Leo Strauss’ Xenophon: The Two Ways of Life

  Vertzagia, Despina. "Leo Strauss’ Xenophon: The Two Ways of Life." CHS Research Bulletin 12 (2024). https://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HLNC.ESSAY:104275541.

CHS Pre-doctoral Fellow in Hellenic Studies 2023–24
Strauss’ first reference to Xenophon can be found in a letter to his close friend Jacob Klein: “Herodotus, Thucydides, and Xenophon are not historians […] but authors of exoteric, protreptic writings.” [1] The time in which he addresses this letter to Klein, shortly before the publication of his first text devoted exclusively to Xenophon, “The Spirit of Sparta or the Taste of Xenophon,” [2] is only a few months after Strauss had fully grasped the question of esotericism. The proof of this discovery, which was to shape Strauss’ entire later work, are his enthusiastic letters to Klein from 1938-1939, in the first of which, dated January 20, 1938, Strauss shares with Klein his interpretative interest in Maimonides, [3] the thinker who eventually leads Strauss to revive the tradition of esotericism. Esotericism is the practice of conveying the unorthodox beliefs or theories of authors covertly or in latent form between the lines of texts that seem to conform to the conventional beliefs of their time. Certainly, the mere assumption that such a practice was actually practiced in Western thought involves a degree of bias or arbitrariness, but there is sufficient evidence in the history of ideas to make it plausible and separate it from mysticism. [4] The rediscovery of the question of esotericism is largely due to Leo Strauss. As far as esotericism was concerned, Strauss switches from Maimonides to Xenophon. As he reveals in a letter to Julius Gutmann in 1949, shortly after the publication of On Tyranny, the switch to Xenophon occurred precisely because Strauss was trying “to present the problem of esotericism in corpore vili, with a more favorable strategy that will not have a Jewish object. [5] However, this does not mean that Strauss’ initial engagement with Xenophon was instrumental in character; that is confirmed by Xenophon’s reference to the Socratic problem—a feature mentioned by Strauss in the same letter. [6] The consideration of the Socratic problem from the perspective of the Socratic model of life, rather than the historical Socrates, represents for Strauss the answer to the crisis of modern philosophy, that requires an esoteric reading in order to be fully grasped. This inner reading, in turn, calls for an effective critique of historicism and the rules that this tradition has imposed on the interpretation of the philosophical tradition. Christopher Nadon will argue that Strauss, a newcomer to the American intellectual community, chose Xenophon because he had been largely overlooked by scholars and therefore had not been interpreted as much through the means of historicism in comparison to Plato. This implies that Strauss’ radical hermeneutic would be much less noisy with Xenophon as its subject, than if it had chosen the Platonic dialogues as its subject. [7] This partly explains why Strauss did not publish his first interpretive text on Plato until 1964, having lived already 26 years in the United States and after having established himself in the American intelligentsia. The persecution he refers to in Persecution and the Art of Writing exists “at a time when some political or other orthodoxy was enforced by law or custom.” [8] In Leo Strauss’ academic environment, this orthodoxy is none other than historicism, whose dogmatic features, but also whose absolute dominance, he targets in his later criticism. The confrontation with Xenophon thus becomes Strauss’ internal mediation of his esoteric theory in order to avoid the intellectual isolation that an open confrontation with historicist hermeneutics would bring him, given his professional instability in the first years of his immigration to the United States.
In the following pages I will deal with a problem that runs through the entire philosophical and hermeneutical activity of Strauss, and the way, Strauss thinks, it appears in Xenophon’s work. It is about the distinction and the relationship between theory and practice, or between political life and the life of the philosopher. This problem is exemplified in the person of Socrates, who was condemned by the city of Athens, and tends to be identified with the Socratic problem itself. The condemnation of Socrates is the constitutive experience of philosophy and its tension with the city, an experience that for Strauss simultaneously determines the way of philosophizing itself and of philosophical writing in the future. The way Socrates is portrayed by Aristophanes, Plato and Xenophon can therefore reveal the problem of theory and practice in its genuine form.
