Xenophon (Ξενοφῶν, Xenophon) of Athens (c. 430 BC – c. 355 BC) was a Greek writer, historian, and soldier.
We derive information about his life from his own writings. Xenophon, son of Gryllos and Diodora, was born about 430 in Athens, in the Attic demos of Erchia. His parents owned landed property, so they were probably wealthy. It is likely that his father belonged to the state of “knighthood,” and thus belonged to the second property class according to the estimated criteria of the time of Solon”s reform. Members of this class were obliged to serve in the cavalry in case of war. From this environment Xenophon took some aristocratic habits: love of riding, horse breeding, hunting, monarchical sympathies and religiousness. With his own horses he went on the expedition of Cyrus, and his sons were later sent to serve in the Athenian cavalry.Having adequate financial conditions, Xenophon received a comprehensive education. Wealthy students received their education at home, and poorer students in private schools. Xenophon took courses in grammar, gymnastics, and music, and later studied rhetoric, philosophy, and probably strategy. From Xenophont”s youth are well attested close contacts with Socrates. He joined him at the very end of the Peloponnesian War around 409. He met him by chance on a steep and winding Athenian street, as Diogenes Laertios tells us in his work Lives and Views of Famous Philosophers. They had an exchange of words. Socrates at the end asked himself: “where do people become noble and honorable?”. Seeing that Xenophon did not know what to say, he suggested: “Follow me and learn this knowledge!”. Under these conditions Xenophon was to become his disciple. He stayed in his circle until 401.To the end of his life he retained great respect for his former master. They had similar political views. They admired Sparta for its order, discipline, tradition, religiosity and justice.
After the defeat of Athens at Ajgospotamoj (405) and the capture of the city (404), the Spartans established from their followers the rule of the Thirty Tyrants. Xenophon sympathized with them. It would appear from some passages in Greek History that he served in the cavalry at that time.
The restoration of the democratic system in Athens in 403 marked a turning point in Xenophon”s life. The amnesty offered personal security, but his political and military career was essentially shut down. During this period he received a letter from Sardes from his old friend Proxenos, a student of the sophist Gorgias. In it, Proxenos encouraged him to come to the service of Cyrus the Younger, the Persian satrap of Lydia, Phrygia, and Great Cappadocia.
Xenophon accepted Proxenos” proposal and in early 401 left Athens and joined some 13,000 Greeks in the service of the Persian satrap Cyrus the Younger. At this time, Cyrus declared war on his brother-king Artaxerxes II for the Persian throne, in which Xenophon participated. A decisive clash took place at Kunax near Babylon. The royal army lost the battle, but Cyrus was killed in the battle. The Greek chieftains were murdered as a result of trickery, and Cyrus” Persian soldiers went over to the royal side. The Greek mercenaries were in danger in a foreign land. They decided to return home. Xenophon, as commander of the rear, took part in the famous retreat (the so-called march of the ten thousand). The way back was a thousand miles long, leading through the deserts and mountains of Armenia to the Black Sea.
After safely reaching the shores of the Black Sea and crossing the Hellespont, Xenophon with 6,000 Greek soldiers enlisted in the service of Seutes, prince of the Thracian Odrys. Seutes reneged on the deal, so the Greeks decided to return to Asia, where they took part in Sparta”s war against Persia. They served under the orders of Tibron, the Spartan commander. In 396, Agesilaos II, the Spartan king, personally assumed the supreme command. Xenophon joined him as an ally and supporter. The Spartans were successful in war. After capturing Sardes, they had to return to Greece because of Persia”s actions in their rear. Persia organized a coalition of Athens, Thebes, and Corinth against Sparta. The Corinthian War (years 395-387) ensued. On the return journey, Agesilaos II with his army defeated the Athenians at Coronia (394). Athens, for participating in the battle on the opposing side, declared Xenophonos an enemy and sentenced him to banishment.
In the service of Sparta and in Skillunt
Xenophon, after the battle, decided to join King Agesilaos. He sailed with him to Sparta, where he probably stayed for several years. He participated in the expeditions of Sparta during the Corinthian War. For his merits he was granted the privilege of proxenia, that is, honorary Spartan citizenship. The proxenia was titular in that he did not serve as spokesman for another Greek state in Sparta. This dignity enabled him to send his twin sons Gryllos and Diodorus to a Spartan upbringing. He obtained from Sparta an estate in Skillunt (a modern-day municipality of Olympia, where he moved with his family in the early 1580s. He took with him his wife Finesia and his sons, called “Dioscurus”. His wife”s name is of Ionian origin, so she was probably not Athenian. He probably met and married her during his Asiatic expedition. His sons were also presumably born in Ionia, between 399 and 394.
At the age of about 40, he settled in Skillunt, exchanging a lush soldier”s life for a quiet landed life. He spent time with his family, diversifying his spare moments with literary work. Skillunt was located in the territory of Elida, near Olympia, on the western side of the Peloponnese. The Spartans took this locality during the war with the Elidians. Xenophon received a house, land from Sparta as compensation for the confiscated family property in Attica. He engaged in breeding dogs and horses and spent his time hunting or feasting. He owned slaves who came from the Lesser Asia of Dardania to work for him in the fields. Xenophon founded the nearby sacred precinct of Artemis, about 4 kilometers from Olympia, as a vote of thanks for his happy return from Asia.
