Xenophon was a soldier, mercenary and Athenian student of Socrates and is known for his writings on the history of his own times, the sayings of Socrates, and the life of Greece.
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. In this effort, Cyrus used many Greek mercenaries left unemployed by the cessation of the Peloponnesian War. Cyrus fought Artaxerxes at Cunaxa: the Greeks were victorious but Cyrus was killed, and shortly thereafter their general, Clearchus of Sparta, was invited to a peace conference, betrayed, and executed.
The mercenaries, the Ten Thousand Greeks, found themselves deep in hostile territory, near the heart of Mesopotamia, far from the sea, and without leadership. 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 and then sailed westward and back to Greece.
In Thrace, they helped Seuthes II make himself king. Xenophon's record of this expedition and the journey home was titled Anabasis ("The Expedition" or "The March Up Country" ).
Xenophon's historical account in the Anabasis is one of the first written accounts of an analysis of the characters of a leader and an example of a type of leadership analysis that has come to be known as "Great Man Theory."
In the account, Xenophon described the character of the younger Cyrus, saying that of all the Persians who lived after Cyrus the Great, he was the most like a king and the most deserving of an empire.
Xenophon was later exiled from Athens, probably because he fought under the Spartan king Agesilaus against Athens at Coroneia. (It is possible that he had already been exiled for his association with Cyrus, however.) The Spartans gave him property at Scillus, near Olympia in Elis, where the Anabasis was composed. His son fought for Athens at Mantinea, while Xenophon was still alive, so Xenophon's banishment may have been revoked. Xenophon died at Corinth, or perhaps Athens, and his date of death is uncertain; it is known only that he survived his patron Agesilaus, 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.
In eight books it follows Cyrus from his education through his ascendency and rule to his death and its effects on his empire. It seems to go beyond the scope of its title, as does Xenophon's other great work, Cyro Anabasis (literally "Cyrus' March Inland"), of which only the first two books deal with the expedition of the younger Cyrus, the rest being devoted to the retreat to the Black Sea of the ten thousand Greek mercenaries under Xenophon's command after the young Cyrus' death.
Alternatively, postmodern critics may see a dual sense in the phrase "education of Cyrus", which could mean the education he received or the one he gave, especially since Cyrus' preferred verb seems to be didaskein (to teach) and Xenophon seems concerned primarily with the alterations Cyrus made to Persian society in order to make it fit for empire, which could be described as an education.Prior to Cyrus, the Persians had been interested only in virtue and justice; he persuaded them to turn their virtue to the task of conquest which led to the accumulation of vast territories but also had enduring negative effects on Persian society, as can be seen in the turmoil following Cyrus' death. In many respects, Shaka Zulu is a comparable figure in respect to his social reforms of Zulu society for the development of military strength.
As may be apparent, the Cyropaedia is less an historical work and more a practical treatise on political virtue and social organization. It was considered a classic on such subject in antiquity and again in the Renaissance; Scipio Africanus is said to have carried a copy with him at all times. The ancients believed that Xenophon composed it in response to the Republic of Plato, or vice versa, and Plato's Laws seems to allude to the Cyropaedia.
Spenser remarked, in the preface to The Faerie Queene: "For this cause is Xenophon preferred before Plato, for that the one, in the exquisite depth of his judgement, formed a Commune welth, such as it should be; but the other in the person of Cyrus, and the Persians, fashioned a governement, such as might best be: So much more profitable and gratious is doctrine by ensample, then by rule. "Beyond this, the Cyropaedia is a story, within which are told sorter stories and romances. Thus it is seen as a precursor to the novel.
When Critoboulus asks about the practices involved in household management, Socrates pleads ignorance on the subject but relates what he heard of it from an Athenian farmer gentleman named Ischomachus. In the discussion related by Socrates, Ischomachus describes the methods he used to educate his wife in housekeeping, their practices in ruling and training slaves, and the techniques involved in farming.
Cicero translated the Oeconomicus into Latin, and the work gained popularity in the Renaissance in a number of translations.More recently, the dialogue has been given a great deal of attention from two rather disparate intellectual traditions.
Michel Foucault wrote a chapter on "The House of Ischomachus" in the second volume of his history of sexuality, and Leo Strauss wrote an obscure political-philosophical commentary on the dialogue. Foucault took Xenophon's depiction of the relationship between Ischomachus and his wife as the locus classicus for Greek ideology of power, according to which a man's control of his emotions was externally reflected in his control of his wife, his slaves, and his political subordinates.
Strauss took the Oeconomicus to be the Socratic dialogue par excellence, a more critical examination of the nature of the gentleman, virtue, and rule.Following Foucault, feminist scholars and social historians have seized on the Oeconomicus as a source for Greek attitudes on the relationship between men and women, but successive interpretations have differed far from each other, some claiming that Xenophon's attitude toward women is mysogynist, some that he was a proto-feminist, some that his utopian attitudes toward women are themselves patriarchal.
Another line of interpretation has sought to treat Ischomachus as a figure of lampoon in the dialogue rather than a stand-in for Xenophon. Many have suggested that the Ischomachus of the dialogue is the same Ischomachus whose family became the subject of ridicule in Athenian political oratory.
After this Ischomachus died, his widow moved in with her daughter and son-in-law and soon after became pregnant with the man's child. The man, Callias, was frequently ridiculed in Athenian comedies for his sexual excesses, pseudo-intellectualism, and wastrel tendencies. Some have taken Xenophon's use of Ischomachus as a supposed expert in the education of a wife as an instance of anachronistic irony, a device frequently used by Plato in his Socratic dialogues.
The import of such irony has also been the subject of much contention: are his wife's actions a sign of a bad education or just the inevitable result of the loss of the controlling influence in her life? How responsible was Ischomachus for pairing his daughter with a man of such poor character?On the other hand, Strauss's interpretation seems to hold great sway with his students and theirs, but little from this tradition has been published on the Oeconomicus.
Symposium as Greek Social InstitutionGreek symposia were a key Hellenic social institution. They were a forum for men to debate, plot, boast, or simply to party. They were frequently held to celebrate the introduction of young men into aristocratic society, much like debutante balls today. They were also held by aristocrats to celebrate other special occasions, such as victories in athletic and poetic contests.
Symposia were usually held in the men's quarters of the household. Singly or in pairs, the men would recline on couches arrayed against the walls of the room. Food, wine (usually mixed with water and served by nude young men), and entertainment was provided, and depending on the occasion could include games, songs, flute-girls, slaves performing various acts, and hired entertainments.
A symposium would be overseen by a symposiarch who would decide how strong or diluted the wine for the evening would be, depending on whether serious discussions or merely sensual abandon were in the offing. Certain formalities were observed, most important among which were the libations by means of which the gods were propitiated.
One of the more popular games at symposia was kottabos, in which drinkers swished the dregs of their wine in their kylixes (platter-like stemmed drinking vessels) and flung them at a target. Also popular at symposia were skolia, drinking songs of a patriotic or bawdy nature, which were also performed in a competitive manner with one symposiast reciting the first part of a song and another expected to finish it.What are called flute-girls today were actually prostitutes or courtesans who played the aulos, a Greek woodwind instrument most similar to an oboe, hired to play for and consort with the symposiasts while they drank and conversed.
Symposiasts could also compete in rhetorical contests, for which reason the term symposium has come to refer to any event where multiple speeches are made.
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References - List of Other Works
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