This short chapter was written as a kind of intermezzo and should be read as such. A scholar dealing with the history of science stricto sensu might omit Xenophon or dismiss him in a single paragraph, but if we take general education into account (and we certainly wish to do so), we must give him a much larger place. Indeed, Xenophon not only tried to improve the education of his own time, he exerted a strong influence upon the education of later generations, much later ones, such as the Elizabethan or even our own. Moreover, he continued Thucydides and was one of the outstanding disciples of Socrates. A wonderful literary instrument had been perfected in his time — the Attic prose of the golden age — and Xenophon wielded it with consummate art.

Xenophon, son of Gryllos, an Athenian of the countryside, was born c. 430 and died in Corinth about the middle of the fourth century. Diogenes Laërtios said of him,¹²²³ “Xenophon was a remarkable man in many respects, notably his love of horses, hunting and the military art, he was a pious man who loved to offer sacrifices, was familiar with religious rites and was a faithful disciple of Socrates.” This brief description is excellent, and it is completed with anecdotes that help us to realize what a kind of man he was. For example, Diogenes tells us how Socrates and he came together. “It is said that Xenophon having come across Socrates in the street, the latter closed the way with his stick and asked him where one could buy the necessities of life. Xenophon gave him the information. ‘And to become an honest man,’ asked Socrates, ‘where should one go?’ Xenophon could not answer. ‘Follow me then,’ said Socrates, ‘and I will show you.’ ” Is not that a pretty story? It suggests that Socrates had enough perspicacity to recognize a good man when he saw one. The story impresses us the more deeply, because we cannot help remembering how Christ called Peter and Andrew, James and John, and how they obeyed his call and followed him.

Xenophon was a man of means who could indulge his taste for riding and hunting and may have been employed in the Athenian cavalry, but had no definite profession. He was thus free in 401 to join the army of Greek mercenaries that Cyros the Lesser was levying to march against his brother and sovereign, Artaxerxes. Cyros was defeated and killed at the battle of Cunaxa, and the Greek army had to find its way home as best it could. After the murder of the generals, Xenophon was elected leader and he succeeded in guiding the Ten Thousand to Trebizond. Early in 399 he handed over what remained of the Greek army to a Spartan general who was then stationed in Asia. It was at about that time that he was banished from his native city, and he deserved his banishment. He continued in the Spartan service and became a friendly admirer of Agesilaos (king of Sparta, 399–360), one of the best generals and noblest men of his nation. He fought under him against the Persians, came back with him to Greece, and was present (in the Spartan contingent) at the battle of Coroneia.¹²²⁴ In the meanwhile, Xenophon had married, and by 394 his sons were old enough to be educated in Sparta. Later, the Spartans gave him a large estate at Scillus, near Olympia, where he lived like a squire, managing his property, riding, hunting, and writing. Many of his books were composed during the twenty years of his life at Scillus. It was certainly there that he wrote the best–known of them, the Anabasis, between 379 and 371, when the vicissitudes of war caused him to lose his estate and forced him to begin a new life in Corinth. In 369, the Athenians made peace with Sparta and readmitted Xenophon to their fellowship; his sons served eventually in the Athenian cavalry.¹²²⁵

Fig. 86. There is no title page to the Greek princeps of Xenophon’s Opera (folio; Florence: Giunta, 1516), except this table of contents. The titles (but not the works themselves) are translated into Latin. [From the copy in the Harvard College Library.]

We have not given the whole of Xenophon’s military record, but it is clear that he had obtained considerable experience as a cavalry and military man, and that he had obtained it not only in the famous march of his youth from Cunaxa to the Black Sea, but also in the service of the enemies of his country. He was a great admirer of Spartan education and discipline, and shortly after Agesilaos’ death in 360 he wrote a eulogy of him.


Xenophon’s writings¹²²⁶ are various and abundant (Fig. 86). One or two excepted, they can hardly be prior to his warlike activities (401–394), and thus they belong definitely to the fourth century. Many were composed at Scillus (394–371), but he continued to write until the last years of his life. His works will now be rapidly listed, with a few remarks added for the sake of historians of science.

We began with a group of three books (1–111) dealing with hunting and horsemanship, because the first of them is supposed to have been written in his youth, before his departure from Athens for Asia.

