Oeconomicus, by Xenophon


After a pause, I added: I am turning over in my mind how cleverly you have presented the whole argument to support your thesis: which was, that of all arts the art of husbandry is the easiest to learn. And now, as the result of all that has been stated, I am entirely persuaded that this is so.

Isch. Yes, Socrates, indeed it is. But I, on my side, must in turn admit that as regards that faculty which is common alike to every kind of conduct (tillage, or politics, the art of managing a house, or of conducting war), the power, namely, of command453 — I do subscribe to your opinion, that on this score one set of people differ largely from another both in point of wit and judgement. On a ship of war, for instance,454 the ship is on the high seas, and the crew must row whole days together to reach moorings.455 Now note the difference. Here you may find a captain456 able by dint of speech and conduct to whet the souls of those he leads, and sharpen them to voluntary toils; and there another so dull of wit and destitute of feeling that it will take his crew just twice the time to finish the same voyage. See them step on shore. The first ship’s company are drenched in sweat; but listen, they are loud in praise of one another, the captain and his merry men alike. And the others? They are come at last; they have not turned a hair, the lazy fellows, but for all that they hate their officer and by him are hated.

Generals, too, will differ (he proceeded), the one sort from the other, in this very quality. Here you have a leader who, incapable of kindling a zest for toil and love of hairbreadth ‘scapes, is apt to engender in his followers that base spirit which neither deigns nor chooses to obey, except under compulsion. They even pride and plume themselves,457 the cowards, on their opposition to their leader; this same leader who, in the end, will make his men insensible to shame even in presence of most foul mishap. On the other hand, put at their head another stamp of general: one who is by right divine458 a leader, good and brave, a man of scientific knowledge. Let him take over to his charge those malcontents, or others even of worse character, and he will have them presently ashamed of doing a disgraceful deed. “It is nobler to obey” will be their maxim. They will exult in personal obedience and in common toil, where toil is needed, cheerily performed. For just as an unurged zeal for voluntary service459 may at times invade, we know, the breasts of private soldiers, so may like love of toil with emulous longing to achieve great deeds of valour under the eyes of their commander, be implanted in whole armies by good officers.

Happy must that leader be whose followers are thus attached to him: beyond all others he will prove a stout and strong commander. And by strong, I mean, not one so hale of body as to tower above the stoutest of the soldiery themselves; no, nor him whose skill to hurl a javelin or shoot an arrow will outshine the skilfullest; nor yet that mounted on the fleetest charger it shall be his to bear the brunt of danger foremost amid the knightliest horsemen, the nimblest of light infantry. No, not these, but who is able to implant a firm persuasion in the minds of all his soldiers: follow him they must and will through fire, if need be, or into the jaws of death.460

Lofty of soul and large of judgment461 may he be designated justly, at whose back there steps a multitude stirred by his sole sentiment; not unreasonably may he be said to march “with a mighty arm,”462 to whose will a thousand willing hands are prompt to minister; a great man in every deed he is who can achieve great ends by resolution rather than brute force.

So, too, within the field of private industry, the person in authority, be it the bailiff, be it the overseer,463 provided he is able to produce unflinching energy, intense and eager, for the work, belongs to those who haste to overtake good things464 and reap great plenty. Should the master (he proceeded), being a man possessed of so much power, Socrates, to injure the bad workman and reward the zealous — should he suddenly appear, and should his appearance in the labour field produce no visible effect upon his workpeople, I cannot say I envy or admire him. But if the sight of him is followed by a stir of movement, if there come upon465 each labourer fresh spirit, with mutual rivaly and keen ambition, drawing out the finest qualities of each,466 of him I should say, Behold a man of kingly disposition. And this, if I mistake not, is the quality of greatest import in every operation which needs the instrumentality of man; but most of all, perhaps, in agriculture. Not that I would maintain that it is a thing to be lightly learnt by a glance of the eye, or hearsay fashion, as a tale that is told. Far from it, I assert that he who is to have this power has need of education; he must have at bottom a good natural disposition; and, what is greatest of all, he must be himself a god-like being.467 For if I rightly understand this blessed gift, this faculty of command over willing followers, by no means is it, in its entirety, a merely human quality, but it is in part divine. It is a gift plainly given to those truly initiated468 in the mystery of self-command. Whereas despotism over unwilling slaves, the heavenly ones give, as it seems to me, to those whom they deem worthy to live the life of Tantalus in Hades, of whom it is written469 “he consumes unending days in apprehension of a second death.”

453 See “Mem.” I. i. 7.

454 Or, “the crew must row the livelong day . . .”

455 For an instance see “Hell.” VI. ii. 27, Iphicrates’ periplus.

456 Or, “one set of boatswains.” See Thuc. ii. 84. For the duties of the Keleustes see “Dict. Gk. Rom. Ant.” s.v. portisculus; and for the type of captain see “Hell.” V. i. 3, Teleutias.

457 Lit. “magnify themselves.” See “Ages.” x. 2; “Pol. Lac.” viii. 2.

458 Or, “god-like,” “with something more than human in him.” See Hom. “Il.” xxiv. 259:

oude eokei andros ge thnetou pais emmenai alla theoio.

“Od.” iv. 691; theioi basilees. Cf. Carlyle, “Heroes”; Plat. “Meno,” 99 D: Soc. “And may we not, Meno, truly call those men divine who, having no understanding, yet succeed in many a grand deed and word?” And below: Soc. “And the women too, Meno, call good men divine; and the Spartans, when they praise a good man, say, ‘that he is a divine man’” (Jowett). Arist. “Eth. N.” vii. 1: “That virtue which transcends the human, and which is of an heroic or godlike type, such as Priam, in the poems of Homer, ascribes to Hector, when wishing to speak of his great goodness:

Not woman-born seemed he, but sprung from gods.”

And below: “And exactly as it is a rare thing to find a man of godlike nature — to use the expression of the Spartans, ‘a godlike man,’ which they apply to those whom they expressively admire — so, too, brutality is a type of character rarely found among men” (Robert Williams).

459 Reading etheloponia tis, or if philoponia, transl. “just as some strange delight in labour may quicken in the heart of many an individual soldier.” See “Anab.” IV. vii. 11.

460 Or, “through flood and fire or other desperate strait.” Cf. “Anab.” II. vi. 8.

461 See “Ages.” ix. 6, “of how lofty a sentiment.”

462 See Herod. vii. 20, 157; Thuc. iii. 96.

463 According to Sturz, “Lex.” s.v., the epitropos is (as a rule, see “Mem.” II. viii.) a slave or freedman, the epistates a free man. See “Mem.” III. v. 18.

464 Apparently a homely formula, like “make hay whilst the sun shines,” “a stitch in time saves nine.”

465 Cf. Hom. “Il.” ix. 436, xvii. 625; “Hell.” VII. i. 31.

466 Reading kratiste ousa, or if with Heindorf, kratisteusai, transl. “to prove himself the best.”

467 See “Cyrop.” I. i. 3; Grote, “Plato,” vol. iii. 571.

468 See Plat. “Phaed.” 69 C; Xen. “Symp.” i. 10.

469 Or, “it is said.” See Eur. “Orest.” 5, and Porson ad loc.

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