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date: 27 November 2022


, Greek historian


, Greek historian
  • C. J. Tuplin


  • Greek History and Historiography
  • Greek Literature


Xenophon, son of Gryllus, from the Athenian deme of Erchia, was born into a wealthy but politically inactive family around 430 bce. He presumably served in the cavalry (see hippeis (2) and (4)) and certainly (like other affluent young men) associated with Socrates. This background did not encourage enthusiasm for democracy (see democracy, athenian). He apparently stayed in Athens under the Thirty Tyrants and fought the democratic insurgents in the civil war (404–403). The political amnesty of 403/2 theoretically protected him, and material in Hellenica and Memorabilia shows that (like Plato(1)) he was critical of the Thirty, but insecurity was surely one reason why he accepted the suggestion of a Boeotian friend, Proxenus, to enrol as a mercenary with Cyrus(2). He was thus among the 10,000 Greeks involved in Cyrus' rebellion and defeat at Cunaxa (401). When Tissaphernes liquidated the Greek generals, Xenophon emerged as a replacement and led the survivors through Mesopotamia, Armenia, and northern Anatolia to Byzantium and then into service with the Thracian Seuthes. He alleges a wish to go home at this stage but for various reasons neither did so nor availed himself of Seuthes' offers of land and marriage-alliance. Consequently, when the Spartans under Thibron(1) arrived in Anatolia for a war of ‘liberation’ (399) and took over the Cyreans (i.e. Cyrus' veterans), he became a Spartan mercenary. Nothing is known of his role in ensuing campaigns except that he self-defensively endorsed criticisms which led to Thibron's dismissal. Subsequent Spartan commanders, Dercylidas and Agesilaus, were more to his taste and he forged close associations with them. In 394 Agesilaus returned home to confront rebellion amongst Sparta's allies and Xenophon fought for the Spartan cause at Coronea against, among others, his fellow-Athenians. Exiled as a result of this (if not, as some think, earlier, as part of an Athenian attempt to win Persian goodwill) he was settled by the Spartans at Scillus (near Olympia) in the Triphylian state created after Sparta’s defeat of Elis in 400. (His estate and a small-scale copy of the Ephesian Artemisium funded by Asian booty are described in Anab. 5.3.5 ff.). As a Spartan protégé (he was their proxenos at Olympia and his children were allegedly educated in Sparta) he became vulnerable during the disturbances which followed Leuctra (371), was expelled, and spent the rest of his life in Corinth. There was, however, a reconciliation with Athens. Works such as Cavalry Commander and Ways and Means disclose a sympathetic interest in the city; and in 362 his son Gryllus was killed fighting in the Athenian cavalry (see *hippeis) at Mantinea. The posthumous eulogies this earned were in part a tribute to his father.


Most famous in antiquity as a ‘philosopher’ or mercenary-leader (ostensibly regarded as a perfect model for the young by Dio Cocceianus of Prusa, and systematically ‘imitated’ by Arrian), Xenophon produced a large output, all known parts of which survive. The chronology is only vaguely established. Most works fall into three categories: long (quasi-)historical narratives, Socratic texts (surely Athenocentric works, not mere by-products of contact with supposed Socratic ‘cells’ in Elis or Phlius), and technical treatises. There are also monographs (encomium; non-Socratic political dialogue; politico-economic pamphlet; institutional analysis), though their secondary relation to the major categories is obvious. Many are the earliest (or earliest surviving) examples of particular genres. The clearest common features are (1) intimate relationship with Xenophon's personal experiences and (2) taste for didactic discourse. Xenophon's moral system is conventional, underpinned by belief in the gods and the importance of omen and ritual: divine power (often anonymous and not infrequently singular) is everywhere in Xenophon's writings, though not absolutely stultifyingly—when consulting the oracle at Delphi (see delphic oracle) about going to Asia he famously framed the question so as to get the ‘right’ answer; and at the climactic moment in Anabasis where the Greeks reach the sea they are too excited to think of sacrificing to the gods. But it is not these things in their own right so much as issues of leadership (by states as well as individuals) or military skill which engage his didactic muse.

