Xenophontic Narrative of the Socratic Political Philosophy: A Commentary on The Education of Cyrus

Document Type : Research Paper


Assistant Professor, Institute for Humanities and Cultural Studies, Tehran, Iran


The Education of Cyrus is Xenophon’s magnum opus in political philosophy. If Memorabilia is in the center of his Socratic writings, then The Education of Cyrus is the main work in his portrayal of Cyrus. The Education of Cyrus, as Plato’s Republic, is an educational work in the Socratic sense of the word and hence an original text in the tradition of the Socratic political philosophy. The biographical form of this writing originates from the educational intention of his writer who, by concentrating on the Cyrus’s deeds, encourages the reader to take notice of this question: “what is the best way of life for human beings?” If we confirm that Memorabilia has a biographical form, then we would be able to compare it to The Education of Cyrus. The author attempts to show that Xenophon’s The Education of Cyrus contains a comparison between the Socratic way of life and the Cyrus’ way of life. In spite of showing his admiration for Cyrus nearly in the entire of that work, Xenophon ultimately defends the superiority of the Socratic (or philosophical) way of life as compared to Cyrus the Great’s (or political) way of life. This is the deepest educational layer in Xenophon’s political philosophy hidden behind the disguise of political education in his work on Cyrus. In order to better understand, we should take a distinct stance on the text itself as a totality whose every part serves the whole. By whole, we mean the intention of the writer; and this is the well-known approach innovated and applied by Leo Strauss who is the most eminent commentator of Xenophon’s work. Nevertheless, we should avoid the modern dogmatism in Xenophon’s scholarship which tends to depict him as a marginal or second-rate writer. As mentioned by Strauss, Xenophon “had the courage to clothe himself as an idiot and go through millennia that way— he’s the greatest con man I know.” According to Strauss, and his commentaries in Xenophon scholarship in recent decades, there is no reliable way to understand Xenophon’s intention in the Education of Cyrus, unless we use Strauss’s method of interpretation of Xenophon as a first-rank political philosopher. The Education of Cyrus might be read as a logographic text given that every part of the work “must be necessary for the whole; the place where each part occurs is the place where it is necessary that it should occur.” Using this method, the author has tried to show that—in spite of its pessimistic tone toward the political way of life—the concluding part of The Education of Cyrus is consistent with the great admiration of Cyrus as expressed by Xenophon in the most other parts of this work.  We examine whether Xenophon’s intention in The Education of Cyrus is to expose the education which Cyrus received or the one he did not. Thus, he emphasizes the contradiction in The Education of Cyrus as a whole, and simultaneously in the other Xenophon’s writing, especially his Memorabilia. To understand the two main Xenophontic scholarly work, and their positions in the hierarchy of Xenophon’s philosophical thought, it is necessary to compare the similarities, differences and particularly as they relate to the limitations in the Socratic and Cyrus’ ways of life, and to analyze how each has affected the other. The aim here was to show the true intention of Xenophon as one of the most authoritative Socratic political philosophers. In doing so, we understand Xenophon’s preferences for philosophical or political ways of life. 


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