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This article deals with the location of Mount Theches, the vantage point from which Xenophon’s Ten Thousand famously got their first sight of the sea after a long and arduous march across eastern Anatolia. It discusses what the written sources can and cannot tell us about this iconic spot, comments on the currently favoured identification (stressing its dependence on an assumption about the route the army followed to and from the vantage point), and presents three other places that can come into contention if different assumptions are made about the route. The aim is not to insist that one or other of these is the correct solution but rather to underline the point that, since we do not (and are never likely to) know how the Ten Thousand approached Theches, and since there are many points in the Pontic Mountains behind Trabzon from which the sea can be glimpsed in the far distance, the identity of Theches is a problem that does not admit of more than conjectural solution. This prompts broader reflections on the textual and the topographical, and the relationship between landscape and narrative.
An enduring challenge for scholars of Xenophon's Anabasis has been to provide an explanation for the work. The difficulty stems from the multifaceted nature of the text, from uncertainty about the author's motivation for writing and from his binary orientation as historian–philosopher. The combined effect, as one writer put it, is that the work has resisted a commonly agreed-upon modern classification. A central argument of this study is that, by way of his focus on leadership and apologia, Xenophon in Anabasis gives us his version of Socrates and demonstrates his worth through Xenophon the character's success. Viewed from another angle, the Anabasis project presents Socrates in an unfamiliar way and philosophical setting: the larger-than-life figure of the man himself, vocabulary, inward gaze and Athenian background that distinguish conventional Socratica are all virtually absent. Yet, as I have tried to show, the work is imbued with a philosophical tenor, mainly through ‘Xenophon’ in the story acting in a manner like Socrates and putting into action principles of Socrates’ teaching. We are implicitly invited to compare the Socrates of Xenophon to other versions of the philosopher, and to other philosophers such as Gorgias, the teacher of Proxenos and Menon, and to judge for ourselves which is most beneficial to us, our friends and country.
As remarked in the Introduction, the philosophical aspect of the text does not rely only on the Socratic connection. The beginning of the work, which has attracted much interest for its absence of any indication of intent, casts it in a quite traditional philosophical frame: a young prince, treated unjustly by his older brother, and driven by his own ambition and sense of rectitude, seeks to unseat the new king and to rule instead of him. At the outset we are prompted to think about right and wrong and the nature of justice and power. The bare outline of the story provided furthermore makes us want to learn more about the Persian actors, who we are already familiar with as historical figures. The journey ahead, grounded spatially and chronologically through the march record, holds out the promise of revealing insights into their world.
And yet, for all his confident intellectual awareness, there is in Xenophon a profound feeling of human inadequacy and a sense, never forgotten, that permanence and perfection always elude.
William Higgins, Xenophon the Athenian
Xenophon was the son of Gryllos, an Athenian who owned land in Erchia in the east of Attica. The year of his birth is not known, nor is there reliable information on when, or where, he died. For the more than seventy years that he may have lived there are few solid biographical details, and most of these derive from his own works. Yet if the facts of his own life are sparsely documented, knowledge of Classical Athenian life is comparatively rich, and by drawing on the political and social history of the city in the late fifth century we can garner a sense of the world in which he grew up and which defined who he was and became. Following a short biography, I examine three factors from the earlier years which I suggest were major influences on his life and underpin the strong apologetic Tendenz in his writings. The content and analysis of this chapter and the following one on Anabasis furnish background for the arguments in the rest of the monograph.
Xenophon was the author of fourteen complete works, a number of which supply detail about his life. In some cases the detail seems clearly autobiographical, while in others reasonable arguments can be made that he is referring to personal experience. The most prominent of these is Anabasis, his account of Cyrus the Younger's march upcountry in 401 and the subsequent retreat of his Greek mercenaries. The story provides us with a timeline for the author's movements in the period of the march and, by way of a flashforward, a window into his later life in the Peloponnese. However, there is a need for care in interpreting what he tells us about himself in his works, especially in the case of Anabasis. While many regard it as the most important source for his life, I argue in this study that the Xenophon we see in the text is an exemplary figure, a young Athenian and pupil of Socrates who applies the lessons of his teacher to the extreme situation in which he has found himself.
In May 401 the Persian prince, Cyrus the Younger, set out from his satrapy in western Anatolia to pacify a tribe of the interior. His army comprised levies drawn from the areas under his command and some 12,000 Greek mercenaries. However, unknown to all but a few of these men, his real destination was Babylonia, his true aim, to seize the royal throne from his older brother. Although he managed to lead the force into the heart of Mesopotamia, Cyrus was killed in the ensuing battle with King Artaxerxes, who went on to reign for forty years more. With Cyrus dead, the Persians had no serious incentive to destroy his Greek mercenaries and instead led them northward out of Mesopotamia. After seizing their generals in a ruse at the Zapatas River, they funnelled the men into the highlands of the Kardouchoi, a fiercely independent people once said to have destroyed a large contingent sent by the King to pacify them. The satrap Tissaphernes, who had orchestrated the removal of the Greeks from Babylonia, must have been confident as he rode west to take over Cyrus's dominion that he would not see or hear of them again as a unit. Yet they managed to fight through the territory of the Kardouchoi and, eventually, to make their way to the Black Sea. Within two years, those who had survived the retreat were on the offensive against Tissaphernes as part of a Spartan-led force in Asia Minor.