That even purely practical pursuits have a moral component because they have social implications is a characteristic Xenophontic perception; and the would-be leader must, whatever else, earn his right to lead by superior wisdom and a capacity to match or outdo his subordinates in all the tasks which he demands of them.

In antiquity his style was judged to be simple, sweet, persuasive, graceful, poetic, and a model of Attic purity. This is understandable, though there are deviations from standard Attic and some would call the style jejune; both rhetoric (e.g. Hell. 7. 5. 1–27) and narrative can sometimes be awkward. The range of stylistic figures employed is modest (simile is quite common, with a penchant for animal comparisons). The overall effect (style and content) can seem naïve. A (perhaps the) central question, which divides modern readers into two camps, is how far style and content are really faux-naïf and informed by humour and irony. One should perhaps reflect that (a) Xenophon's emergence as a leader in N. Mesopotamia in late summer 401 must disclose special qualities and (b) 4th-cent. Greece was full of men of ‘upper-class’ origin and of (ex-)mercenaries, and possibly not short of men who were both, but only one of them produced five (modern) volumes of varied, sometimes innovatory, writing.

We should give Xenophon the benefit of the doubt, and conclude that there was more, not less, to him than there appears.

Hellenica. A seven-book history of Greek affairs, in two linguistically distinguishable parts, perhaps created at widely differing times, the first possibly as early as the 380s, the second in the mid-350s.


1. 1. 1–2. 3. 10 covers the Peloponnesian War from 411 to the destruction of Athens' walls, the overthrow of democracy and the surrender of Samos (404). The opening narrative links imperfectly with Thucydides 8. 109, but the intention can only be to ‘complete’ the Thucydidean account (see thucydides (2)), though this is achieved with little reproduction of Thucydides' historiographical characteristics.


2. 3. 11–7. 5. 27 continues the story, covering the Thirty Tyrants (404–403), Sparta's Asiatic campaigns (399–394), the Corinthian War and King's Peace (395–387/6), Spartan imperialism in Greece (386–379), the rise of Thebes (379–371) and the Peloponnesian consequences of Leuctra (371–362).

The text ends at Mantinea (362; see *mantinea, battles of), with Greece in an unabated state of uncertainty and confusion. The account is centred on Sparta and characterized by surprising omissions (e.g. the name of Epaminondas the architect of Leuctra is not given at all in book 6 where the battle is described; the liberation of Messenia; Athens' Aegean policies in 378–362), a tendency to expose the shortcomings of all states, including Sparta, and recurrent hostility to imperial aspirations. A curious amalgam of straight history and political pamphlet, it was relatively little read in antiquity, and its modern status has declined in recent years. But it remains an indispensable source, and the tendency to regard the presumed qualities of Hellenica Oxyrhynchia (see oxyrhynchus, the historian from) as a reason for simply preferring alternative historical traditions should be questioned.

Anabasis. An account (date uncertain)—perhaps initially circulated under the name Themistogenes (cf. Hell. 3. 1. 2)—of Cyrus' rebellion and the fate of his Greek mercenaries, dominated in 3–7 by Xenophon's personal role in rescuing the army. The work's motive is not overtly stated. Apologia and self-advertisement are evident (there were other, and different, accounts in circulation); there is implicit endorsement of the panhellenist thesis (see panhellenism) that Persia was vulnerable to concerted attack and of a more general view about Greek superiority over barbarians (the army is an emblematic polis on the move); and a didactic interest in leadership and military stratagem is obvious (though the account of Cunaxa is strangely flawed). Equally striking is the care taken to construct a varied and genuinely arresting narrative. The work's modern reputation has suffered from traditional use in language learning (cf. Caesar's Gallic War).

