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Christopher Nadon, Xenophon's Prince.

Republic and Empire in the

Cyropaedia. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001. Pp. xiii,
198. ISBN 0-520-22404-3.

Reviewed by John Dillery, University of Virginia (

Word count: 2133 words

The Cyropaedia is a difficult text. As with so much of Xenophon's writing, it presents us with a number of
puzzles. We simply do not have the answers to a number of basic questions: what kind of work is it; when was
it written; for what purpose? As Grayson acutely observed some time ago, its notorious final chapter (8.8), the
authenticity of which is sometimes doubted, is but one more case of a conclusion to a text of Xenophon that
seems to undercut or cast doubt on the preceding narrative.1 Although much admired and read in antiquity as
well as the Renaissance, until recently the work was little studied by classicists. This radically changed about a
dozen years ago, when the first in a line of important studies appeared: James Tatum's Xenophon's Imperial
Fiction (1989). Tatum's book was followed immediately by Bodil Due's The Cyropaedia. Xenophon's Aims
and Methods (1989), and then a little later byXenophon's Cyropaedia. Style, Genre, and Literary
Technique (1993) by Deborah Levine Gera. Finally, most recently, Christian Mueller-Goldingen brought out
his Habilitationsschrift,Untersuchungen zu Xenophons Kyrupdie (1995).2 Thus Christopher Nadon's
book, Xenophon's Prince. Republic and Empire in the Cyropaedia, joins a suddenly bustling, even crowded

Xenophon's Prince is very different from its immediate predecessors. The Xenophon that emerges from its
pages is very much the Chicago Xenophon. This is no surprise. Nadon identifies himself as a student of the
University of Chicago, dedicates the volume to Allan Bloom, and Leo Strauss is clearly an important guiding
light throughout. The Chicago Xenophon is a writer of irony and innuendo; the surface of his narrative often
conceals a covert message. The many apparent reversals found in several of his works lend support to such an
interpretation. Indeed, viewed through a Straussian lens, these passages no longer seem anomalous, but rather
are found to be connected to the entire texts in which they are situated. Although many have their reservations
about this approach, it has real merit, namely that Xenophon is treated as a serious author with important
views he wishes to communicate and that he did so without contradicting himself. Where many part company
with those who follow this line of criticism is precisely over the question how subtle or ironic Xenophon could
be. In its extreme form, this approach can seem deliberately contrarian: if Xenophon appears to others to have
wanted to say 'x', he in fact was trying to say 'not-x'.3 Nadon has produced an analysis of the Cyr.that in many
ways conforms to these strengths and limitations. His central point, that the picture we get of Cyrus is in fact
uniformly that of an ambitious prince aiming at autocratic rule, is presented in three main chapters ('Republic',
'Transformation', 'Empire'), followed by two concluding ones ('Motives' and 'Xenophon's Intentions'). But he
begins with a critical review of the books by Tatum, Due and Gera, though not in this order.4 Due is first
faulted for providing a 'bland, if sunny characterization' of Cyrus, essentially on the grounds that her treatment
is shallow and politically nave (p.6). Nadon's main focus is on Tatum and Gera. He finds the launching point
for his own discussion in what he sees as a major disagreement between the two: according to Nadon, while
Tatum sees the last portion of Xenophon's text as showing a positive picture of Cyrus and empire, Gera argues
that the negative character of Cyrus' imperial rule is suggested. Moreover, these critical stances are thought to
be at odds with the rest of the discussions in which they are found. Nadon observes: 'the fact that where Tatum
sees good, Gera sees bad, and where Gera sees good Tatum sees bad, suggests the possibility that Xenophon
and his presentation of Cyrus are in fact consistent throughout the work, indeed, consistently "Machiavellian"'
(13). Indeed, it is Machiavelli who rescues the Cyr. for us in Nadon's eyes, suggesting through his own
apparently contradictory views as found in thePrince and Discourses that the text 'contain[s] a covert teaching'

There are two points that need to be raised here. First, the justification Nadon constructs for his own
discussion seems distinctly artificial, and is at points unfair. Not really a statio quaestionis, the opening section
of his book creates the impression that the inspiration for his reading is not the Cyr. itself, but the reception of
it. Furthermore, the books of both Tatum and Gera are in fact far more nuanced than Nadon's summaries of
them; and Due's work is misrepresented. But, even were he right, these modern treatments ought not to serve
as the starting point for discussion, but rather the Cyr. itself. Secondly, the very notion of a 'covert teaching' is
highly problematic. I am aware that it is precisely here where opinions divide. But it seems to me that Nadon's
methods in establishing this hidden message, as well as his insistence that it can be found throughout the Cyr.,
are questionable. And major problems seem connected to the message itself that Nadon advances for the Cyr.

