Primary Source Reading 3: Xenophon

Primary Source Reading: Xenophon

Xenophon brings a burnt offering to the goddess Diana

Xenophon the Athenian was born 431 B.C. He was a pupil of Socrates. He marched with the Spartans, and was exiled from Athens. Sparta gave him land and property in Scillus, where he lived for many years before having to move once more, to settle in Corinth. He died in 354 B.C.

The Anabasis is his story of the march to Persia to aid Cyrus, who enlisted Greek help to try and take the throne from Artaxerxes, and the ensuing return of the Greeks, in which Xenophon played a leading role. This occurred between 401 B.C. and March 399 B.C.

Book II

On arrival at the doors of Tissaphernes’s quarters the generals were summoned inside. They were Proxenus the Boeotian, Menon the Thessalian, Agias the Arcadian, Clearchus the Laconian, and Socrates the Achaean; while the captains remained at the doors. Not long after that, at one and the same signal, those within were seized and those without cut down; after which some of the barbarian horsemen galloped over the plain, killing every Hellene they encountered, bond or free. The Hellenes, as they looked from the camp, viewed that strange horsemanship with surprise, and could not explain to themselves what it all meant, until Nicarchus the Arcadian came tearing along for bare life with a wound in the belly, and clutching his protruding entrails in his hands. He told them all that had happened. Instantly the Hellenes ran to their arms, one and all, in utter consternation, and fully expecting that the enemy would instantly be down upon the camp. They had at their back other Persians also, armed with cuirasses, as many as three hundred. As soon as they were within a short distance, they bade any general or captain of the Hellenes who might be there to approach and hear a message from the king. After this, two Hellene generals went out with all precaution. Cheirisophus was at the time away in a village with a party gathering provisions. As soon as they had halted within earshot, Ariaeus said: “Hellenes, Clearchus being shown to have committed perjury and to have broken the truce, has suffered the penalty, and he is dead; but Proxenus and Menon, in return for having given information of his treachery, are in high esteem and honor. As to yourselves, the king demands your arms. He claims them as his, since they belonged to Cyrus, who was his slave.” To this the Hellenes made answer by the mouth of Cleanor of Orchomenus, their spokesman, who said, addressing Ariaeus: “Thou villain, Ariaeus, and you the rest of you, who were Cyrus’s friends, have you no shame before God or man, first to swear to us that you have the same friends and the same enemies as we ourselves, and then to turn and betray us, making common cause with Tissaphernes, that most impious and villainous of men? With him you have murdered the very men to whom you gave your solemn word and oath, and to the rest of us turned traitors; and, having so done, you join hand with our enemies to come against us.” Ariaeus answered: “There is no doubt but that Clearchus has been known for some time to harbor designs against Tissaphernes and Orontas, and all of us who side with them.” Taking up this assertion, Xenophon said: “Well, then, granting that Clearchus broke the truce contrary to our oaths, he has his deserts, for perjurers deserve to perish; but where are Proxenus and Menon, our generals and your good friends and benefactors, as you admit? Send them back to us. Surely, just because they are friends of both parties, they will try to give us the best advice for you and for us.”

At this, the Asiatics stood discussing with one another for a long while, and then they went away without vouchsafing a word.

The generals who were thus seized were taken up to the king and there decapitated. The first of these, Clearchus, was a thorough soldier, and a true lover of fighting. This is the testimony of all who knew him intimately. As long as the war between the Lacedaemonians and Athenians lasted, he could find occupation at home; but after the peace, he persuaded his own city that the Thracians were injuring the Hellenes, and having secured his object, set sail, empowered by the ephorate to make war upon the Thracians north of the Chersonese and Perinthus. But he had no sooner fairly started than, for some reason or other, the ephors changed their minds, and endeavored to bring him back again from the isthmus. Thereupon he refused further obedience, and went off with sails set for the Hellespont. In consequence he was condemned to death by the Spartan authorities for disobedience to orders; and now, finding himself an exile, he came to Cyrus. Working on the feelings of that prince, in language described elsewhere, he received from his entertainer a present of ten thousand darics. Having got this money, he did not sink into a life of ease and indolence, but collected an army with it, carried on war against the Thracians, and conquered them in battle, and from that date onwards harried and plundered them with war incessantly, until Cyrus wanted his army; whereupon he at once went off, in hopes of finding another sphere of warfare in his company.

These, I take it, were the characteristic acts of a man whose affections are set on warfare. When it is open to him to enjoy peace with honor, no shame, no injury attached, still he prefers war; when he may live at home at ease, he insists on toil, if only it may end in fighting; when it is given to him to keep his riches without risk, he would rather lessen his fortune by the pastime of battle. To put it briefly, war was his mistress; just as another man will spend his fortune on a favorite, or to gratify some pleasure, so he chose to squander his substance on soldiering.

