Authors: Xenophon

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Greek historian and essayist

Author Works


Logos eis Agēsilaon Basilea (Agesilaus, 1832)

Kyrou anabasis (Anabasis, 1623; also known as Expedition of Cyrus and The March Up Country)

Apologia Sōkratous (Apology of Socrates, 1762)

Kynēgetikos (also known as Cynegeticus; On Hunting, 1832)

Poroi (On Ways and Means, 1832)

Ellēnika (also known as Hellenica; History of the Affairs of Greece, 1685)

Hipparchikos (On the Cavalry General, 1832)

Peri hippikēs (The Art of Riding, 1584)

Apomnēmoneumata (Xenophon’s Memorable Things of Socrates, 1712; also known as Memorabilia of Socrates)

Oikonomikos (Xenophon’ Treatise of Household, 1532)

Lakedaimoniōn politeia (Polity of the Lacedaemonians, 1832; also known as Constitution of Sparta)

Hierēn ē tyrannikos (Hiero, 1713; also known as On Tyranny)

Symposion (Symposium, 1710; also known as The Banquet of Xenophon)

Long Fiction:

Kyrou paideia (The Cyropaedia: Or, Education of Cyrus, 1560-1567)


The Whole Works, 1832


Born in Athens about 431 b.c.e., Xenophon (ZEHN-uh-fuhn), son of Gryllus of the Attic deme Erchia, belonged to a well-to-do family and was a disciple of Socrates, though not a member of his intimate circle. He grew up at a time of oligarchic revolution in Athens, and he probably left Athens in 401 b.c.e. because of political precariousness. That same year, he joined in an adventurous expedition to overthrow the king of Persia. He then spent a few years in Asia Minor with mercenary troops under Spartan command. Exiled from Athens around 399, he eventually settled in the Peloponnese, where he lived with his two sons and wife, Philesia, as a country gentleman on an estate granted him by the Spartans at Scillus near Olympia. He lost this estate around 371 when the Eleans recovered Scillus from the Spartans. In 368 the decree of exile was rescinded, after Athens entered into an alliance with Sparta. Thereafter he occasionally visited Athens and sent his sons to serve in the Athenian cavalry. In 366-365 Athenians were expelled from Corinth, so Xenophon returned to Athens permanently. He died about 354 b.c.e. while on a visit to Corinth.{$I[AN]9810000038}{$I[A]Xenophon}{$I[geo]GREECE;Xenophon}{$I[tim]0431 b.c.e.;Xenophon}


(Library of Congress)

It is as a writer that Xenophon is best known. He wrote history, romance, and essays of practical and moral import. His most famous work is the Anabasis, an account of the expedition of ten thousand mercenaries hired by Cyrus, the younger brother of King Artaxerxes, to win for himself the throne of Persia. Though Cyrus’s army defeated the king’s, Cyrus was killed. The Greek generals having been treacherously captured and slain, Xenophon found himself in command of the hazardous retreat of the mercenaries to Trebizond on the Black Sea. After making contact with the Spartan general Thibron, Xenophon turned the mercenaries over to him and remained in Asia with the Spartans for some years. The Anabasis is a thrilling adventure story, written in good, if somewhat uninspired, Greek.

In the History of the Affairs of Greece Xenophon completed the unfinished History of the Peloponnesian War of Thucydides and continued the history of Greek war and politics down to the battle of Mantinea in 362 b.c.e. The work is inferior to that of Thucydides both in style and in historical understanding, but it is a primary source for the history of the period it covers.

Association with Socrates supplied the material and motive for several works: The Memorabilia of Socrates is a defense of Socrates, with illustrative anecdotes and many short dialogues between Socrates and his friends, usually on moral questions. Xenophon lacked Plato’s interest in speculative philosophy. The Apology of Socrates purports to explain why Socrates did not defend himself any better than he did. The Symposium consists of an imagined dinner party conversation at the house of Callias, with some serious philosophizing by Socrates. In general these works portray a more matter-of-fact Socrates than the protagonist of Plato’s dialogues but one probably no nearer the historical truth. Another dialogue, Xenophon’s Treatise of Household, between Socrates and Critobulos, sets forth Xenophon’s views on the management of an estate. It reflects the life at Scillus and is a valuable document for the economy of the period.