One of the Greeks on the march, Xenophon of Athens, later wrote an account of Cyrus's expedition and its aftermath. Offering an eyewitness version of events, it succeeds in conveying a palpable sense of the trials endured by the army as it fought its way home from the heart of Persian territory. Yet the work is at once more than and not quite a personal history of the expedition and retreat. Xenophon, who becomes the key protagonist in the story, refers to himself in the third person, and this ‘Xenophon’ appears more like an exemplar than a historical figure. Moreover, the intense focus on Xenophon's character throughout Books 3–7 is at the expense of a more balanced view of events.
I have often wondered by what arguments those who drew up the indictment against Socrates could persuade the Athenians that his life was forfeit to the state. The indictment against him was to this effect: Socrates is guilty of rejecting the gods acknowledged by the state and of bringing in strange deities: he is also guilty of corrupting the youth.
Xenophon, Memorabilia 1.1.1
What? A great man? I always see only the actor of his own ideal.
Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil
From Xenophon's writings it is clear that Socrates was a major influence in his life. Four of his works feature the philosopher prominently, and I argue in this book that Anabasis too incorporates a strong Socratic presence. This is signalled by the philosopher's appearance in the key passage of the work (3.1.5–7) where Xenophon himself is formally introduced into the story. Although Socrates does not thereafter feature again, in his actions and moral bearing throughout the retreat, Xenophon's character exemplifies Socratic principles. The purpose of this final chapter is to substantiate this argument by showing how ‘Xenophon’ on the retreat represents a model Socratic pupil, the author's aim being to demonstrate in real world terms the benefit of the Socratic education. In this way he both stakes a claim for the primacy of his Socrates and offers a defence of his teacher against the historic charges of impiety and corrupting Athenian youth.
Another way of framing the search for Socrates in Anabasis outside of 3.1.5–7 is by way of the enterprise of the author Xenophon. As we saw in Chapter 3, a major preoccupation in his writing is the subject of leadership, and a key figure in his exposition is Socrates. In Anabasis, Xenophon's character could be regarded as a stand-in for the philosopher, given that he is not infrequently engaged in the same sort of educational activity as Socrates was in his life. Then we have parallels to the way philosophical dialogues are typically set up, the opening of Proxenos’ obituary, where he is cast as a typical Socratic interlocutor might be, excepting the fees (2.6.16), being an example.
Consequently death, which because of the changes and chances of life is daily close at hand, and because of the shortness of life can never be far away, does not frighten the wise man from considering the interests of the State and of his family for all time; and it follows that he regards posterity, of which he is bound to have no consciousness, as being really his concern.
Cicero, Tusculan Disputations 1.38
It would be reasonable to maintain that after the expedition Xenophon was not universally seen as having played a saviour role in it and that there was continuing criticism of his leadership style. If those circumstances were not to hold, then, while we may well still have had an Anabasis, that would likely have been a different book; in the one we have, Xenophon is at pains to represent his role on the retreat of the Ten Thousand as highly significant. From obscurity in the march upcountry, he emerges on the banks of the Zapatas River as a formidable leader of men. Until the army leaves Thrace some fifteen months later, he is involved in almost every major action described and is constantly on hand with sound advice. The fact that he appears to have used a pseudonym – Themistogenes of Syracuse – reinforces this view, there being an argument at least from the time of Plutarch that he ‘assigned [Themistogenes] the honour of authorship in order to make his account more credible by having himself described in the third person’ (SB) (De gloria Atheniensium 345e).
This reading, adopted by many as an explanation for the work, is nonetheless complicated by the evidence of Xenophon's other writings. Where he features at all, he is a retiring presence, and much of his writing besides is concerned with ethical philosophy. On a fuller view of his life and works, he was not a man we might expect to be given to self-aggrandisement. A resolution to this contradiction – a reconciliation between Xenophon the author and historical figure and the foregrounding of his character in Anabasis – can be brought about if we take account of the extensive apologetic theme, in particular the mission to promote the worth of Socrates the Athenian.
This book explores Xenophon's Anabasis as a work in its own right and as one that forms an integral part of the author's oeuvre. Drawing primarily on historiographical and literary perspectives, it examines the dynamics of Anabasis in relation to its treatment of leadership and apologia. A central argument is that these key Xenophontic elements are driven in an important way by the influence of Socrates. The extent of this influence gives rise to the book's subtitle, ‘A Socratic History’, which I explain as a narrative rooted in a historical event or period and in which the author embeds a reflection of the philosopher and his values.