But if the life of a soldier was a passion with him, he was none the less a soldier born, as herein appears; danger was a delight to him; he courted it, attacking the enemy by night or by day; and in difficulties he did not lose his head, as all who ever served in a campaign with him would with one consent allow. A good solder! The question arises, Was he equally good as a commander? It must be admitted that, as far as was compatible with his quality of temper, he was; none more so. Capable to a singular degree of devising how his army was to get supplies, and of actually getting them, he was also capable of impressing upon those about him that Clearchus must be obeyed; and that he brought about by the very hardness of his nature. With a scowling expression and a harshly-grating voice, he chastised with severity, and at times with such fury, that he was sorry afterwards himself for what he had done. Yet it was not without purpose that he applied the whip; he had a theory that there was no good to be got out of an unchastened army. A saying of his is recorded to the effect that the soldier who is to mount guard and keep his hands off his friends, and be ready to dash without a moment’s hesitation against the foe—must fear his commander more than the enemy. Accordingly, in any strait, this was the man whom the soldiers were eager to obey, and they would have no other in his place. The cloud which lay upon his brow, at those times lit up with brightness; his face became radiant, and the old sternness was so charged with vigor and knitted strength to meet the foe, that it savored of salvation, not of cruelty. But when the pinch of danger was past, and it was open to them to go and taste subordination under some other officer, many forsook him. So lacking in grace of manner was he; but was ever harsh and savage, so that the feeling of the soldiers towards him was that of schoolboys to a master. In other words, though it was not his good fortune ever to have followers inspired solely by friendship or goodwill, yet those who found themselves under him, either by State appointment or through want, or other arch necessity, yielded him implicit obedience. From the moment that he led them to victory, the elements which went to make his soldiers efficient were numerous enough. There was the feeling of confidence in facing the foe, which never left them, and there was the dread of punishment at his hands to keep them orderly. In this way and to this extent he knew how to rule; but to play a subordinate part himself he had no great taste; so, at any rate, it was said. At the time of his death he must have been about fifty years of age.

Agias the Arcadian and Socrates the Achaean were both among the sufferers who were put to death. To the credit, be it said, of both, no one ever derided either as cowardly in war: no one ever had a fault to find with either on the score of friendship. They were both about thirty-five years of age.

Book III

After the generals had been seized, and the captains and soldiers who formed their escort had been killed, the Hellenes lay in deep perplexity—a prey to painful reflections. Here were they at the king’s gates, and on every side environing them were many hostile cities and tribes of men. Who was there now to furnish them with a market? Separated from Hellas by more than a thousand miles, they had not even a guide to point the way. Impassable rivers lay athwart their homeward route, and hemmed them in. Betrayed even by the Asiatics, at whose side they had marched with Cyrus to the attack, they were left in isolation. Without a single mounted trooper to aid them in pursuit: was it not perfectly plain that if they won a battle, their enemies would escape to a man, but if they were beaten themselves, not one soul of them would survive?

Haunted by such thoughts, and with hearts full of despair, but few of them tasted food that evening; but few of them kindled even a fire, and many never came into camp at all that night, but took their rest where each chanced to be. They could not close their eyes for very pain and yearning after their fatherlands or their parents, the wife or child whom they never expected to look upon again. Such was the plight in which each and all tried to seek repose.

Now there was in that host a certain man, an Athenian, Xenophon, who had accompanied Cyrus, neither as a general, nor as an officer, nor yet as a private soldier, but simply on the invitation of an old friend, Proxenus. This old friend had sent to fetch him from home, promising, if he would come, to introduce him to Cyrus, “whom,” said Proxenus, “I consider to be worth my fatherland and more to me.”

Xenophon having read the letter, consulted Socrates the Athenian, whether he should accept or refuse the invitation. Socrates, who had a suspicion that the State of Athens might in some way look askance at my friendship with Cyrus, whose zealous co-operation with the Lacedaemonians against Athens in the war was not forgotten, advised Xenophon to go to Delphi and there to consult the god as to the desirability of such a journey. Xenophon went and put the question to Apollo, to which of the gods he must pray and do sacrifice, so that he might best accomplish his intended journey and return in safety, with good fortune. Then Apollo answered him: “To such and such gods must thou do sacrifice,” and when he had returned home he reported to Socrates the oracle. But he, when he heard, blamed Xenophon that he had not, in the first instance, inquired of the god, whether it were better for him to go or to stay, but had taken on himself to settle that point affirmatively, by inquiring straightway, how he might best perform the journey. “Since, however,” continued Socrates, “you did so put the question; you should do what the god enjoined.” Thus, and without further ado, Xenophon offered sacrifice to those whom the god had named, and set sail on his voyage. He overtook Proxenus and Cyrus at Sardis, when they were just ready to start on the march up country, and was at once introduced to Cyrus. Proxenus eagerly pressed him to stop—a request which Cyrus with like ardor supported, adding that as soon as the campaign was over he would send him home. The campaign referred to was understood to be against the Pisidians. That is how Xenophon came to join the expedition, deceived indeed, though not by Proxenus, who was equally in the dark with the rest of the Hellenes, not counting Clearchus, as to the intended attack upon the king. Then, though the majority were in apprehension of the journey, which was not at all to their minds, yet, for very shame of one another and Cyrus, they continued to follow him, and with the rest went Xenophon.

