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This webpage reproduces one of the
Lives of the Eminent Philosophers

Diogenes Laërtius

published in the Loeb Classical Library, 1925

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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(Vol. I) Diogenes Laërtius
Lives of the Eminent Philosophers

Book II

 p177  Chapter 6
Xenophon (426?‑354 B.C.)

[link to original Greek text] 48 Xenophon, the son of Gryllus, was a citizen of Athens and belonged to the deme Erchia: he was  p179 a man of rare modesty and extremely handsome. The story goes that Socrates met him in a narrow passage, and that he stretched out his stick to bar the way, while he inquired where every kind of food was sold. Upon receiving a reply, he put another question, "And where do men become good and honourable?" Xenophon was fairly puzzled; "Then follow me," said Socrates, "and learn." From that time onward he was a pupil of Socrates. He was the first to take notes of, and to give to the world, the conversation of Socrates, under the title of Memorabilia. Moreover, he was the first to write a history of philosophers.

Aristippus, in the fourth book of his work On the Luxury of the Ancients, declares that he was enamoured of Clinias, [link to original Greek text] 49 and said in reference to him, "It is sweeter for me to gaze on Clinias than on all the fair sights in the world. I would be content to be blind to everything else if I could but gaze on him alone. I am vexed with the night and with sleep because I cannot see Clinias, and most grateful to the day and the sun for showing him to me."

He gained the friendship of Cyrus in the following way. He had an intimate friend named Proxenus, a Boeotian, a pupil of Gorgias of Leontini and a friend of Cyrus. Proxenus, while living in Sardis at the court of Cyrus, wrote a letter to Xenophon at Athens, inviting him to come and seek the friendship of Cyrus. Xenophon showed this letter to Socrates and asked his advice, [link to original Greek text] 50 which was that he should go to Delphi and consult the oracle. Xenophon complied and came into the presence of the god. He inquired, not whether he should go and seek service with Cyrus but in what way he should do so. For  p181 this Socrates blamed him, yet at the same time he advised him to go. On his arrival at the court of Cyrus he became as warmly attached to him as Proxenus himself. We have his own sufficient narrative of all that happened on the expedition and on the return home.a He was, however, at enmity with Meno of Pharsalus, the mercenary general, throughout the expedition, and, by way of abuse, charges him with having a favourite older than himself. Again, he reproaches one Apollonides with having had his ears bored.1

[link to original Greek text] 51 After the expedition and the misfortunes which overtook it in Pontus and the treacheries of Seuthes, the king of the Odrysians, he returned to Asia, having enlisted the troops of Cyrus as mercenaries in the service of Agesilaus, the Spartan king, to whom he was devoted beyond measure. About this time he was banished by the Athenians for siding with Sparta. When he was in Ephesus and had a sum of money, he entrusted one half of it to Megabyzus, the priest of Artemis, to keep until his return, or if he should never return, to apply to the erection of a statue in honour of the goddess. But the other half he sent in votive offerings to Delphi. Next he came to Greece with Agesilaus, who had been recalled to carry on the war against Thebes. And the Lacedaemonians conferred upon him a privileged position.

[link to original Greek text] 52 He then left Agesilaus and made his way to Seillus, a place in the territory of Elis not far from the city. According to Demetrius of Magnesia he was accompanied by his wife Philesia, and, in a speech written for the freedman whom Xenophon prosecuted for neglect of duty, Dinarchus mentions that his two  p183 sons Gryllus and Diodorus, the Dioscuri as they were called, also went with him. Megabyzus having arrived to attend the festival, Xenophon received from him the deposit of money and bought and dedicated to the goddess an estate with a river running through, which bears the same name Selinus as the river at Ephesus. And from that time onward he hunted, entertained his friends, and worked at his histories without interruption. Dinarchus, however, asserts that it was the Lacedaemonians who gave him a house and land.