Cyropaedia investigates leadership-technique by presenting the life-story of Cyrus(1)I the Great. The institutional framework preserves useful Achaemenid (see persia) information, though the oriental décor is muted (partly through a need to head off Greek suspicion of the east: see orientalism). The story-line however differs flagrantly from other sources (e.g. Cyrus acquires Media through inheritance and dies in bed) and the narrative’s pace and texture are unlike those of ordinary Greek historiography, and many therefore call it fiction. Story-line is subordinate to didactic agenda, but Xenophon perhaps drew opportunistically on current versions of the story rather than pure imagination, and the result is fictive history, more analogous to Socratic literature than the Greek novel (of which it is sometimes called a precursor because of the romantic Panthea and Abradatas episode). Excellence of leadership is exposed by example and through passages of direct instruction (often involving dialogue), but Cyrus' achievement (autocracy) is not an unambiguous or transferable good, and the final chapter insists that Persia eventually went to the bad. (For Greeks respectable barbarian achievements had to lie in the past.) Very popular in antiquity (and sometimes thought to have prompted a response in Plato Laws 3) but dismissed as uninspiringly dull in modern times, Cyropaedia is a notable beneficiary of the recent revival of sympathetic interest in Xenophon's work.

Apology. A brief (perhaps very early) work with a purported extract from the court-room defence of Socrates against charges of religious deviance and corruption of the young sandwiched between a preliminary dialogue with Hermogenes and various carefree observations made after the trial was over. The stated purpose is to explain the megalēgoria (‘big-talking’) which previous writers agreed was a feature of Socrates' reaction to prosecution and show why he did not fear death. (Opportunity is also found to note the prosecutor Anytus' son's history of alcohol abuse).

Symposium. ‘In writing of great men it is proper to record not only their serious activities but their diversions’ (1. 1), and entertainment at Callias (4)'s party is a mixture of cabaret (music, song, and dance, a sexually titillating tableau of Dionysus and Ariadne) and more-or-less serious conversation about the guests' account of their most prized assets (e.g. beauty, wealth, poverty, making people better, recitation, joke-telling, skill at procuring). There is much explicit or implicit reference to personal relationships (doubtless a feature of real sympotic conversation), so Socrates' eventual discourse on common and celestial love is an unsurprising development, though the Platonic model is probably relevant. See *symposium literature.

Socratic Memoirs. A collection of conversations, probably not planned as a coherent whole. 1. 1–2 explicitly address charges advanced at Socrates' trial, but the whole work presents him as respecting the gods and helping (not corrupting) his fellow-men. Broad thematic patterns are visible—1 dwells on religion and moderate life-style, 2 on friendship and family, and 3 on Socrates' help to ‘those ambitious of good things’, while 4 is more disparate (education; the existence of god; temperance; justice) and pretentious—but the pleasure of the work is in its individual vignettes and convincing (not necessarily authentic) picture of a down-to-earth Socrates equally happy debating with sophists, courtesans, and victims of the collapse of Athenian imperialism, and concerned with practicalities as well as philosophy. (As with Plato, drawing the line between genuine Socratic conversational subjects and Xenophontic ones is not easy.)

Oeconomicus. A conversation with Critobulus (1–6) establishes the importance of agriculture. Socrates then reports a conversation with Ischomachus—itself containing a conversation between Ischomachus and his wife (7–10)—covering household organization, the daily pursuits of a rich Athenian, the role of bailiffs, and technical details of cereal and fruit cultivation. Much of it is effectively about leadership—a harder skill than agriculture, as Ischomachus remarks. The work is an important (though, given Socratic—and Xenophontic—unconventionality, slippery) source for social history. Particularly notable is Ischomachus' wife, married young so she will be a tabula rasa on which her husband can write what he will, but accorded a significant—if sex-stereotyped—role in the running of the household (see housework; women).