A work of a different sort, The Cyropaedia is a romanticized account of the youth and education of Cyrus the Great of Persia. It is intended to lay down the ideals of education for political leadership. It is unfavorably remarked on by Plato in the Republic (c. 388-368 b.c.e.). Xenophon’s political interests were also expressed in the laudatory Constitution of Sparta and in On Tyranny. The latter is a dialogue between the king of Syracuse and the poet Simonides, dealing with the relative happiness of the despot and the private citizen and with the question of how a despot should rule in order to win the affection of his people.

Four technical treatises were also written by Xenophon: On the Cavalry General, on the duties of a cavalry commander; The Art of Riding (or On Horsemanship), an authoritative manual, the first of its kind to come down to us from antiquity; On Ways and Means, suggestions for improving the finances of Athens; and On Hunting, a treatise that includes, oddly enough, an attack on the Sophists. Xenophon was a man of affairs, with intelligence and wide interests, who wrote plainly and with a taste for platitude. His works reflect the attitudes of a Greek gentleman of his time.

Further Reading:Anderson, J. K. Military Theory and Practice in the Age of Xenophon. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1970. The title gives the focus of the work. This lengthy study (more than four hundred pages, including index and bibliography) is enhanced by diagrams of formations and battle plans, as well as nineteen black-and-white plates illustrating military costumes and weapons.Dillery, John. Xenophon and the History of His Times. New York: Routledge, 1995. An extensive treatment of Xenophon’s historical writing and the times they address. Includes discussions of the Battle of Mantinea, the March of Ten Thousand, and the Spartans in Asia as well as treatment of Xenophon’s philosophies and political and social views. Includes bibliographical references and indexes.Higgins, W. E. Xenophon the Athenian: The Problem of the Individual and the Society of the Polis. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1977. This study deals with Xenophon as a writer and a pupil of Socrates. The style is pleasant and clear. In addition to the index, the author’s notes are extensive and impressive.Hutchinson, Godfrey. Xenophon and the Art of Command. London: Greenhill Books, 2000.Nadon, Christopher. Xenophon’s Prince: Republic and Empire in the “Cyropaedia.” Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001. Focuses on Xenophon’s political theory in The Cyropaedia and on the nature of politico-historical writing. Includes bibliographical references and indexes.O’Sullivan, James N. Xenophon of Ephesus: His Compositional Technique and the Birth of the Novel. New York: W. de Gruyter, 1995. Includes texts in ancient Greek as well as bibliographical references and indexes.Pomeroy, Sarah B. Xenophon “Oeconomicus”: A Social and Historical Commentary. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994. Includes Greek text with English translation and commentary.Prevas, John. Xenophon’s March: Into the Lair of the Persian Lion. Cambridge, Mass.: Da Capo Press, 2002. An in-depth examination of Cyrus the Younger’s failed expedition against his brother in Persia and the March of the Ten Thousand, as explored through Xenophon’s writing. Includes illustrations, maps, bibliographical references, and an index.Schmeling, Gareth L. Xenophon of Ephesus. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1980. A solid, accessible, basic overview of Xenophon as a writer. Includes biographical information.Strauss, Leo. On Tyranny. Rev. and expanded ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000. Xenophon’s Hiero is interpreted in detail, with an analysis of the text as well as a translation. Also included is an essay by another scholar, Alexandre Kojève, not only on Xenophon and his views on tyranny but also on Strauss’s interpretations. This volume is for the serious student of Xenophon.Strauss, Leo. Xenophon’s Socrates. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1972. In this study, Strauss continues his interpretation of Xenophon as a man who wrote well and with wisdom, an important author who adds to the understanding of his teacher, Socrates. The book contains an appendix and an index and is intended for a scholarly audience.Strauss, Leo. Xenophon’s Socratic Discourse: An Interpretation of the “Oeconomicus.” South Bend, Ind.: St. Augustine’s Press, 1998. Xenophon’s Oikonomikos, although in the form of a Socratic dialogue, is sometimes dismissed as an enjoyable essay on estate management, complete with a description of the character of the dutiful wife. Strauss writes that its purpose is misunderstood. As with previous references, this work is intended for the better understanding of Socrates as well as Xenophon. The later edition includes a new, literal translation of the Oikonomikos by Carnes Lord.
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