BMCR 2006.05.46

Xenophon and his World. Papers from a conference held in Liverpool in July 1999. Historia Einzelschriften, 172

, , Xenophon and his world : papers from a conference held in Liverpool in July 1999. Historia. Einzelschriften ; Heft 172. Stuttgart: Steiner, 2004. 524 pages, 4 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm.. ISBN 3515083928 €84.00.

This volume has its origins in a conference on the World of Xenophon held in Liverpool in July 1999. According to its editor, Christopher Tuplin, the selection of papers lays no claim to be a systematic report on Xenophon or Xenophontean scholarship (p. 29). Nonetheless, it provides the reader with an insight into important topics and new trends concerning Xenophon and his vast oeuvre, and it has been written by accomplished experts in the field. The nature of the work is truly international: scholars “from California to Kazan” (p. 14) contributed to it, and there are articles in English, German, French and Italian.

The book starts with an introductory review of all chapters by Tuplin (pp. 13-31). Following that the volume is divided into seven sections: “The Life of Xenophon”, “Xenophon and Socrates”, “Xenophon and the Barbarian World”, “Sparta”, “Religion and Politics”, “Anabasis” and “Hellenica”. Each chapter has its own bibliography. It concludes with two indices (General and selective Greek words) and an Index locorum. Since it is virtually impossible to discuss all chapters in every detail, I will highlight only a few. This is partly due to my own ignorance and should not be seen as a negative judgement.

The first section of the volume is dedicated to “The Life of Xenophon” and includes an article by Ernst Badian on Xenophon’s biography (Xenophon the Athenian, pp. 33-53). He discusses the sources concerning Xenophon’s life such as Diogenes Laertius and concludes that the ancient tradition is not very reliable. In fact, we are largely dealing with conjectures deriving from Xenophon’s own works — something modern scholars have done too. Therefore, the ancient tradition does not have any greater validity. Badian also comes up with new ideas regarding Xenophon’s exile. He thinks that the Athenians exiled Xenophon after his decision to stay at Sparta some time after the battle at Coronea (p. 42). Furthermore, Xenophon might have returned to Athens because the detailed information on conditions in Athens which we find in his Poroi does not seem to derive just from other people’s reports. And since this work dates to the 350s, it must be assumed – according to Badian – that Xenophon had revisited his native city. He also thinks that Xenophon had returned and actually died at his country estate of Scillus, based on a new interpretation of An. 5.3.7ff (p. 45). Badian bases this assumption on the fact that Xenophon uses present and perfect tenses in his description of the flora and fauna of the Artemis temple situated on his estate. This view can also be supported by Pausanias 5.6.5. But, again, these findings remain mere guesswork and the description of the site in present and perfect tenses might just be a depiction of the actual place as it is and does not necessarily mean Xenophon ever returned there. Furthermore, since Badian himself does not hold the ancient tradition in high regard, his reliance on Pausanias seems rather strange.

This is followed by Martin Dreher’s paper on Xenophon’s trial (“Der Prozess gegen Xenophon,” pp. 55-69). He presents us with assumptions about the nature of the trial of Xenophon which seems to have been a graphe prodosias (p. 58). But according to Dreher he was tried and sentenced to death in absentia which made him an exile de facto. Then, Dreher discusses the possibility of Xenophon being recalled from exile at a later point, probably in the 360s or later. He admits that there is no proof for that, although it seems to be a unanimous view among scholars. Therefore, he presents us with the way the Athenians would have rehabilitated Xenophon if in fact they ever did. It is interesting to read this paper in connection with Badian because Dreher’s approach is more cautious and reminds us of our lack of uncontrovertible information about Xenophon’s life. Finally, there is a contribution by Marta Sordi on the subject of Xenophon and Sicily (pp. 71-78). Starting with a passage from Athenaeus she tries to show that Xenophon had been to Sicily and actually served as a leader of mercenaries for the tyrant Dionysius.