[link to original Greek text] 53 At the same time we are told that Phylopidas the Spartan sent to him at Seillus a present of captive slaves from Dardanus, and that he disposed of them as he thought fit, and that the Elians marched against Seillus, and owing to the slowness of the Spartans captured the place, whereupon his sons retired to Lepreum with a few of the servants, while Xenophon himself, who had previously gone to Elis, went next to Lepreum to join his sons, and then made his escape with them from Lepreum to Corinth and took up his abode there. Meanwhile the Athenians passed a decree to assist Sparta, and Xenophon sent his sons to Athens to serve in the army in defence of Sparta. [link to original Greek text] 54 According to Diocles in his Lives of the Philosophers, they had been trained in Sparta itself. Diodorus came safe out of the battle without performing any distinguished service, and he had a son of the same name (Gryllus) as his brother. Gryllus was posted with the cavalry and in the battle which took place about Mantinea, fought stoutly and fell, as Ephorus relates in his twenty-fifth book, Cephisodorus being in command of the cavalry  p185 and Hegesilaus commander-in‑chief. In this battle Epaminondas also fell. On this occasion Xenophon is said to have been sacrificing, with a chaplet on his head, which he removed when his son's death was announced. But afterwards, upon learning that he had fallen gloriously, he replaced the chaplet on his head. [link to original Greek text] 55 Some say that he did not even shed tears, but exclaimed, "I knew my son was mortal." Aristotle mentions that there were innumerable authors of epitaphs and eulogies upon Gryllus, who wrote, in part at least, to gratify his father. Hermippus too, in his Life of Theophrastus, affirms that even Isocrates wrote an encomium on Gryllus. Timon, however, jeers at Xenophon in the lines:2

A feeble pair or triad of works, or even a greater number, such as would come from Xenophon or the might of Aeschines, that not unpersuasive writer.

Such was his life. He flourished in the fourth year of the 94th Olympiad,3 and he took part in the expedition of Cyrus in the archonship of Xenaenetus in the year before the death of Socrates.

[link to original Greek text] 56 He died, according to Ctesiclides4 of Athens in his list of archons and Olympic victors, in the first year of the 105th Olympiad, in the archonship of Callidemides,5 the year in which Philip, the son of Amyntas, came to the throne of Macedon. He died at Corinth, as is stated by Demetrius of Magnesia, obviously at an advanced age. He was a worthy man in general, particularly fond of horses and hunting, an able tactician as is clear from his writings,  p187 pious, fond of sacrificing, and an expert in augury from the victims; and he made Socrates his exact model.

[link to original Greek text] 57 He wrote some forty books in all, though the division into books is not always the same, namely:

The Anabasis, with a preface to each separate book but not one to the whole work.






On Horsemanship.

On Hunting.

On the Duty of a Cavalry General.

A Defence of Socrates.

On Revenues.

Hieron or Of Tyranny.


The Constitutions of Athens and Sparta.

Demetrius of Magnesia denies that the last of these works is by Xenophon. There is a tradition that he made Thucydides famous by publishing his history, which was unknown, and which he might have appropriated to his own use. By the sweetness of his narrative he earned the name of the Attic Muse. Hence he and Plato were jealous of each other, as will be stated in the chapter on Plato.

[link to original Greek text] 58 There is an epigram of mine on him also:6

Up the steep path to fame toiled Xenophon

In that long march of glorious memories:

p189 In deeds of Greece, how bright his lesson shone!

How fair was wisdom seen in Socrates!7

There is another on the circumstances of his death:8

Albeit the countrymen of Cranaus and Cecrops condemned thee, Xenophon, to exile on account of thy friendship for Cyrus, yet hospitable Corinth welcomed thee, so well content with the delights of that city wast thou, and there didst resolve to take up thy rest.

[link to original Greek text] 59 In other authorities I find the statement that he flourished, along with the other Socratics, in the 89th Olympiad,9 and Istrus affirms that he was banished by a decree of Eubulus and recalled by a decree of the same man.

There have been seven Xenophons: the first our subject himself; the second an Athenian, brother of Pythostratus, who wrote the Theseid, and himself the author, amongst other works, of a biography of Epaminondas and Pelopidas; the third a physician of Cos; the fourth the author of a history of Hannibal; the fifth an authority on legendary marvels; the sixth a sculptor, of Paros; the seventh a poet of the Old Comedy.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Anab. III.i.26‑31.

2 Fr. 26 D.

3 401‑400 B.C.

4 Ctesiclides is known to us from Athenaeus, who cites his Chronology, VI.272C, X.445D. It may seem rash to intrude him here; but cf. IV.5, where a similar error is certain.

5 360‑359 B.C.

6 Anth. Pal. VII.97.

7 Or in plain prose: "Not only for Cyrus's sake did Xenophon go up to Persia, but because he sought the path which leads to the abode of Zeus. For, having shown that the great deeds of Greece are the outcome of his training, he recalled what a beautiful thing was the wisdom of Socrates."

8 Anth. Pal. VII.98.

9 This would be 424‑420 B.C., a date obviously absurd as the floruit for either Xenophon or Plato.

Thayer's Note:

a The Anabasis, of course.

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Page updated: 5 Mar 18