The study is part of a burgeoning scholarly interest in Xenophon that has its origins in the 1960s with the contributions of Hartmut Erbse, ‘Xenophon's Anabasis’ (1966), William Henry, Greek Historical Writing (1966) and Hans Breitenbach (in Real-Encyclopädie, 1967). The seminal work of William Higgins, Xenophon the Athenian (1977), a decade later was a further important stimulus. Reflecting on the dramatic decline in Xenophon's reputation in modern times, Erbse identified the eminent nineteenth-century historian, Barthold Niebuhr, as instrumental in setting aside the high reputation he had enjoyed for most of the preceding two millennia. Already before the emergence of new, unfavourable comparable historical evidence (Hellenika Oxyrhynchos), Niebuhr took aim at Hellenika, descending into a rant about the degenerate character of its author. Paul Cartledge points as well to George Grote, a disciple of Niebuhr. In his multi-volume History of Greece Grote wrote:
to pass from Thucydides to the Hellenika of Xenophon is a descent truly mournful: and yet, when we look at Grecian history as a whole, we have great reason to rejoice that even so inferior a work as the latter has reached us.
The decline of the nineteenth century continued well into the twentieth. The discovery in the 1900s at Oxyrhynchos in Egypt of papyri covering the same field as Hellenika seriously undermined Xenophon's standing as a historian. Comparison revealed bias, omissions and inaccuracies. Meanwhile in the philosophy arena his capacity for thinking came under growing scrutiny.
Xenophon was unique among all of the philosophers in that he engaged not only with words [en logois/logoi] but with actions [ergois/ erga] as well; for he writes about virtue in his discourses and histories, while excelling himself in actions. And moreover he produced military leaders by means of the examples he gave; for instance, Alexander would never have become great had Xenophon never been. And he says that we should record even the everyday acts of distinguished men. (SB)
Eunapios, opening of the Lives of Philosophers and Sophists
In this chapter I consider historiographical and literary aspects of Xenophon's Anabasis. Long regarded as his most popular work, in more recent times it has come to be seen as one of his richest as well, a fact that has brought into relief questions of intent and classification. This issue of the book's nature is looked at in the second part of the chapter, which, having described it as a ‘Socratic history’, concludes with a consideration of the term in the context of Xenophon's historiographical (broadly defined) writings. In the third part I look at literary features of the text, focusing on how exemplars shape the narrative, and in the fourth, following a preview of Xenophon's apologetic Tendenz, I highlight and explore the presence of what might be termed ‘literary apologia’. I begin the chapter by looking for the work's audience.
Listeners and Readers
I suppose that, like every writer, Xenophon imagined his potential audience as large. Considering his links to important historical figures, his adventures out in the world and the range of themes which he addresses in his works, in his case that expectation was not unrealistic. The subjects dealt with in Anabasis indicate that Xenophon may have had a few distinct audiences in mind. The question I seek to answer here is, in addition to his everyman listener, to whom did he wish to speak? Was there a particular polis, social class, intellectual or professional group? By identifying one or more of these, by the degree of inflection we may gain insight into the writing motivations behind the text.
Kings and rulers, [Socrates] said, are not those who hold the sceptre, nor those who are chosen by the multitude, nor those on whom the lot falls, nor those who owe their power to force or deception; but those who know how to rule.
Political philosophy, the problem of how to rule, pervades Xenophon's writing. Time and again, whether by way of households, armies, kingdoms or oneself, it surfaces in his works. We need only look to his experience of war and civil war at Athens on the one hand and to his early association with Socrates on the other to appreciate how such a deep-seated concern developed. In the comparative scheme presented by the author in Anabasis, ‘Xenophon’ serves as a paradigm for an ideal leader, and in this chapter I seek to show how this ideal derives from Socratic and Athenian elements. The representation serves at the same time to obliquely defend the author, as the historical figure behind the model, and Socrates, Xenophon's mentor and teacher, against accusations made against them respectively. The cases for Anabasis as personal and Socratic apologia are examined in the following chapters.
As Anabasis is the story of an army on campaign written by one of its commanders, it should not be surprising that it encompasses the subject of military leadership. The fact that the author is a Socratic furthermore sets up an expectation that guidance on the subject may be provided. Yet it is not immediately obvious from the narrative that the treatment has a function beyond the storytelling itself; it does not, of course, follow from the presence of leadership content in the narrative that it must be didactic. Carried along by the trials of the Greeks, a reader who had not been drawn to the text by an interest in leadership could be excused for not registering the force of that underlying theme. This is a mark of Xenophon's talent as a writer, and we can see his artful approach as a way of transcending the often tedious style of military treatises of the day.