On Hunting, by Xenophon


Now what astonishes me in the “sophists,” as they are called,1 is, that though they profess, the greater part of them, to lead the young to virtue, they really lead them in the opposite direction. Never have we set eyes on the man anywhere who owed his goodness to the sophists of today.2 Nor do their writings contain anything3 calculated to make men good, but they have written volumes on vain and frivolous subjects, in which the young may find pleasures that pall, but the essence of virtue is not in them. The result of this literature is to inflict unncessary waste of time on those who look to learn something from it all and look in vain, cutting them off from wholesome occupations and even teaching what is bad. I cannot then but blame them for certain large offences4 more than lightly; but as regards the subject matter of their writings my charge is, that while full of far-fetched phraseology,5 of solid wholesome sentiments, by which the young might be trained to virtue, I see not a vestige. Speaking as a plain man, I know that to be taught what is good by one’s own nature is best of all,6 and next best to learn of those who really do know some good thing rather than of those who have an art to deceive. It may well be that I fail to express myself in subtle language,7 nor do I pretend to aim at subtlety; what I do aim at is to express rightly-conceived thoughts such as may serve the need of those who have been nobly disciplined in virtue; for it is not words and names that give instruction, but thoughts and sentiments worthy the name.

Nor am I singular in thus reproaching the modern type of sophist (not the true philosopher, be it understood); it is a general reproach that the wisdom he professes consists in word-subtleties, not in ideas.8 Certainly it does not escape my notice that an orderly sequence of ideas adds beauty to the composition:9 I mean it will be easy to find fault with what is written incorrectly.10 Nevertheless, I warrant it is written in this fashion with an eye to rectitude, to make the reader wise and good, not more sophistical. For I would wish my writings not to seem but rather to be useful. I would have them stand the test of ages in their blamelessness.11

That is my point of view. The sophist has quite another — words with him are for the sake of deception, writing for personal gain; to benefit any other living soul at all is quite beside his mark. There never was nor is there now a sage among them to whom the title “wise” could be applied. No! the appellation “sophist” suffices for each and all, which among men of common sense12 sounds like a stigma. My advice then is to mistrust the sonorous catch-words13 of the sophist, and not to despise the reasoned conclusions14 of the philosopher; for the sophist is a hunter after the rich and young, the philosopher is the common friend of all; he neither honours nor despises the fortunes of men.

Nor would I have you envy or imitate those either who recklessly pursue the path of self-aggrandisement,15 whether in private or in public life; but consider well16 that the best of men,17 the true nobility, are discovered by their virtues;18 they are a laborious upwards-striving race; whilst the base are in evil plight19 and are discovered by their demerits.20 Since in proportion as they rob the private citizen of his means and despoil the state21 they are less serviceable with a view to the public safety than any private citizen;22 and what can be worse or more disgraceful for purposes of war than the bodily form of people so incapable of toil?23 Think of huntsmen by contrast, surrendering to the common weal person and property alike in perfect condition for service of the citizens. They have both a battle to wage certainly: only the one set are for attacking beasts; and the other their own friends.24 And naturally the assailant of his own friends does not win the general esteem;25 whilst the huntsman in attacking a wild beast may win renown. If successful in his capture, he was won a victory over a hostile brood; or failing, in the first place, it is a feather in his cap that his attempt is made against enemies of the whole community; and secondly, that it is not to the detriment of man nor for love of gain that the field is taken; and thirdly, as the outcome of the very attempt, the hunter is improved in many respects, and all the wiser: by what means we will explain. Were it not for the very excess of his pains, his well-reasoned devices, his manifold precautions, he would never capture the quarry at all; since the antagonists he deals with are doing battle for bare life and in their native haunts,26 and are consequently in great force. So that if he fails to overmatch the beasts by a zest for toil transcending theirs and plentiful intelligence, the huntsman’s labours are in vain.

I go back to my proposition then. Those self-seeking politicians, who want to feather their own nests,27 practise to win victories over their own side, but the sportsman confines himself to the common enemy. This training of theirs renders the one set more able to cope with the foreign foe, the others far less able. The hunting of the one is carried on with self-restraint, of the others with effrontery. The one can look down with contempt upon maliciousness and sordid love of gain, the other cannot. The very speech and intonation of the one has melody, of the other harshness. And with regard to things divine, the one set know no obstacle to their impiety, the others are of all men the most pious. Indeed ancient tales affirm28 that the very gods themselves take joy in this work29 as actors and spectators. So that,30 with due reflection on these things, the young who act upon my admonitions will be found, perchance, beloved of heaven and reverent of soul, checked by the thought that some one of the gods is eyeing their performance.31

These are the youths who will prove a blessing to their parents, and not to their parents only but to the whole state; to every citizen alike and individual friend.