1. Cyn geticos is a treatise on hunting, especially of the hare, including the breeding of dogs; it is the first treatise of its kind known to us.

2. On horsemanship (Peri hippic s) was thought to be the first treatise on the subject in any literature, until in 1931 Hrozny published a Hittite treatise on horsemanship.¹²²⁷ It was written by a man who was a lover of horseflesh and a horseman of long experience.

3. Hipparchicos, on the duties of a cavalry commander, is a continuation of the preceding item, on the application of horsemanship in all its aspects to warlike purposes.

Xenophon’s books on horsemanship (2 and 3) are well known to French readers because of a masterly translation by Paul Louis Courier (1772–1825). Courier had a racy use of the French language, and he was both a horseman and a Hellenist.

The most famous of Xenophon’s writings were the two devoted to Asiatic matters (4 and 5).

4. Anabasis (Cyru Anabasis) (Fig. 87). This account of the greatest adventure of his life, the share of the Ten Thousand Greek mercenaries in the revolt of Cyros the Lesser, their defeat at Cunaxa, and their retreat to Trebizond, was the first chronicle of its kind and has remained one of the outstanding military memoirs; it is also the first description of the country that they traversed, the highlands of Armenia. The book is full of curious details, references to ostriches,¹²²⁸ to army surgeons,¹²²⁹ to poisonous honey,¹²³⁰ to tatooing,¹²³¹ to the iron work of the Chalybes,¹²³² to bookselling.¹²³³ He illustrates with his own example, the need of a military officer to be just, generous, pious, to love the soldiers and win their devotion. The difficulties of leadership were particularly great in his case, because the Ten Thousand were a highly heterogeneous group, adventurers recruited from every Greek land, a kind of human flotsam, who had no quality in common except a rudimentary Hellenism, exacerbated by their loneliness in the midst of barbarians. It required military genius to make these desperate men pull through together.¹²³⁴

Fig. 87. Beginning of the Anabasis taken from the Greek princeps. A little delta has been printed in the empty square to guide the limner who was expected to draw a beautiful capital. [From the copy in the Harvard College Library.]

Fig. 88. Franciscus Philelphus translated the Cyropaedia into Latin in 1467; this was printed by Arnoldus de Villa in Rome, 1474, a volume of 146 leaves, the only one that can be ascribed to that printer. Some copies contain his name and the date Rome 10 March 1474. There is no title page; the first page, here reproduced, is Philelphus’ dedication to Paul II (pope, 1464–1471). [From the copy in the Harvard College Library.]

The Anabasis is a literary masterpiece, which would suffice to immortalize its author. The most popular of his works, however, remained for centuries, not the Anabasis, but the Cyropaedia.

5. Cyropaedia (Cyru paideia) (Fig. 88) is a romanticized biography of Cyros the Great. The constitution and the manners of Persia which it is supposed to describe are much closer to the constitution and the manners of Sparta, or rather to an idealization of them by a man who admired the Spartans as much as he despised Attic indiscipline.

It is one of the golden books of world literature. We may call it the prototype of a type that obtained some popularity in the Middle Ages, the Regimina principum (De eruditione filiorum nobilium, etc.), books written in order to educate the sons of kings and noblemen, and to teach future governors their duties and privileges.¹²³⁵

The Cyropaedia should not be taken literally (as it was in the past), for it is full of historical errors mixed with truth. The main purpose is aristocratic, yet Xenophon had not forgotten his teacher Socrates (he never did), and therefore it includes Socratic methods and notions, and even the delightful portrait of an Armenian Socrates.¹²³⁶ It even includes some glimpses of democratic ideas. For example, he refers (ironically it is true) to equal freedom of speech (is goria) and more seriously to the fact that ”in Persia equality of rights is considered justice.“¹²³⁷ These inconsistencies exist because Xenophon’s goodheartedness was stronger than his prejudices. There are many delightful stories or pictures — on the goodness of bread (as compared with meats, etc.), since one does not need to clean one’s hand after eating it;¹²³⁸ the ”junior republic“; ¹²³⁹the zoölogic parks or menageries;¹²⁴⁰ the danger of wealth;¹²⁴¹ the postal system;¹²⁴² and wise sayings: “battles are decided more by men’s souls than by the strength of their bodies,”¹²⁴³ “the considerate people are those who avoid what is offensive when seen; the self–controlled avoid that which is offensive, even when unseen”;¹²⁴⁴ perhaps an interpolation. The most moving part of the whole book is the final chapter,¹²⁴⁵ describing the death of Cyros and his last recommendations, and discussing the immortality of the soul. A comparison with the Phaidon of Plato is not by any means to Xenophon’s discredit.

