XENOPHON, (c.434-c.355 B.C.). An Athenian historian, soldier, and philosophical writer, the son of Gryllus, born near Athens. His own writings and the account in Diogenes Laërtius (q.v.) are the chief sources for his biography. The story that Socrates saved his life at Delium in 424 B.C. is incompatible with his representation of himself as quite a young man in 401. Our first authentic glimpse of him is as a disciple or companion of Socrates, at the end of the Peloponnesian War. An opportunity presented itself through his friend Proxenos, a captain of Greek mercenaries, to accompany the military expedition which Cyrus the Younger was organizing against his brother, Artaxerxes, King of Persia, and Xenophon accepted the invitation. The historic significance of the expedition lies in the exploits of the 10,000 Greek mercenaries of Cyrus's army, who, encompassed by foes and betrayed by friends, after the assassination by Persian treachery of all their chief officers, made their way from the heart of a hostile empire to the shores of the Black Sea and so back to the Bosporus, thus demonstrating the weakness of the Persian Empire and preparing Greek public opinion for the conquests of Alexander the Great. The history of the expedition is given in detail by Xenophon in his Anabasis (q.v.), or Upward March of Cyrus, which in its last six books is rather a Catabasis or March Down of the 10,000. Xenophon takes virtual command and throughout plays the leading role, but the work was published some 30 years after the events, and we have no means of verifying his statements. On reaching the Hellespont (399) Xenophon and his comrades, after some more or less creditable adventures, entered the service of the Spartan Thibron and his successor Dercyllidas against the Persian satraps of Asia Minor. Because of this or his participation in the expedition of Cyrus the Athenians passed a decree of banishment against him. We next find Xenophon in the camp of the Spartan King Agesilaus (q.v.), who in 396 went out to infuse new vigor into the war against the satraps. When the Corinthian War summoned Agesilaus back to Greece Xenophon accompanied him and was present as an eyewitness, if not as a participant, at the battle of Coronea, in which the Spartan King defeated the allied Theban and Athenian forces (394). After Xenophon had resided a few years at Sparta, the Spartans bestowed upon him an estate on the road to Olympia in territory taken from Elis. Here he spent the next 16 years in the pursuits of literature and the chase. Here his two sons grew to manhood, and here his chief works were written.
The defeat of the Spartans by the Thebans at Leuctra in 371 emboldened the Eleians to expel the Spartan protégé; but though the Athenians, now friendly to Sparta, repealed the decree of banishment, and though he sent his son Gryllus with the Athenian cavalry at Mantinea, Xenophon did not himself return to Athens but made his home at Corinth, where he died about 355.
Besides the Anabasis, Xenophon's chief works are: (1) The so-called Memorabilia, or recollections of Socrates and Socratic conversations. This was probably called forth by the declamation against Socrates of the Sophist Polycrates (about 394). After 10 years of campaigning and adventure Xenophon could not possibly have remembered all the details which he professes to give, and a comparison with his other writings shows that much of the material of the book is Xenophontic rather than Socratic. Especially famous are the chapters on the evidences of design in nature, and the apologue of the choice of Herakles, borrowed, so Xenophon tells us, from the Sophist Prodicus (q.v.). Complementary to the Memorabilia are the representation of Socrates' table talk in the Symposium or Banquet, the relation of which to Plato's Symposium is much debated, and the conomicus, or dialogue on the management of a house and. family, often quoted for its pleasing picture of the young Greek wife and her education by her husband.The Hellenica begins abruptly in 411, as a continuation of Thucydides' unfinished history of the Peloponnesian War. The first two books bring the story down to the overthrow of the Thirty Tyrants in 403. The last five books are a general sketch of the history of Greece to the battle of Mantinea in 362. An allusion to the death of Alexander of Pherae dates the publication after 357. The work suffers by contrast with the philosophic history of Thucydides and has been severely censured for lack of proportion, and for failure to appreciate the greatness of the Theban Epaminondas. (3) The Cyropaedia, or education of Cyrus, is a philosophical romance embodying in the person of Cyrus the Elder, the founder of the Persian Empire, Xenophon's favorite notions of the sound training of mind and body and the art of commanding men and winning willing obedience. The love story of the wedded pair Abradates and Panthea and the dying speech of Cyrus on the immortality of the soul are often quoted.
Minor works are the Lacedæmonian Polity, the laudatory biography of Agesilaus, the tract on the Revenues of Athens the Hicro, or dialogue on Tyranny, the (probably spurious) Apology of Socrates, and the special treatises on Horsemanship, The Chase, and the Duties of a Cavalry Officer.
Xenophon is the perfect amateur. As soldier, orator, philosopher, essayist, historian, he gives us the measure of the ability and versatility of an Athenian gentleman of extraordinary talent, but not of genius. He writes a simple unaffected style, but is not nicely scrupulous for the purity of Attic idiom or vocabulary.
The New International Encyclopaedia, Vol. XXIII (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1920) 769-770.