The Education of Cyrus the Great
& His Biographer, Xenophon
Dear Classical Wisdom Reader,
The Cyropaedia, sometimes referred to as 'The Education of Cyrus the Great’ and one of the great works of 4th century BC Athenian writer and soldier, Xenophon, had a titanic impact; both in the classical world, the middle ages, and today.
Fellow ancient scribes such as Cicero, Tacitus and Polybius held Xenophon in the highest esteem; great generals such as Scipio Africanus, Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great were enthusiastic students; and a host of Renaissance princes, mostly notably Machiavelli, consider the Cyropaedia a model to emulate.
In modern politics, Xenophon has been highly influential on the likes of Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, and in literature on Jonathan Swift and the incomparable, classics trailblazer Edward Gibbon.
And to this day, it is mandatory reading for all graduates of West Point...
The Cyropaedia was, and remains one of the most important works of literature to come out of Athens and, with historical 'likes' from the list of intellectual, military and political behemoths above, is more than worthy of its place in classical canon.
Classical Wisdom Members, you can enjoy the FULL Ebook, covering the life and times of both the biographer, the subject of his study, as well as the original text, after the foreword, below.
If you aren’t, make sure to subscribe to access all our Ebooks, Podcasts, and Classical Wisdom Litterae Magazines here:
Either way, you can enjoy the foreword “Cyrus the Great & Xenophon”, to wet the intellectual appetite, below...
All the best,
Founder and Director
Cyrus the Great & Xenophon
By Ben Potter
This month's Ebook has the peculiarity of highlighting, within the same pages, the life and works of two distinct figures from antiquity despite the fact that they are separated by a gulf of two centuries.
Of course, many of our other eBooks have taken on such a style, but this usually happens when we present you with gobbets from several different authors and texts. However, this month we bring to you one of the principle works of Athenian historian, philosopher, soldier, and scholar, Xenophon (c.431-355 BC), in addition to the life and times of the founder of the Persian - Achaemenid dynasty, Cyrus the Great (c.580-530 BC).
We do this by bringing to you a history of the latter written by the former. Well... 'History' might not quite be the right word; there was, almost certainly, a good deal of daylight between the Cyrus the Great of Xenophon's Cyropaedia and the Cyrus the Great who created the largest empire the world had, at that point, ever known.
In our introductory articles we attempt to make this distinction clearer.
First, I provide a brief note on the nature, form, audience, appeal and legacy of the Cyropaedia. Following this, in the main bulk of our original commentary, we provide two expert and incisive biographies of Cyrus the Great – the real Cyrus the Great, not the character of Xenophon's literature. This is done in order that the reader can understand where, when and how Xenophon has strayed from the path of historical truth.
N.B. There may, of course, have been occasions when Xenophon was not flexing his creative and artistic muscles, but may simply have gotten things wrong. Trying to second guess whether it was the latter or the former is not an easy task. However, we can assume that huge events such as Cyrus dying in battle or in bed, or becoming lord of Media through succession rather than conquest would have been known to this august man of letters.
First, Stephen Dando-Collins takes us from the cradle to the grave with a rounded chronicle of Cyrus' struggles from vulnerable infant to venerable king. Then, Cam Rea drills down on the military might and majesty of a man who is still revered by many in 'Persia' (Iran) today. When read together, one could not hope to have a better, more succinct, insight into the life of one of antiquity's key players.
And now, a quick note on Xenophon, himself.
Though a product of democratic Athens, Xenophon was not a particular fan of such a system of government. This, combined with an ambivalence towards tyranny, seemed to lose him enough friends that he didn't feel wholly secure in Athens and instead chanced his arm in Persia as one of Cyrus the Younger's 10000-strong company of Greek mercenaries.
This association with the Near East, and proximity to the younger Cyrus and his followers, would no doubt have given Xenophon an excellent insight into affairs in this part of the world and, especially, an appreciation of the physical, political and word-of-mouth legacy of Cyrus the Great.
That said, Xenophon was much more than a soldier cum war-correspondent, but a prolific writer who had the enviable luxury of having been tutored by no lesser man than Socrates! Though it should not be assumed he was any sort of Socratic heir; like many (if not most) of Socrates' famous students, he seems to have been very unlike the old genius in most ways; being much more conservative, conventional and traditionally pious than the old master.
To a greater extent than many of his contemporaries, Xenophon's works have proven to make him a great polariser through the ages. Though some have considered his style naïve and simplistic, others consider him such a literary master that they assume wherever he inserts an ungilded sentence or weak simile (he was peculiarly addicted to making animal comparisons) he is doing so ironically or because he has considered more rarefied alternatives and rejected them (the bare, no-nonsense style of Ernest Hemingway provides a useful, if imperfect, modern comparison).
Love him or hate him, nobody who considers themselves an acolyte of ancient wisdom can ignore Xenophon…
Classical Wisdom Members, you can access the full Ebook, including Xenophon’s original work, here: