Loving Humanity, Learning, and Being Honored: The Foundations of Leadership in Xenophon’s Education of Cyrus

  Sandridge, Norman B. 2012. Loving Humanity, Learning, and Being Honored: The Foundations of Leadership in Xenophon's Education of Cyrus. Hellenic Studies Series 55. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_SandridgeN.Loving_Humanity_Learning_and_Being_Honored.2012.


[In this on-line version, the page-numbers of the printed version are indicated within braces (“{” and “}”). For example, “{69|70}” indicates where p. 69 of the printed version ends and p. 70 begins. These indications will be useful to readers who need to look up references made elsewhere to the printed version of this book.]

The Narrative

The Education of Cyrus or Cyropaedia (c. 365 BCE) is, in broad terms, a simple narrative; its parts are few and clearly demarcated, its progression often predictable. Xenophon begins with the reflection that all governments, whether democratic, oligarchic, monarchic, or tyrannical, eventually collapse. He almost concludes that it is easier for someone to rule all other animals than human beings. But then he recalls the glorious career of Cyrus, who for much of his life led many nations of diverse ethnic and linguistic backgrounds. Xenophon then processes in loose chronology with Cyrus’ biography, including his lineage, nature, and education. In Book One, he describes this education in three parts. As a youth in the Persian educational system, Cyrus learns the skills of the hunt as well as several moral virtues (self-restraint, justice, gratitude). He then travels to the Medan court of his grandfather, Astyages, where his virtues are put to the test. He also learns to ride a horse and to dress finely. In time, Cyrus returns to Persia to prepare for a military campaign against the Assyrians. There he participates in a lengthy dialogue with his father, Cambyses, to hone his understanding of the finer points of leadership. In particular he learns that it is acceptable to apply his hunting skills in the theater of war; enemies may be subjected to deceptive predation (though Cyrus turns out to have a knack for converting enemies into friends and willing followers).

From Book Two to the middle of Book Seven, Cyrus campaigns against the Assyrians and wins many allies along the way, including the Armenians, Cadusians, and Hyrcanians, as well as some noble Assyrians. His adventures may be thought of as the “application” of the many lessons in leadership he had learned in his youth. After the middle of Book Seven, Cyrus becomes ruler of Babylon (539 BCE). Eventually Cyrus inherits the Medan Empire, whereas in all other accounts Cyrus overtakes the Medes by war. [1] From this point Cyrus no {1|2} longer operates as a military commander but as an administrator and figurehead. The newly-conquered Babylon, in particular, is most hostile to him, and so the modes of leadership he exhibits diverge somewhat from those in previous books but still resonate with earlier lessons. Cyrus himself now attempts to teach these precepts to others. The Education of Cyrus concludes in a way that many have seen as problematic: despite his best efforts to educate his sons to follow the example of his virtuous reign, Cyrus can prevent neither their bitter rivalry nor the decline of Persian culture. He dies “happy” from his own perspective, though perhaps not fully in the Solonic sense. [2]

Education, application, degeneration—The End. A simple narrative.

Interest in Xenophon’s Cyrus

If we begin with the popular assumption that Xenophon wrote the Cyropaedia in order to talk about leadership, [3] we can offer many reasons why he might choose Cyrus as his subject. For one, Cyrus was already a famous figure in Greece, having established and then governed the Persian Empire almost two hundred years before Xenophon wrote his Education (559–530 BCE). Many Ionian Greek authors had already written accounts of Persian history (so-called Persica), and Xenophon would have had much material to work with, especially from the historian Herodotus and the court-physician-turned-historian Ctesias. [4] The distance in time also afforded the opportunity to embellish, omit, rework, or invent material as necessary, though it is also possible to see Xenophon as “correcting” other versions of a story. The fact that Cyrus was a Persian barbaros, a non-Greek, allowed Xenophon to study and celebrate him in ways that would be less politically controversial than if he had written, say, The Education of Pericles. Cyrus’ “otherness” may have freed Xenophon to think in a livelier, less conventional, more theoretical fashion, to let his fantasies of the best form of leadership take hold. If so, Xenophon was not alone in feeling the benefits of being liberated from the sphere of Athens, even of Greece. His contemporary, Plato, also went outside the bounds of convention to invent the Philosopher King. Another contemporary, Isocrates, presented his finest portrait of the best leader in the figure of Evagoras, a famous king of the Cyprians. Though Xenophon is often seen as conservative or traditional in so much of his thinking, his Cyrus hardly {2|3} fits that description. Xenophon’s idealization of ancient Persian life may have been whetted by his own (failed) mercenary campaign to replace Artaxerxes II with Cyrus the Younger (d. 401 BCE) on the Persian throne. Cyrus’ achievement of establishing the Persian Empire itself plays into one of the central features of Xenophon’s Theory of Leadership, [5] namely, the leader’s ability to summon “willing obedience” from his followers. [6] Cyrus’ achievement of empire was a historical fact. For Xenophon it seems to have been improbable that this vast number of diverse peoples, at least the majority of them and at least for a time, would not have been “willing participants” in the new, grand enterprise. He would not have been the last person in human history to imagine that there was something intrinsically harmonious about an empire.