This Greek educational romance (a distant ancestor of Télémaque) is full of life and good humor and this helps to explain its popularity. It is a bit long, yet it blends pleasantly all the subjects that awakened the author’s curiosity or passions at different periods of his life (the Asiatic country that he had explored, the barbarians whom he had learned to know, methods of education, military service and technique, hunting, politics, Socratism). If Xenophon wrote it relatively early it was prophetic of his other writings; if he wrote it late in life, as seems more probable, it was a summary of their main messages in romantic garb, a gentle valediction.

We might now examine Xenophon’s Socratic writings (6–9) which were probably written at Scillus.

6. Memorabilia (Apomn moneumata). This is a defense of Socrates and reminiscences of his conversations. We cannot accept them literally, yet they give us a general account of Socrates’ habits, which is probably true and serves to complete and correct the Platonic account. In both cases we have to do with reminiscences, but Xenophon’s inspire more confidence than Plato’s.

7. Apology (Apologia). This also completes the account that Plato published under the same title.¹²⁴⁶ Some parts repeat the Memorabilia.

8. Symposium (Symposion). This new duplication of a Platonic dialogue cannot be accidental. We must assume that it is later than Plato’s Symposium; it is inferior in style to it.

9. Oeconomicos (Oiconomicos), is a dialogue between Socrates and Critobulos concerning estate management and domestic economy. Socrates, who had no interest in farming and country life, reports his conversation with a gentleman farmer, Ischomachos. The latter’s views are obviously Xenophon’s; they are typical of his frame of mind — earthbound, practical, good natured, essentially kind.

The only work of Xenophon’s which professes to be straight history is Hellenica.

10. Hellenica comprises two distinct parts. The first continues Thucydides’ history from 411 to the end of the Peloponnesian War in 404. The second part is another continuation, to the battle of Mantineia (362), but in a different manner. Xenophon’s prejudices for Sparta and against Thebes appear many times on the surface. Though he worked at this second part until 358, it is not quite finished. He lived probably a few more years but was obliged to drop his pen.

Xenophon’s political books constitute a final group (our order is not chronologic; the exact sequence of his writings cannot be established).

11. Agesilaos. This is the biography of the king of Sparta whom Xenophon had served and whom he admired; it was composed shortly after Agesilaos’ death in 360.

12. Polity of the Lacedaimonians (Lacedaimoni n politeia). This eulogy of Spartan institutions as established by the legendary Lycurgos was probably written before 369; he added a palinode sometime later.

A similar work on the Polity of the Athenians (Ath nai n politeia), formerly ascribed to Xenophon, is almost certainly an earlier work written by an oligarch before 423.¹²⁴⁷

Both works are entitled Politeia, as was Plato’s work the title of which is generally translated The Republic.

13. Hieron. This is an imaginary dialogue between Hieron the Elder, tyrant of Syracuse from 478 to 467, and the lyric poet Simonides of Ceos (c. 556–468) on the double subject, Is a tyrant happier than the people he rules? How can he win their regard and affection? Xenophon may have been inspired to compose this piece at the time of the accession of Dionysios II (367), of whom Plato had hoped to make a philosopher–king.

14. Ways and means (Peri por n) contains practical suggestions for improving Athenian finances. It was written at the very end of his life, long after he had made his peace with his native country.

None of his writings is lost, but some that bear his name may be apocryphal.


