Xenophon and Philosophy’s Practical Calling

I just caught this piece on Xenophon. For those who didn’t cut their teeth on Plato and Socratic philosophy, Xenophon is the poor man’s Plato–good for records of Socrates’ life and for Athenian views of the Persians (especially Cyrus), but certainly not for philosophy. But he was a much larger figure for the Greeks and even more so for the very practical Romans.

Xenophon is the one on the right--he even looks like a philosopher

Xenophon is the one on the right--he even looks like a philosopher

Whatever he was writing, Xenophon always had a moral and educational agenda; ancient authors were right to classify him more commonly as a philosopher than as a historian, and modern authors should no longer ignore him as a source for fourth-century philosophical thinking. He is a quiet thinker; he doesn’t trumpet his views, but a great deal of careful thought underpins his work.

I wonder how many of us this would be fitting for: “doesn’t trumpet his views…” Anyway, this also should lead us to question the historicity of our treatment of certain figures. For example, I love reading Cicero, though I don’t have much sympathy for his pedantic asides and his natural law theories. Why? Because philosophy was well earned by him: he knew from what he spoke when talked about virtue. More importantly, he was eminently practical in his assessments. Just compare his Republic with Plato’s. But yet he’s not read anymore. Neither is Xenophon. In Continental philosophy, it’s the Romans’ fault for sending us through translations of Greek terms in our finals moves to the hells of onto-theology, so I guess that might be why you don’t read much on the Romans. But if I had the time, I’d write a work showing why if, as Agamben says, we’re to put philosophy back on its practical calling, it might be best not to ignore these figures. But before that, of course, there’s a few other articles and books to write…