Oeconomicus, by Xenophon


But (I continued presently), perhaps I am preventing you from going, as you long have wished to do, Ischomachus?

To which he: By no means, Socrates. I should not think of going away until the gathering in the market is dispersed.262

Of course, of course (I answered), you are naturally most careful not to forfeit the title they have given you of “honest gentleman”;263 and yet, I daresay, fifty things at home are asking your attention at this moment; only you undertook to meet your foreign friends, and rather than play them false you go on waiting.

Isch. Let me so far corect you, Socrates; in no case will the things you speak of be neglected, since I have stewards and bailiffs264 on the farms.

Soc. And, pray, what is your system when you need a bailiff? Do you search about, until you light on some one with a natural turn for stewardship; and then try to purchase him? — as, I feel certain, happens when you want a carpenter: first, you discover some one with a turn for carpentry, and then do all you can to get possession of him.265 Or do you educate your bailiffs yourself?

Isch. Most certainly the latter, Socrates; I try to educate them, as you say, myself; and with good reason. He who is properly to fill my place and manage my affairs when I am absent, my “alter ego,”266 needs but to have my knowledge; and if I am fit myself to stand at the head of my own business, I presume I should be able to put another in possession of my knowledge.267

Soc. Well then, the first thing he who is properly to take your place when absent must possess is goodwill towards you and yours; for without goodwill, what advantage will there be in any knowledge whatsoever which your bailiff may possess?

Isch. None, Socrates; and I may tell you that a kindly disposition towards me and mine is precisely what I first endeavour to instil.

Soc. And how, in the name of all that is holy, do you pick out whom you will and teach him to have kindly feeling towards yourself and yours?

Isch. By kindly treatment of him, to be sure, whenever the gods bestow abundance of good things upon us.

Soc. If I take your meaning rightly, you would say that those who enjoy your good things grow well disposed to you and seek to render you some good?

Isch. Yes, for of all instruments to promote good feeling this I see to be the best.

Soc. Well, granted the man is well disposed to you does it therefore follow, Ischomachus, that he is fit to be your bailiff? It cannot have escaped your observation that albeit human beings, as a rule, are kindly disposed towards themselves, yet a large number of them will not apply the attention requisite to secure for themselves those good things which they fain would have.

Isch. Yes, but believe me, Socrates, when I seek to appoint such men as bailiffs, I teach them also carefulness and application.268

Soc. Nay, now in Heaven’s name, once more, how can that be? I always thought it was beyond the power of any teacher to teach these virtues.269

Isch. Nor is it possible, you are right so far, to teach such excellences to every single soul in order as simply as a man might number off his fingers.

Soc. Pray, then, what sort of people have the privilege?270 Should you mind pointing them out to me with some distinctness?

Ishc. Well, in the first place, you would have some difficulty in making intemperate people diligent — I speak of intemperance with regard to wine, for drunkenness creates forgetfulness of everything which needs to be done.

Soc. And are persons devoid of self-control in this respect the only people incapable of diligence and carefulness? or are there others in like case?

Isch. Certainly, people who are intemperate with regard to sleep, seeing that the sluggard with his eyes shut cannot do himself or see that others do what is right.

Soc. What then?271 Are we to regard these as the only people incapable of being taught this virtue of carefulness? or are there others in a like condition?

Isch. Surely we must include the slave to amorous affection.272 Your woeful lover273 is incapable of being taught attention to anything beyond one single object.274 No light task, I take it, to discover any hope or occupation sweeter to him than that which now employs him, his care for his beloved, nor, when the call for action comes,275 will it be easy to invent worse punishment than that he now endures in separation from the object of his passion.276 Accordingly, I am in no great hurry to appoint a person of this sort to manage277 my affairs; the very attempt to do so I regard as futile.

Soc. Well, and what of those addicted to another passion, that of gain? Are they, too, incapable of being trained to give attention to field and farming operations?

Isch. On the contrary, there are no people easier to train, none so susceptible of carefulness in these same matters. One needs only to point out to them that the pursuit is gainful, and their interest is aroused.

Soc. But for ordinary people? Given they are self-controlled to suit your bidding,278 given they possess a wholesome appetite for gain, how will you lesson them in carefulness? how teach them growth in diligence to meet your wishes?