The reader of the preceding list will have noticed many titles similar to the titles of Plato’s works or reminiscent of them, such as the Apology, Symposium, Politeia, and of course many others that are entirely original such as the Asiatic and cynegetic writings. Plato and Xenophon were almost exact contemporaries (Plato was born a couple of years earlier and died a few years later; he reached the age of eighty while Xenophon died at about seventy–five). Both men were friends of Socrates and enemies of Athens. They have many points in common and the use of identical titles for three of their works is strange. The differences between them, however, are far deeper than the resemblances. As both are great men, fully representative of their age and climate, it is tempting to pursue the comparison: it is a study in contrast that may help us to understand both of them better.

Both had received the same general education, completed with higher studies in Socrates’ open–air seminar. They were both men of letters, knowing to perfection, by instinct as well as by training, the purest Attic Greek. Both received the political education that every Athenian partook of as a matter of course, and in addition they had equal, though very different, opportunities of learning practical politics, first both of them in Athens, then Plato at the court of Syracuse and Xenophon in his familiarity with the king of Sparta. They lived in very different parts of the Greek world, but their paths crossed frequently, and they were bound to discuss the same political and ethical problems. Both became enemies of democracy, Plato increasingly so to the end of his life; Xenophon, with more moderation always, was reconciled to his native country in his old age.

Both were aristocrats, but in very different ways, Xenophon as a gentleman farmer, a conservative, reminiscent of the good old days, Plato as a proud intellectual, laying down the law for others to obey. Both explained their ideal of aristocratic government, but what a difference between the monarch of the Cyropaedia and the dictator of the Republic! Both were moralists as well as politicians, Plato like a professor, Xenophon like a paterfamilias. This suggests another difference, cutting very deep; Plato was a confirmed bachelor, Xenophon a loving husband and father. We may assume that in the Oeconomicos he described his own experience as a husband and father managing his estate at Scillus. The farmer Ischomachos in that dialogue was no doubt Xenophon himself, and the farmer’s wife, unnamed but charming, was Xenophon’s wife, Philesia. It is a great tribute to the writer’s honesty that the wife is so much more attractive than the husband (that is, himself).

Plato is generally conceived as a sublime idealist, while Xenophon is looked down upon because of his simple piety, and because he was too practical and earthbound, more interested in good recipes than in principles. Yet the latter was affectionate and goodhearted, while the former was a doctrinaire, dogmatic to the point of inhumanity.

If we try to visualize them in their usual surroundings, the contrast is even greater, for Xenophon was a soldier and a farmer, while Plato was a professor. We see the former among his comrades in the mountains of Anatolia, or on his estate, riding, hunting, inspecting his fields, vines, and stables, directing the husbandry; while we can hardly imagine Plato except in the gardens of the Academy discussing philosophy and mathematics, quarreling with his colleagues and disciples.

The best in both of them they owed to their old master Socrates, and Xenophon was grateful to him until the end, while Plato in his pride betrayed him.


In spite of their great variety, Xenophon’s books have much in common, not only in their style (which is natural enough) but in their contents. The dominant note is didactic. Xenophon was not a philosopher, but he was, like his master Socrates, a born and irrepressible educator, He believed in the power of education and in his own ability to educate other people. His vision was never sublime, but it was clear and honest. He tried to understand the little world around him (not the universe) and to explain it as lucidly and simply as possible. His theory and practice of education are set forth in the Memorabilia (especially in Book IV) and indirectly in the Cyropaedia. It had been influenced not only by Socrates but also by Democritos and by the Pythagoreans. There was a colony of these not far from Scillus where he spent twenty years of his life, the happiest ones and the most fruitful. It was probably from those Pythagorean neighbors that he learned the need of a good diet combined with exercise, the value of moral and religious traditions, the importance also of mathematics (though he had little taste for mathematics himself). A good training is necessary for all men, but especially so for those boys who have the richest natural endowment. He realized keenly the three fundamental elements of any education, the natural gifts (physis), learning (math sis) and exercise (asc sis). His criticism of booklearning¹²⁴⁸ helps us to realize that in his time books were already abundant, and this implies not only the creation of such books but the existence of a regular book trade. Young men must be trained to express themselves, to increase their self–control, to act as needed by circumstances, to be resourceful and independent; they must be prepared to take part in political discussions and in administration.

