On Hunting, by Xenophon


With regard to methods of procedure in the hunting-field, enough has been said.1 But there are many benefits which the enthusiastic sportsman may expect to derive from this pursuit.2 I speak of the health which will thereby accrue to the physical frame, the quickening of the eye and ear, the defiance of old age, and last, but not least, the warlike training which it ensures. To begin with, when some day he has to tramp along rough ways under arms, the heavy infantry soldier will not faint or flag — he will stand the toil from being long accustomed to the same experiences in capturing wild beasts. In the next place, men so trained will be capable of sleeping on hard couches, and prove brave guardians of the posts assigned them. In the actual encounter with the enemy, they will know at once how to attack and to carry out the word of command as it passes along the lines, because it was just so in the old hunting days that they captured the wild game. If posted in the van of battle, they will not desert their ranks, because endurance is engrained in them. In the rout of the enemy their footsteps will not falter nor fail: straight as an arrow they will follow the flying foe, on every kind of ground, through long habituation.3 Or if their own army encounter a reverse on wooded and precipitous ground beset with difficulties, these will be the men to save themselves with honour and to extricate their friends; since long acquaintance with the business of the chase has widened their intelligence.4

Nay, even under the worst of circumstances, when a whole mob of fellow-combatants5 has been put to flight, how often ere now has a handful6 of such men, by virtue of their bodily health7 and courage, caught the victorious enemy roaming blindly in some intricacy of ground, renewed the fight, and routed him. Since so it must ever be; to those whose souls and bodies are in happy case success is near at hand.8

It was through knowledge that they owed success against their foes to such a training, that our own forefathers paid so careful a heed to the young.9 Though they had but a scant supply of fruits, it was an immemorial custom “not to hinder10 the hunter from hunting any of earth’s offspring”; and in addition, “not to hunt by night11 within many furlongs of the city,” in order that the adepts in that art might not rob the young lads of their game. They saw plainly that among the many pleasures to which youth is prone, this one alone is productive of the greatest blessings. In other words, it tends to make them sound of soul and upright, being trained in the real world of actual things12 [and, as was said before, our ancestors could not but perceive they owed their success in war to such instrumentality13]; and the chase alone deprives them of none of the other fair and noble pursuits that they may choose to cultivate, as do those other evil pleasures, which ought never to be learned. Of such stuff are good soldiers and good generals made.14 Naturally, those from whose souls and bodies the sweat of toil has washed all base and wanton thoughts, who have implanted in them a passion for manly virtue — these, I say, are the true nobles.15 Not theirs will it be to allow their city or its sacred soil to suffer wrong.

Some people tell us it is not right to indulge a taste for hunting, lest it lead to neglect of home concerns, not knowing that those who are benefactors of their country and their friends are in proportion all the more devoted to domestic duties. If lovers of the chase pre-eminently fit themselves to be useful to the fatherland, that is as much as to say they will not squander their private means; since with the state itself the domestic fortunes of each are saved or lost. The real fact is, these men are saviours, not of their own fortunes only, but of the private fortunes of the rest, of yours and mine. Yet there are not a few irrational people amongst these cavillers who, out of jealousy, would rather perish, thanks to their own baseness, than owe their lives to the virtue of their neighbours. So true is it that the mass of pleasures are but evil,16 to which men succumb, and thereby are incited to adopt the worse cause in speech and course in action.17 And with what result? — from vain and empty arguments they contract emnities, and reap the fruit of evil deeds, diseases, losses, death — to the undoing of themselves, their children, and their friends.18 Having their senses dulled to things evil, while more than commonly alive to pleasures, how shall these be turned to good account for the salvation of the state? Yet from these evils every one will easily hold aloof, if once enamoured of those joys whose brief I hold, since a chivalrous education teaches obedience to laws, and renders justice familiar to tongue and ear.19

In the one camp are those who, subjecting themselves ever to new toil and fresh instruction, have, at the cost of lessons and exercises painful to themselves, obtained to their several states salvation; and in the other are those who for the very irksomeness of the process choose not to be taught, but rather to pass away their days in pleasures unseasonable — nature’s abjects these.20 Not theirs is it to obey either laws or good instruction;21 nay, how should they, who never toil, discover what a good man ought to be? — in other words, wisdom and justice are alike beyond their power. Subject to indiscipline, they have many a fault to find with him who is well educated.