To sum up, the problem with all these rather detailed theories about Xenophon’s life is that, interesting as they might be, they have to remain mere guesswork. There is obviously a general picture that emerges from the information we have, be it either from Xenophon’s own work or from the ancient biographical tradition. All we do know is that he was exiled at some point in the 390s for something that must have been regarded as treason and was probably connected to his military adventures during the period in question, i.e. as a mercenary for Cyrus and/or his services for the Spartan army. What happened to him during his exile remains uncertain. The same applies to a possible end of his exile and a recall to Athens. The paucity of evidence makes it almost impossible to reach beyond speculation. Caution regarding the ancient biographers has been expressed by Badian already, and he is even more correct given that biographical facts, plausible or otherwise, were frequently invented in the ancient world.1

In a section entitled “Religion and Politics” there is an interesting paper by Roger Brock on “Xenophon’s Political Imagery” (pp. 247-257) which explores Xenophon’s imagery of monarchy and Persian ideology. According to Brock, his political imagery shows some similarities to contemporary authors such as Isocrates and Plato. For instance, he shares with them the concept of political οἰκονομία, i.e. the awareness of a possible parallel between domestic and political administration. In his Oeconomicus he draws the comparison between order in the household and organisation in the state. In Plato’s Politicus and Protagoras we find a similar argument, namely that there is a single universal art of rule which embraces the householder as well as the king and slave-master. Isocrates, on the other hand, combines the concept of the estate as a household with monarchy, and therefore the state may be seen as the estate of the ruler. This idea is most prominent in his To Nicocles. The interest of the paper is that Brock shows us – beyond the topic of political imagery – that Xenophon had quite a lot in common with other fourth-century authors. The relationship with Plato is especially worth mentioning here because it seems to indicate that both authors show signs of the same Socratic influence.

In the section on Sparta, Noreen Humble presents us with a paper entitled “The Author, Date and Purpose of Chapter 14 of the Lakedaimonion Politeia” (pp. 215-228). The fourteenth chapter of the Lakedaimonion Politeia is a highly controversial issue in Xenophontean scholarship since Xenophon deviates from the otherwise laudatory account of Sparta and criticizes the current state of affairs. Humble brings its message in line with other Sparta-critical comments in works such as the Hellenica. The usual perception of Xenophon as the mouthpiece of Agesilaus is clearly refuted. The fact that Xenophon wrote an encomiastic portrait of the king in the Agesilaus should not be generalised. This is mainly due to the nature of the genre, which is characterised by a complete disregard of the truth, assigning set virtues to the subject whether or not he possessed them, ignoring negative qualities etc. According to Humble, the Lycurgan system deserved praise because it made Sparta great. But Xenophon did not shut his eyes to the reality of the fourth century, which saw Sparta’s decline. Humble even goes so far to assume that the Lycurgan constitution was responsible for the rise as well as the fall of Sparta (p. 227). She also makes a very important point about the nature of Xenophontean scholarship: usually each work is regarded in isolation instead of looking at the whole oeuvre in order to unearth the coherence of the author’s political and philosophical views, spread over several works of entirely different genres.

The section on the Hellenica presents us with novel approaches to this work of history, which traditionally has been criticised by many historians for its compositional and other shortcomings. First, there is the piece by Tim Rood entitled “Xenophon and Diodorus: Continuing Thucydides” (pp. 341-395). As the title already indicates, he has treated the issue of Xenophon’s and Diodorus’ continuation of Thucydides which can be inferred from the first three words of the Hellenica : μετὰ δὲ ταῦτα. The question arises whether Xenophon continued Thucydides on a deeper level as well as just this rather formal one. Rood argues quite convincingly that the two works are also linked by verbal echoes, similarities of content, structure, and theme. For instance, Xenophon builds upon Thucydides’ political analysis when explaining Athens’ defeat in the Peloponnesian War. S. Sprawski looks into the question whether Lycophron and Jason were tyrants of Pherae (“Were Lycophron and Jason Tyrants of Pherae? Xenophon on the History of Thessaly”, pp. 437-452). Xenophon never refers to these Thessalian rulers as tyrants. Only later sources such as Diodorus use that term (e.g. 14.82.2, 15.57.2). Xenophon, on the other hand, only calls them tagoi, i.e. leaders of the Thessalian League. Sprawski’s argument is that this office was transformed into some sort of tyranny: Jason’s autocratic rule was concealed under the title of tagos. Therefore, it is the nature of the rule exercised that makes it a tyranny even if the name is not used.2 In addition, Xenophon’s treatment of Jason can also be explained by his great interest in tyrants.3 But this episode can also be seen as yet another contribution to the ongoing theme of unlawful and violent rule, most famously embodied by Sparta.4 N. Sterling’s “Xenophon’s Hellenica and the Theban Hegemony” (pp. 453-462) deals with yet another complex issue in this work. It has usually been assumed that Xenophon distorted the facts in his history in order to represent Thebes in the most negative light possible. Sterling, however, dismisses prejudice as an explanation for Xenophon’s neglect of Theban affairs but rather thinks that he wants to prove something: “Xenophon intends to prove that the Thebans, despite their military prowess, were incompetent to exercise ἡγεμονία” (p. 453). The supposed lack of interest in Thebes can be explained by a different focus of the relevant narrative. Therefore, Xenophon wants to tell the story of Thebes’ failure. If he found anything reprehensible about Thebes, then it is the incompetence that leads to ἀκρισία and ταραχή in Greece.

