The Long March: Xenophon and the Ten Thousand, edited by Robin Lane Fox. New Heaven, CT; London: Yale University Press, 2004 (hardcover, ISBN 0-300-10403-0).
- Moles, J.L. "Xenophon and Callicratidas", The Journal of Hellenic Studies, Vol. 114. (1994), pp. 70–84.
- Nadon, Christopher. Xenophon's Prince: Republic and Empire in the “Cyropaedia”. Berkeley; Los Angeles; London: University of California Press, 2001 (hardcover, ISBN 0-520-22404-3).
- Nussbaum, G.B. The Ten Thousand: A Study in Social Organization and Action in Xenophon's “Anabasis.” (Social and Economic Commentaries on Classical Texts; 4). Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1967.
- Phillips, A.A & Willcock M.M. Xenophon & Arrian On Hunting With Hounds, contains Cynegeticus original texts, translations & commentary. Warminster: Aris & Phillips Ltd., 1999 (paperback ISBN 0-85668-706-5).
- Rahn, Peter J. "Xenophon's Developing Historiography", Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, Vol. 102. (1971), pp. 497–508.
- Rood, Tim. The Sea! The Sea!: The Shout of the Ten Thousand in the Modern Imagination. London: Duckworth Publishing, 2004 (paperback, ISBN 0-7156-3308-2); Woodstock, NY; New York: The Overlook Press, (hardcover, ISBN 1-58567-664-0); 2006 (paperback, ISBN 1-58567-824-4).
- Strauss, Leo. Xenophon's Socrates. Ithaca, NY; London: Cornell University Press, 1972 (hardcover, ISBN 0-8014-0712-5); South Bend, IN: St. Augustines Press, 2004 (paperback, ISBN 1-58731-966-7).
- Stronk, J.P. The Ten Thousand in Thrace: An Archaeological and Historical Commenary on Xenophon's Anabasis, Books VI, iii–vi – VIII (Amsterdam Classical Monographs; 2). Amsterdam: J.C. Gieben, 1995 (hardcover, ISBN 90-5063-396-X).
- Usher, S. "Xenophon, Critias and Theramenes", The Journal of Hellenic Studies, Vol. 88. (1968), pp. 128–135.
- Waterfield, Robin. Xenophon's Retreat: Greece, Persia and the End of the Golden Age. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2006 (hardcover, ISBN 0-674-02356-0); London: Faber and Faber, 2006 (hardcover, ISBN 978-0571223831).
- Vivienne J. Gray, Xenophon On Government. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Pp. 231.
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