Xenophon on Athens : between democracy and oligarchy




Yarbrough, Colin Warner

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This dissertation explores Xenophon’s view of Athenian political society and governance during the 5th-4th centuries BCE. Xenophon has often been portrayed in scholarship as an uncritical conduit of traditional conservative, aristocratic thought: hostile to democracy and the Athenian demos and in favor of oligarchy. It is the argument of this dissertation that this interpretation of Xenophon’s view of Athens is overly simplistic and often inaccurate. Xenophon is not limited to a single ideological perspective in his treatment of Athens; instead, he takes a broad approach to looking at the strengths and weaknesses of his home city. By analyzing Xenophon’s life and times, I challenge the reductive view of Xenophon as a creature of his class, drawing particular attention to the variety of influences—individuals, places, and events—that likely shaped his thought. To show the complexity of Xenophon’s thought regarding democracy and Athens, I explore some of the reasons that Xenophon has been considered a proponent of oligarchy, including his writings on political constitutions, Sparta, and the Socratic theory of rulers and ruled. Additionally, I show that his narrative of Athenian history at the end of the 5th century BCE, recorded in the Hellenika, presents a consistent set of problems in Athenian governance, related to the behavior and intentions of the political class, that exists both under the Athenian democracy and the oligarchic regime of the Thirty. Finally, I examine Xenophon’s use of the terms kalokagathia and kaloi kagathoi. Rather than justifying the status of aristocrats or the partisans of oligarchy, as has sometimes been argued, his conception of kalokagathia seeks to make the kaloi kagathoi compatible with Athenian democracy and encourages them to contribute to the community. For Xenophon, kalokagathia is a virtue that combines Socratic morality with the knowledge of statecraft; he wants his kaloi kagathoi to be both good citizens and good leaders for democratic Athens