Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Xenophon's Agesilaus, Books X-XI

Book X

On the basis of the prior listing of Agesilaus's qualities, Xenophon argues that Agesilaus's victories were not incidental, but tied to his excelling in perseverance (karteria), strength (alke), and judgment (gnome) at the right times. Because of this, he serves as a fit model for those who wish to be good -- for can someone imitating someone who is pious (theosebes), just (dikaios), temperate (sophron), self-controlled (enkrates) become profane (anosios), unjust (adikos), outrageous (hubristos), or weak (akrates)? Agesilaus sums up what it is to be successful:

Justly may the man be counted blessed who was in love with glory from early youth and won more of it than any man of his age; who, being by nature very covetous of honour, never once knew defeat from the day that he became a king; who, after living to the utmost limit of human life, died without one blunder to his account, either concerning the men whom he led or in dealing with those on whom he made war.

Book XI

Book XI summarizes the essential features of Agesilaus's life. He reverenced holy things, was kind to true friends, sought to make justice more profitable than injustice, was lenient to private persons but firm with the failings of rulers, was generous with money, and sought virtue as a good rather than as a burden. He was temperate in times of plenty and courageous in times of trouble. He was gracious not artificially but naturally, high-minded without arrogance, more inclined to be proud of what he could do for others than of what he himself had. As an enemy, he was ruthless, but as a conqueror he was gentle, and as a friend he was generous. Everyone who knew him had some kind of compliment for him:

By his relatives he was described as “devoted to his family,” by his intimates as “an unfailing friend,”1 by those who served him as “unforgetful,” by the oppressed as “a champion,” by his comrades in danger as “a saviour second to the gods.”

And no matter how old he became, he never stopped pursuing the glory worth having, so that his old age seemed more impressive than the youth of many others. And so effective was he that he did not stop benefiting his city even after his death, since the wealth he brought to it allowed it to continue doing many great things. (It is perhaps notable that it is with this, love of city that brings benefits even after death, that the work ends.)

Additional Comments

* The Agesilaus is sometimes thought to have been one of the works read by Alexander the Great before his expedition to Persia, particularly in its repeated emphasis on how to consolidate rule over a conquered people by mildness. We don't know for sure, but if so it may have provided some inspiration for Alexander in building his empire.

* As noted before, Book XI is stylistically rather different from what one usually finds in Xenophon, which has occasionally led some scholars to conclude it may be inauthentic. But much of the difference could be due to the fact that Book XI merely summarizes the entire work, and scholars in general have tended to conclude that it is likely Xenophontic.


Quotations from Xenophon, Agesilaus, Xenophon in Seven Volumes, 7. E. C. Marchant, G. W. Bowersock, tr. Constitution of the Athenians. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA; William Heinemann, Ltd., London. 1925.

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