The autumn of life in Corinth
The defeat of the Spartans at Leuktrami in 371 forced him to abandon Skillunt. Probably in the autumn of that year, the Aeolians were able to recapture Skillunt and the other towns of Trifylia, except Lepreon. Xenophon placed his family just there, and himself followed to the city of Elida. He probably tried to recover the property he had taken by legal means, before the Olympian Council. After an unsuccessful attempt, he joined his family in Lepreon, the only pro-Parthian city of Trifylia. He decided to move with his family to Corinth. On the way, he stopped in Sparta in the hospitality of King Agesilaos. In the fall of 370, the Theban army invaded Laconia, destroying it and leaving Sparta the capital. The following year Xenophon, sensing a threat to his family, decided to go to Corinth, where he spent the rest of his life. He chose Corinth, a pro-Parthian city in the center of Greece. Here information from all sides came in. Here Xenophon could get accounts of what was happening in Athens and Sparta and other countries. The city gave him favorable conditions for further writing. He led a comfortable and prosperous life. He enjoyed popularity among the citizens. In the mid-1860s, the former Athenian resolution sentencing him to exile was abolished as a result of the rapprochement between Athens and Sparta. Xenophon regained his civil rights and his confiscated family property in Attica. His sons, descended from a mother of non-Athenian descent, were probably legalized. Unlike his sons, he probably did not return to his homeland. He sent his sons Gryllos and Diodorus to Athens. According to family tradition, the sons were to serve in the Athenian cavalry. They fought against the Thebans. Gryllos was killed in an equestrian skirmish on the eve of the Battle of Mantinea in 362.Xenophon died around 355 BC, leaving a son Diodorus and grandchildren, among them Xenophon the Younger. It is possible that he was buried near Skillunt in the sacred precinct of Artemis after his death.
Xenophon is the author of many works on a wide range of topics and spans. His works cover the topics of history, politics, military, economics, hunting, and memoir. The works have happily arrived in complete form. He wrote most of his works in Skillunt and in Corinth. The treatise The Political System of Athens (Gr. Άθηναίων πολιτεία, Athenaion politeia) has long been attributed to Xenophon. However, it was written earlier, during the early years of the Peloponnesian War.
Xenophon is credited with the authorship of fourteen works that are variously grouped (from 2 to 4 groups). Here they have been grouped into four groups: socratic writings, political-establishment writings, historical writings, and varia.
1 Socratic writings:
2. political and constitutional writings:
3. historical writings:
Xenophon”s works are strongly connected with his life. On this basis it is possible to reconstruct his figure and mind. He was susceptible to outstanding individuals (Socrates, Cyrus the Younger, Agesilaos II). Apparently endowed with beauty, he was guided in life by the ambition to be famous. Wanting to become a man of action, he was attracted to the practical life, which resulted in contacts with the famous Socrates. The philosopher was for him a master of life, a model of conduct. Xenophon was able to assess the philosophical attitude of his master. However he was interested in his practical side, especially in the field of ethics. He wanted to know how general truths could be applied to concrete needs. He was alien to all dialectics, cosmology, and his metaphysics has pedagogical and moralistic goals. He adapted the ethics of Socrates for use by a wider audience. On these ethical principles he created the heroes of his works (Cyrus the Great, Cyrus the Younger, Agesilaos II).
In political views Xenophon was a supporter of the monarchical system. He looked for ideals far from his homeland. He found them in Persia (Cyrus the Great), Sparta (Agesilaos II, Lycurgus). His rulers are chiefs rather than political leaders and therefore his works are filled with military themes. The writings thus show the author as an expert in military tactics and strategy rather than a politician. Not surprisingly, Xenophon never held government office and did not participate directly in public life.
He professed traditional religiosity. He believed in the omnipotence of a god who punishes crimes. He explained Sparta”s defeat at the Battle of Leuktras as divine punishment for its faithfulness to the Thebans.
He was a highly respected writer in ancient Greece and Rome. He was included among the outstanding Greek historians of the classical period, along with Herodotus and Tukidides. He was called the “bee of Attica” for his simplicity, clarity of style, and grace of language. This appreciation was probably the reason for the preservation of his works to our time. He was imitated by well-known writers such as Flavius Arrian. In Roman times he also enjoyed recognition. He was praised by Cicero, Quintilian and others. Xenophon was a versatile writer who moved among various literary forms, created new literary genres (philosophical and military memoirs, historical journalism and political novels), and inspired other forms and genres in Greek literature. He surpassed the average Athenian of his time with his writing talent, knowledge of the world. His weakness was his partiality. He used cleverness, silence, and mystification. On the other hand, he possessed certain qualities. He was faithful to his friends, courageous, persistent, believing in a just cause. He was a man of action, hence he did not want to play the role of a scholar-researcher in philosophical speculation or pragmatic understanding of history. His works were mostly based on his experience and experiences. Thanks to his works, especially Anabasis, he entered the history of world literature.