Another interesting contribution to the Hellenica is Martin Jehne’s piece on omissions (“Überlegungen zu den Auslassungen in Xenophons Hellenika am Beispiel der Gründung des Zweiten Athenischen Seebunds”, pp. 463-480). He deals with one of the most obvious cases in the whole work, viz. the total silence about the Second Athenian Confederacy.5 The usual explanation has always been that Xenophon allots praise and blame by mentioning and thereby commemorating the commendable and leaving out the reprehensible.6 Jehne makes the more than sensible assumption that the Second Athenian Confederacy must have been a well-known fact in the 360s and 350s, and that Xenophon himself as well as his potential readers must have known it. Therefore, Xenophon by deliberately leaving out this important event, draws attention to it and plays with his readers’ expectations. He presents us with a picture of Greek politics in which the Confederacy is of hardly any importance and does not cause wars. For whatever reasons, Xenophon just interprets history differently.

Overall the volume is an important contribution to Xenophontean scholarship since it assembles pieces by well-renowned experts on the subject. It also combines various approaches in order to further our understanding of Xenophon. The division into the treatment of literary and historical aspects deserves praise as well, and leads to a highly balanced picture of the author and the period in which he worked. The volume also offers new insights into some problems such as seeing Clearchus as an early example of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (L. Tritle, “Xenophon’s Portrait of Clearchus: A Study in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder”, pp. 325-339).7 As with publications of this type, there is obviously no overarching theme that all papers have in common. Also, papers vary considerably in length and quality. But despite all that, there should be something for everyone working on the period.


1. For this opinion see most recently on Xenophon’s biography N. Humble, “The Limits of Biography: The Case of Xenophon”, in: K. Sidwell (ed.), Pleiades Setting. Essays for Pat Cronin on his 65th Birthday, Cork 2002, 66-87. For an attempt to reconcile all the dissenting views as regards Xenophon’s exile see C. Tuplin, “Xenophon’s Exile Again”, in: M. Whitby, P. Hardie, and M. Whitby (edd.), Homo Viator. Classical Essays for John Bramble, Bristol 1987, 59-68. Tuplin especially had an eye on the differing information in Diogenes Laertius’ Life of Xenophon.

2. See also S. Lewis, ” καὶ σαφῶς τύραννος ἦν : Xenophon’s Account of Euphron of Sicyon”, JHS 124, 2004, 65-74, on Xenophon’s broad concept of tyranny. Not every figure referred to in the language of tyranny is in fact a usurper dependent on military force. For instance, the Thirty in Athens, although an oligarchy, are likened to a tyranny because they rule in a lawless fashion, doing whatever they like, and protect their power with violence (cf. 67f).

3. See also Lewis (above, n. 2), 67.

4. See also C. Dewald, “Form and Content: The Question of Tyranny in Herodotus”, in: K. Morgan (ed.), Popular Tyranny: sovereignty and its discontent in ancient Greece, Austin 2003, 25-58, on Herodotus’ interest in autocratic regimes as a thematic constant of his Histories.

5. Cf. G. Cawkwell, “The Foundation of the Second Athenian Confederacy”, CQ 23, 1973, 47-60, esp. 57: “The silences of Xenophon have ceased merely to amaze; they have become a scandal”.

6. See G. Cawkwell, “Introduction”, in: R. Warner, Xenophon. A History of My Times, Harmondsworth 1979, 7-48, 42f.

7. Xenophon’s perceptiveness of psychological issues has already been recognized by H. Breitenbach, Historiographische Anschauungsformen Xenophons, Diss. Basel 1950, e.g. 144f, and id., s.v. Xenophon, RE IX A 2, 1569-2052, esp. 1701, where he calls him “den ersten Militärpsychologen und Militärpädagogen der Geschichtsschreibung”. Admittedly, Breitenbach was more concerned with Xenophon giving examples of paradigmatic generals, esp. by highlighting the interaction with their troops. Therefore, his absence from Tritle’s bibliography is understandable.