Cavalry Commander deals with the management and improvement of the Athenian cavalry force (which ought—9. 3—to include foreign mercenaries); see *hippeis. After comments on recruitment (1. 2, 9–13), securing good horses (1. 3–4, 14–16), general horsemanship (1. 5–6, 17–21), armament (1. 7, 22–3), discipline (1. 7, 24), the need for good phylarchs (brigade-commanders; cf. *phylai) and political allies (1. 8, 25–6) and tactical formations (2. 1–9) Xenophon formally turns to the cavalry-commander's duties (3. 1 ff.). There follow sections on festival performances (3), conduct of marches and intelligence-gathering (4), deception (5), inducing respect of subordinates by knowledge and example (6), the defence of Attica and more general tactical/strategic points (7, 8. 17–25), horsemanship (8. 1–8), questions of numerical advantage (8. 9–16). Treatment of topics is inexhaustive, unsystematic and inclined to repetition (e.g. numerical issues appear in 5. 1f., 7. 5f., 8. 9f.). Characteristically Xenophon begins and ends with the gods, asserts that no art should be practised more than warfare (8. 7)—gymnastics are frivolous—and stresses the importance of leadership qualities. See *war, art of, greek.

On Horsemanship. ‘Instruction and exercises’ for the private and apparently rather ignorant individual (the specific addressees are ‘younger friends’: 1. 1). It is the earliest surviving such work (one by Simon is an acknowledged predecessor) and covers purchase, housing and grooming (1–6), mounting, riding, galloping and jumping (7–8), correction of vivacity and sluggishness (9), dressage and manipulation of appearance (10–11), and equestrian armour and weaponry (12). Its precepts are well regarded by modern experts. See *horses.

On Hunting. A technical treatise dealing with nets (2), dogs and their training (3, 4. 11, 7) and the timing and conduct of the hunt (5–6, 8). The hunter is on foot, the normal prey a hare (an animal of notably good organic design: 5. 29), though Xenophon also mentions deer, boar and the wild cats of Macedonia, Mysia, and Syria (9–11). He disapproves of the hunting of foxes (6. 3). The activity is non-utilitarian (quick capture shows perseverance, but is not real hunting: 6. 8), intensely pleasurable—the sight of a hare running is so charming that to see one tracked, found, pursued, and caught is enough to make a man forget all other passions (5. 33)—and a divine invention which promotes military, intellectual, and moral excellence (1, 12). A contrast is drawn with the corrupt verbal wisdom of ‘sophists’ (a group not treated elsewhere in Xenophon as a coherent evil), and the hunter beats the politician in point of ethical standing and social value (13). Suspicions about the work's authenticity are unfounded. See *hunting.

Agesilaus. Posthumous encomium of ‘a perfectly good man’ (1. 1). An uneven chronological account (long stretches in close verbal parallel to passages of Hellenica) is followed by a survey (with some anecdotal examples) of principal virtues (piety, justice, continence, courage, wisdom, patriotism, charm, dignity, austerity). Little solid information is offered which is not in Hellenica, but a new gloss (sometimes panhellenic, occasionally critical) is put on already familiar facts. The work (like *Isocrates'Evagoras; see *evagoras) is normally regarded as an important contribution to the development of biography. See agesilaus; biography, greek.

Hieron. A dialogue version of the ‘wise man meets autocrat’ scenario (cf. Herodotus(1) on Solon and Croesus, see Hdt. 1. 29 ff.) in which, contrary to expectation, Hieron(1) refutes Simonides' claim that it is pleasant to be a tyrant, while Simonides supplies suggestions for improving the situation, not least by manipulation of public opinion. The original readers will inevitably have thought of 4th-cent. Syracusan tyranny (Dionysius (1) I and Dionysius (2) II), but this may not be a specifically intended subtext.