And now in this season of perplexity, he too, with the rest, was in sore distress, and could not sleep; but anon, getting a snatch of sleep, he had a dream. It seemed to him in a vision that there was a storm of thunder and lightning, and a bolt fell on his father’s house, and thereupon the house was all in a blaze. He sprung up in terror, and pondering the matter, decided that in part the dream was good: in that he had seen a great light from Zeus, whilst in the midst of toil and danger. But partly too he feared it, for evidently it had come from Zeus the king. And the fire kindled all around—what could that mean but that he was hemmed in by various perplexities, and so could not escape from the country of the king? The full meaning, however, is to be discovered from what happened after the dream.

This is what took place. As soon as he was fully awake, the first clear thought which came into his head was, why am I lying here? The night advances; with the day, it is like enough, the enemy will be upon us. If we are to fall into the hands of the king, what is left us but to face the most horrible of sights, and to suffer the most fearful pains, and then to die, insulted, an ignominious death? To defend ourselves—to ward off that fate—not a hand stirs: no one is preparing, none cares; but here we lie, as though it were time to rest and take our ease. I too! What am I waiting for? A general to undertake the work? And from what city? Am I waiting till I am older myself and of riper age? Older I shall never be, if to-day I betray myself to my enemies.

Thereupon he got up, and called together first Proxenus’s officers; and when they were met, he said: “Sleep, sirs, I cannot, nor can you, I fancy, nor lie here longer, when I see in what straits we are. Our enemy, we may be sure, did not open war upon us till he felt he had everything amply ready; yet none of us shows a corresponding anxiety to enter the lists of battle in the bravest style.

“And yet, if we yield ourselves and fall into the king’s power, need we ask what our fate will be? This man, who, when his own brother, the son of the same parents, was dead, was not content with that, but severed head and hand from the body, and nailed them to a cross. We, then, who have not even the tie of blood in our favor, but who marched against him, meaning to make a slave of him instead of a king—and to slay him if we could: what is likely to be our fate at his hands? Will he not go all lengths so that, by inflicting on us the extreme of ignominy and torture, he may rouse in the rest of mankind a terror of ever marching against him anymore? There is no question but that our business is to avoid by all means getting into his clutches.

“For my part, all the while the truce lasted, I never ceased pitying ourselves and congratulating the king and those with him, as, like a helpless spectator, I surveyed the extent and quality of their territory, the plenteousness of their provisions, the multitude of their dependents, their cattle, their gold, and their apparel. And then to turn and ponder the condition of our soldiers, without part or lot in these good things, except we bought it; few, I knew, had any longer the wherewithal to buy, and yet our oath held us down, so that we could not provide ourselves otherwise than by purchase. I say, as I reasoned thus, there were times when I dreaded the truce more than I now dread war.

“Now, however, that they have abruptly ended the truce, there is an end also to their own insolence and to our suspicion. All these good things of theirs are now set as prizes for the combatants. To whichsoever of us shall prove the better men, will they fall as guerdons; and the gods themselves are the judges of the strife. The gods, who full surely will be on our side, seeing it is our enemies who have taken their names falsely; whilst we, with much to lure us, yet for our oath’s sake, and the gods who were our witnesses, sternly held aloof. So that, it seems to me, we have a right to enter upon this contest with much more heart than our foes; and further, we are possessed of bodies more capable than theirs of bearing cold and heat and labor; souls too we have, by the help of heaven, better and braver; nay, the men themselves are more vulnerable, more mortal, than ourselves, if so be the gods vouchsafe to give us victory once again.

“Howbeit, for I doubt not elsewhere similar reflections are being made, whatsoever betide, let us not, in heaven’s name, wait for others to come and challenge us to noble deeds; let us rather take the lead in stimulating the rest to valor. Show yourselves to be the bravest of officers, and among generals, the worthiest to command. For myself, if you choose to start forwards on this quest, I will follow; or, if you bid me lead you, my age shall be no excuse to stand between me and your orders. At least I am of full age; I take it, to avert misfortune from my own head.”

