Xenophon (430 BCE – 354 BCE) was an ancient Greek historian and soldier. He is known for his various historical writings, most notably “Anabasis” (Ἀνάβασιςs), which was an autobiographical work which describes Xenophon’s experiences as one of the Ten Thousand, a group of Greek mercenaries hired by Cyrus the Younger to defeat his brother Artaxerxes for the throne over Persia. In Anabasis, he describes their return back home through enemy lands after Cyrus’ death at the Battle of Cunaxa in 401 BCE. Xenophon was one of the first to vividly depict the darker sides of war, the cruelty and brutality involved and also the intense longing to be back home in your home country. Because of its clear language and narrative, Anabasis has often been used in the teaching classical Greek.
Xenophon is also known from his friendship with the famous greek philosopher Socrates.
In this article we’ve collected a handful of quotes by Xenophon to share his wisdom:
Anything forced is not beautiful.
Xenophon (On Horsemanship)
The gods give nothing really good and beautiful without labor.
Kings, be well assured, experience much less pleasure than persons living in a middle rank of life, and have also more numerous and considerable sources of trouble.
The more dishes a man has on his table beyond what is sufficient, the sooner satiety in eating comes upon him.
Excess of grief for the dead is madness; for it is an injury to the living, and the dead know it not.
Yet is it more honourable, and just, and upright, and pleasing, to treasure in the memory good acts than bad.
A horse is a thing of beauty… none will tire of looking at him as long as he displays himself in his splendor.
Xenophon (On Horsemanship)
The most delightful of all music, that of your own praises.
The true test of a leader is whether his followers will adhere to his cause from their own volition, enduring the most arduous hardships without being forced to do so, and remaining steadfast in the moments of greatest peril.
Men unite against none so readily as against those whom they see attempting to rule over them.
It is not numbers or strength that bring the victories in war. No, it is when one side goes against the enemy with the gods’ gift of a stronger morale that their adversaries, as a rule, cannot withstand them.
Xenophon (The Persian Expedition)
Honor appears to me to be an object of great importance, since men submit to every kind of labor, and undergo every sort of danger, with the desire of attaining it.
The earth also kindly teaches men justice, at least such as are able to learn; for it is those who treat her best that she recompenses with the most numerous benefits.
In hunting on cultivated grounds, the huntsman must abstain from injuring the fruits of the season, and must leave springs and streams undisturbed; for to interfere with these is contrary to propriety and morality.
There is small risk a general will be regarded with contempt by those he leads, if, whatever he may have to preach, he shows himself best able to perform.
He who eats with most pleasure is he who least requires sauce.
Agriculture for an honorable and highminded man, is the best of all occupations or arts by which men procure the means of living.
Such as are excited by the gentler influence of Love assume more of affection in their looks, sink their voice into greater softness, and manifest in their gestures greater nobleness of soul.
Xenophon (The Banquet)
For showing loyalty in the midst of prosperity calls for no particular admiration, but always, if men show themselves steadfast when friends have fallen upon misfortunes, this is remembered for all times.
As a person, therefore, would have no enjoyment of drinking, if he had not previously known thirst, so he who is unacquainted with the longings of love has no experience of the most ravishing pleasures.
That … is the road to the obedience of compulsion. But there is a shorter way to a nobler goal, the obedience of the will. When the interests of mankind are at stake, they will obey with joy the man whom they believe to be wiser than themselves. You may prove this on all sides: you may see how the sick man will beg the doctor to tell him what he ought to do, how a whole ship’s company will listen to the pilot.
When the inhabitants of a free city have overcome the enemy in the field, it is not easy to express the pleasure which they feel in putting their opponents to flight, as well as in pursuing and making havoc of them.
From one who returns our affection, glances of the eye, for instance, are pleasing, questions are pleasing, answers are pleasing, and little contentions and resentments are the most pleasing and fascinating of all.
If the campaign is in summer the general must show himself greedy for his share of the sun and the heat, and in winter for the cold and the frost, and in all labours for toil and fatigue. This will help to make him beloved of his followers.
When the puppies are born, we must leave them with the mother, and not put them to another dog; for the nurture of strange dogs does not sufficiently contribute to growth; but the milk and breath of their mothers is good for them, and their caresses pleasing.
All mankind look forward with pleasure to festival days, except kings; for their tables, being always supplied with abundance, admit of no addition on festive occasions; so that, first of all, in the pleasure derived from anticipation they are decidedly inferior to private individuals.
Royalty is the most wretched condition imaginable; for there is no possibility of setting one’s self free from it, since how can any sovereign command sufficient resources to make restitution of property to those from whom he has taken it, or how can he make atonement in bonds to those whom he has cast into prison, or how can he offer a sufficient number of lives to die for those whom he has put to death?
That the greater part of mankind are deluded by the splendour of royalty, I am not at all surprised; for the multitude appear to me to judge of people as happy or miserable principally from what they see. And royalty exhibits to the world conspicuously, and unfolded fully to the view, those objects which are esteemed of the highest value; while it keeps the troubles of kings concealed in the inmost recesses of the soul, where both the happiness and the misery of mankind reside.
Daniel Seeker is a wandering dervish and lifelong student of the past, present and future. He realized that he was made of immaculate and timeless consciousness when meditating in his hermit cave on the island of Gotland. His writings are mostly a reflection of that realizaton. Daniel currently studies history, philosophy, egyptology and western esotericism at Uppsala Universitet. He’s also currently writing his B.A. thesis in history which explores how Buddhist and Hindu texts were first properly translated and introduced to the western world in the late 18th and 19th century.