Literary, Historical, and Theoretical Questions

For example, the Persian educational system (agôgê) under which all elite Persians were raised according to Xenophon, has long reminded scholars of the similar system in Classical Sparta. It is strict, highly militaristic, and segregated (young boys train away from their homes). Yet the Persian education, more ethically focused, is not as severe as the Spartan one (cf. Xenophon Constitution of the Lacedaemonians 2). It is distinct from the Athenian education in that Persians go to school to learn moral virtue, Xenophon says, just as Athenians go to school to learn their alphabet.

According to Herodotus, the Persians actually have their own system of education. In this system, they train their youth to do three things: use a bow, ride a horse, and speak the truth (Histories 1.136). Cyrus the Younger receives just this sort of education, as Xenophon describes it in the Anabasis. Finally, the virtues that Persians learn are virtues that Xenophon regularly extolls as proper to the character of a gentleman and a leader. The Persian education in the Cyropaedia, then, is probably better thought of as a composite of the Spartan one, the Persian one (as well as Xenophon could recreate from his sources), and an idealized system created according to what Xenophon himself had deemed important.

Aside from literary and historical questions, which are often crucial to other questions, by far the most abiding questions about the Cyropaedia have been ones about Xenophon’s so-called “Theory of Leadership” and the character of the central figure of the work, Cyrus. An associated and almost unavoidable question has been that of Xenophon’s own political leanings. Is he democratic, oligarchic, monarchic, imperialist, or anti-imperialist? Before proceeding further with the history of this debate, it is important to pause for a moment and say, generally, what I mean when I say that Xenophon had a “Theory of Leadership.” It will be clear from the examples I use below that I believe that Gray (2011) and I are using the term in a similar way, but let me say what I mean by it.

Xenophon does not ever use the term “theory” in his works. He seldom uses terms that could be translated as “leadership” or “leader,” although he does speak regularly of the art of kingship. In fact, the types of leader he discusses (king, general, philosopher, estate manager) tend to have a monarchical bent, however collaborative and democratic the roles may be at times. Xenophon and his characters (with the exception of Socrates) do not typically seek definitions of the terms they use nor do they create a technical vocabulary for discussing theoretical topics, practices we commonly see in Aristotle and sometimes in Plato. Xenophon never defines the three main terms that will be the focus of this study (philanthrôpia, philomatheia, and philotîmia), though he does give a lengthy description of philanthrôpia in the Cyropaedia. Thus, when we speak of his “theory,” what scholars generally mean (and what I mean) is that Xenophon talks about leadership across several different fields (e.g. domestic, military, political) and he seeks features common to each (see the discussion of Gray below, p. 11). He and his characters ask general questions about leadership. He praises leaders, criticizes them, and shows them to be somewhere between praise and criticism. Many of his works are centrally “about” leadership (e.g. the Hieron, Agesilaus, Anabasis, Cyropaedia, Oeconomicus, and arguably the Memorabilia and Hellenica). He talks about leadership in terms of lessons or mathêmata (from Socrates, Cyrus, Cyrus’ father, Cambyses, Ischomachus, Xenophon himself) that are then put into practice and illustrated in narrative form. Part of this study will be engaged in asking the question, how good a theorist is Xenophon? In other words, does he give lessons in leadership that are fundamental (as opposed to traditional or simply practical) and comprehensive? (We would expect both features from Aristotle’s theories on metaphysics, ethics, or politics.) In the end, this question may be the same as asking whether Xenophon is a theorist at all. In these several ways, I believe it makes more sense to say that Xenophon is more of a theorist than, say, Homer, Pindar, or Herodotus, all of whom feature leaders and their traits. At the same time, we do not have to conclude that Xenophon is as self-consciously theoretical as Aristotle. {6|7}

