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Greek Philosopher: Xenophon

Updated on December 8, 2016

430 to 354 BC

Xenophon was a Greek historian, soldier, essayist and philosopher. A pupil of Socrates. In 401 he joined the Greek mercenary army in an expedition of Persian prince Cyrus against Artaxerxes, and was elected one of the generals of the Greek force.

This Greek detachment found itself in a dangerous situation between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, after the treacherous murder of its generals by Artaxerxes, and the death of Cyprus took command and led them in the "Retreat of the Ten Thousand" to the Black Sea and then on to home. In his Anabasis he describes how he led 10,000 Greeks on a 1,000 mile march home across enemy territory.

His principal works in addition to the 'Anabasis' is 'Hellenica', the 'Memorabilia' of Socrates and the 'Symposium' in which he expounds the doctrines and defends the character of Socrates.

About Xenophon

Born in Athens, the son of an Athenian knight. As a youth he was a disciple of the Greek philosopher Socrates. Although a man of action, he is best known as a writer.

Xenophon was born in Athens of a noble family. He studied under Socrates, but was more interested in military subjects than in philosophy. In 401 BC, he joined a band of Greek adventurers, led by the Persian prince, Cyrus the Younger. Cyrus wanted to seize the throne of Persia from his brother Artaxerxes. But Cyrus was killed in the battle of Cunaxa, and the Greek commanders were killed soon after.

The 10,000 Greek adventurers were stranded in a strange land without commanders. They chose Xenophon to lead their retreat. Xenophon documented this 1,500 mile march in Anabasis, a history of the expedition.

After months of hardships, the adventurers reached Trapezus, a city on the Black Sea. They served for a time with a Thessalian king, then joined a Spartan army in a battle against the Persians. In the last campaign, Xenophon captured a wealthy Persian and forced him to pay an enormous ransom. The Persian's ransom made Xenophon financially independent for the rest of his life. He settled in the district of Elis and devoted himself to writing. Xenophon wrote Hellenica, a history of Greece; Memorabilia of Socrates, an account of the life and teachings of Socrates; and Cyropedia, a life of Cyrus the Great.

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