Xenophon’s World

 Published in The World & I, November 1992

Xenophon’s World

Through one of the many narrow streets of ancient Athens a very handsome—but nevertheless mod­est and unassuming—young man was returning home with produce from the market. An ugly, bug-eyed man of about sixty coming toward him with the gait of a pelican raised his staff across the path, barring the way. He questioned the young man about where he might obtain various market wares and was given respectful answers, as was appropriate from a younger man. Seemingly satis­fied with the replies, the ugly one then asked where men might obtain honor and virtue. To this question the young man admitted he had no an­swer; the older man said simply, “Then follow me, and learn.”

The date was about 410 B.C., the beautiful young man was Xenophon, and his questioner was Socrates.

Xenophon the Athenian, the son of Gryllus, was born c. 428 B.C. into a wealthy and well-con­nected family, but he grew up in turbulent times. Perhaps all times have turbulence, and the fifth-century Athenians had their fair share of it, al­though they had enjoyed a period of relative calm and peace for twenty years before Xenophon was born, under the leadership of Pericles (b. 495 B.C.),