One of the specific fundamental questions that seems to apply to all forms of leadership and that scholars have typically asked of Xenophon’s Cyrus is to what extent does the leader reconcile his or her own needs and interests (e.g. for luxury, glory, wealth, power, privilege, safety, friendship, sex, romance) with those of the followers? Some scholars have argued that Cyrus does not achieve this reconciliation because several of his friends and followers are manipulated or marginalized in his selfish pursuit of empire (if it is even accurate to say that he is pursuing an empire). [13] A recent work by Gray, Xenophon’s Mirror of Princes (2011), has formally divided the approaches to Cyrus’ leadership into two distinct camps. First are those who take a more straightforward, face-value view that Xenophon meant to present Cyrus as a great leader, worthy of emulation, just as he was perceived by the Roman general, Scipio Africanus, for example. Others (e.g. Strauss, Tatum, Nadon), whom Gray identifies as having a darker, more pessimistic interpretation of Cyrus, see Xenophon’s leader as at times manipulative, overly ambitious, and even ruthless. [14] It is here that Cyrus has been seen as more Machiavellian. In its extreme form this view assumes that any attempt to see the career of Cyrus in a positive or virtuous light must necessarily be naïve, conservative, or unintelligent. [15] Gray’s sustained disputation of these pessimistic interpretations is the most thorough and multifaceted to date. I address this question further in Chapter One (pp. 33–44).

The Problems with “Ideal” and “Utopia”

But there is no great subtlety to the fact that Cyrus is not an “ideal” leader. Cyrus is for Xenophon a historical figure with mortal limitations, and Xenophon inherited a literary tradition that saw him as such. For example, in his youth Cyrus envies the cupbearer, Sacas, who enjoys privileged access to his grandfather. He rushes impulsively into the hunt and almost gets himself killed. Later he glories over the sight of dead bodies killed in a raid against the Assyrians. His grandfather, Astyages, who is otherwise full of fondness, is disappointed in him. Elsewhere Cyrus admits to feeling vulnerable to erotic desire, greed, and pride, all of which he tries to combat with careful forethought. It is fair to say, however, that Xenophon’s portrait of Cyrus is stripped of the more critical aspects we encounter in other authors (e.g. Herodotus, Ctesias, Isocrates, Plato). Herodotus is aware of other accounts of the career of Cyrus but neglects to include them in his Histories, perhaps because they were flattering beyond credibility. Thus we might say that Xenophon’s portrait is “idealized” or “embellished,” but Xenophon’s Cyrus is (I think, obviously) not an “ideal” leader. The most that may be said accurately, according to Xenophon’s own language, is that Cyrus was “best” in a number of virtuous qualities and likely offered to Xenophon’s audience as an example for emulation. From this vantage we may then ask if {8|9} Xenophon ever does anything to undermine his Cyrus, while bearing in mind that to show Cyrus as less than ideal should not count as undermining him.

How Good a Leadership Theorist is Xenophon? Comprehensiveness and Fundamentality

We may wonder further: Is Xenophon’s Theory of Leadership “hierarchical”? Does it have a foundation followed by derivative aspects? Obviously one difficulty of this approach is that, whether or not Xenophon’s Theory of Leadership meets this criterion, he doesn’t present his theory in anything like a straightforward philosophical treatise with technical terms and careful distinctions, or even a sustained philosophical dialogue like Plato’s Republic. Instead, we must comb through shorter dialogues, historical narratives, sympotic dramatizations, or, in the case of the Cyropaedia, an extended quasi-biography.

Isocrates defines success for the group in similar terms as Xenophon (i.e. protection, prosperity, moral edification), both in his encomium to Evagoras and his speech to Nicocles. Evagoras, he says, transformed his citizens from barbarians to Hellenes, made them civilized and gentle, and protected them from the Persians (Evagoras 66–68). Nicocles learns that kings must relieve their states from distress, guard their prosperity, and render them great from being small (To Nicocles 13). Xenophon, Plato, and Isocrates all consider self-restraint to be paramount. Isocrates even has Nicocles proclaim that his self-restraint is so great that he has neither sired children by anyone one but his wife (in order to keep his lineage pure) nor had sexual relations with anyone outside of marriage (Nicocles 36–42).

The Love of Wisdom as Fundamental to Plato’s Theory of Leadership

In assessing these features of Xenophon’s Theory of Leadership as it pertains to character, we may take a cue from Plato and his portrait of the Philosopher King. In the Republic , Socrates explains that a love of wisdom (philosophia) is the foundation of good leadership, conducive to the four so-called Classical virtues of wisdom (sophia), justice (dikaiosunê), courage (aretê), and self-restraint (sôphrosunê). [27] For Socrates, wisdom is the knowledge of an otherworldly reality made up of Forms that are “ideal” in the sense of “perfect,” “unchanging,” “undying,” and “complete,” whether the Form be of a Square, a Table, Justice, or the Good. A person who is in love with such wisdom, and loves it to the exclusion of everything else, will have no concern for the body or the perceptual {12|13} world unless they facilitate an understanding of this other world of the Forms. Accordingly, such a person would be just, insofar as he or she would have no interest in cheating or harming others for the purpose of material gain. [28] Such a person would also have courage because there would be no reason to fear death, which is seen as a reunion with the realm of the Forms. Finally, such a person would have true self-restraint, not merely momentary self-restraint in hopes of greater pleasure. The pleasures of the body (food, drink, sex, sleep) and the emotions (fear, pity, anger, lust) could not distract the philosophos from focusing on the pursuit of true wisdom.

Secondly, Cyrus’ extraordinary love of honor may solve a fundamental problem of leadership. As we noted above, one of the fundamental (we might say “universal”) problems of governance is how the leader, who by general consensus must work for the happiness of the followers, manages to reconcile their interests with his or her own desire for wealth, power, privilege, security, luxury—whatever. For, despite Socrates’ assertion that a physician is still a physician whether you pay him or not (Republic 342d), the leader needs some motivation to engage in leadership, since it is a role that generally involves greater toil, greater mental effort, greater responsibility, and many more dire consequences in the event of failure than the role of follower. Plato admits that the Philosopher King will not want to lead for the sake of leading; he or she would rather study philosophy than engage in the mundane practices of running what is ultimately an imperfect state. Plato instead proposes to get the Philosopher King to lead by one of two means. Either the community will forcibly compel the Philosopher King to lead; or it will remind the King of his obligation to them for raising him in an enlightened environment, and he, being a just person, will presumably acquiesce (347b–c, 519c–520d). Xenophon, by contrast, solves this problem much more simply, if imperfectly. Cyrus’ love of being honored (philotîmia) compels him to undergo all the risks and toil required of a leader. Honor (tîmê) is at least a large part of his motivation to lead; it is how he seems to reconcile his interests with his followers, honor for leadership service. {14|15}

So, here we have two leads in pursuing further questions about Xenophon’s Theory of Leadership. First, to what extent does Xenophon prioritize traits of leadership and, second, how well, in the end, do these qualities address the various nuances to the problems of leadership as Xenophon and his contemporaries saw them? More specifically, we may ask how well Xenophon’s description of philotîmia meets the many criticisms that Plato makes of it in the Republic.

Now that we have lighted upon the mention of Cyrus’ philotîmia, it is helpful to explore the larger context of the passage it appears in, Xenophon’s summary statement on Cyrus’ soul:

φῦναι δὲ ὁ Κῦρος λέγεται καὶ ᾄδεται ἔτι καὶ νῦν ὑπὸ τῶν βαρβάρων εἶδος μὲν κάλλιστος, ψυχὴν δὲ φιλανθρωπότατος καὶ φιλομαθέστατος καὶ φιλοτιμότατος, ὥστε πάντα μὲν πόνον ἀνατλῆναι, πάντα δὲ κίνδυνον ὑπομεῖναι τοῦ ἐπαινεῖσθαι ἕνεκα.

In his nature Cyrus is reputed and still celebrated even now among the barbarians as most beautiful in his form and most loving of humanity in his soul, as well as most loving of learning and most loving of being honored, to the point that he would endure every labor and undergo every danger in order to be praised.

Cyropaedia 1.2.1

Other Summary Statements of Excellent Leadership

Xenophon’s summary of Cyrus’ nature is the only one of its kind (succinct, tripartite, superlative, alliterative), though other formulations have some of its features. As early as Homer’s Odyssey, we observe Odysseus’ succinct formula for {15|16} a perfect king. Disguised as a beggar, he begins his conversation with his wife Penelope by likening her fame to that of such a leader:

O lady, none of the mortals on the boundless earth could criticize you. For truly your glory reaches the wide heaven, like that of a blameless (amumôn) king who, being pious (theodeês), lords over many valiant men and upholds justice (eudikia), and the black earth produces wheat and barley, and trees are heavy with fruit, and the flocks give birth to sure offspring, and the sea brings forth fish as a result of his good leadership (euêgesia), and the people thrive under him.