As I have said, Strauss is famous for his peculiar return to the classical philosophical tradition through esoteric writing and criticism of modern political philosophy and historicism. This return is not necessarily a return to unchanging, stable moral principles, but rather a peculiar return to the superiority and independence of theoretical life as such. The independence and superiority of the theoretical life is, in my view, the most influential conception of classical antiquity that Strauss revives; it is the core of the much-discussed “return” to pre-modern and pre-theological thought and the necessary theoretical precondition for the development of the esoteric reading that Strauss inaugurated and that renewed the interpretation of philosophical texts of the past in unexpected ways. The glorification of the theoretical life is found in its purest form in Platonic literature. While in the Nicomachean Ethics Aristotle presents the theoretical life as the happiest, the most self-sufficient, and the most independent, [9] in the Politics he fails to provide a completely satisfactory answer to the question “πρῶτον τίς αἱρετώτατος βίος,” [10] or, as Richard Kraut aptly notes, “[Aristotle] does not decisively draw a conclusion about which [form of life] is better. [11] This view is supported by Charles D. C. Reeve, who argues that there seems to be a latent distinction between philosophical activity and philosophical life in the Aristotelian texts: when Aristotle goes so far as to speak explicitly about the two different kinds of life, the political and the philosophical, in the seventh book of his Politics, “[he does not give] decisive precedence to either.” [12] However, the very fact that the most systematic of the ancient philosophers avoids an explicit hierarchy of the two forms of life makes it plausible for contemporary scholars to claim that the tension between theoretical and political life in ancient Greek thought is based on anachronistic ideas. [13]
In Xenophon’s work, according to Strauss, the distinction between the two forms of life is reflected most emphatically in the depiction of the two central figures in his work: Cyrus and Socrates. [14] It must—of course—be said that the characteristics of Cyrus can be found in the person of Ishomachus, Socrates’ interlocutor in the second part of the Oeconomicus, where they are elaborated even more clearly. [15] Ishomachus is portrayed as Socrates’ teacher in the art of household management, as a highly successful private man who is regarded as the epitome of the perfect gentleman. How can Ishomachus, a private citizen, be compared to King Cyrus, the political leader of the Persian Empire?
In the first part of the Oeconomicus, Socrates refers to the garden of Cyrus the Younger, whom Xenophon had accompanied on his campaign against his brother Artaxerxes for the throne of the Persian empire. [16] The image of perfect order in the garden of the (potential) king Cyrus could be linked to the image of the perfect order of a ship, which Ishomachus emphatically mentions to Socrates and which he ascribes to the special virtues of the boatswain. [17] The royal or political art seems to be related to the economic art: the Oeconomicus tries to represent the political art under the pretext of the economic art. [18] In the Memorabilia, Socrates tries to convince Nicomachides that the differences between political and economic art are of secondary importance, [19] while he takes this view for granted in his conversation with Euthydemus. [20] Moreover, since the beginning of the discussion with Critobulus, the economic art is not discussed as presupposing that its “craftsman” owns property, nor does it imply that it is practiced on the private property of the householder. The person who owns the economic art and the master of household are not necessarily the same persons. [21] Both the economic and the political art or science can be transferred to other economic or political areas. Xenophon agrees with Plato that practical virtue, political virtue and virtue in general is knowledge, and that knowledge is not bound to the sphere in which it is practiced, but follows its possessor. In this sense, Aristotle’s criticism of Plato and his Statesman applies equally to Xenophon—the criticism is rather directed at Socrates himself. According to the Aristotelian conception, the relations of equality that structure political life remain alien to the relations of power between master and slave, father and children, husband and wife that structure the inner household. [22] The origin of this conception is not Socratic, precisely because it is Aristotle who, according to Strauss, “discovers” moral virtue, which is not pure knowledge but an intermediate stage between ordinary and genuine virtue that serves political life. [23]
The tension between the political life and the life of the philosopher is not only evident in the Socratic writings of Xenophon. The philosophical life differs from the political life with regard to its private character. Sparta, on the other hand, is portrayed by Xenophon as the epitome of the public sphere: Everything happens in the light of publicity. [24] The laws of the city concern all areas of human life: procreation, education, nutrition, whereby citizens live communally, and despise property and enrichment. [25] Strauss treats the Constitution of the Lacedaemonians as a Xenophon’s satire on Sparta (which already begins in the first chapter and in the depiction of the education of Sparta’s women), [26] and thus on political life itself, a satire that aims to show the limits of the city compared to the self-sufficiency of philosophical life. The laws of Lycurgus are not obeyed, as stated in chapter 14 of the Constitution of the Lacedaemonians (a rebuke to Sparta that is paradoxically but provocatively inserted into an otherwise apparent praise of Sparta) [27] or they are obeyed formally and superficially in the light of day, [28] for precisely the same reasons that the ideal city of the Platonic Republic is not located in the realm of ideas: Political life remains incomplete, and the philosopher is in fact unwilling to serve it. Although Xenophon explicitly portrays the lawgiver of Sparta, Lycurgus, as, “very wise in the extreme,” [29] in his entire treatise on Sparta he mentions neither the wisdom nor the education towards wisdom, [30] nor the justice or moderation (sophrosyne) of the citizens or rulers of Sparta. Instead, he prefers to refer to the continence (enkrateia), bashfulness and obedience of the Spartans in place of these virtues. [31] It is important to see how Xenophon treats these virtues in general in order to understand what role this choice plays in this case, bearing in mind that Lycurgus “compelled everyone to practice all virtues publicly.” [32] For example, continence that Xenophon ascribes to the Spartans in the Memorabilia does not appear to be a virtue, but merely a prerequisite for the acquisition of virtue: “ἐγκράτειαν ἀρετῆς εἶναι κρηπῖδα.” [33] As for bashfulness it is Cyrus himself who, according to Xenophon, “distinguished between bashfulness (αἰδῶ) and moderation (σωφροσύνην) in this way: the bashful are those who avoid what is offensive when seen, the moderate avoid that which is offensive, even when unseen.” [34] Even more than continence, then, bashfulness is not a genuine virtue, but an external behavior that can be hypocritical. [35] The publicity of virtue—in whatever form—seems to make it purely external and possibly hypocritical. In other words, Lycurgus forcing citizens to practice virtue publicly amounts to undermining virtue itself at the level of phenomena and exposing it to degeneration.
