BMCR 2021.07.12

Ancient information on Persia re-assessed: Xenophon’s “Cyropaedia”

, Ancient information on Persia re-assessed: Xenophon's "Cyropaedia". Proceedings of a conference held at Marburg in honour of Christopher J. Tuplin, December 1-2, 2017. Classica et Orientalia, 22. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2020. Pp. xxxii, 407. ISBN 9783447112833. €98,00.

The Melammu project seeks to investigate the continuity, transformation and diffusion of Mesopotamian and Ancient Near Eastern culture. This volume publishes the papers given at a workshop in 2017 dedicated to Xenophon’s Cyropaedia. Shortly before, Christopher Tuplin had celebrated his 65th birthday, and it was decided to dedicate the volume of papers arising from the workshop, plus a number of papers invited later, to him to mark the occasion. An Introduction (xiii-xxxii) relates Christopher Tuplin’s life and contribution to the discipline so far, and gives a useful and lengthy bibliography, in which a considerable number of the contribution are marked ‘forthcoming’ – there is still a lot to come.

The volume is divided into four thematic groupings of articles, the first one of which is entitled ‘Genre and Meaning’. Frances Pownall examines the diverse sources which were probably available to Xenophon relating the birth and upbringing of Cyrus, and how the account in the Cyropaedia differs from these, concluding that Xenophon decided on a version which retained his aristocratic identity around which ‘he can crystalize his ideas on ideal leadership’ (15).

Irene Madreiter tries to establish under what genre the Cyropaedia falls, a work which ‘eludes modern genre distinctions’, and the relationship of Xenophon’s work to the ‘big five’ authors of romances. As a gap of 350 years separates the Cyropaedia from the first of the romances, with no trace of any surviving ‘novel’ in between, this involves an examination of how these later writers defined themselves as writers and their works (22-6). The similarity of these later ‘romances’ with ‘novel-like episodes’ in Ctesias are examined, including the Zarinea story. Zarinea is an exceptionally beautiful Sacaean queen, with whom the Median king Stryangaeus falls in love with, and, upon being rejected, and puts himself to death. She, like Xenophon’s Pantheia. is a ‘noble, powerful woman of extraordinary beauty, who influence, or even manipulate the men around them’ (33). The Zarinea story is transmitted from Ctesias by Nicolaus of Damascus, writing in the Augustan era, and Madreiter speculates that Nicolaus of Damascus could be one of the ‘missing links’ between Xenophon, Ctesias and Chariton. Madreiter has applied the term “historiographic metafiction”, which is ‘a term coined for modern novels that deliberately blend factual and fictive elements in reconstructing the historical setting of the narrative’ to Ctesias. She examines whether this term could also be applied to Xenophon’s Cyropaedia (35). Indeed Xenophon frequently uses terms such as ‘it is said’ to lend his work historiographic authenticity.

Louis André Dorion examines the similarities between Xenophon’s portrayal of the figure of Socrates in the Memorabiliaand that of Cyrus in the Cyropaedia. One key question which concerned Xenophon is how a good leader is created. This is dealt with in the Memorabilia directly by Socrates engaging in dialogue with ambitious young men aspiring to office, and indirectly in the advice that Cambyses give to his son Cyrus. The remarkable parallels are tabulated on p. 50: ‘in fact, there is so much overlap between the Cyropaedia (1.6) and the Memorabilia (book 3) that commentators have wondered which of these texts was written first’ (49). To Dorion Cyrus is a ‘Socratic’ leader, but he fully references scholars who do not share this opinion (51). The overlap between Cyrus and Socrates is not limited to Xenophon’s views on leadership, and in the following pages Dorion goes on to examine further areas of overlap, including the nature of the soul (55-6). This leads him into a conflict with Gera’s position on the ‘Socratic influences’ in the Cyropaedia (56-7). Only in his autarchia Socrates is superior to Cyrus (65).

The second thematic section of the book entitled ‘The Author’s View’ is headed by an examination of the geography used by Xenophon in the Cyropaedia undertaken by Reinhold Bichler. The general position adopted is that in keeping with the general didactic nature of the work, Xenophon does not present his readership with anything that is inherently implausible. For this reason he abandons the rich descriptions of alien lands and peoples in which the Anabasis abounds. Nevertheless, the general geographical picture which Xenophon presents to his readership is riddled with inconsistencies and misunderstandings, perhaps intended to simplify the narrative, which the article examines in detail. In particular the picture of Media is misleading (77-78). Its borders with Persia are ill-defined, and the fertility of the land is exaggerated to ‘suggest a country more affluent and fostering an effeminate way of life. It enables Xenophon to play off rigid Persian morals against Median luxury’. Some of Bichler’s suggestions are less convincing. On p. 81 ‘it appears plausible to identify’ the Chaldaeans with the Chalybians, and he suggests that ‘Xenophon had the Chalybians occurring in the Anabasis in mind when depicting the Chaldaeans in the Cyropaedia’. I find it hard to believe that he had confused these two peoples, both of which he had come into hostile contact with during the Anabasis. The final picture of Cyrus’s conquests includes Egypt and Cyprus, which Xenophon knew was historically incorrect.