Odyssey 19.107–114

In the Anabasis, Xenophon praises Cyrus the Younger as the most kingly and most worthy to rule since Cyrus the Great. According to Xenophon, Cyrus was best in everything as a young boy in the Persian education system:

Here, then, Cyrus was reputed to be, in the first place, the most modest of his fellows (aidêmonestatos), and even more obedient to his elders than were his inferiors in rank; secondly the most devoted to horses (philippotatos) and the most skillful in managing horses; he was also adjudged the most eager to learn (philomathestatos) and the most diligent (meletêrotatos) in practicing military accomplishments, alike in the use of the bow and of the javelin. Then, when he was of suitable age, he was the fondest of hunting (philothêrotatos) and, more than that, the fondest of incurring danger (philokindûnotatotos) in his pursuit of wild animals.

Anabasis 1.9

Later in the Anabasis, Xenophon provides three contrasting leadership portraits: the war-loving Clearchus, the great-souled Proxenus, and the lover of wealth, Menon (2.6.1–29). How consistent are these portrayals of the best leadership with that of Cyrus in the Cyropaedia? Does Xenophon’s work, late in life, represent the culmination of his clearest and most succinct formulation of the best kind of leadership, or it is something of a deviation from previous notions?

In his encomium to Evagoras, a work thought to have inspired Xenophon’s encomium to Agesilaus, Isocrates portrays the Cyprian king as boy with beauty (kallos), strength (rhômê), and self-restraint (sôphrosunê), who augmented these traits in adulthood with courage (andria), wisdom (sophia), and justice (dikaiosunê) (Evagoras 22–23). He praises the 14-year old Alexander the Great for his reputation as a lover of humanity (philanthrôpos), a lover of the Athenians {16|17} (philathênaios), and a lover of wisdom (philosophos) (To Alexander 2). To Timotheus of Heracleia, he laments that Timotheus’ father, Clearchus, had once been most liberal (eleutheriotatos), most gentle (praôtatos), and most loving of humanity (philanthrôpotatos) but after attaining tyrannical power became the opposite (To Timotheus 12). He praises the Cyprian Demonicus’ father for being a lover of beauty (philokalos), magnificent in his appearance (megaloprepês), and generous (koinos) toward friends (To Demonicus 9). Curiously, it is not until the first century CE with Athenagoras’ praise of the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius that we again see the coupling of the superlative love of humanity and learning that we see in Xenophon’s Cyrus (2.1.6).

The Importance of the Leader’s Nature and Education over Birth and Fate

Another reason we should focus on Xenophon’s portrayal of Cyrus’ character is that it seems to be the primary explanation for Cyrus’ success. Xenophon does not seem very interested in Cyrus’ lineage. By contrast, this facet of leadership is played up by the historical Cyrus on the Cylinder Seal and then by Darius on the Behistun inscription. In his introduction, Xenophon points out that Cyrus was the son of the Persian king Cambyses and Mandane, daughter of the Medan king Astyages (1.2.1). He makes no attempt to connect Cyrus’ nature to theirs, however. [34] Cyrus does receive an education of sorts from both his father and grandfather, but neither education highlights any hereditary similarity. Cambyses instructs Cyrus in the same dialogue form, with much of the same content, that Socrates uses with young men in the Memorabilia, but none of this instruction reflects any heredity link between father and son. Xenophon is not retelling the story of Odysseus and Telemachus. [35] Moreover, the education that Cyrus receives from his grandfather is of a negative kind; despite his affection for {17|18} Astyages, Cyrus seeks to avoid his excesses of food and drink, as well as his extralegal kingship (Cyropaedia 1.3.4–18). At the end of the Cyropaedia, Xenophon seems equally uninterested in connecting Cyrus to his degenerate sons (8.8.2, 8.7.23). By contrast, he focuses much more on the lineage of the Spartan king, Agesilaus, the other most celebrated leader in his writings (Agesilaus 1.2–5). In this instance, Xenophon favors his contemporary, Isocrates, and the later biographer Plutarch, who do find ancestral traits, both physical and ethical, in their subjects. [36]

Xenophon also seems relatively uninterested in Cyrus’ fate or destiny, whereas his fate is foretold in so many examples in Herodotus and Ctesias. Cyrus is the agent of divinity in the Hebrew and Babylonian traditions as well. In the Book of Ezra, he is roused by Yaweh to build a temple in Jerusalem (Ezra i.1–5). In the Book of Isaiah he is “the anointed one” (Isa xlv 1). On the Cyrus Cylinder, he is the agent of the god Marduk, sent to restore peace to Babylon after the cruel reign of Nabonidus.