Ways and Means. Politicians claim that poverty compels Athens to treat other cities unjustly. So Xenophon advises alleviation of that poverty through innocent means, particularly (a) attracting revenue-creating foreign residents and (b) using state-owned slaves in the Laurium silver mines to increase income and generate a dole (trophēs) for citizens.

The economic plan (a curious mixture of the apparently familiar and completely alien) has been much criticized; but the primary imperative is political—to devise a new imperialism based on peace and consensual hegemony.

Constitution of the Spartans. An account of the Spartan system (attributed to a single lawgiver, Lycurgus (2)) which demonstrates the rationality of its consistent contradiction of normal Greek practices. The tone is laudatory except in a final chapter (misplaced in the manuscripts) which notes the decline from Lycurgan values associated with 4th-cent. imperialism.

(The non-Xenophontic Constitution of the Athenians, conceding that democracy, though repellent, was rational in Athenian circumstances, was allowed into the corpus by a later editor as a companion piece. The treatise is often called the ‘Old Oligarch’ (see separate entry old oligarch).)


  • Diogenes Laertius 2. 48–50.
  • Dio Chrysostomus, Orationes 18.
  • J. Luccioni, Les Idées sociales et politiques de Xénophon (1947).
  • H. Breitenbach, Historische Anschauungsformen Xenophons (1950).
  • H. Breitenbach, Realencyclopädie der Classischen Altertumswissenschaft 9 a, cols 1567–2052.
  • E. Delebecque, Essai sur la vie de Xénophon (1957).
  • J. K. Anderson, Xenophon (1974).
  • W. E. Higgins, Xenophon the Athenian (1977).
  • S. Hirsch, The Friendship of the Barbarians (1985).
  • G. Proietti, Xenophon's Sparta: An Introduction (1987).
  • C. J. Tuplin (ed.), Xenophon and his World (2004).
  • C. J. Tuplin, in T. Figueira, Spartan Society (2004), 251–282.
  • K. Münscher, Xenophon in der gr.-röm. Literatur (1920).
  • E. C. Marchant (ed.), Xenophontis Opera omnia, Oxford Classical Texts (1900–1920).
  • Teubner (Gemoll, Hude, etc.).
    • G. E. Underhill, A Commentary with Introduction and Appendix on the Hellenica of Xenophon (1906).
    • P. Krentz (ed.), Hellenika (1989: 1–2. 3. 10 and 1995: 2. 3. 11–4. 2. 8).
    • W. Vollbrecht, Xenophons Anabasis (1907–1912).
    • O. Lendle, Kommentar zu Xenophons Anabasis (Bücher 1–7) (1995).
    • J. P. Stronk, The Ten Thousand in Thrace: An Archaeological and Historical Commentary on Xenophon's Anabasis, Books VI.iii–vi–VII (1995: 6.3.2–7.8.24 only).

    Cyropaedia: H. A. Holden, The Cyropaedeia (1890).

    Respublica Lacedaemoniorum
    • F. Ollier, La République des Lacédémoniens (1934).
    • M. Lipka, Xenophon's Spartan Constitution (2002).
    • V. Gray, Xenophon on Government (2007).
    De vectigalibus
    • G. Bodei Giglioni, Xenophontis De vectigalibus (1970).
    • P. Gauthier, Un commentaire historique des Poroi de Xénophon (1976).

    De Re Eq.: E. Delebecque, De l'art équestre (1950).Find it in your libraryGoogle PreviewWorldCat

    Apology: M. D. Macleod, Apology; and, Memorabilia I (2008).Find it in your libraryGoogle PreviewWorldCat

    • G. J. Woldinga, Xenophons Symposium (1938/1939).
    • A. J. Bowen, Symposuim (1998).
    • B. Huss, Xenophons Symposion: ein Kommentar (1999).
    • O. Gigon, Kommentar [zu] Xenophons Memorabilien (1953, 1956: 1, 2 only).
    • M. D. Macleod, Apology; and, Memorabilia I (2008).
    • A. Delatte, Le troisième livre des Souvenirs socratiques de Xénophon; étude critique (1933: 3 only).

