Xenophon: memorabilia, oeconomicus, etc

Xenophon’s skill is in military history.  While he is good in Socratic dialogue, he never approaches Plato’s depth and power of analysis.  He is still a very good writer, though.


Xenophon’s Socrates doesn’t have the depth of Plato’s, but there are some similarities.  Both are skilled interrogators and Xenophon does write with an easy style. His argument is that Socrates could not have been guilty of corrupting the youth or denying the gods.  He shows that the corrupt followers became corrupt after leaving Socrates’s company.

Given the Greeks’ reputation for sensual license, Socrates appears as the epitome of restraint.  He rebukes Critobulus’s advances towards Alcibiades’s slave boy, warning that it will unleash a danger Critobulus cannot control (I.3.8ff).

Xenophon also breaks with the Greek disdain over commerce.  He explains to Nicomachides, who wants to be a good general but was not chosen, that every quality a merchant has, a general must have.  He even tells him (in what can only be a break with the entire tradition), “Don’t look down on businessmen: (III.iv.12). There is a similar moving passage in the Oec.

While Xenophon largely exonerates Socrates on the point of morals, he almost paints him as a pick up artist at one point.  He goes to visit Theodote and asks her how she plans to make a living since men’s love is fickle. She doesn’t know, so he basically teaches her “Game Theory.”

The Oeconomicus

This is Xenophon’s agrarian treatise.  Mostly pretty good.  

Xenophon: Anabasis

Image result for xenophon the expedition of cyrus

I think one could write a dissertation arguing that Hollywood subconsciously stole all of their “behind enemy lines” from Xenophon.  He was in a mercenary band fighting for Cyrus the Younger. The army loses and the generals are treacherously slain. Finding themselves thousands of miles into enemy country and without a leader, Xenophon leads his men back to Greece, fighting battles the whole way.

The Cast

Xenophon: He writes about himself in 3rd Person.  He always seems to say the right thing at the right time.

Cyrus: The younger brother of King Artaxerxes II. His army probably could have won but he dies early in the battle.

Clearchus: Basically think of Sean Bean.  A noble general for the Greeks. In line with the Sean Bean character, he is betrayed and slain.

Meno: Another Greek leader and enemy of Xenophon.  Interestingly enough, this is the same Meno who appears in Plato’s dialogue of the same name.  It’s interesting to compare the two accounts.

While there is the legendary cry of “The Sea! The Sea!” the book doesn’t end on a high note.  As can be expected, the army begins to grumble at the very end (also at the same time when they are out of any real danger).  This reflects the essence of democracy and the mob.

I am not a military historian, but evidently Xenophon demonstrated that a lean and tactical force can inflict devastating losses on an army many times its size.