Xenophon consults Socrates

One of the most readable bits of ancient literature is Xenophon’s Anabasis but It has its detractors.

Oswyn Murray in the Oxford history of the Classical World says “Many of these (Xenophon’s works) are on the fringes of history. The Anabasis is a boy’s own adventure story of the march of 10,000 Greek brigands through the heart of the Persian Empire, told by one of its leaders.”

W.J.Hickie in his edition of Andocides De Mysteriis which was published in 1885 as a First Greek Book says “Xenophon I consider a thoroughly bad book, to be read by only advanced students, and by then only when they are fully able to note his inaccuracies of language, his false tenses and his general disregard of Attic usage”

Be that is may, it is thoroughly good read. In one passage, Xenophon describes the advice he got from Socrates. Xenophon, although not a soldier,had been invited by his friend Proxenus to join the expedition into Asia led by Cyrus the brother of the Persian king Artaxerxes. This is the advice Socrates gave and how Xenophon got round it.

ὁ μέντοι Ξενοφῶν ἀναγνοὺς τὴν ἐπιστολὴν ἀνακοινοῦται Σωκράτει τῷ Ἀθηναίῳ περὶ τῆς πορείας. καὶ ὁ Σωκράτης ὑποπτεύσας μή τι πρὸς τῆς πόλεως ὑπαίτιον εἴη Κύρῳ φίλονγενέσθαι, ὅτι ἐδόκει ὁ Κῦρος προθύμως τοῖς Λακεδαιμονίοις ἐπὶ τὰς Ἀθήνας συμπολεμῆσαι, συμβουλεύει τῷ Ξενοφῶντι ἐλθόντα εἰς Δελφοὺς ἀνακοινῶσαι τῷ θεῷ περὶ τῆς πορείας. ἐλθὼν δ᾽ ὁ Ξενοφῶν ἐπήρετο τὸν Ἀπόλλω τίνι ἂν θεῶν θύων καὶ εὐχόμενος κάλλιστα καὶ ἄριστα ἔλθοι τὴν ὁδὸν ἣν ἐπινοεῖ καὶ καλῶς πράξας σωθείη. καὶ ἀνεῖλεν αὐτῷ ὁ Ἀπόλλων θεοῖς οἷς ἔδει θύειν. ἐπεὶ δὲ πάλιν ἦλθε, λέγει τὴν μαντείαν τῷ Σωκράτει. ὁ δ᾽ ἀκούσας ᾐτιᾶτο αὐτὸν ὅτι οὐ τοῦτο πρῶτον ἠρώτα πότερον λῷον εἴη αὐτῷ πορεύεσθαι ἢ μένειν, ἀλλ᾽ αὐτὸς κρίνας ἰτέον εἶναι τοῦτ᾽ ἐπυνθάνετο ὅπως ἂν κάλλιστα πορευθείη. ἐπεὶ μέντοι οὕτως ἤρου, ταῦτ᾽, ἔφη, χρὴ ποιεῖν ὅσα ὁ θpεὸς ἐκέλευσεν. 

After reading the letter, Xenophon asked the advice of Socrates the Athenian about the expedition and Socrates, thinking that forming a friendship with Cyrus might lead to accusations from the city because Cyrus was enthusiastically helping the Spartans in their war against Athens, gave as his advice to go to Delphi and to consult the God about the expedition. When Xenophon got there he asked which one of the Gods he should sacrifice and pray to in order to go on the expedition in the best way and to return safely when he had successfully done what he intended. Apollo responded with the Gods to whom he should sacrifice. When he got back he told the results of the oracle to Socrates. When Socrates heard it, he told Xenophon off because he had not asked first of all whether it was better for him to go or stay at home but as he had already made up his mind that that he he was going to go, his question was on how best to go. But since this is what he asked, he must do what the God told him.

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1 Response to Xenophon consults Socrates

  1. This is what happens when you ask a question wanting an answer in agreement with your already made-up mind. Poor Xenophon, Socrates caught him in the act.

    As for the detractors, let’s just say I am in disagreement.


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