Oeconomicus, by Xenophon


Critobulus, on hearing that, exclaimed: Be sure, Socrates, I will not let you go now until you give the proofs which, in the presence of our friends, you undertook just now to give me.

Well then,39 Critobulus (Socrates replied), what if I begin by showing40 you two sorts of people, the one expending large sums on money in building useless houses, the other at far less cost erecting dwellings replete with all they need; will you admit that I have laid my finger here on one of the essentials of economy?

Crit. An essential point most ceertainly.

Soc. And suppose in connection with the same, I next point out to you41 two other sets of persons:— The first possessors of furniture of various kinds, which they cannot, however, lay their hands on when the need arises; indeed they hardly know if they have got all safe and sound or not: whereby they put themselves and their domestics to much mental torture. The others are perhaps less amply, or at any rate not more amply supplied, but they have everything ready at the instant for immediate use.

Crit. Yes, Socrates, and is not the reason simply that in the first case everything is thrown down where it chanced, whereas those others have everything arranged, each in its appointed place?

Quite right (he answered), and the phrase implies that everything is orderly arranged, not in the first chance place, but in that to which it naturally belongs.

Crit. Yes, the case is to the point, I think, and does involve another economic principle.

Soc. What, then, if I exhibit to you a third contrast, which bears on the condition of domestic slaves? On the one side you shall see them fettered hard and fast, as I may say, and yet for ever breaking their chains and running away. On the other side the slaves are loosed, and free to move, but for all that, they choose to work, it seems; they are constant to their masters. I think you will admit that I here point out another function of economy42 worth noting.

Crit. I do indeed — a feature most noteworthy.

Soc. Or take, again, the instance of two farmers engaged in cultivating farms43 as like as possible. The one had never done asserting that agriculture has been his ruin, and is in the depth of despair; the other has all he needs in abundance and of the best, and how acquired? — by this same agriculture.

Yes (Critobulus answered), to be sure; perhaps44 the former spends both toil and money not simply on what he needs, but on things which cause an injury to house alike and owner.

Soc. That is a possible case, no doubt, but it is not the one that I refer to; I mean people pretending they are farmers, and yet they have not a penny to expend on the real needs of their business.

Crit. And pray, what may be the reason of that, Socrates?

Soc. You shall come with me, and see these people also; and as you contemplate the scene, I presume you will lay to heart the lesson.

Crit. I will, if possibly I can, I promise you.

Soc. Yes, and while you contemplate, you must make trial of yourself and see if you have wit to understand. At present, I will bear you witness that if it is to go and see a party of players performing in a comedy, you will get up at cock-crow, and come trudging a long way, and ply me volubly with reasons why I should accompany you to see the play. But you have never once invited me to come and witness such an incident as those we were speaking of just now.

Crit. And so I seem to you ridiculous?45

Soc. Far more ridiculous to yourself, I warrant. But now let me point out to you another contrast: between certain people whose dealing with horses has brought them to the brink of poverty, and certain others who have found in the same pursuit the road to affluence,46 and have a right besides to plume themselves upon their gains.47

Crit. Well, then, I may tell you, I see and know both characters as well as you do; but I do not find myself a whit the more included among those who gain.

Soc. Because you look at them just as you might at the actors in a tragedy or comedy, and with the same intent — your object being to delight the ear and charm the eye, but not, I take it, to become yourself a poet. And there you are right enough, no doubt, since you have no desire to become a playright. But, when circumstances compel you to concern yourself with horsemanship, does it not seem to you a little foolish not to consider how you are to escape being a mere amateur in the matter, especially as the same creatures which are good for use are profitable for sale?

Crit. So you wish me to set up as a breeder of young horses,48 do you, Socrates?

Soc. Not so, no more than I would recommend you to purchase lads and train them up from boyhood as farm-labourers. But in my opinion there is a certain happy moment of growth whuch must be seized, alike in man and horse, rich in present service and in future promise. In further illustration, I can show you how some men treat their wedded wives in such a way that they find in them true helpmates to the joint increase of their estate, while others treat them in a way to bring upon themselves wholesale disaster.49

Crit. Ought the husband or the wife to bear the blame of that?

Soc. If it goes ill with the sheep we blame the shepherd, as a rule, or if a horse shows vice we throw the blame in general upon the rider. But in the case of women, supposing the wife to have received instruction from her husband and yet she delights in wrong-doing,50 it may be that the wife is justly held to blame; but supposing he has never tried to teach her the first principles of “fair and noble” conduct,51 and finds her quite an ignoramus52 in these matters, surely the husband will be justly held to blame. But come now (he added), we are all friends here; make a clean breast of it, and tell us, Critobulus, the plain unvarnished truth: Is there an one to whom you are more in the habit of entrusting matters of importance than to your wife?

Crit. There is no one.

Soc. And is there any one with whom you are less in the habit of conversing than with your wife?

Crit. Not many, I am forced to admit.

Soc. And when you married her she was quite young, a mere girl — at an age when, as far as seeing and hearing go, she had the smallest acquaintance with the outer world?

Crit. Certainly.

Soc. Then would it not be more astonishing that she should have real knowledge how to speak and act than that she should go altogether astray?

Crit. But let me ask you a question, Socrates: have those happy husbands, you tell us of, who are blessed with good wives educated them themselves?

Soc. There is nothing like investigation. I will introduce you to Aspasia,53 who will explain these matters to you in a far more scientific way than I can. My belief is that a good wife, being as she is the partner in a common estate, must needs be her husband’s counterpoise and counterpart for good; since, if it is through the transactions of the husband, as a rule, that goods of all sorts find their way into the house, yet it is by means of the wife’s economy and thrift that the greater part of the expenditure is checked, and on the successful issue or the mishandling of the same depends the increase or impoverishment of a whole estate. And so with regard to the remaining arts and sciences, I think I can point out to you the ablest performers in each case, if you feel you have any further need of help.54

39 Lincke [brackets as an editorial interpolation iii. 1, ti oun, ephe — vi. 11, poiomen]. See his edition “Xenophons Dialog. peri oikonomias in seiner ursprunglichen Gestalt”; and for a criticism of his views, an article by Charles D. Morris, “Xenophon’s Oeconomicus,” in the “American Journal of Philology,” vol. i. p. 169 foll.

40 As a demonstrator.

41 “As in a mirror, or a picture.”

42 Or, “economical result.”

43 georgias. See Hartman, “An. Xen.” p. 193. Hold. cf. Plat. “Laws,” 806 E. Isocr. “Areop.” 32.

44 Or, “like enough in the one case the money and pains are spent,” etc.

45 Or, “a comic character in the performance.” Soc. “Not so comic as you must appear to yourself (i.e. with your keen sense of the ludicrous).”

46 Or, “who have not only attained to affluence by the same pursuit, but can hold their heads high, and may well pride themselves on their thrift.”

47 Cf. Hom. “Il.” xii. 114, ippoisin kai okhesphin agallomenos, et passim; “Hiero,” viii. 5; “Anab.” II. vi. 26.

48 See “Horsemanship,” ii. 1.

49 Reading e os pleista, al. e oi pleistoi = “to bring about disaster in most cases.”

50 Cf. “Horsemanship,” vi. 5, of a horse “to show vice.”

51 Or, “things beautiful and of good report.”

52 Al. “has treated her as a dunce, devoid of this high knowledge.”

53 Aspasia. See “Mem.” II. vi. 36.

54 Al. “there are successful performers in each who will be happy to illustrate any point in which you think you need,” etc.


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