Xenophon: Memorabilia, Oeconomicus

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Puritanboard Amanuensis
This is from the "green" Loeb Classical Library edition.

Xenophon's skill is in military history. While he is good in Socratic dialogue, he never approaches Plato's depth and power of analysis. He is still a very good writer, though.


Xenophon’s Socrates doesn’t have the depth of Plato’s, but there are some similarities. Both are skilled interrogators and Xenophon does write with an easy style. His argument is that Socrates could not have been guilty of corrupting the youth or denying the gods. He shows that the corrupt followers became corrupt after leaving Socrates’s company.

Given the Greeks’ reputation for sensual license, Socrates appears as the epitome of restraint. He rebukes Critobulus’s advances towards Alcibiades’s slave boy, warning that it will unleash a danger Critobulus cannot control (I.3.8ff).

Xenophon also breaks with the Greek disdain over commerce. He explains to Nicomachides, who wants to be a good general but was not chosen, that every quality a merchant has, a general must have. He even tells him (in what can only be a break with the entire tradition), “Don’t look down on businessmen: (III.iv.12). There is a similar moving passage in the Oec.

While Xenophon largely exonerates Socrates on the point of morals, he almost paints him as a pick up artist at one point. He goes to visit Theodote and asks her how she plans to make a living since men’s love is fickle. She doesn’t know, so he basically teaches her “Game Theory.”

The Oeconomicus

This is Xenophon’s agrarian treatise. Mostly pretty good.


Ordinary Guy (TM)
The only thing I remember of any of Xenophon aside from his Anabasis book is an argument that seemed an argument for the existence of God. Let me find it...

Memorabilia I, iv, 3-19:

"So tell me, Aristodemus (he begain), are there any human beings who have won your admiration for their wisdom?

Ar. There are.

Soc. Would you mention to us their names?

Ar. In the writings of epic poetry I have the greatest admiration for Homer. . . . And as a dithyrambic poet for Melanippides.78 I admire also Sophocles as a tragedian, Polycleitus as a sculptor, and Zeuxis as a painter.

Soc. Which would you consider the more worthy of admiration, a fashioner of senseless images devoid of motion or one who could fashion living creatures endowed with understanding and activity?

Ar. Decidedly the latter, provided his living creatures owed their birth to design and were not the offspring of some chance.

Soc. But now if you had two sorts of things, the one of which presents no clue as to what it is for, and the other is obviously for some useful purpose — which would you judge to be the result of chance, which of design?

Ar. Clearly that which is produced for some useful end is the work of design.

Soc. Does it not strike you then that he who made man from the beginning79 did for some useful end furnish him with his several senses ...

Ar. To be sure not! Viewed in this light they would seem to be the handiwork of some wise artificer,82 full of love for all things living.83

Soc. What shall we say of this passion implanted in man to beget offspring, this passion in the mother to rear her babe, and in the creature itself, once born, this deep desire of life and fear of death?

Ar. No doubt these do look like the contrivances of some one deliberately planning the existence of living creatures.

Soc. Well, and doubtless you feel to have a spark of wisdom yourself?

Ar. Put your questions, and I will answer.

Soc. And yet you imagine that elsewhere no spark of wisdom is to be found? And that, too, when you know that you have in your body a tiny fragment only of the mighty earth, a little drop of the great waters, and of the other elements, vast in their extent, you got, I presume, a particle of each towards the compacting of your bodily frame? Mind alone, it would seem, which is nowhere to be found,84 you had the lucky chance to snatch up and make off with, you cannot tell how. And these things around and about us, enormous in size, infinite in number, owe their orderly arrangement, as you suppose, to some vacuity of wit?

Ar. It may be, for my eyes fail to see the master agents of these, as one sees the fabricators of things produced on earth.

Soc. No more do you see your own soul, which is the master agent of your body; so that, as far as that goes, you may maintain, if you like, that you do nothing with intelligence,85 but everything by chance.

At this point Aristodemus: I assure you, Socrates, that I do not disdain the Divine power. On the contrary, my belief is that the Divinity is too grand to need any service which I could render.

Soc. But the grander that power is, which deigns to tend and wait upon you, the more you are called upon to honour it....


Puritanboard Amanuensis
I remember that. It's a basic teleological argument. Admittedly, Xenophon's understanding of "God" or "the divine" (which is probably what he said in Greek) is fluid, the argument is good. One would probably need to buttress it, but when people start attacking teleology, you can immediately reply by asking if "they meant that." Presumably, contrary to their argument, they did.
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