Philosopher, Historian, Economist, General (c.430 BC – 354 BC)
Xenophon of Athens made a name of himself as a multifarious individual. He was a historian, an economist and a political writer, who continued Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War. In addition to being a philosopher, Xenophon was an excellent general, who encompassed all the powers and values of Ancient Greece.
He was born in Athens during the Peloponnesian War. He was a student of Socrates. When the Athenians sentenced Socrates to death, Xenophon left Athens in disgust and settled in Sparta. He became a mercenary and served in the Army of the Ten Thousands, a part of King Cyrus’s army, as they ventured to Persia to dethrone Cyrus’ brother, Artaxerxes. Xenophon would later assume the leadership of this army and lead them to safety back to Asia Minor. Xenophon’s accounts are told in his book Anabasis, one of his greatest works written, which also accounts the Battle of Cunaxa.
Xenophon was a great admirer of Sparta. Upon his return to Greece, he continued serving the Spartans as a general. For his services, Sparta provided him with a private estate in Peloponnesus, where he lived for 23 years, writing his works. Xenophon was exiled from Athens for allying with the Spartans. However, as he proved that he was a military genius, his exile was revoked. Nevertheless, he never returned to Athens.
Xenophon wrote historical, “Socratic” and didactic treatises. Among his historical works are De Republica Lacaedemoniorum, a treatise on the political and social system of Sparta, its structure and its institutions, Agesilaus, a treatise on the life and work of King Agesilaus of Sparta, whom Xenophon considered an “ideal type of man and general”, Hellenica, a continuation of Thucydides’ major historical work The History of the Peloponnesian War, which covers the events of the war from 411 BC to 362 BC and Cyropaedia, a fictional biography of Cyrus the Great, King of Persia.
His “Socratic dialogues” are works named after Socrates, who serves as the central figure of the dialogue. In Apology of Socrates, Socrates defends himself in front of the jury by demonstrating his virtue and wisdom. Memorabilia features dialogues and conversations with Socrates and the ethical influence has on others. In this category also belong two of his works Oeconomicus and Symposion, a conversation with Socrates involving home economics and a dialogue on love respectively.
Xenophon’s didactic treatises provide valuable information on the correct treatment and use of horses, instructions on strategic and tactical matters of war, as well as solutions to the remediation of Athens’ economy.
A philosopher with high educational background, Xenophon’s philosophy was largely influenced by Socrates. As a political philosopher, he endorsed the strict political system of Sparta, the goal of which was set years ago by Lycurgus. As a moral philosopher, Xenophon highlighted the importance of discipline, moderation and self-control. For him, hard work is a virtue, even for a King, as presented in Oeconomicus, where Cyrus the Great is said to be taking care of his own garden regularly.
As early from the Alexandrian era, Xenophon was highly valued by historians and philologists, who placed him among Herodotus and Thucydides. His legacy continued unchanged during the Roman Empire. In the Renaissance, European scholars used his works for didactic purposes: the Memorabilia to teach about Socrates and his philosophy, Agesilaus for the virtues of an ideal leader, Anabasis for the discipline, initiative and wise decision-making, Cyropaedia for the importance of education, and the Hellenica as the most valuable source for the history of Greece during that era.
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- Browning, Eve A. Xenophon. Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy. Iep.utm.edu. Web.
- Διαλησμά, Δρουκόπουλος, Κουτρουμπέλη, Χρυσαφής. Αρχαίοι Έλληνες Ιστοριογράφοι. Οργανισμός Εκδόσεως Σχολικών Βιβλίων. Διδακτικά Σχολικά Βιβλία. Print.