His main purpose was the same as Socrates’; in fact, his recommendations are put in the latter’s mouth. He was continuing or trying to continue his master’s teaching, interpreting it and adding to it the fruits of his rich experience. He was primarily interested in general education, which every gentleman required in order to fulfill his destiny, yet he realized the need of adapting that education to the special qualities of each student. Men have different qualities, each of which can be improved by adequate training; it is the educators duty to be on the lookout for good aptitudes and to develop them. In any case, moral and religious education is fundamental. The teacher should not try to teach too much; it is more to the point to strengthen the student’s spirit, to form his character.

All of which does not seem very original today, but Socrates and Xenophon were the first to explain it. Remember that Xenophon was writing in the first half of the fourth century B.C. and that some of our own educators have not understood it yet.¹²⁴⁹


One of the most curious sections of the Memorabilia is Socrates’ dialogue with Aristippos. Beauty, the master explains, is a function of the purpose that one wishes to attain. Said Aristippos:

“Do you mean that the same things are both beautiful and ugly?”

“Of course — and both good and bad. For what is good for hunger is often bad for fever, and what is good for fever bad for hunger; what is beautiful for running is often ugly for wrestling, and what is beautiful for wrestling ugly for running. For all things are good and beautiful in relation to those purposes for which they are well adapted, bad and ugly in relation to those for which they are ill adapted.”

Again, his dictum about houses, that the same house is both beautiful and useful, was a lesson in the art of building houses as they ought to be.

He approached the problem thus:

“When one means to have the right sort of house, must he contrive to make it as pleasant to live in and as useful as can be?”

And this being admitted, “Is it pleasant,” he asked, “to have it cool in summer and warm in winter?”

And when they agreed with this also, “Now in houses with a south aspect, the sun’s rays penetrate into the porticoes in winter, but in summer the path of the sun is right over our heads and above the roof, so that there is shade. If, then, this is the best arrangement, we should build the south side loftier to get the winter sun and the north side lower to keep out the cold winds. To put it shortly, the house in which the owner can find a pleasant retreat at all seasons and can store his belongings safely is presumably at once the pleasantest and the most beautiful. As for paintings and decorations, they rob one of more delights than they give.”

For temples and altars the most suitable position, he said, was a conspicuous site remote from traffic; for it is pleasant to breathe a prayer at the sight of them, and pleasant to approach them filled with holy thoughts.¹²⁵⁰


We have already drawn attention to the outstanding superstition of classical antiquity, the firm belief in divination. At the risk of repetition we must come back to it, for we cannot have a balanced view of the Greek spiritual life if we leave out an aspect of it that was as significant to them as it is unpleasant to us.

The Greeks (and the Romans after them) believed that it was possible to interpret the meaning of past and future events from the observation of natural phenomena of many kinds.¹²⁵¹ In the Anabasis¹²⁵² we are given many examples of Xenophon’s trust in divination, and of the necessity when in trouble of interpreting omens not only for his own sake but also for the sake of his soldiers. This is not exceptional in ancient literature, but normal.

In the Memorabilia Xenophon was very anxious to prove that the accusations leveled against his master Socrates were unfounded and his condemnation unjust. In particular, he wanted to show that Socrates had always been a religious and pious man, sharing the beliefs of his people and practicing the accepted rites. The most popular rites were those concerning divination, the traditional interpretation of sacred omens. Therefore, Xenophon quoted examples of Socrates’ firm belief in divination.

He offered sacrifices constantly, and made no secret of it, now in his home, now at the altars of the state temples, and he made use of divination with as little seties arose. He was no more bringing in anything strange than are other believers in divination, who rely on augury, oracles, coincidences and sacrifices. For these men’s belief is not that the birds or the folk met by accident know what profits the inquirer, but that they are the instruments by which the gods make this known; and that was Socrates’ belief too . . .

In so far as we are powerless of ourselves to foresee what is expedient for the future, the gods lend us their aid, revealing the issues by divination to inquirers, and teaching them how to obtain the best results . . .