The strength of Nadon's book lies in its recognition that, among other things, the Cyr. is a political treatise. So
much is made clear by Xenophon's musings on government in the opening paragraphs. As I mentioned earlier,
Nadon's main point is that a 'Machiavellian' Cyrus needs to be understood throughout the narrative. Where
others have seen Cyrus' residence in Babylon (7.5.37ff.) as the beginning of his autocratic rule and thus also
the beginning of Xenophon's negative shading of him,5 Nadon asserts that this characterization can be found
throughout the Cyr., from the first book onward. Some of his readings are illuminating, and all are intelligently
presented. However, I do not believe that the case he makes for the presence of the covert teaching in the first
six, almost seven, books of the Cyr. is compelling. Nadon's handling of the dialogue between Cyrus and his
father Cambyses (1.6) is representative of the problem. He treats this important section at length at the end of
his book (164-78), in the chapter 'Xenophon's Intentions'. Nadon believes that while Cambyses encourages his
son to be both a good man and a good ruler, Cyrus is really only interested in the latter project. This claim is
first clearly articulated on the basis of remarks we see at the beginning of their conversation. Cambyses
reminds Cyrus that while it was a fitting and good task ( ... ... ) for a man to take care to
be good and to look after his household, it was a wondrous thing () to know how to rule others.
Cyrus responds by saying that the art of ruling was indeed an exceedingly difficult
task ( ... , 1.6.7-8). Because Cyrus did not also speak of learning to be a good man, Nadon
detects 'a real difference of opinion' between father and son (165): 'he does not share Cambyses' opinion as to
the difficulty or importance of becoming "truly good and noble" himself'. I frankly do not see how the passage
gives any warrant for Nadon to draw the conclusion he does. Cambyses has presented Cyrus with a pair of
related ideas: being good oneself is difficult, but being a good ruler is remarkable. Cyrus responds to the thrust
of the point: indeed, ruling well is very difficult. To my eyes at least, there is no sinister elision here of
Cambyses' first remarks; learning to be a good person was not the point of what he was trying to impress upon
his son. Much of the rest of Nadon's discussion of this crucial portion of the Cyr. is built on such casuistic

Another major difficulty with Nadon's understanding of the 'covert teaching' of the Cyr. is its purpose.
Asserting that the work was written 'when the Spartans exercised "hegemony over all of the Greeks"', he
claims that the Lac. Pol. was intended to make clear the failure of Spartan society, the Hellenica the failure of
Sparta's foreign policy, and the Cyr. 'how the attempt to overcome these difficulties by transforming an
idealized Spartan republic into a full-fledged imperial power ultimately results in the "rebarbarization" of its
citizens' (162-3). Although we do not know the precise date of the Cyr., most place it late in Xenophon's life,
say in the mid 360s.6 By this time Sparta's hegemony was crumbling, and its weakness exposed, first by the
defeat at Leuctra (in 371), and then by the subsequent invasions of the Peloponnese by the Thebans.
Furthermore, Nadon's argument relies on the understanding that Persia is but a transparent stand-in for Sparta,
a point that has some merit, but which has been shown to be significantly overstated, if not incorrect.7 And
even within the framework of his own discussion, the connection to Sparta comes as something of a surprise;
the linkage is not really justified by the discussion (in the index, the entry 'Sparta' lists only pages 30-32, 33,