Strauss notes that Xenophon avoids explicit blame throughout his entire work. [36] In the Anabasis, at the end of the fifth book, he states emphatically: “Yet it were surely more noble, just, and holy, sweeter and kindlier to treasure the memory of good rather than of evil.” [37] This sentence is of no small importance in Xenophon’s work. For it is the final sentence of his own apology, when it was decided that the generals of the Ten Thousand should be called to account for their possible misdeeds in the past. With this sentence, Xenophon gives us an indication that praise and the avoidance of blame are his constant rhetoric, and this seems to be the case in his political and military works as well as in his philosophical writings. In the Anabasis he does mention that the cities he describes are large (μεγάλη), inhabited (οἰκουμένη) and prosperous (εὐδαίμων), but he carefully avoids mentioning any negative quality or shortcoming—instead he simply omits one of these three specific qualities. The formula he uses is obvious: [38] About Colosse he says that it was an “inhabited, prosperous and large city,” [39] and he attributes exactly the same qualities to Celaenae, Dana and Issus. [40] For Peltae, Ceramon-agora, Thymbrium, Tyriaeum, Caystru-pedion, and Myriandus he only mentions that they were inhabited. [41] In the case of Iconium, Xenophon does not mention any of the three characteristics, [42] while for Tarsus he only states that it was large and prosperous. [43] We know that Tarsus was abandoned by its inhabitants as soon as they learned that the army of Cyrus was approaching the city, so the omission of the third characteristic, which completes the original formula (οἰκουμένη), was probably deliberate. Thus, the descriptions of the cities in the Anabasis provide us with an important aspect of Xenophon’s rhetoric in the form of a model. His mild and moderate rhetoric and his implicit criticism, expressed through deliberate silence, is, as Strauss notes, a sign of Socratic wisdom [44] and is reflected both at the level of Xenophon’s historical or military description and in his moral, political and philosophical evaluation.
According to Strauss, it is important to consider the fact that Xenophon, although he fought for Cyrus the Younger, chooses the title Memorabilia for a work dedicated exclusively to Socrates. [45] In other words, Strauss, overlooking the historical possibility that the title was given by scholars of the Hellenistic period, as in the case of the Cyropaedia, [46] claims that Xenophon’s most memorable experiences do not seem to belong to the area of political and military life in which he was actively involved. It is important to note that Xenophon refers to Socrates as happy in only one place in the Memorabilia namely as “the happiest man,” (εὐδαιμονέστατος) and this only at the end of the work. [47] Before concluding that Socrates is the happiest of men, he enumerates the elements of his character that contributed to his eudaimonia: his piety; his justice, for the sake of which he did no harm to anyone; his restraint in regard to pleasure; his wisdom, which enabled him not to err in his practical decisions; his self-sufficiency; his ability for reason and self-control; his inclination to exhort others to virtue and to benefit those who were in his company. [48] Xenophon, who praises both the manliness of Cyrus and that of Agesilaus and has a personal interest in military affairs himself, prefers not to mention Socrates’ military achievements, the battle of Potidaea, the battle of Dilios or the battle of Amphipolis at all. The information we have about Socrates’ manly behavior in the Peloponnesian War is mainly due to Plato. [49] Contrary to scholars who take the view that Xenophon addressed Socrates because of his military reputation, [50] Xenophon refers to Socrates’ military life only in terms of his legitimacy, which he identifies with his justice “καὶ κατὰ πόλιν καὶ ἐν ταῖς στρατείαις.” [51] Xenophon never ascribes manliness as a martial virtue to Socrates, [52] a fact that, based on the assumption that deliberate silence plays a special role in Xenophon’s rhetoric, emphasizes the difference between the Socratic way of life and the political way of life, which is constantly confronted with the possibility of war. [53] Although Socrates is portrayed by Xenophon as capable of leading, [54] he seems unwilling to do so. Therein lies Socrates’ difference with Cyrus, but also Xenophon’s agreement with Plato: the peaceful [55] philosophical life is characterized by the fact that philosophers do not want to interfere in the political arena, “believing that while still leaving they have been transported to the Islands of the Blest (μακάρων).” [56]
