BMCR 2013.05.41

Loving Humanity, Learning, and Being Honored: The Foundations of Leadership in Xenophon’s Education of Cyrus. Hellenic studies, 55

, Loving Humanity, Learning, and Being Honored: The Foundations of Leadership in Xenophon's Education of Cyrus. Hellenic studies, 55. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies, Trustees for Harvard University, 2012. v, 139. ISBN 9780674067028. $24.95 (pb).

[The chapter headings are listed at the end of the review.]

Norman B. Sandridge has written a delightful book, short and clear, on the theme of the leadership of Cyrus in Xenophon’s Cyropaedia. The qualities in the title (translations of philanthropia, philomatheia, philotimia), are taken from Xenophon’s own description of Cyrus early in the work (1.2.1). Sandridge sets out to establish that these three qualities are the comprehensive foundation of Xenophon’s description of Cyrus’ leadership – though he makes judicious qualifications to this thesis throughout. It is, to be sure, a brave attempt, to reduce Xenophon’s theory to something so well structured, but it does offer opportunities for further discussion of the relationships involved.

The general introduction explains the quest. Sandridge recognizes that Xenophon’s portrait of Cyrus’ leadership is not just straight theory that he has invented out of his own experience, but takes into account what his audiences already knew of Cyrus, as well as Persian realities. This gives specific contexts to his leadership theory.

The first chapter examines the relations between philanthropia and philotimia in Cyrus over a range of episodes. Xenophon’s predecessor Herodotus and his contemporary Ctesias had described some of the episodes that Xenophon treats, and Sandridge usefully offers these for contrast, lightly suggesting how Xenophon’s account presents a more admirable picture of Cyrus. He directly focuses on the controversial view that Cyrus’ philanthropy is purely a selfish means to the end of winning honour for himself, an honour that some readings would have him use to exploit others against their interests and to his own will. His view seems to me right, that Xenophon does not present his philanthropy as Machiavellian, but that his self-interest is coextensive with the interest of others. Sandridge even flirts with the idea that Cyrus might do good to others as a pleasurable end in itself. He certainly opposes the view that he might only seem to be devoted to their interests, and explores the association of philanthropy with divinity: Xenophon of course considers the gods to be the greatest philanthropists in their care and attention to the needs of mortals, and Cyrus models this.

Chapter 2 fits love of learning into the equation, under the chapter title Curiosity, Aptitude and Intense Awareness. The procedure is again to explain these characteristics through selected episodes, often against contrasting treatments of the same episodes in Herodotus and others, and now also in the context of Xenophon’s other works. The hierarchical connexions of the qualities continue to be emphasized. For instance the chapter maintains that Cyrus’ love of learning is directed toward areas of knowledge that give him the honour his nature desires. Sandridge also explains the ‘care’ ( epimeleia) that Xenophon attributes to Cyrus as the product of love of learning. This seems to me to be a little strained, but his care certainly is the mediating quality that secures the honour that he loves.

Chapter 3 directly considers the qualities of philanthropia, philomatheia, philotimia together as the fundamentals of the theory, relating other significant qualities to those three as derivative. For instance, winning honour necessitates that Cyrus develop the quality Xenophon calls love of toil ( philoponia, which he demonstrates by undertaking the kind of menial work that he requires of his followers, thus winning their sympathy and setting them an example. Self-restraint also is necessary to implement this love of toil, but Sandridge qualifies: it is important not only for the winning of honour. He could make a connexion from self-restraint to love of learning here, because Xenophon comments in Memorabilia 4.5.11-12 on the need for restraint to facilitate learning through dialectic, which is the Socratic way of learning. Among other qualities too, Cyrus’ justice takes his philanthropy into account, as does his gentleness in relations with others, which is defined as lack of retaliation when provoked. Sandridge attempts also to reduce piety to secondary status so that it plays a second fiddle to the main three qualities, but Xenophon might roll in his grave at this piece of reduction.

Chapters 4-6 deal with the problems in the three qualities under examination, taking comparative material from later writers, which now includes some Latin authors. Dismissing the idea that Xenophon produces a utopia, but also that he is intent on undermining the seeming virtue of Cyrus, this section shows that he is presenting problems in leadership and showing how Cyrus overcame them. The first chapter offers six problems in philanthropy: 1.getting close but not too close, 2. being friendly but not permissive, 3. loving everyone to the proper degree, 4. having proper rivalries (including Cyrus’ controversial relations with Cyaxares), 5. giving without losing, 6. caring without anxiety. The second chapter offers five problems in loving to learn, where the sections become shorter and one wonders whether the structure of the chapters is forcing the content into unnatural shapes: 1. studying what matters, 2. learning as a means to an end, 3. teaching over manipulation, 4. loving learning without softness, 5. enriching the monarchy with democratic learning. This unnaturalness may be confirmed by the comment at the end that his love of learning is not really presented by Xenophon as a problem for Cyrus. The third chapter suggests that things are getting easier for Cyrus: the problems in wanting to be honoured are restricted to three: 1. risking it all – carefully, 2. pursuing the right honours and 3. competing constructively.

In his conclusion Sandridge reasserts the distinctiveness of the three qualities as the basis of the excellence of Cyrus’ leadership, their fundamentality, their comprehensiveness, and their complementarity.

Readers new to Xenophon will rapidly gain a good idea of the fundamentals of Xenophon’s theory of leadership through the selected passages Sandridge uses in his work, while old hands will find food for thought in the detail of his treatment of those same episodes. The old hand writing this review focused on Xenophon’s leadership theory in Xenophon’s Mirror of Princes, 2011, and treated some of the same passages as Sandridge, but this probably appeared too late for him to take account of the specifics. I can say here for the record that my readings would have largely endorsed his in their detail, and perhaps enriched them in some places. One thing that occurs to me as a possible reservation on accepting the integrated understanding of Xenophon’s leadership theory that Sandridge offers is that it does not seem to have immediate application to Xenophon’s other works on leadership, such as Agesilaus. Of course, leadership theory has contexts, and will therefore vary to some extent between Persian princes and Spartan kings, but in Agesilaus Xenophon gives an apparently unintegrated list of his qualities as piety, justice, restraint, courage, wise thinking, love of his polis, affability, lack of ostentation, etc. Nevertheless, Sandridge certainly does take the debate about Xenophon’s leadership theory a step forward with the work he has produced.

Table of Contents

1. Philanthropia and philotimia as reciprocal fondness
2. Curiosity, aptitude, and intense awareness
3. On the fundamentality of philanthropia, philomatheia, and philotimia
4. Six problems with loving humanity
5. Five problems with loving to learn
6. Three problems with wanting to be honored
Index Locorum
Index of Subjects