The next paper is the joint work of John E. Esposito and Norman B. Sandridge and investigates ‘a construct in Xenophon’s Cyropaedia that possibly qualifies as leadership in the contemporary sense’ (122). The paper is mainly devoted to a useful in in-depth investigation of the multiple and nuanced meanings of the word prostatēs ‘the putative leader’ and the activities he engages in. The authors go on to compare these activities to contemporary concepts of leadership. The single work they have chosen to make use of is The Harvard Business Review Leader’s Handbook by Ashkenas and Manville (2019). While I confess I am unfamiliar with this work and its value, I would have thought it was at least worth mentioning more familiar works on leadership, at the forefront of which lies the works of Ralph M. Stogdill. The study of leadership in modern Western European academic literature (alone) goes back at least to Thomas Carlyle, and is riven by considerable debate, the more important being between the advocates of trait leadership and its detractors. This whole debate goes without mention.

Given that the Anabasis and Cyropaedia both appeared in the mid to late 360s, Michael A. Flower argues that, although they deal with events 150 years apart, Xenophon prompts his readers to compare the figures of Cyrus the Elder and the Younger. Cyrus on his deathbed warns against quarrels arising between the brothers who were to be his heirs, but nevertheless there was conflict when Cambyses arranged for the assassination of his younger brother (156-7). Cyrus the Younger eagerly sought out his elder brother Artaxerxes at Cunaxa with the intention of killing him and died in the attempt.  Cyrus the Elder is unusually favoured by the gods and goes to join them at his death (145). Xenophon does not mention that Cyrus the Younger was able to profit from divine favour and assistance, unlike Xenophon’s other ‘paradigmatic leaders, Cyrus the Great, Socrates, Agesilaos and Xenophon himself (154). Perhaps this was because it was impossible for a parricide to enjoy divine favour. Cyrus the Elder is intrinsically superior to his younger namesake. This is evident in the sophrosunē ‘self-restraint’ displayed by both, foremost in their sexual activity. ‘The only woman we are told that Cyrus the Great slept with was his wife’ (151). Other important points are made by Flower in this study. It is clear that Xenophon believed that Persian decline coincided with the reign of Artaxerxes II. ‘The negative influence of Artaxerxes’ kingship on all aspects of Persian life naturally increased with the passage of time’ (137). The personal animus Xenophon felt against Artaxerxes for his treacherous murder of the Greek generals, including his friend Proxenus after Cunaxa is given due emphasis (137). ‘Perhaps the most central concern in Xenophon’s lifelong literary project was to isolate and articulate the qualities of the ideal leader’ (132). Proxenus (138-9) and Xenophon himself (158) are criticized for being too lenient with the soldiers. It is very difficult to see how this could be any different, seeing that the officers of the Ten Thousand had not legal authority over the volunteer soldiers under their command. As a former British Territorial Army officer, I empathize with their difficulties.

In his contribution Gabriel Danzig sets out to compare Xenophon’s picture of Cyrus the Younger that is given in his eulogy of the latter in the Anabasis, to the image of Cyrus the Elder in the Cyropaedia. Inevitably a lot of the material discussed in also dealt with by Flower. Like Flower (152) Danzig contrasts the tolerance of both Cyruses for cruelty and mutilation, indeed Cyrus the Elder ruled not only by love but also by fear (Cyr. 1.1.5). This runs contrary to Greek sentiments, although Xenophon describes the advantages of using eunuchs as personal guards (182). Danzig (175) underlines the contrast between Cyrus the Younger, a lover of horses and skilled in using them, and Cyrus in the Cyropaedia, for horses are unknown and he has to learn to ride in Media. Cyrus the Younger is fond of exposing himself to danger in the pursuit of wild animals and illustrates this by the fact that he bore the wounds inflicted by bear on his body. The meat of the bear is inedible. In the Cyropaedia by contrast, hunting is practiced to bring meat back to the home (177), and not to display personal courage. Both figures of Cyrus are honest and do not break their promises, but Danzig (178) emphasizes that Xenophon could have not been witness to events that he cites in support of the faithfulness of Cyrus the Younger. Cyrus the Younger does make use of trickery, although this is passed over in the encomium (181). In mentioning the ‘generals and captains’ who sailed to the support of Cyrus the Younger in the hope of rewards more substantial than their monthly pay (184), it is important to distinguish between these ‘gentlemen adventurers’ as they would be termed in the Early Modern Period, and the rank-and-file mercenaries who were, indeed, focussed on receiving their monthly pay, and were near to mutiny when they did not receive it.