A central component of Nadon's analysis is the belief that passages of Xenophon's text 'interlock' (24), and in
particular that these interlockings reveal significant discontinuities between speech and act (see, e.g., 40: this
is called 'disclosure'). An example: although Cyrus would seem to have been reconciled to his uncle Cyaxares
at 5.5.36-7, the 'true nature' of his attitude towards his relative and Media as a whole is revealed, 'if indirectly',
in his bestowal of Media as a satrapy upon his son Tanaoxares reported much later in the text (8.7.11). Since
'satraps, we are elsewhere told, are sent to rule over conquered peoples (8.6.1)', we have proof that Cyrus had
in mind all the time the cruel subjugation of his mother's homeland (100). This procedure is problematic in
two ways. First, the contexts of the sections in question are different and are not taken into account; in
particular 8.6.1, while indeed referring to 'the conquered peoples' ( ), is really more
about Cyrus' wish to control the satraps themselves, rather than the subject . And secondly, a larger,
historical issue: what else was Xenophon to call Media but a satrapy? As we know from Herodotus (most
notably, Hdt. 3.92), indeed as is clear from Persian documents (e.g. DB I.12-17), Media was in fact a satrapy.
This fact is unexceptional when seen from a historical point of view. Xenophon himself was quite aware of the
satrapal system of governance, as we can tell from numerous passages from both the Hellenica and Anabasis.
Yet, it is precisely a historian's view that we are missing in Nadon's treatment. To extract the sort of special
meaning he sees in Media's status as a satrapy, and to apply it to a passage that is found pages before, does not
seem justified (see Cyr. 1.1.4). This sort of argument based on an alleged 'interlocking' of passages is found
throughoutXenophon's Prince. When Nadon attacks others for 'reductionist explanations' lacking textual
support, as opposed to conclusions that are based 'on what [Xenophon] actually wrote' (162), the criticism
seems more fitting at points for his own line of argument.

Other methodological difficulties have to do with linguistic issues. When Nadon explains that words in a
translation of Xenophon have been emphasized by him with italics ('emphasis added' 34, 168), as though
showing us a latent meaning in Xenophon's own text, this suggests an odd understanding of the status of the
translation, indeed a distance from the original Greek. Other problems arise because of choices in translation
or favored terms in the argument; so, for example, Greek politeia is frequently translated 'regime'. Not an
impossible rendering I suppose, but one that is not offered by standard lexica (see LSJ s.v.).

As is by now no doubt clear, I have several reservations about Xenophon's Prince. I believe it is an intelligent
book, and that it grapples with a real problem: is a unified reading of the Cyr.possible? In the end I often do
not see the connections between passages that Nadon sees; I cannot believe that Xenophon was as subtle and
ironic as Nadon's argument requires him to be. This is not to say that Xenophon was incapable of irony,
understatement, and even commentary through omission. But it is a question of degree. And we should
probably also not forget in all this that Xenophon could be a very straightforward, direct, and declarative
author, and not just in those notorious 'palinodes' mentioned at the beginning of this review. Hellenica 5.3.7 or
5.4.1, or Mem. 1.1.20 especially come to mind. What is more, Xenophon could even endorse leadership that
was, when needed, deceptive: Cyrus the Younger had to conceal his revolt from his brother Artaxerxes II and
yet was a leader whom Xenophon obviously admired -- indeed, he was in his eyes the man most like his
ancestor and namesake, Cyrus the Great (An.1.9.1).


1. C.H. Grayson, 'Did Xenophon intend to write History', in The Ancient Historian and His Materials, B.
Levick ed. (Farnborough 1975) 34-5: in addition to Cyr. 8.8, Hellenica 7.5.27,Anabasis 7.8., Lac. Pol. 14.
Grayson was not the first to notice these apparently inconsistent passages but discusses well the fact that
several of Xenophon's major works seem to have them.
2. I have not seen the dissertations on the Cyr. by G. Hogg (Edinburgh 1996), or W.R. Newell (Yale 1981).
3. For a recent critique of the approach see P. Cartledge, 'The Socratics' Sparta and Rousseau's', in Sparta.
New Perspectives, S. Hodkinson and A. Powell eds. (London 1999) 320.
4. Mueller-Goldingen is treated briefly in a footnote, 12 n.55.
5. I am thinking esp. of Gera's splendid treatment. But see also V. Azoulay, 'Xnophon, le Roi et les
Eunuques', Revue d'Histoire des Ides Politiques 11 (2000) 3-26, as well as his forthcoming paper in the
proceedings from The World of Xenophon International Conference, held in July 1999 in Liverpool.
6. Cf. Mueller-Goldingen 55.
7. See, e.g., C. Tuplin, 'Xenophon, Sparta and the Cyropaedia', in The Shadow of Sparta, A. Powell and S.
Hodkinson eds. (London and New York 1994) 127-81, a text cited by Nadon but not really refuted. Nadon's
remarks about Tuplin and his alleged unrecorded debt to Strauss, 2 n.7, are grossly unfair.