The blessedness (μακαριότητα) of the philosophical life, which is crystallized in the profile of Socrates, is mentioned only once by Xenophon:

[…] “but we think that he who makes a friend of one whom he knows to be gifted by nature, and teaches him all the good he can, fulfils the duty of a citizen and a gentleman. This is my own view, Antiphon. Others have a fancy for a good horse or a dog or bird: my fancy, stronger even than theirs, is for good friends. And I teach them all the good I can, and recommend them to others from whom I think they will get some moral benefit. And the treasures that the wise men of old have left us in their writings I open and explore with my friends. If we come on any good thing, we extract it, and we set much store on being useful to one another.” For my part, when I heard these words fall from his lips, I judged him to be a blessed man himself and to be putting his hearers in the way of being gentlemen. [57]

In the introductory lecture of a course on Xenophon in 1963, Strauss explains that the sixth chapter of the first book of the Memorabilia (1.6.14) is extremely important and that this particular passage is a rough statement of the difference between the philosopher and the sophist, a distinction that affects all Socratic literature and whose understanding is essential for Strauss in order to understand the philosophical life itself. [58] Seven years later, towards the end of his life and at a time marked by his preoccupation with Xenophon, [59] Strauss will again teach Xenophon, this time at St. John College. At the end of the tenth lecture, he will return to the same passage of the Memorabilia, emphasizing Xenophon’s testimony [60] about the importance of friendship in Socrates’ life as well as the formulation of Xenophon’s understanding of his teacher’s blessedness, [61] because of the bonds of friendship that not only clothe but also enable his own activity, philosophy. This particular passage in the Memorabilia seems to be of great importance, because it points precisely to the kind of activity that makes the philosopher eudaimonic or blessed, in the context of the testimony of a historian, Xenophon. For Strauss, the distinction between rumor and autopsy is the first fundamental pre-philosophical distinction that gradually leads to the ‘discovery’ of nature and thus to the birth of philosophy. [62] Xenophon’s path as an eyewitness and historian is a prerequisite for Socrates’ path as a philosopher.

The significance of this chapter (Memorabilia, 1.6) and this passage in particular seems to have been of great importance for Strauss’ thought, for he quotes it in full in a short address he gave at the tenth annual graduation ceremony of the Basic Program of Liberal Education for Adults at the University of Chicago in 1959, and which was published in 1961 as an article entitled “What is Liberal Education” in a collective volume on the role of education in public life. [63] As Strauss states in Xenophon’s Socrates:

We understand now the purport of the chapter: it presents Socrates’ continence as the foundation of his happiness, for his whole way of life; the chapter is the only chapter of the Memorabilia that is devoted to Socrates’ way of life as a whole. His way of life is presented here as culminating, or his wisdom is presented here as consisting, in his discerning study together with his companions of the writings of the wise men of old. How this activity is related to Socrates’ always conversing about the “what is” of the human things is not stated by Xenophon but perhaps there is no need for its being stated, Xenophon underlines the importance of the Socratic utterance which he reports here by calling Socrates here and nowhere else “blessed” (makarios). He does not give a single example of his master’s blissful activity; this is a further example of his continence in speech. [64]

The blessedness of the philosophical life, which is granted to philosophers during their earthly life, seems in the Republic to be exclusively connected with solitary contemplation of truth and the conquest of virtue, and at the same time seems to prevent them from taking part in the common affairs of the city or in human affairs in general: The latter rather corrupt their eudaimonia. But has Plato, or rather Platonic Socrates, ever given an explicit definition of eudaimonia? And is eudaimonia to be equated with blessedness?

