Oeconomicus, by Xenophon


But now (I ventured), suppose you have presented strongly to the mind of some one287 the need of carefulness to execute your wishes, is a person so qualified to be regarded as fit at once to be your bailiff? or is there aught else which he must learn in order to play the part of an efficient bailiff?

Most certainly there is (he answered): it still remains for him to learn particulars — to know, that is, what things he has to do, and when and how to do them; or else, if ignorant of these details, the profit of this bailiff in the abstract may prove no greater than the doctor’s who pays a most precise attention to a sick man, visiting him late and early, but what will serve to ease his patient’s pains288 he knows not.

Soc. But suppose him to have learnt the whole routine of business, will he need aught else, or have we found at last your bailiff absolute?289

Isch. He must learn at any rate, I think, to rule his fellow-workmen.

What! (I exclaimed): you mean to say you educate your bailiffs to that extent? Actually you make them capable of rule?

At any rate I try to do so (he replied).

And how, in Heaven’s name (I asked), do you contrive to educate another in the skill to govern human beings?

Isch. I have a very simple system, Socrates; so simple, I daresay, you will simply laugh at me.

Soc. The matter, I protest, is hardly one for laughter. The man who can make another capable of rule, clearly can teach him how to play the master; and if can make him play the master, he can make him what is grander still, a kingly being.290 Once more, therefore, I protest: A man possessed of such creative power is worthy, not of ridicule, far from it, but of the highest praise.

Thus, then, I reason,291 Socrates (he answered): The lower animals are taught obedience by two methods chiefly, partly through being punished when they make attempts to disobey, partly by experiencing some kindness when they cheerfully submit. This is the principle at any rate adopted in the breaking of young horses. The animal obeys its trainer, and something sweet is sure to follow; or it disobeys, and in place of something sweet it finds a peck of trouble; and so on, until it comes at last to yield obedience to the trainer’s every wish. Or to take another instance: Young dogs,292 however far inferior to man in thought and language,293 can still be taught to run on errands and turn somersaults,294 and do a host of other clever things, precisely on this same principle of training. Every time the animal obeys it gets something or other which it wanted, and every time it misbehaves it gets a whipping. But when it comes to human beings: in man you have a creature still more open to persuasion through appeals to reason;295 only make it plain to him “it is his interest to obey.” Or if they happen to be slaves,296 the more ignoble training of wild animals tamed to the lure will serve to teach obedience. Only gratify their bellies in the matter of appetite, and you will succeed in winning much from them.297 But ambitious, emulous natures feel the spur of praise,298 since some natures hunger after praise no less than others crave for meats and drinks. My practice then is to instruct those whom I desire to appoint as my bailiffs in the various methods which I have found myself to be successful in gaining the obedience of my fellows. To take an instance: There are clothes and shows and so forth, with which I must provide my workfolk.299 Well, then, I see to it that these are not all alike in make;300 but some will be of better, some of less good quality: my object being that these articles for use shall vary with the service of the wearer; the worse man will receive the worse things as a gift, the better man the better as a mark of honour. For I ask you, Socrates, how can the good avoid despondency seeing that the work is wrought by their own hands alone, in spite of which these villains who will neither labour nor face danger when occasion calls are to receive an equal guerdon with themselves? And just as I cannot bring myself in any sort of way to look upon the better sort as worthy to receive no greater honour than the baser, so, too, I praise my bailiffs when I know they have apportioned the best things among the most deserving. And if I see that some one is receiving preference by dint of flatteries or like unworthy means, I do not let the matter pass; I reprimand my bailiff roundly, and so teach him that such conduct is not even to his interest.

287 Breit. cf. “Pol. Lac.” xv. 8. Holden cf. Plat. “Rep.” 600 C.

288 Lit. “what it is to the advantage of his patient to do, is beyond his ken.”

289 Cf. Plat. “Rep.” 566 D. Or, “the perfect and consummate type of bailiff.”

290 i.e. arkhikos includes (1) despotikos, i.e. an arbitrary head of any sort, from the master of one’s own family to the turannos kai despotes (Plat. “Laws,” 859 A), despotic lord or owner; (2) basilikos, the king or monarch gifted with regal qualities.

291 oukoun. “This, then, is my major premiss: the dumb animal . . .” (lit. “the rest of animals”).

292 ta kunidia possibly implies “performing poodles.”

293 te gnome . . . te glotte, i.e. mental impression and expression, “mind and tongue.”

294 Or, “to run round and round and turn heels over head.” Al. “dive for objects.”

295 “Logic, argument.” Or, “a creature more compliant; merely by a word demonstrate to him . . .”

296 Cf. Plat. “Rep.” 591 C.

297 See Pater, “Plato and Platonism,” “Lacedaemon,” p. 196 foll.

298 See “Cyrop.” passim.

299 ergastersi, Xenophontic for the common Attic ergatais. See Hold. ad loc. for similar forms, and cf. Rutherford, “New Phrynichus,” 59.

300 Cf. Aristot. “Oecon.” i. 5 (where the thesis is developed further).


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