Xenophon, Greek historian
Xenophon, Greek historian

Xenophon (In Greek Ξενοφῶν, c. 427–355 BC), son of Gryllus, of the deme Erchia of Athens, was a soldier, mercenary and an admirer of Socrates and is known for his writings on the history of his own times, the sayings of Socrates, and the life of Greece.


Life and writings

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 says 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." So the oracle told him which gods to pray and sacrifice to. When Xenophon returned to Athens and told Socrates of the oracle's advice, Socrates chastised him for putting the wrong question to the oracle, but said, "Since, however, you did so put the question, you should do what the god enjoined."

In his advance against the Persian king, Cyrus used many Greek mercenaries left unemployed by the cessation of the Peloponnesian War. Cyrus fought Artaxerxes in the Battle of Cunaxa. The Greeks were victorious in that battle, but Cyrus was killed. Shortly thereafter, the Greek general Clearchus of Sparta was invited to a peace conference, at which he was betrayed and executed. The mercenaries, known as the Ten Thousand, found themselves without leadership deep in hostile territory, near the heart of Mesopotamia, which was far from the sea. 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 sailed westward back to Greece. On the way back, they helped Seuthes II make himself king of Thrace. Xenophon's record of the entire expedition against the Persians and the journey home was titled Anabasis ("The Expedition" or "The March Up Country"). 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.

Xenophon’s historical account in the Anabasis is one of the first written accounts of an analysis of the character traits of a leader. It is an example of a type of leadership analysis that has come to be known as Great man theory. In the Anabasis, Xenophon describes the character of the younger Cyrus, saying, "Of all the Persians who lived after Cyrus the Great, he was the most like a king and the most deserving of an empire."[1] Chapter six describes the character traits of five defeated generals who were turned over to the enemy. The Greek general Clearchus is quoted as saying that "a soldier ought to be more frightened of his own commander than of the enemy."[2] Meno—the eponymous character of Plato's dialogue—is described as a man whose dominant ambition was to become wealthy.[3] Agias the Arcadian and Socrates the Achean are remembered for their courage and their consideration for friends.[4]

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 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, 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".

Xenophon's standing as a political philosopher has been strongly defended in our time 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, Wincklemann, and Machiavelli.

List of works

Xenophon's writings, especially the Anabasis, are often read by beginning students of the Greek language. His Hellenica is one chief source for events in Greece from 411 to 362 BC, and his Socratic writings, preserved complete, are the only surviving representatives of the genre of Sokratikoi logoi other than the dialogues of Plato.

Historical and Biographical works

  • Anabasis
  • Cyropaedia
  • Hellenica
  • Agesilaus

Socratic works and dialogues

  • Memorabilia
  • Oeconomicus
  • Symposium
  • Apology
  • Hiero

Short treatises

  • On Horsemanship
  • The Cavalry General
  • Hunting with Dogs
  • Ways and Means
  • Constitution of Sparta

In addition, we have a short treatise once thought to be by Xenophon, but which was probably written when Xenophon was about five, on the Constitution of Athens. 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 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.


  1. ^ Xenophon, Rex Warner (trans.), and George Cawkwell (introduction and notes). The Persian Expedition. New York: Penguin Books, 1949. ISBN 0140440070. P. 91.
  2. ^ Xenophon. The Persian Expedition, p. 131.
  3. ^ Xenophon. The Persian Expedition, p. 133.
  4. ^ Xenophon. The Persian Expedition, p. 135.


  • Strauss, Leo. Xenophon's Socrates. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1972.
  • Xenophon, Rex Warner (trans.), and George Cawkwell (introduction and notes). The Persian Expedition. New York: Penguin Books, 1949 (first publication). ISBN 0140440070.

This article might use material from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

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On Horsemanship

On Revenues

Polity Athenians And Lacedaemonians

The Apology

The Cavalry General

The Economist

The Memorabillia

The Sportsman

The Symposium

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