Oeconomicus, by Xenophon


But, not to interrupt you further (I continued), after sowing, naturally we hope to come to reaping. If, therefore, you have anything to say on that head also, pray proceed to teach me.

Isch. Yes, by all means, unless indeed you prove on this head also to know as much yourself already as your teacher. To begin then: You know that corn needs cutting?

Soc. To be sure, I know that much at any rate.

Isch. Well, then, the next point: in the act of cutting corn how will you choose to stand? facing the way the wind blows,359 or against the wind?

Soc. Not against the wind, for my part. Eyes and hands must suffer, I imagine, if one stood reaping face to face with husks and particles of straw.360

Isch. And should you merely sever the ears at top, or reap close to the ground?361

If the stalk of corn were short (I answered), I should cut down close, to secure a sufficient length of straw to be of use. But if the stalk be tall, you would do right, I hold, to cut it half-way down, whereby the thresher and the winnower will be saved some extra labour (which both may well be spared).362 The stalk left standing in the field, when burnt down (as burnt it will be, I presume), will help to benefit the soil;363 and laid on as manure, will serve to swell the volume of manure.364

Isch. There, Socrates, you are detected “in the very act”; you know as much about reaping as I do myself.

It looks a little like it (I replied). But I would fain discover whether I have sound knowledge also about threshing.

Isch. Well, I suppose you are aware of this much: corn is threshed by beasts of burthen?365

Soc. Yes, I am aware of that much, and beast of burthen is a general name including oxen, horses, mules, and so forth.366

Isch. Is it your opinion that these animals know more than merely how to tread the corn while driven with the goad?

Soc. What more can they know, being beasts of burthen?

Isch. Some one must see, then, that the beasts tread out only what requires threshing and no more, and that the threshing is done evenly itself: to whom do you assign that duty, Socrates?

Soc. Clearly it is the duty of the threshers who are in charge.367 It is theirs to turn the sheaves, and ever and again to push the untrodden corn under the creatures’ feet; and thus, of course, to keep the threshing-floor as smooth, and finish off the work as fast, as possible.

Isch. Your comprehension of the facts thus far, it seems, keeps pace with mine.

Soc. Well, after that, Ischomachus, we will proceed to cleanse the corn by winnowing.368

Isch. Yes, but tell me, Socrates; do you know that if you begin the process from the windward portion (of the threshing-floor), you will find your chaff is carried over the whole area.

Soc. It must be so.

Isch. Then it is more than likely the chaff will fall upon the corn.

Soc. Yes, considering the distance,369 the chaff will hardly be carried across the corn into the empty portion of the threshing-floor.

Isch. But now, suppose you begin winnowing on the “lee” side of the threshing-floor?370

Soc. It is clear the chaff will at once fall into the chaff-receiver.371

Isch. And when you have cleansed the corn over half the floor, will you proceed at once, with the corn thus strewn in front of you, to winnow the remainder,372 or will you first pack the clean grain into the narrowest space against the central pillar?373

Soc. Yes, upon my word! first pack together the clean grain, and proceed. My chaff will now be carried into the empty portion of the floor, and I shall escape the need of winnowing twice over.374

Isch. Really, Socrates, you are fully competent yourself, it seems, to teach an ignorant world375 the speediest mode of winnowing.

Soc. It seems, then, as you say, I must have known about these matters, though unconsciously; and here I stand and beat my brains,376 reflecting whether or not I may not know some other things — how to refine gold and play the flute and paint pictures — without being conscious of the fact. Certainly, as far as teaching goes, no one ever taught me these, no more than husbandry; while, as to using my own eyes, I have watched men working at the other arts no less than I have watched them till the soil.

Isch. Did I not tell you long ago that of all arts husbandry was the noblest, the most generous, just because it is the easiest to learn?

Soc. That it is without a doubt, Ischomachus. It seems I must have known the processes of sowing, without being conscious of my knowledge.377

359 Lit. “(on the side) where the wind blows or right opposite.”

360 i.e. “with particles of straw and beards of corn blowing in one’s face.”

361 See Holden ad loc.; Sir Anthony Fitzherbert, “Husbandry,” 27 (ed. 1767), “In Somersetshire . . . they do share theyr wheate very lowe . . . .”

362 Lit. “will be spared superfluous labour on what they do not want.”

363 Al. “if burnt down . . .; if laid on as manure . . .”

364 “Help to swell the bulk” (Holden). For the custom see Virg. “Georg.” i. 84; J. Tull, op. cit. ix. 141: “The custom of burning the stubble on the rich plains about Rome continues to this time.”

365 Holden cf. Dr. Davy, “Notes and Observations on the Ionian Islands.” “The grain is beaten out, commonly in the harvest field, by men, horses, or mules, on a threshing-floor prepared extempore for the purpose, where the ground is firm and dry, and the chaff is separated by winnowing.”— Wilkinson, “Ancient Egyptians,” ii. 41 foll.

366 See Varro, i. 52, as to tritura and ventilatio.

367 Or, “to the over-threshers,” “the drivers” (Holden).

368 Breit. cf. Colum. “de r. r.” ii. 10, 14, 21; vide Rich, s.v. ventilabrum.

369 Lit. “it is a long space for the chaff to be carried.” Al. (1) “It is of great consequence the chaff should be carried beyond the corn.” (2) “It often happens that the corn is blown not only on to the corn, but over and beyond it into the empty portion of the threshing-floor.” So Breit.

370 Or, “on the side of the threshing-floor opposite the wind.” Al. “protected from the wind.”

371 A hollowed-out portion of the threshing-floor, according to Breitenbach.

372 Lit. “of the chaff,” where we should say “corn,” the winnowing process separating chaff from grain and grain from chaff.

373 If that is the meaning of ton polon. Al. “the outer edge or rim of the threshing-floor.”

374 Or, “the same chaff (i.e. unwinnowed corn, Angl. corn) twice.”

375 Lit. “After all, Socrates, it seems you could even teach another how to purge his corn most expeditiously.”

376 Lit. “all this while, I am thinking whether . . .”

377 Or, “but for all my science, I was ignorant (of knowing my own knowledge).”


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