Let us consider the latter, for I believe it could shed light to the former. In Gorgias, after a rough mention of the virtues and after the brief, but highly significant for the entire Platonic literature, distinction between the pleasant and the good (especially in comparison with the seemingly opposite position expressed in the Protagoras) [65] Socrates will argue before Callicles that “a man because he does well in all his actions he is happy and blessed.” [66] Exactly the same use of these semantically related terms can be observed when Socrates addresses Thrasymachus: “anyone who lives well is blessed and happy.” [67] Strauss—sometimes in a far-fetched and certainly unsystematic way [68] —encourages readers of Plato’s dialogues to engage with the dramatic parts of the dialogues, especially the characters Plato (like Xenophon) chooses as interlocutors, when he develops the issue of logographic necessity, [69] that he believes permeates Plato’s work: Thrasymachus and Callicles, to whom Socrates tries to explain what eudaimonia (which he also calls blessedness), are followers of a then widespread intellectual movement largely hostile to the Socratic tradition: the Sophistic movement. If we follow Strauss’ train of thought and take into account his observation that Xenophon only mentions Socrates’ blessedness in the context of a chapter outlining the difference between two seemingly related activities, that of the philosopher and that of the sophist, distinction which is central to the Socratic tradition, we cannot but wonder: [70] Could Socrates have ever really explained to Thrasymachus and Callicles what exactly eudaimonia, the culmination of human aspirations, is?
Plato seems to show us in the Republic where we can expect the clearest answers from Socrates, who confesses to Glaucon that “when one is among knowledgeable and beloved friends, and one is speaking what one knows to be the truth about the most important and most beloved things, one can feel both secure and confident.” [71] Strauss will remark in a lecture on the Platonic Gorgias that this formulation reveals two fundamental conditions of the philosophical life: the reasonableness or keen perception or wisdom of the philosopher and the friendship that is important for the philosopher and his relationship to truth. [72] Xenophon in his Memorabilia will confirm this confession: Socrates seemed to choose the degree of truthfulness, or at least straightforwardness, according to the relationships he had established with his interlocutors, or according to the intellectual abilities he recognized in them, [73] which was of course also a prerequisite for the development of a “virtuous friendship.” [74]
Strauss emphasizes that Xenophon refers to Socrates as blessed in only one place—where his blessedness seems to be linked primarily to the friendly relationships he developed and the activity he shared with his friends. Ultimately, there seems to be a difference between blessedness and eudaimonia, which consists in the presence or absence of friends accompanying the philosopher’s activity in the search for truth—and in particular a certain kind of this search pursued through the reading of the books of the past. Moreover, it seems that for Strauss, the activity of speaking to someone is philosophically different from speaking about something to an impersonal audience. [75] This is possibly the reason for his interest in the audience of Plato’s narrated dialogues, to which he devotes part of his City and the Man. [76] But what prevents Xenophon from referring to this kind of blissful philosophical friendship in the second book of the Memorabilia, which seems to be devoted to the question of friendship? After all, the relationship between Eutherus, Diodorus and even Crito and Socrates does not seem to meet the requirements described in 1.6.14.
In Xenophon’s eyes, Crito, whom we know from the Platonic dialogue of the same name and who, as Plato writes in the Phaedo, “closed [Socrates’] mouth and eyes,” [77] does not seem to meet the standard of the higher kind of friendship to which Socrates owes his blessedness. The relationship between Socrates and Crito [78] requires a joint consideration of Xenophon and Plato. For Crito, reference is made to the Platonic Apology, [79] but not to Xenophon’s Apology. Crito, however, appears mainly in another Platonic dialogue: the Euthydemus. In the Euthydemus his dramatic position has shifted, and he is now a spectator of Socrates’ narrative. However, it is Crito who begins the dialogue with the phrase “who was” (τίς ἦν), and who is primarily interested in who Euthydemos was (with whom Socrates had spoken the previous day), and not in the content of their conversation. Crito’s “τίς ἦν” thus becomes the defiantly vulgar analogue of the Socratic “what is” (τί ἐστι), [80] or belongs, as Strauss would say, “to the sphere of gossip, of ordinary curiosity.” [81] The two questions reflect the quality of the questioners, and in these terms Crito distances himself from the Socratic ethos and thus from the environment of Socrates’ true friends. This fact is confirmed by Crito’s friendly relationship with the controversial Archedemus: How could Crito befriend both the sycophant Archedemus and Socrates? [82] Strauss had already answered these questions in 1966 in one of his lectures on Plato’s Crito and Apology of Socrates at the University of Chicago: “Socrates liked [Crito]; they knew each other very well, but in any serious sense of the word he was not his friend” [83]
1.6.14 of Xenophon’s Memorabilia seems for Strauss to be the only revelation of the true nature of Socratic friendship, which seems to replace political ties or to constitute its own kind of society in the context of theoretical life—and, in contrast to the Aristotelian view, seems to be completely independent of politics. [84] Xenophon provides us with no evidence of Socrates’ conversation with his close circle of friends, just as he provides us with no evidence of the Socratic dialectics. However just as he lets us know of the existence of Socrates’ close friendships, he assures us of Socrates’ dialectical activity: “For this reason [Socrates] never gave up considering with his companions what any given thing is. To go through all his definitions would be an arduous task.” [85] For Xenophon, to recall once again the Constitution of the Lacedaemonians, it seems that the highest activity and the highest human virtue, like the highest form of friendship, cannot be practiced in public. Under these conditions, the life of the philosopher will always transcend political life.
