Xenophon, Greek historian
Xenophon (Ancient Greek Ξενοφῶν, Xenophōn; Modern Greek "Ξενοφών", Xenophōn; "Ξενοφώντας", Xenophōntas; ca. 430 - 354 BC), son of Gryllus, of the deme Erchia of Athens, also known as Xenophon of Athens and Xenophon of Thebes, 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 ancient Greece.
Life and writings
Soldier of fortune
Xenophon's birth date is uncertain, but most scholars agree that he was born around 431 BC near the city of Athens. 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 of Persia, in 401 BC. Xenophon writes 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 chastised him.
Route of Xenophon and the Ten Thousand
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 and stronger 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 made their way westward back to Greece. Once there, they helped Seuthes II make himself king of Thrace, before being recruited into the army of the Spartan general Thibron.
Xenophon's book Anabasis ("The Expedition" or "The March Up Country") is his record of the entire expedition against the Persians and the journey home. 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.
Exile and death
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 states that 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.
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. Though he spent much of his life in Athens, Xenophon's involvement in Theban drama and politics has led to him being closely associated with the city.
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 is considered to be the continuation of The History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides, going so far as to begin with the phrase "Following these events...". The Hellenica recounts the last seven years of the Peloponnesian war, as well as its aftermath. His Socratic writings, preserved complete, along with the dialogues of Plato, are the only surviving representatives of the genre of Sokratikoi logoi.
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.
In Popular Culture
Anabasis was the (loosely-adapted) basis for Sol Yurick's novel The Warriors, which was later adapted into a 1979 cult movie of the same name, and finally a Rockstar Games video game in 2005. Each re-imagining relocates Xenophon's narrative to the gang scene of New York. After a gang meeting ends with a murder, the falsely accused Warriors gang have to get home to Coney Island by traveling through territory controlled by hostile gangs who include The Lizzies (Sirens), The Baseball (Furies), The Orphans and The Turnbull A.C.s.
"Xenophon". Encyclopedia Brittanica. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/650658/Xenophon.
Retrieved 21 September 2009.
References and further reading
Xenophon. London: Duckworth, 2001 (paperback, ISBN 1-85399-619-X).
Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Xenophon
Project Gutenberg e-texts
Works by Xenophon at Project Gutenberg (U. Penn. mirror)