Such were the speaker’s words; and the officers, when they heard, all, with one exception, called upon him to put himself at their head. This was a certain Apollonides there present, who spoke in the Boeotian dialect. This man’s opinion was that it was mere nonsense for anyone to pretend they could obtain safety otherwise than by an appeal to the king, if he had skill to enforce it; and at the same time he began to dilate on the difficulties. But Xenophon cut him short. “O most marvelous of men! Though you have eyes to see, you do not perceive; though you have ears to hear, you do not recollect. You were present with the rest of us now here when, after the death of Cyrus, the king, vaunting himself on that occurrence, sent dictatorially to bid us lay down our arms. But when we, instead of giving up our arms, put them on and went and pitched our camp near him, his manner changed. It is hard to say what he did not do, he was so at his wit’s end, sending us embassies and begging for a truce, and furnishing provisions the while, until he had got it. Or to take the contrary instance, when just now, acting precisely on your principles, our generals and captains went, trusting to the truce, unarmed to a conference with them, what came of it? What is happening at this instant? Beaten, goaded with pricks, insulted, poor souls, they cannot even die: though death, I ween, would be very sweet. And you, who know all this, how can you say that it is mere nonsense to talk of self-defense? how can you bid us go again and try the arts of persuasion? In my opinion, sirs, we ought not to admit this fellow to the same rank with ourselves; rather ought we to deprive him of his captaincy, and load him with packs and treat him as such. The man is a disgrace to his own fatherland and the whole of Hellas, that, being a Hellene, he is what he is.”

Here Agasias the Stymphalian broke in, exclaiming: “Nay, this fellow has no connection either with Boeotia or with Hellas, none whatever. I have noted both his ears bored like a Lydian’s.” And so it was. Him then they banished. But the rest visited the ranks, and wherever a general was left, they summoned the general; where he was gone, the lieutenant-general; and where again the captain alone was left, the captain. As soon as they were all met, they seated themselves in front of the place of arms: the assembled generals and officers, numbering about a hundred. It was nearly midnight when this took place.

Thereupon Hieronymous the Eleian, the eldest of Proxenus’s captains, commenced speaking as follows: “Generals and captains, it seemed right to us, in view of the present crisis, ourselves to assemble and to summon you, that we might advise upon some practicable course. Would you, Xenophon, repeat what you said to us?”

Thereupon Xenophon spoke as follows: “We all know only too well, that the king and Tissaphernes have seized as many of us as they could, and it is clear they are plotting to destroy the rest of us if they can. Our business is plain: it is to do all we can to avoid getting into the power of the barbarians; rather, if we can, we will get them into our power. Rely upon this then, all you who are here assembled, now is your great opportunity. The soldiers outside have their eyes fixed upon you; if they think that you are faint-hearted, they will turn cowards; but if you show them that you are making your own preparations to attack the enemy, and setting an example to the rest—follow you, be assured, they will: imitate you they will. May be, it is but right and fair that you should somewhat excel them, for you are generals, you are commanders of brigades or regiments; and if, while it was peace, you had the advantage in wealth and position, so now, when it is war, you are expected to rise superior to the common herd—to think for them, to toil for them, whenever there be need.

“At this very moment you would confer a great boon on the army, if you made it your business to appoint generals and officers to fill the places of those that are lost. For without leaders nothing good or noble, to put it concisely, was ever wrought anywhere; and in military matters this is absolutely true; for if discipline is held to be of saving virtue, the want of it has been the ruin of many ere now. Well, then! When you have appointed all the commanders necessary, it would only be opportune, I take it, if you were to summon the rest of the soldiers and speak some words of encouragement. Even now, I daresay you noticed yourselves the crestfallen air with which they came into camp, the despondency with which they fell to picket duty, so that, unless there is a change for the better, I do not know for what service they will be fit; whether by night, if need were, or even by day. The thing is to get them to turn their thoughts to what they mean to do, instead of to what they are likely to suffer. Do that and their spirits will soon revive wonderfully. You know, I need hardly remind you, it is not numbers or strength that gives victory in war; but, heaven helping them, to one or other of two combatants it is given to dash with stouter hearts to meet the foe, and such onset, in nine cases out of ten, those others refuse to meet. This observation, also, I have laid to heart, that they, who in matters of war seek in all ways to save their lives, are just they who, as a rule, die dishonorably; whereas they who, recognizing that death is the common lot and destiny of all men, strive hard to die nobly: these more frequently, as I observe, do after all attain to old age, or, at any rate, while life lasts, they spend their days more happily. This lesson let all lay to heart this day, for we are just at such a crisis of our fate. Now is the season to be brave ourselves, and to stimulate the rest by our example.” With these words he ceased.