Through the instrumentality of such as these nothing can go well; whereas every blessing which mankind enjoys has been discovered by the efforts of the nobler sort. Nobler, I say, are those who choose to toil.22

And this has been proved conclusively by a notable example. If we look back to the men of old who sat at the feet of Cheiron — whose names I mentioned — we see that it was by dedicating the years of their youth to the chase23 that they learnt all their noble lore; and therefrom they attained to great renown, and are admired even to this day for their virtue — virtue who numbers all men as her lovers, as is very plain. Only because of the pains it costs to win her the greater number fall away; for the achievement of her is hid in obscurity; while the pains that cleave to her are manifest. Perchance, if only she were endowed with a visible bodily frame, men would less have neglected her, knowing that even as she is visible to them, so they also are not hid from her eyes. For is it not so that when a man moves in the presence of him whom he dearly loves,24 he rises to a height above himself, being incapable of aught base or foul in word or deed in sight of him?25 But fondly dreaming that the eye of virtue is closed to them, they are guilty of many a base thing and foul before her very face, who is hidden from their eyes. Yet she is present everywhere, being dowered with immortality; and those who are perfect in goodness26 she honours, but the wicked she thrusts aside from honour. If only men could know that she regards them, how eagerly would they rush to the embrace of toilful training and tribulation,27 by which alone she is hardly taken; and so should they gain the mastery over her, and she should be laid captive at their feet.

1 Or, “Respecting the methods employed in different forms of the chase, I have said my say.” As to the genuineness of this and the following chapter see L. Dind. ad loc.; K. Lincke, “Xenophon’s Dialog.” peri oikonomias, p. 132.

2 Lit. “this work”; and in reference to the highly Xenophontine argument which follows see “Hellenica Essays,” p. 342; cf. “Cyrop.” I. vi. 28, 39-41.

3 “For the sake of ‘auld lang syne.’”

4 Or, “will place them on the vantage-ground of experts.”

5 Or, “allies.”

6 Or, “a forlorn hope.”

7 euexia, al. eutaxia, “by good discipline.”

8 “Fortune favours the brave,” reading to eutukhesai (L. D.); or if tou eutukhesai, (vulg.) “those whose health of soul and body is established are ipso facto nigh unto good fortune.”

9 Al. “looked upon the chase as a pursuit incumbent on the young.”

10 me koluein [dia] to meden ton epi te ge phuomenon agreuein. The commentators generally omit dia, in which case translate as in text. Lenz reads un koluein dia meden (see his note ad v. 34), and translates (p. 61), “Dass man die Jager nicht hindern solle, in allem was die Erde hervorbrachte zu jagen,” “not to hinder the huntsmen from ranging over any of the crops which spring from earth”; (but if so, we should expect dia medenos). Sturz, s.v. agreuein, notes “festive,” “because the hunter does not hunt vegetable products.” So Gail, “parce que le chasseur rien veut pas aux productions de la terre.”

11 Or, “set their face against night-hunting,” cf. “Mem.” IV. vii. 4; Plat. “Soph.” 220 D; “Stranger: There is one mode of striking which is done at night, and by the light of a fire, and is called by the hunters themselves firing, or spearing by firelight” (Jowett); for which see Scott, “Guy Mannering,” ch. x. It seems “night hunting was not to be practised within a certain considerable radius, whereby the proficients in that art might deprive it (lit. in order that they might not deprive) them (the young huntsmen) of their game.”

12 Lit. “in truth and reality (not among visionary phantoms).”

13 These words are commonly regarded as an addition; and what does te signify?

14 Or, “Here you have the making of brave soldiers and generals. Here in embryo are to be found your future soldiers and generals worthy the name.”

15 outoi aristoi: these are prima virorum, the true aristocrats.

16 See “Hellenica Essays,” p. 371.

17 “To depravity of speech and conduct” (whether as advocates or performers). See Aristoph. “Clouds.”

18 Or, “bring down on themselves, their children, and their friends a spring of misfortunes in the shape of diseases, losses, or even death.”

19 “For what does a chivalrous education teach save to obey the law, and to make the theme of justice familiar to tongue and ear?”

20 Lit. “the sorriest of mankind these by nature.”

21 Or, “virtuous argument”; logois agathois, lit. “good words.”

22 Or, “of choice spirits; and who are the choice spirits? — Clearly those who choose to toil.”

23 Or, “that they made their first essay in hunting when mere boys, and from hunting upwards were taught many noble arts.”

24 Lit. “is beheld by his beloved.” Cf. “Symp.” iv. 4; viii. 31.

25 Lit. “in order not to be seen of him.”

26 Lit. “good with respect to her.”

27 Or, “to those toils and that training.”


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:02