Nay, what has sex to do with it? It is not only men enamoured of the chase that have become heroes, but among women there are also to whom our lady Artemis has granted a like boon — Atalanta, and Procris, and many another huntress fair.

1 Cf. Isocr. “Against the Sophists”; “Antidosis”; “Hel. Encom.”; Plat. “Sophist.”

2 Who are these oi nun sophistai?

3 Lit. “do they present writings to the world.”

4 Or, “as to certain weightier matters gravely.”

5 remata = “words and phrases”; ynomai = “moral maxims, just thoughts.”

6 “Being myself but a private individual and a plain man.” According to Hartman, “A. X. N.” p. 350, “ridicule detorquet Hesiodeum”:

outos men panaristos os auto panta noese esthlos d’ au kakeinos os eu eiponti pithetai.

7 Al. “in true sophistic style.” The writer seems to say: “I lack subtlety of expression (nor is that at all my object); what I do aim at is to trace with some exactness, to present with the lucidity appropriate to them, certain thoughts demanded by persons well educated in the school of virtue.”

8 onomasi, “in names”; noemasi, “thoughts and ideas.”

9 Or, “I am alive to the advantage to be got from methodic, orderly expression artistically and morally.”

10 This passage, since H. Estienne (Stephanus) first wrote against it “huic loco meae conjecturae succumbunt,” has been a puzzle to all commentators. The words run: ou lanthanei de me oti kalos kai exes gegraphthai [gegraptai in the margin of one MS.] radion gar estai autois takhu me orthos mempsasthai’ kaitoi gegraptai ge outos k.t.l. For takhu me orthos (1) takhu ti me orthos, (2) to (or ta) me orthos, have been suggested. It is not clear whether autois = tois sophistais (e.g. “it will be easy for these people to lay a finger at once on blots, however unfairly”), or = tois suggrammasi (sc. my(?) compositions; so auta, S. 7 below, ou gar dokein auta boulomai k.t.l.) (e.g. “since it will be easy offhand to find fault with them incorrectly”) [or if ta me orthos, “what is incorrect in them”]. I append the three translations of Gail, Lenz, and Talbot. “Je sais combien il est avantageux de presenter des ouvrages methodiquement ecrits; aussi par le meme sera-t-il plus facile de prouver aux sophistes leur futilite!” radion gar estai [sub. emoi] mempsasthai outois takhu (to) me (sous-entendu) gegraphthai orthos (Gail). “Zwar entgeht mir nicht, dass es schon say die Worte kunstvoll zu ordnen, denn leichter wird ihnen sonst, schnell, aber mit Unrecht zu tadeln” (Lenz). “Aussi leur sera-t-il facile de me reprocher d’ecrire vite et sans ordre” (Talbot). As if takhu me orthos were the reproachful comment of the sophist on the author’s treatise.

11 i.e. “the arguments to be blameless at once and irrefutable for all time.”

12 L. Dind. cf. Eur. “Heracl.” 370, tou tauta kalos an eie | para g’ eu phronousin.

13 paraggelmata. Cf. Aesch. “Ag.” 480, “telegraph”; Lys. 121. 32; Dem. 569. 1; “words of command”; Dion. H. “De Comp.” 248, “instructions, precepts.”

14 enthumemata.

15 Or, “surrender themselves heedlessly to the ways of self-seeking.” But the phraseology here seems to savour of extreme youth, or else senility.

16 enthumethenta. Query, in reference to enthumemata above?

17 Reading andron. For the vulg. auton see Schneid. ad loc., who suggests ton aston.

18 “Recognisable for the better.”

19 “They are not famous but infamous”; “the bad fare as their name suggests” (i.e. badly).

20 “Recognisable for the worse.”

21 Or, “what with private extortionsand public peculation.”

22 ton idioton, “laymen,” I suppose, as opposed to “professional” lawyers or politicians.

23 “What with their incapacity for hard work, their physique for purposes of war is a mockery and a sham.”

24 Cf. Plat. “Soph.”

25 Or, “earns but an evil reputation in the world.”

26 “They are being bearded in their dens.”

27 Or, “Those people who would fain have the lion’s share in the state.”

28 Or, “an ancient story obtains.”

29 Sc. “of the chase.”

30 Or uparkhein = “it may be considered as given.” Scheid. cf. “Pol. Ath.” iii. 9, oste uparkhein demokratian einai.

31 Lit. “that the things in question are beheld by some divinity.”

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 14:22