According to Strauss, Xenophon’s Socrates’ relationship to the city, which is understood as an extended household, is comically reflected in his relationship to the stubborn and undisciplined Xanthippe. [86] Although Socrates is initially portrayed in the Symposium as one of the many gentlemen interlocutors, he does not return home at the end like all married men who hurry back to their wives. Instead, Socrates stays with the unmarried Autolycus and his father, one of Socrates’ later accusers. Socrates’ decision not to return to Xanthippe reveals, on the one hand, his moderation and prudence in erotic and, mutatis mutandis, political affairs, since the other interlocutors rush in because of their erotic impulse aroused by the Syracusan poet; on the other hand, it is a proof of the philosopher’s independence from the ties of the household and thus from the city itself. [87] After Ishomachus has completed his gynaikologia (i.e. the description of the way in which he trains his wife in the economic art) in the Oeconomicus, Socrates declares, apparently ironically, that he will begin to imitate his own practice “tomorrow,” [88] which according to Strauss is to be translated literally “manana (sic!).” [89] In the Symposium, Socrates is asked by Antisthenes why he is not trying to tame Xanthippe. [90] The answer he receives is ambiguous: on the one hand, Socrates claims, using the analogy of women as juxtaposed to horses, that if he can tame the untamed horse, he can easily deal with the others. On the other hand, he concludes his answer with the remark that he does not want to educate Xanthippe, but himself in order to put up with her: “so I have got her, well assured that if I can endure her, I shall have no difficulty in my relations with all the rest of human kind.” [91] This answer is similar to his irony towards Ishomachus, but it is also related to the absence of manliness among the Socratic virtues, [92] and reveals the philosopher’s reluctance to descend from the realm of theory to that of practice, or the philosopher’s realization that the economic and political arts are by definition imperfect in comparison with science. The latter, in order to be exercised, presupposes leisure (σχολή). Leisure’s fundamental characteristic, which distinguishes it from work or economic activity (ἀσχολία), [93] is that it is determined solely by the choice or rather the προαίρεσιν of the agent and is not dictated by any form of necessity. In the same way, both the life of Ishomachus, who sets goals according to the needs of his household, and the life of Cyrus, who acts according to the needs of his empire, stands at the opposite pole of the Socratic life.
The role of Socrates in his conversation with Critobulus is similar to the role of Simonides in his conversation with Hiero. The distinction between the political and the economic man, on the one hand, and the philosopher or the sage, on the other, seems to be recurring repeatedly in Xenophon’s work. Hiero may not be the legitimate king and thus not the ideal representative of political life, just as Simonides—as a poet and a landlord himself—is not the ideal representative of theoretical life, but the contrast between them seems to be paving the ground for the contrast between Cyrus and Socrates. [94] For Strauss, Simonides—and in one case Alcibiades since he opposes the identification of the just and the lawful during “the only conversation transmitted through the Memorabilia in which Socrates does not participate” [95] —in Xenophon seems to play the role of the Eleatic Stranger in Plato, [96] insofar as both question the authority of the laws. On the contrary, in the person of Socrates, Xenophon in the Memorabilia identifies the concept of justice with that of legitimacy. [97] Xenophon’s Socrates, while conversing with Hippias, seems to endorse Plato’s Thrasymachus’ position on the essence of justice. [98] In that light, the Memorabilia is the work in which Xenophon attempts to prove the justice and possibly the piety of Socrates in political terms. [99] Xenophon thus seems to attempt to overcome the tension between politics and philosophy by emphasizing Socrates’ practical wisdom or phronesis, or by reconciling the philosopher with the city. In this sense, the Memorabilia constitute a defense of philosophy at the court of the city, or a philosophical politics in which the philosopher is presented as the best citizen who cannot harm the city in any way. Having experienced the condemnation of the philosopher par excellence by the city, philosophers have shifted their focus to a peculiar concern for the city, ultimately aimed at the survival of philosophical discourse, and at the same time seem to have realized that—as Strauss aptly puts it—natural law, i.e., the philosopher’s complete answer to the question of what justice is, “would act as dynamite for civil society.” [100]

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[ back ] 1. Leo Strauss, “Letter to Klein February 28, 1939,” in Meier 2008:559. English translation: Lampert 2014:14.