    Socratic Works (all): R. Laurenti, Le opere socratiche (Memorabili, Convito, Apologia di Socrate, Economico) (1961).Find it in your libraryGoogle PreviewWorldCat

    Oec: S. Pomeroy, Xenophon, Oeconomicus: A Social and Historical Commentary (1994).

    Hiero: V. Gray (2000).

  • Complete corpus: H. G. Dakyns, The Works of Xenophon (1890–1897).
  • Hell.: R. Warner (19772),
  • An.: R. Warner (19722),
  • R. Waterfield (2005),
  • W. Ambler (2008);
  • Cyr.: W. Ambler (2001);
  • Mem.: H. Tredennick & R. Waterfield (1990),
  • A. L. Bonnette (2001);
  • Symp.,
  • Ap.,
  • Oec.: H. Tredennick & R. Waterfield (1990),
  • R. C. Bartlett (1996);
  • Hiero,
  • Ages.,
  • Eq. mag.,
  • Eq.,
  • Cyn.,
  • Vect.: R. Waterfield (20062). Translations with facing Greek text: Loeb and Budé series.
Particular works
    • W. P. Henry, Greek Historical Writing (1966).
    • G. Cawkwell, introd. to R. Warner (trans.), A History of My Times (Hellenica) (1978)
    • V. Gray, The Character of Xenophon's Hellenica (1989).
    • C. J. Tuplin, The Failings of Empire (1993).
    • J. Dillery, Xenophon and the History of his Times (1995).
    • P. Carlier, Ktema 1978, 133–63.
    • J. Tatum, Xenophon's Imperial Fiction (1989).
    • B. Due, The Cyropaedia (1989).
    • D. Gera, Xenophon's Cyropaedia (1994).
    • C. Mueller-Goldingen, Untersuchungen zu Xenophons Kyrupädie (1995).
    • C. J. Tuplin in A. Sommerstein and C. Atherton (eds.), Education in Greek Fiction (1997), 65–162.
    • C. Nadon, Xenophon’s Prince (2001).
    • G. Cawkwell, intro. to R. Warner (trans.), The Sea, the Sea (2006).
    • G. Nussbaum, The Ten Thousand (1967).
    • V. Manfredi, La Strada dei Diecimila (1986).
    • P. Briant (ed.), Dans les pas des Dix-Mille (1996).
    • R. Lane Fox (ed.), The Long March (2004).

    Respublica Lacedaemoniorum:

    • K. Chrimes, The Respublica Lacedaemoniorum ascribed to Xenophon (1948).

    Mem., Ap., Symposium: L. Strauss, Xenophon's Socrates (1972).

    • L. Strauss, Xenophon's Socratic Discourse (1970).
    • S. Pomeroy, Xenophon, Oeconomicus: A Social and Historical Commentary (ed., trans., comm., 1994).
    • L. Strauss, On Tyranny (1968).
    • M. Sordi, Athenaeum 1980, 3–13.
    • V. Gray, Classical Quarterly 1981, 321–334.
    • V. Gray, The Framing of Socrates (1998).

    De Re Eq.: J. K. Anderson, Ancient Greek Horsemanship (1961).Find it in your libraryGoogle PreviewWorldCat

    Cynegetica: V. Gray, Hermes, Zeitschrift für klassische Philologie, 1985, 156–71.

    • G. Seyffert, De Xenophontis Agesilao quaestiones (1909).
    • K. Bringmann, Gymnasium 1971, 224–41.
    • V. Gray, Hermes, Zeitschrift für klassische Philologie, 1992, 58 ff.
    • B. Huss, American Journal of Philology 1999, 381–410.
    • G. Danzig, Classica et Mediaevalia 2004, 17–48.
    • G. Danzig, Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies 2005, 331–357.
    • F. Hobden, Ramus 2005, 93–111.