The third thematic section is deals with the Cyropaedia as a historical source. In the first article Julien Degen tries to distinguish some genuine eastern themes which pervade the work. He notes (200-01) that although diviners are present in the Cyropaedia their role is supressed, and puts this against the background of the generally negative opinion towards the magoi held by Greek historians. He suggests that the divine light that appears in the Cyropaedia (e.g. 4.2.14 ff.), and indeed in other passages in Greek literature, might possibly be related to the Mesopotamian concept of melammu, meaning divine radiance, splendour, nimbus, aura (109). The author throughout his text uses the terms Teispid and Achaemenid dynasties, to distinguish between rulers before and after Darius the Great. I am not sure about the wisdom of applying this recent practice. It results in perforce having to apply the term ‘Teispid-Achaemenid’ to material that previously was simply described as Achaemenid alone, which can cause difficulties if one has only uncertain knowledge of the dates of certain phenomena. The author himself is not immune from such difficulties when he refers to the ‘royal inscriptions of the Teispid-Achaemenid period’, meaning the rock-cut inscriptions, which only date from after Darius.

In the second article in this section Bruno links up formalized passages of gift-giving to the ruler in the Cyropaedia with artistic representations from Persepolis (mostly relief sculptures) wherein gifts are being presented to the King. He traces (246-7) the false linkage of these scenes to the Nowröz, the modern Iranian New Year festival. This suggestion was first advanced by Herzfeld, after having observed Persepolis being visited by the governor of Fars in November 1923. Jacobs proposes that these, and other scenes in Achaemenid Imperial art are purely symbolic, and do not portray reality. This includes the throne-bearers on the tomb of Darius at Naqš-e Rostam, which are a visualization of the list of dahyāva, (‘lands’ or ‘provinces’ of the Empire) and are purely symbolic. The King did not actually sit in a massive throne, carried around by representative of the provinces (250). Jacobs (250-1) points out that the gift-bearer scenes are repeated at Susa, so, if not likewise purely symbolic, are not related to a specific place, like Persepolis, or a specific event.

In the next section ‘Literary Reception’ Sabine Müller traces the influence of Cyropaedia on the Alexander Historiographers, for which there is, in fact, very little evidence. The passages in question are given in tabulated form at the end of the article (275-8). In fact, it is difficult to detect any substantive influence of Xenophon on Alexander at all, despite the claims of the Fourth Century AD sophist Eunapios of Sardis that Alexander would not have been great without Xenophon (261) and the exaggerated claims of modern historians (262-3). The most obvious point in case is the claim of Diogenes Laertius that Onescritos’ Ἀλεξάνδρου ἀγωγή was based on the Cyropaedia, although even this claim is not without its problems (264-5).

The Cyropaedia is earlier than the books of Esther and Judith. All three are works of ‘pious fiction’ which have many elements in common, and Deborah Gera investigates these common elements to elucidate possible influences of the former on the latter two. The author decides that, tempting though it would be to posit influence ‘but there simply is not sufficient evidence to do so’ (298).

Greek writers of the Imperial period interested in political philosophy were well known for their interest in Alexander. They were mainly drawn to Cyrus because of this interest: ‘the only historical figure viewable as the inheritor of Cyrus’s kingdom’ (321), and to the Cyropaedia as a source for materials useable in exercises of a ‘compare and contrast’ nature. Both Plutarch and Arrian commented on the self-restraint (σωφροσύνη) displayed by both Cyrus and Alexander, particularly the sexual self-restraint which Alexander displayed towards Darius’s daughter. Apollonius alludes to not only the self-restraint displayed by Cyrus himself, but that of Pantheia, which also interested the novelists, and in particular the connection made in the novels between σωφροσύνη and deception, positively performed by the heroines for the own protection ‘may stem from Xenophon’s unique depiction of the young Cyrus’s education-in-deception in the Cyropaedia, which is associated with justice’ (321). These are the principal influences of the Cyropaedia which Sulochana Asirvatham has detected amongst Greek writers of Imperial Period.

The next three papers are devoted to the reception of the Cyropaedia by later readers. The first paper, by Richard Stoneman, examines the influence the work, alongside other classical treatises and the early humanistic works dependent on their concepts, had on the development of concepts of kingship in early modern northern Europe, and particularly in England. An interesting aspect of this interrelationship which Stoneman alludes to, following Grogan, is the positive light in which the Persian Empire was shown when an alliance between Safavid Persia and Elizabethan England was a realistic prospect (331).