[ back ] 2. Strauss 1939.
[ back ] 3. “Letter to Klein January 20, 1939,” in Meier 2008:545.
[ back ] 4. For a deep examination of the testimonial evidence and the theoretical and social basis of esotericism, see Arthur M. Melzer 2014.
[ back ] 5. “Letter to Julius Gutmann May 20, 1949,” in Leo Strauss Papers circa 1930-1997 (Chicago: Hanna Holborn Gray Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library), Box 4, Folder 8.
[ back ] 6. “Letter to Julius Gutmann May 20, 1949,” in Leo Strauss Papers circa 1930-1997 (Chicago: Hanna Holborn Gray Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library), Box 4, Folder 8.
[ back ] 7. Nadon 2016:iv.
[ back ] 8. Strauss 1952:32.
[ back ] 9. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics X, 1177a22-25; 1177a35; 1177b35.
[ back ] 10. Aristotle, Politics VII, 1323a15-16.
[ back ] 11. Kraut 2007:62.
[ back ] 12. Reeve 1998:xlvi.
[ back ] 13. Tamiolaki 2020:383.
[ back ] 14. Strauss 2016b:248; Strauss 1989a:131.
[ back ] 15. Strauss 2004b:161; 144.
[ back ] 16. Xenophon, Oeconomicus, 4.20-24.
[ back ] 17. Xenophon, Oeconomicus, 8.11-17. Cf. Strauss 2004b:162.
[ back ] 18. Strauss 2013:33.
[ back ] 19. Xenophon, Memorabilia, 3.4.12.
[ back ] 20. Xenophon, Memorabilia, 4.2.11
[ back ] 21. Strauss 2004b: 93.
[ back ] 22. Aristotle, Politics, I, 1252a 4-16.
[ back ] 23. Strauss 1964:26-28.
[ back ] 24. Strauss 1939:531.
[ back ] 25. Xenophon, 1.1-10; 2.1-4.7; 5.1-8; 6.1-4; 7.1-5.
[ back ] 26. Strauss 1939:503-507.
[ back ] 27. Strauss 1939, esp. 524.
[ back ] 28. Strauss 1939, esp. 517
[ back ] 29. Xenophon, The Constitution of the Lacedaemonians, 1.2.
[ back ] 30. Strauss 1939:512.
[ back ] 31. Strauss 1939:514.
[ back ] 32. Xenophon, The Constitution of the Lacedaemonians, 10.4.
[ back ] 33. “Continence is the foundation/basement of virtue.” Xenophon, Memorabilia, 1.5.4.
[ back ] 34. Xenophon, Cyropaedia, 8.1.31-32.
[ back ] 35. Strauss 1939:517.
[ back ] 36. Strauss 1989a:128; Strauss1975:119; etc. See also, Rudermann 2015:197.
[ back ] 37. Xenophon, Anabasis, 5.8.26.
[ back ] 38. Strauss 1975:118.
[ back ] 39. Xenophon, Anabasis, 1.2.6.
[ back ] 40. Xenophon, Anabasis, 1.2.7; 1.2.20; 1.4.1.
[ back ] 41. Xenophon, Anabasis, 1.2.10-11; 1.2.13-14; 1.4.6.
[ back ] 42. Xenophon, Anabasis, 1.2.19.
[ back ] 43. Xenophon, Anabasis, 1.2.23.
[ back ] 44. Strauss 1989a:128.
[ back ] 45. Strauss2004b:85.
[ back ] 46. Rood 2015:157-158.
[ back ] 47. Xenophon, Memorabilia, 4.8.11.
[ back ] 48. Xenophon, Memorabilia, 4.8.11.
[ back ] 49. Plato, Symposium, 219e-221c.
[ back ] 50. See, for example, Burnet1911:xiv-xviii; Burnet1914:137n2. See also Strauss 1989a:127.
[ back ] 51. Xenophon, Memorabilia, 4.4.2-4.
[ back ] 52. Strauss 2004b:89; Strauss 2018:232.
[ back ] 53. Strauss 1989a:131.
[ back ] 54. Xenophon, Memorabilia, 3.1.
[ back ] 55. Strauss 2004b:89.
[ back ] 56. “ἡγούμενοι ἐν μακάρων νήσοις ζῶντες ἔτι ἀπῳκίσθαι.” Plato, Republic, VII, 519c 5-6.
[ back ] 57. Xenophon, Memorabilia, 1.6.14. Emphasis added. Strauss himself preferred as a translation of the term μακάριος the English term “blessed” rather than “happy.” See Strauss 2016b:10.
[ back ] 58. Strauss 2016b:9; Strauss 1988:39.