Isch. By a simple method, Socrates. When I see a man intent on carefulness, I praise and do my best to honour him. When, on the other hand, I see a man neglectful of his duties, I do not spare him: I try in every way, by word and deed, to wound him.

Soc. Come now, Ischomachus, kindly permit a turn in the discussion, which has hitherto concerned the persons being trained to carefulness themselves, and explain a point in reference to the training process. Is it possible for a man devoid of carefulness himself to render others more careful?

No more possible (he answered) than for a man who knows no music to make others musical.279 If the teacher sets but an ill example, the pupil can hardly learn to do the thing aright.280 And if the master’s conduct is suggestive of laxity, how hardly shall his followers attain to carefulness! Or to put the matter concisely, “like master like man.” I do not think I ever knew or heard tell of a bad master blessed with good servants. The converse I certainly have seen ere now, a good master and bad servants; but they were the sufferers, not he.281 No, he who would create a spirit of carefulness in others282 must have the skill himself to supervise the field of labour; to test, examine, scrutinise.283 He must be ready to requite where due the favour of a service well performed, nor hesitate to visit the penalty of their deserts upon those neglectful of their duty.284 Indeed (he added), the answer of the barbarian to the king seems aposite. You know the story,285 how the king had met with a good horse, but wished to give the creature flesh and that without delay, and so asked some one reputed to be clever about horses: “What will give him flesh most quickly?” To which the other: “The master’s eye.” So, too, it strikes me, Socrates, there is nothing like “the master’s eye” to call forth latent qualities, and turn the same to beautiful and good effect.286

262 Lit. “until the market is quite broken up,” i.e. after mid-day. See “Anab.” I. viii. 1; II. i. 7; “Mem.” I. i. 10. Cf. Herod. ii. 173; iii. 104; vii. 223.

263 Lit. “beautiful and good.”

264 Cf. Becker, op. cit. p. 363.

265 The steward, like the carpenter, and the labourers in general, would, as a rule, be a slave. See below, xxi. 9.

266 Or, “my other self.”

267 Lit. “to teach another what I know myself.”

268 epimeleia is a cardinal virtue with the Greeks, or at any rate with Xenophon, but it has no single name in English.

269 For the Socratic problem ei arete didakte see Grote, “H. G.” viii. 599.

270 Lit. “what kind of people can be taught them? By all means signify the sort to me distinctly.”

271 Or, “What then — is the list exhausted? Are we to suppose that these are the sole people . . .”

272 See “Mem.” I. iii. 8 foll.; II. vi. 22.

273 duserotes. Cf. Thuc. vi. 13, “a desperate craving” (Jowett).

274 Cf. “Symp.” iv. 21 foll.; “Cyrop.” V. i. 7-18.

275 Or, “where demands of business present themselves, and something must be done.”

276 Cf. Shakesp. “Sonnets,” passim.

277 Or, “I never dream of appointing as superintendent.” See above, iv. 7.

278 Or, “in matters such as you insist on.”

279 Or, “to give others skill in ‘music.’” See Plat. “Rep.” 455 E; “Laws,” 802 B. Al. “a man devoid of letters to make others scholarly.” See Plat. “Phaedr.” 248 D.

280 Lit. “when the teacher traces the outline of the thing to copy badly.” For upodeiknuontos see “Mem.” IV. iii. 13; “Horsem.” ii. 2. Cf. Aristot. “Oecon.” i. 6; “Ath. Pol.” 41. 17; and Dr. Sandys’ note ad loc.

281 Or, “but they did not go scot-free”; “punishments then were rife.”

282 Cf. Plat. “Polit.” 275 E: “If we say either tending the herds, or managing the herds, or having the care of them, that will include all, and then we may wrap up the statesman with the rest, as the argument seems to require.”— Jowett.

283 Or, “he must have skill to over-eye the field of labour, and be scrutinous.”

284 “For every boon of service well performed he must be eager to make requital to the author of it, nor hesitate to visit on the heads of those neglectful of their duty a just recompense.” (The language is poetical.)

285 See Aristot. “Oecon.” i. 6; Aesch. “Pers.” 165; Cato ap. Plin. “H. N.” xviii. 5. Cic. ap. Colum. iv. 18; ib. vi. 21; La Fontaine, “L’Oeil du Maitre.”

286 Or, “so, too, in general it seems to me ‘the master’s eye’ is aptest to elicit energy to issue beautiful and good.”


Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 14:12