Noreen Humble seeks to establish the availability of the Cyropaedia in the sixteenth century. At that date there were 22 Greek editions, 26 Latin editions, 14 bilingual Greek/Latin editions, 23 vernacular (2 English, 1 German, 1 Castilian, 1 Dutch, 9 French and 9 Italian) editions, but this does little to tell us about what use it was put to. It sometimes appeared among compendia alongside other works of Xenophon, or works of other ancient authors. Sometimes it was published in its entirety or in part, accompanied by paratextual material or not (344). The large number of school editions reflects its use educationally. The fact that Cicero championed it added much to its popularity.

Melina Tamiolaki explores the influence of Leo Strauss (1899-1973) on the interpretation of Xenophon’s Cyropaedia. All of Strauss’s followers are philosophically rather than historically inclined, so they ‘emphasize the dialectical character of the Cyropaedia, treating it more or less as a philosophical (Socratic) dialogue’ (380). The danger of this approach is to reduce the work to a simple study of the tension between philosophy and politics, whereas it is far more complex than that.

The book ends with a short summing up of the volume by Vivienne Gray entitled ‘Reflections on Near Eastern Realities in the Cyropaedia’. The contributions to this volume explore the ‘interplay of authenticity and imagination in the Cyropaedia’ (392). Gray, however, does not hesitate to state her view that there is more authenticity than imagination in the work, implicit in the title of her modest, yet significant, contribution. She states at the outset (391) ‘it is extremely hard to believe, for those who have read Xenophon’s long account of Cyrus’ administration of his court in the eighth book, that this is entirely the product of his imagination; it is too specific’.

It is my responsibility as a reviewer to likewise give a few words to sum up the work as a whole. Bruno Jacobs is to be congratulated in his efforts at producing this commemorative tome: the recipient fully deserves to be honoured for all his has done to enhance the image of Xenophon in contemporary scholarship. I confess, however, to being a little disappointed about how little space in the volume is devoted to the topic of its title Ancient Information on Persia Re-assessed—my principal reason for being attracted to the volume in the first place. By my counting arguably four of the fifteen contributions are related to the theme of the title. The other contributions are related to authorial intention, the place the Cyropaedia has in Greek literature and the influence of the work on later generations.

Two indices at the end list the names of Persons and deities and tribes and places.

List of Contents

Genre and Meaning
Frances Pownall (Alberta), Xenophon’s Cyropaedia and Greek Historiography, 3-18.
Irene Madreiter (Innsbruck), Cyropaedia and the Greek ‘Novel’ again: History and Perspectives of a Supposed Generic Relationship, 19-).
Louis-Andre Dorion (Montreal), Cyrus and Socrates: Two Models on an Equal Footing?, 45

The Author’s View
Reinhold Bichler (Innsbruck, translation by Franz Pramhaas), Cyropaedia—‘Historical Space’ and the Nations at the Fringes of the Oikumene, 73-).
John E. Esposito (Chapel Hill) & Norman B. Sandridge (Washington, DC), On the Fundamental Activities of the Leader in Xenophon’s Education of Cyrus—and Whether They Even Constitute Leadership, 105
Michael A. Flower (Princeton), Xenophon’s Anabasis and Cyropaedia: a Tale of Two Cyruses, 125
Gabriel Danzig (Ramat Gan), The Younger Cyrus and the Alter Cyrus, 165).

Cyropaedia as Historical Source
Julian Degen (Innsbruck), Ancient Near Eastern Traditions in Xenophon’s Cyropaedia:
Conceptions of Royal Qualities and Empire, 197
Bruno Jacobs (Basel), Cyropaedia. and the “Gift-Bearer Reliefs” from the So-called Apadana
at Persepolis, 241

Literary Reception
Sabine Müller (Marburg), Xenophon’s Kyroupaideia and the Alexander Historiographers, 261-
Deborah L. Gera (Jerusalem), Luxury and Authority in the Cyropaedia, Esther, and Judith, 283
Sulochana Asirvatham (New York), The Cyropaedia in Imperial Greek Literature, 301
Richard Stoneman (Exeter), Xenophons Education of Cyrus in Early Modern Europe, 325
Noreen Humble (Calgary), Worn out in the Reading: Xenophon’s Cyropaedia in the Sixteenth Century, 341
Melina Tamiolaki (University of Crete), Straussian Readings of the Cyropaedia: Challenges and Controversies, 367

Concluding Remarks
Vivienne Cray (Auckland), Reflections on Near Eastern Realities in the Cyropaedia, 391