[ back ] 59. Nadon 2021:69-70.
[ back ] 60. “ἐμοὶ […] ταῦτα ἀκούοντι ἐδόκει […].” Xenophon, Memorabilia, 1.6.14.
[ back ] 61. “ἐμοὶ […] ἐδόκει αὐτός τε μακάριος εἶναι.” Xenophon, Memorabilia, 1.6.14.
[ back ] 62. Strauss 1953:88.
[ back ] 63. Strauss 1989b:316.
[ back ] 64. Strauss 2004a:29-30.
[ back ] 65. Plato, Protagoras, 351e 5-6. The belief that the contrast between Socrates’ two discourses, the one to Protagoras and the one to Gorgias, on the relation between pleasure and eudaimonia is phenomenal follows George Rudenbusch’s reading. The conviction that we must each time understand the meaning which Socrates, or Plato, ascribes to pleasure, drawn from Gilbert Ryle’s work, The Concept of Mind, and from parallel readings of Aristotelian literature, leads Rudenbush to argue that pleasure as presented in Protagoras, or sensory pleasure in the Apology (40d6), is not pleasure in Callicles’ terms, but a kind of “modal pleasure” which is inextricably linked to virtuous action. Rudenbusch 1999:65; 68; 126; 25.
[ back ] 66. “τὸν δ’ εὖ πράττοντα μακάριόν τε καὶ εὐδαίμονα εἶναι.” Plato, Gorgias, 507c 4-5.
[ back ] 67. “ὅ γε εὖ ζῶν μακάριός τε καὶ εὐδαίμων.” Plato, Republic Ι, 354a 1-2.
[ back ] 68. For an interesting criticism on Strauss’ interpretation based on “the unspoken causes” that would have determined the choices of Socrates’ interlocutors such as Hippias, see Dorion 2010:314-320.
[ back ] 69. Strauss 1964:52ff.
[ back ] 70. Strauss 2016b, “Session 1: Introduction: no date.”
[ back ] 71. “ἐν γὰρ φρονίμοις τε καὶ φίλοις περὶ τῶν μεγίστων τε καὶ φίλων τἀληθῆ εἰδότα λέγειν ἀσφαλὲς καὶ θαρραλέον.” Plato, Republic, V, 450d 10-e 1. Cf. Strauss 1964:53-54.
[ back ] 72. Strauss 2014:124.
[ back ] 73. Xenophon, Memorabilia, 1.6.14; 4.1.2-2.1; 4.6.13-15.
[ back ] 74. Strauss 1964:54.
[ back ] 75. Strauss 1988:29.
[ back ] 76. Strauss 1964:58-59.
[ back ] 77. Plato, Phaedo, 118a 12-13.
[ back ] 78. Strauss 2018:152.
[ back ] 79. Plato, Apology, 33d 10.
[ back ] 80. Strauss 2016a:213.
[ back ] 81. Leo Strauss, 1983:68.
[ back ] 82. Strauss 2018:152.
[ back ] 83. Strauss 2014:215.
[ back ] 84. Strauss 2004a:49.
[ back ] 85. “ὧν ἕνεκα σκοπῶν [Σωκράτης] σὺν τοῖς συνοῦσι, τί ἕκαστον εἴη τῶν ὄντων, οὐδέποτ’ ἔληγε. πάντα μὲν οὖν ᾗ διωρίζετο πολὺ ἔργον ἂν εἴη διεξελθεῖν.” Xenophon, Memorabilia, 4.6.1.
[ back ] 86. Strauss 2004a:178.
[ back ] 87. Strauss 2004a:178.
[ back ] 88. Xenophon, Oeconomicus, 11.6.
[ back ] 89. Strauss 2018:38.
[ back ] 90. Xenophon, Symposium, 2.10.
[ back ] 91. Xenophon, Symposium, 2.10.
[ back ] 92. Strauss 2004b:153.
[ back ] 93. Cf. Xenophon, Memorabilia, 2.6.4.
[ back ] 94. Strauss 2013:78-79.
[ back ] 95. Strauss 2004a:14-15. See also: Xenophon, Memorabilia, 1.2.40-46; Strauss 1939:519-520. For counterarguments on the interpretation of the conversation between Alcibiades and Pericles in the Memorabilia see Dorion 2010:302-306.
[ back ] 96. Strauss 2004a:77.
[ back ] 97. Xenophon, Memorabilia, 4.4.1-5; Strauss 2004b:85.
[ back ] 98. Cf. Strauss 1964:75.
[ back ] 99. Strauss 1964:85-86; Strauss 1989a:136-138.
[ back ] 100. Strauss 1953:153.