In his “biography” of the first king of the Persian Empire, Xenophon says of Cyrus the Great:
In his nature Cyrus is reputed and still celebrated even now among the barbarians as most beautiful in his form and most loving of humanity (φιλανθρωπότατος) in his soul, as well as most loving of learning (φιλομαθέστατος) and most loving of being honored (φιλοτιμότατος), to the point that he would endure every labor and undergo every danger in order to be praised. (Cyropaedia 1.2.1)
What does Xenophon mean by philanthrôpia, philomatheia, and philotîmia? To what extent does Xenophon see these traits as fundamental to his conception of Cyrus’ leadership (e.g., as philosophia is fundamental to Plato’s Philosopher King); and to what extent do these traits agree with other notions of great leadership in Xenophon’s Athenian contemporaries, Plato and Isocrates, e.g., in their descriptions of the Philosopher King and the Cyprian king Evagoras?
The moment we begin to consider notions of “loving humanity”, “loving learning”, and “loving to be honored”, we encounter ambivalence. Loving to be honored can cause a leader to cheat, deceive, take unnecessary risks, or envy competent rivals (as Plato well knew and the career of Alcibiades well illustrates). Loving learning may render the leader haughty, sophistic, deceptive, disinterested in leading, or interested in subjects irrelevant to civic leadership (think of Socrates in Aristophanes’ Clouds). Even loving humanity, for all of its obvious importance to leadership, is problematic: the “philanthropic” leader may spare a recidivistic enemy, neglect discipline, give lavishly and recklessly, or incur rivalry with other leaders who are threatened by such generosity (think of Prometheus’ (PV) “philanthropic” gift of fire and his subsequent rivalry with Zeus). In the end, how does the “philanthropic” leader decide how much “love” to show to his various followers, from family, friends, fellow-citizens, allies, and indeed—as the term “philanthrôpia” implies—all humanity? To what extent does Xenophon address these many forms of ambivalence in his presentation of Cyrus the Great?