Thus, of the three modes of explanation for Cyrus’ success as a leader (nature, lineage, fate), Xenophon focuses almost entirely on the first. But, unlike his lineage and fate, Cyrus’ education is an important part of his character. We should not assume that the traits that make what Xenophon thought of as Cyrus’ nature or his soul could not have been enhanced by education. Nevertheless, education is not the complete picture. Other Persian youths will have had the same training as Cyrus, seemingly for generations, as Xenophon explains when he summarizes this institution (1.2.2–16). In the Memorabilia, Socrates observes that even when men have been raised under the same customs and laws, they have naturally different degrees of courage arising from different degrees of inherent daring (Memorabilia 3.9.1–2). I am thus interested in what Xenophon finds so special about Cyrus’ nature, what qualities enable him to establish the Persian Empire.

The Structure of This Inquiry

As we proceed with our attempt to understand Cyrus’ three superlative traits of leadership, we will be using five different, though not always distinct, contexts. These contexts are necessary for understanding not only the meaning of these traits, but also their import. In order to know whether Xenophon is being “light” or “dark” in his portrayal of Cyrus, it is important to keep in mind the writer’s {18|19} experiences, the authors he was reading, the cultural climate in which he wrote, and the points of comparison or contrast he may be explicitly or implicitly drawing. Accordingly, first, we have Xenophon’s own writings, all of which have come down to us. And Xenophon seems to have had fairly consistent views about leadership across his entire corpus, sometimes at the level of repeated examples and phrases. Secondly, we have what we could call the “Greek literary tradition,” authors like Homer, Pindar, and Thucydides, who have many things to say about good and bad leadership and who were a known influence on Xenophon. Third, within the Greek literary tradition we have contemporaries of Xenophon, especially Plato, Isocrates, and Demosthenes, who were Athenian authors with abundant things to say about what traits made the best leaders. Fourth, we have historians like Herodotus and Ctesias, who are known to have been Xenophon’s sources for the content of Cyrus’ life. In the case of Ctesias, the information is fragmentary and in summary form and thus always in need of delicate interpretation. Finally, we have original Persian material that Xenophon may have been privy to, either in the form of inscriptions or oral tradition. [37] In some cases, there are formal elements of Persian literature, like “the king’s dying speech,” that may have been adapted by Xenophon to conform to his own objectives.

It is not always possible to trace the exact source of a Xenophontic influence because of the scarcity of material. What’s more, in the case of Socrates, we cannot determine whether Xenophon was influenced by the “real” Socrates or whether Xenophon’s Socrates is the product of Xenophon’s own views. In the end, we cannot hope to have arrived at a full description of Xenophon’s Theory of Leadership, but our attempt will be to move further in the direction of a theory as it pertains to character.

In addition to these contexts, while I mean to include all relevant evidence from the entire Cyropaedia, I will be focusing heavily throughout on the following specific scenes, as they have emerged in the course of study as the best sources for answering the questions I have posed. In Book One, Cyrus reveals a lot about his three superlative traits when he spends part of his youth in Media with his grandfather and boys of his own age. He regales his family at lavish banquets with his precociousness and learns to excel in horsemanship and hunting (1.4). Later in Book One, Cyrus engages in a lengthy dialogue with his Persian father, Cambyses, in preparation for the campaign against the Assyrians that will take up most of the work. Here Cyrus learns the finer points of leadership but also exhibits his own budding wisdom (1.6). In Book Three, Cyrus pursues and {19|20} then captures a rebel Armenian army. He puts the Armenian king on trial, but gently listens to a defense from his son, Tigranes. He ultimately pardons the king and turns him into a devoted ally. In this same scene, Cyrus also makes Tigranes pardon his father for executing (out of envy) the sophist that had been Tigranes’ teacher as a boy (3.1). After his success in forming this alliance and several others (including winning over many Medes), Cyrus himself becomes a source of envy for his uncle, Cyaxares, now king of the Medes. In their confrontation, Cyrus disarms Cyaxares and effectively “leads his leader” by a careful blend of forcefulness and obedience (5.5). In the course of his pursuit of the Assyrians and their wicked king, Cyrus defeats Croesus, king of the Lydians, and engages in a lengthy dialogue (reminiscent of their encounter in Herodotus) on the nature of the good life, the folly of flattery, and the importance of knowing oneself (7.2). Finally, in Book Eight, Cyrus adapts his leadership style to introduce an imperial court in Babylon, including an elaborate administration (especially the Persian satrapies), imperial pomp, and a system of education designed to make others adopt the virtues that Cyrus himself had learned in the Persian educational system.


[ back ] 1. Briant 1996:31–33.

[ back ] 2. Cf. Herodotus Histories 1.30–32. Consistent with the Solonic model, Cyrus is comfortable in his wealth, performs patriotic service with remarkable deeds, and sees his sons survive him. But scholars have wondered whether he leaves behind an untarnished legacy like Tellus, Cleobis, and Biton.

[ back ] 3. See Hertlein 1886:vii-viii on the ancient tradition of reading the Cyropaedia in this way.

[ back ] 4. Cf. Lenfant 200–209 and Llewellyn-Jones 2010:48–55. Xenophon’s contemporary and fellow student of Socrates, Antisthenes, also wrote two works on Cyrus.

[ back ] 5. In referring to Xenophon’s “Theory of Leadership” I am borrowing a term from Wood 1964 and Gray 2011:7, but it needs to be clarified since Xenophon has not always been seen as a theoretical thinker in the same sense as Aristotle, for example. I explain below (pp. 6–7) what I mean by this term.

[ back ] 6. Cf. Gray 2007:7–8.

[ back ] 7. For Cyrus as a model for the modern military leader, see Pease 1934.

[ back ] 8. Tuplin 2004:20.

[ back ] 9. Cf. Carlier 1978:336: “It is legitimate to search in the Cyropaedia for elements of answers to questions that the Greeks were often asking around 360 BC: is the conquest of Asia possible? Is it sustainable? What will be the political repercussions? What will become of the Greeks who leave, and of those who stay?”

[ back ] 10. Cf. Tatum 1989:115–133, Gera 1993:106–109.

[ back ] 11. See Sancisi-Weerdenburg 1985 for a discussion on the possibility of such sources and what may be preserved through oral tradition.

[ back ] 12. Briant 1996:19–20 argues that despite Xenophon’s claim that the Persians learned to ride horses because Cyrus introduced the practice from the Medes, their conquests under him seem to have necessitated a well-established equestrian culture.

[ back ] 13. Though it seems likelier that he has in mind the Cyrus of Herodotus or Ctesias, Plutarch groups Cyrus, Alexander, and Julius Caesar together as three conquerors who had an “inexorable lust for empire and a mad desire to be first and best” (ἔρως ἀπαρηγόρητος ἀρχῆς καὶ περιμανὴς ἐπιθυμία τοῦ πρῶτον εἶναι καὶ μέγιστον, Life of Antony 6.3.3). At one point in his campaign against the Assyrians, Xenophon’s Cyrus sends for reinforcements from Persia on the assumption that the Persians would desire an empire (archê) in Asia and the revenues from it (Cyropaedia 4.5.14). Once Cyrus has acquired his empire, he refers to this generic action as a “great achievement” (7.5.76). Cf. Ambler 2001:11–18 for a survey of the various ways in which Xenophon’s Cyrus has been seen as entirely self-interested in this ambition and ultimately corrupt and corrupting.

[ back ] 14. Dorion 2010 characterizes well the intellectual underpinnings of such an approach.

[ back ] 15. Cf. Rasmussen 2009:xvi–xvii or Reisert 2009:296–297, who asserts that Cyrus’ “ruthless and unscrupulous methods” have been “amply and persuasively documented.” As is customary in such debates, at issue is what it means to be a “careful reader”: political scientists find fault with those who, after 2,500 years of western political science, are not sufficiently skeptical or cynical of a character’s political motives, while Classicists complain that non-Classicists are ignorant of the nuances of language as well as the literary and historical milieu in which Xenophon worked.

[ back ] 16. This tendency dates as far back as Cicero, who calls Xenophon’s Cyrus a “model of proper command” (cf. effigiem iusti imperii, Letters to Quintus 1.1.23), and Dionysius of Halicarnassus, who call him the “likeness” of a good and happy king (cf. εἰκόνα, Letter to Gnaeus Pompeius, 4.1.7). The Cyropaedia has even been called a “utopian” work (cf. Stadter 1991b), which is an appropriate term, properly understood, to describe literature but is not very helpful in describing the Persian Empire at the time of Cyrus’ death in Book Eight.

[ back ] 17. On the problems with, and pervasiveness of, the concept of utopia in discussions of fourth-century Greek thought, see Dillery 1995:42–54.

[ back ] 18. Chapter Four treats the employment of eunuchs, another of Cyrus’ practices that might seem to involve cruelty (and thus Xenophon’s subversion of an “ideal” leader).

[ back ] 19. Breebaart 1983:130n44. I stipulate in Chapter One that there is an additional foundation to obedience as Xenophon sees it in the example of Cyrus, namely, his ability to take empathetic pleasure in the good fortune of his followers, which they in turn appreciate and reciprocate. The leader-follower relationship is not merely predicated on an exchange of goods and services as Breebaart suggests.