When anyone was in need of help that human wisdom was unable to give he advised him to resort to divination; for he who knew the means whereby the gods give guidance to men concerning their affairs never lacked divine counsel.¹²⁵³

The best explanation of the importance of divine omens is given by Cambyses to his son Cyros the Great.¹²⁵⁴ It is every man’s duty, and especially the king’s, to obey the divine guidance, but how shall he know it? Cambyses warns his son that he must not be at the mercy of the soothsayers and should be able to interpret the omens himself. But how could one check the interpretation? It is astonishing that the intelligent Greeks never asked themselves that question, or at any rate never gave a good answer to it. For granted that the divine will may be implied in any event, how shall we discover that will and be sure that we have understood it? How can one obey an order that is not clear?

We should remember, however, that wise men were not at the mercy of soothsayers, who might be stupid as well as dishonest, but interpreted the omens in their own way. The main warning was one of gravity and fatality; a decision had to be taken and that decision should be as wise as possible: the signs could be interpreted ad hoc and generally were. The omens were symbols of divine immanence and of general guidance; special guidance had to be determined for each man by his own conscience.¹²⁵⁵


Xenophon, like Plato, and like their teacher Socrates, could be very humorous in a simple way. A good example is put in Socrates’ mouth in Memorabilia. In order to ridicule the stupidity and conceit of men who are candidates for public office without having any of the needed qualifications, he suggests that those wretched candidates might address their constituency as follows:

“Men of Athens, I have never yet learnt anything from anyone, nor when I have been told of any man’s ability in speech and in action, have I sought to meet him, nor have I been at pains to find a teacher among the men who know. On the contrary, I have constantly avoided learning anything of anyone, and even the appearance of it. Nevertheless, I shall recommend to your consideration anything that comes into my head.”

This exordium might be adapted so as to suit candidates for the office of public physician. They might begin their speeches in this strain:

“Men of Athens, I have not yet studied medicine, nor sought to find a teacher among our physicians; for I have constantly avoided learning anything from the physicians, and even the appearance of having studied their art. Nevertheless I ask you to appoint me to the office of a physician, and I will endeavor to learn by experimenting on you.”

The exordium set all the company laughing. ¹²⁵⁶

The second example shows incidentally that the office of public or city physician already existed in those days,¹²⁵⁷ and this is the more remarkable, because that office vanished later and only reappeared relatively late in medieval times, in the thirteenth century.¹²⁵⁸


The influence of Xenophon has been very great, partly because of his didactic intentions, partly because of the good stories that he had to tell, and told very well, partly because of his humanity and the purity of his style. He was good–natured and his prose was so easy and pleasant that he was nicknamed the Attic bee. Quintilian found a good phrase to define his style, jucunditas inaffectata (unaffected cheerfulness), and because of that quality Xenophon became for many generations a master of language. This had a serious drawback, for many students have suffered so much plodding without sufficient preparation through the Anabasis that their memory of it is rather painful. Their judgment of the Anabasis and of Xenophon is irrelevant, however. All the classics have become instruments of torture in the same way, and this condemns bad students and bad teachers, but nothing else.

Xenophon’s influence was already considerable in ancient times. It has been argued that his Asiatic books, chiefly the Anabasis, illustrated the relative facility of dealing with Asiatics and gave the Macedonian kings the ambition of conquering Asia. We may be certain that these books were studied by the young Alexander; on the other hand, Xenophon’s description of an ideal Asiatic monarchy was a bewitching prefiguration of the Hellenistic kingdoms. Roman gentlemen studied hunting, domestic economy, ethics, and government in Xenophon’s books. They found in them clear answers, in simple and concrete language, to most of their questions.

During the Byzantine Renaissance, Xenophon’s works were studied and their Atticism imitated. The main literary models of Ioannes Cinnamos (XII–2) were Herodotos and Xenophon. His works were translated into Latin by the early Hellenists: Poggio of Florence, Leonardo Bruni of Arezzo, Francesco Filelfo of Tolentino (Ancona). English gentlemen of the period 1530–1630 read the Cyropaedia and tried to find in it the solution of their own problems. This was the first historical novel in world literature, and it entertained and educated not only the English but also the French, and indeed the gentlemen of every civilized part of Europe. The Cyropaedia was a kind of vade mecum of Socratism and politics, as well as an Oriental introduction. Later, the Anabasis was preferred to it (I do not know exactly why), but Xenophon remained one of the outstanding teachers of Greek and of Hellenism. As an educator, he has done more good and less harm than Plato.

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