One of Xenophon's most important works is the Apomnemoneumata, most commonly in English as the Memorabilia. This work is a vigorous defense of Socrates against criticism. It is divided into four books. You can read it in English at the Perseus Project in E. C Marchant's translation or at Project Gutenberg in H. G. Dakyns's translation. He's an easier read than Plato, and he gives us Socrates in smaller portions than Plato does.
Theme and Structure
Book I is concerned with addressing directly the major charges against Socrates: impiety and corruption of the youth. Xenophon argues that he was innocent of both charges. This argument is naturally broken up into several segments:
1.1 Xenophon notes that Socrates regularly sacrificed to the gods in public and trusted in divination. He suggests that it was Socrates' daemon that led people to conclude he was introducing new deities; in fact, this is not any different than standard Athenian divination practices and shows Socrates' piety. Moreover, Socrates was always out in public without saying anything impious, and did not indulge in the kinds of speculations that get associated with that label. Moreover, one of the most famous events in Socrates' life, his defense of the rights of the generals after Arginusae, show him upholding his sacred oath.
1.2 It makes no sense to claim that Socrates corrupted the youth given that he practiced self-restraint or moderation himself. Xenophon then spends some time on Critias and Alcibiades, the two students who might be taken as evidence of Socrates' bad influence, arguing that their corruption was in fact a falling away from Socrates' teaching. After this, he handles specific arguments about the teaching itself: what he taught about family and friends and how he handled the poets. Socrates' life involved nothing worthy of a death penalty.
1.3 Xenophon moves on to argue that, far from corrupting his associates, he benefited them, partly by example and partly by discussion, in both religious practice and self-discipline.
1.4-7 The next criticism to which Xenophon responds is the claim that while Socrates might have been able to start people off in the pursuit of goodness, he could not lead them to it; Xenophon argues that people associating with Socrates actually became better people. He gives examples of particular cases in 1.4, and in the next three he gives more general features of Socrates' teaching that contributed to his associates being better: in 1.5, he gives a sample discourse of Socrates on self-discipline; in 1.6, he shows how Socrates in argument with Antiphon the Sophist emphasizes the importance of self-discipline and moderation; and in 1.7, he gives Socrates' argument against wanting only to seem good rather than really to be good.
(1) One of the most interesting passages in the first book occurs in 1.2, when Xenophon is discussing Critias, and showing how he and Socrates fell out, and the opposition between Critias and Socrates when the former became one of the Thirty Tyrants. Critias attempted to seduce a youth, named Euthydemus (whom we get more of later), and was warned that he was acting slavishly:
And when Critias paid no attention to these protests and was not diverted from his purpose, Socrates is reported to have said, in the presence of several persons including Euthydemus himself, that Critias seemed to be suffering from pig's itch: he wanted to scratch himself against Euthydemus like a piglet scratching itself against a stone.
(One of my favorite passages in any Socratic text!) According to Xenophon, Critias took this quite personally, and so when he became one of the Thirty, he along with Charicles insisted on passing a law against disputations, specifically out of spite against Socrates. Of course, this couldn't stop Socrates from being Socrates:
When the Thirty were putting to death many of the citizens (and those not the worst of them) and were inciting many others to do wrong, Socrates observed on one occasion that it seemed extraordinary to him that a man appointed to look after a herd of cattle who made them fewer and worse than they were before should not admit that he was a bad herdsman, and still more extraordinary that a man appointed as a political leader who was making the citizens fewer and worse than they were before was not ashamed and did not consider himself a bad political leader.
He gets called before Critias and Charicles, and we get an interesting and typically mischievous dialogue between Socrates and the two tyrants. He asks them whether they take the art of disputation to involve speaking correctly or not, so that he can be sure to obey the law. Charicles impatiently tells him not to speak to the young at all. So Socrates asks what ages he means; Charicles says anyone below thirty. Socrates asks if these means he can't speak to people below thirty if he is just buying something from them and wants to know what the price is -- and so it goes on, and ends with an implied threat by Charicles that if he doesn't watch out, Socrates might be guilty of thinning the herd himself.
(2) Another interesting passage occurs in 1.3, where Xenophon relates a discussion between Socrates and himself. We never get this kind of thing with Plato, of course, who does not show himself interacting with Socrates; and it shows something about Xenophon that he is willing to write a little dialogue in which he gets called a fool or dullard (moros) by Socrates.
Socrates and Xenophon talk about Critobulus (the son of Crito), who had kissed the son of Alcibiades. (Critobulus is apparently there.) Socrates remarks that he was being reckless, and when Xenophon asks why, he remarks that it's the kind of action that turns men into slaves, just like a little spider can poison a person and drive them mad with a little bite. Xenophon remarks that spiders do it by injecting something. Socrates says he's a fool; good-looking people with the bloom of youth inject a poison as well -- but they can sometimes do it even without contact, just by sight. He advises Xenophon to flee anyone who is good-looking, and recommends that Critobulus go away for a year to recover from the poison.