[ back ] 20. For the accuracy of the notion that Persia was in decline in Xenophon’s time, and the general question of how prevalent the view was among Athenians that Persians were decadent, cf. Sancisi-Weerdenburg 1987 and Miller 1997, respectively.

[ back ] 21. Cf. Dillery 1995:192.

[ back ] 22. Dillery 1995:20.

[ back ] 23. See Hedrick 2006.

[ back ] 24. Gray 2011:7–24.

[ back ] 25. For the implications of the noble lie for leadership and good government, cf. Reeve 1988:208–213.

[ back ] 26. The traits of leadership that are the focus of this work, philanthrôpia, philomatheia, and philotîmia, are treated by Due 1989:163–170, 181–183 and cursorily by other authors, but not with the level of attention that is warranted for Xenophon’s Theory of Leadership to be understood.

[ back ] 27. The following summary of the explanation for the fundamentality of the love of wisdom is taken from Republic 485d–487a.

[ back ] 28. Note that for Plato in the Republic political justice is “doing one’s part” for the good of the polis according to nature (433a). It primarily entails not harming or cheating others, but does not necessarily entail caring about the well-being of other individuals so much as the overall well-being of the polis. I argue that for Xenophon justice does seem to involve concern for the well-being of others, evinced in the form of delight in their good fortune and grief in their suffering (pp. 64–66).

[ back ] 29. This perceived tension is described in the second-century CE work, the Attic Nights (14.3). Gellius does not believe that the evidence proves that there was a tension so much as similarity of talents that converged on the same questions and material. The tension derives, he says, from their respective fans. Cf. Hirsch 1985:97–100. Danzig 2003 argues that Plato responds to the Cyropaedia in the Laws but not in a way that takes Xenophon’s portrayal of Cyrus very seriously. He does point out that the Cyropaedia and Laws are similar in some respects, especially in that they both show greater concern (than in the Republic) for how a good political regime might actually be instituted (295–297).

[ back ] 30. Cyropaedia It can be misleading to translate philotîmia as “the love of honor” because this may imply that the lover of honor has a desire to do what is objectively moral or good. Yet the term quite often emphasizes the desire for the subjective recognition of the person dispensing the honor (though the Greeks certainly recognized the difference between the honor that a good person bestowed and that of a bad person). As Xenophon himself uses it here, “the love of being honored,” effectively means “the desire to win praise from others,” which he elsewhere calls the sweetest pleasure (Hieron 1.14, Memorabilia 2.1.31). On philotîmia in ancient Greek society, see Whitehead 1983 and Dover 1974:230–233.

[ back ] 31. Cf. also Cyropaedia 1.5.12.

[ back ] 32. To my knowledge Azoulay 2004b:321 (in his treatment of Cyrus’ philanthrôpia) is the first to suggest that Xenophon’s summary statement on Cyrus somehow captures the essence of his entire character.

[ back ] 33. Cf. Due 1989:147–152.

[ back ] 34. The Lydian King Croesus does attribute Cyrus’ success to his divine and regal lineage as well as his lifelong practice of virtue (Cyropaedia 7.2.24). The Mede Artabazus justifies his devotion to Cyrus, in part, because he regards Cyrus as descended from the gods (4.1.24).

[ back ] 35. Cf. Gera 1993:50–72.

[ back ] 36. The practice of characterizing children in terms of their parents is often found in Homer. The epinician poet Pindar does it as well, always mentioning the father, and often his exploits, when he praises the victory of a son. In his treatment of Agesilaus’ lineage, Xenophon may be following the model of Isocrates’ Evagoras (cf. Marchant 1925:xviii–xx), in which Isocrates links the king’s traits to those of his mythological ancestors, the Aeacidae (Evagoras 13–18).

[ back ] 37. Xenophon says that Cyrus is celebrated and remembered by the Persians to have had the kind of soul that he describes (cf. διαμνημονεύεται, Strabo (15.3.18) claims that Persians had a custom of remembering the deeds of their gods and noblest men in song. Cf. Mueller-Goldingen 1995:67n14 on this claim.

[ back ] 38. Modern leadership theory has sought to reduce leadership to a set of finite traits that are necessary and sufficient for “good” leadership (cf. Gardener 1990, Goethals 2006). One of the implicit arguments of this book is that Xenophon should be at the center of any of these discussions. Anyone familiar with the widely popular work of Kouses and Posner, for example, may read this book (or the works of Xenophon) to see how many leadership practices were already anticipated in the fourth century BCE.