Oeconomicus, by Xenophon


Your words (Critobulus answered) command my entire sympathy, when you bid us endeavour to begin each work with heaven’s help,103 seeing that the gods hold in their hands the issues alike of peace and war. So at any rate will we endeavour to act at all times; but will you now endeavour on your side to continue the discussion of economy from the point at which you broke off, and bring it point by point to its conclusion? What you have said so far has not been thrown away on me. I seem to discern already more clearly, what sort of behaviour is necessary to anything like real living.104

Socrates replied: What say you then? Shall we first survey the ground already traversed, and retrace the steps on which we were agreed, so that, if possible we may conduct the remaining portion of the argument to its issue with like unanimity?105

Crit. Why, yes! If it is agreeable for two partners in a business to run through their accounts without dispute, so now as partners in an argument it will be no less agreeable to sum up the points under discussion, as you say, with unanimity.

Soc. Well, then, we agreed that economy was the proper title of a branch of knowledge, and this branch of knowledge appeared to be that whereby men are enabled to enhance the value of their houses or estates; and by this word “house or estate” we understood the whole of a man’s possessions; and “possessions” again we defined to include those things which the possessor should find advantageous for the purposes of his life; and things advantageous finally were discovered to mean all that a man knows how to use and turn to good account. Further, for a man to learn all branches of knowledge not only seemed to us an impossibility, but we thought we might well follow the example of civil communties in rejecting the base mechanic arts so called, on the ground that they destroy the bodies of the artisans, as far as we can see, and crush their spirits.

The clearest proof of this, we said,106 could be discovered if, on the occasion of a hostile inroad, one were to seat the husbandmen and the artisans apart in two divisions, and then proceed to put this question to each group in turn: “Do you think it better to defend our country districts or to retire from the fields107 and guard the walls?” And we anticipated that those concerned with the soil would vote to defend the soil; while the artisans would vote not to fight, but, in docile obedience to their training, to sit with folded hands, neither expending toil nor venturing their lives.

Next we held it as proved that there was no better employment for a gentleman — we described him as a man beautiful and good — than this of husbandry, by which human beings procure to themselves the necessaries of life. This same employment, moreover, was, as we agreed, at once the easiest to learn108 and the pleasantest to follow, since it gives to the limbs beauty and hardihood, whilst permitting109 to the soul leisure to satisfy the claims of friendship and of civic duty.

Again it seemed to us that husbandry acts as a spur to bravery in the hearts of those that till the fields,110 inasmuch as the necessaries of life, vegetable and animal, under her auspices spring up and are reared outside the fortified defences of the city. For which reason also this way of life stood in the highest repute in the eyes of statesmen and commonwealths, as furnishing the best citizens and those best disposed to the common weal.111

Crit. I think I am fully persuaded as to the propriety of making agriculture the basis of life. I see it is altogether noblest, best, and pleasantest to do so. But I should like to revert to your remark that you understood the reason why the tillage of one man brings him in an abundance of all he needs, while the operations of another fail to make husbandry a profitable employment. I would gladly hear from you an explanation of both these points, so that I may adopt the right and avoid the harmful course.112

Soc. Well, Critobulus, suppose I narrate to you from the beginning how I cam in contact with a man who of all men I ever met seemed to me to deserve the appellation of a gentleman. He was indeed a “beautiful and good” man.113

Crit. There is nothing I should better like to hear, since of all titles this is the one I covet most the right to bear.

Soc. Well, then, I will tell you how I came to subject him to my inquiry. It did not take me long to go the round of various good carpenters, good bronze-workers, painters, sculptors, and so forth. A brief period was sufficient for the contemplation of themselves and of their most admired works of art. But when it came to examining those who bore the high-sounding title “beautiful and good,” in order to find out what conduct on their part justified their adoption of this title, I found my soul eager with desire for intercourse with one of them; and first of all, seeing that the epithet “beautiful” was conjoined with that of “good,” every beautiful person I saw, I must needs approach in my endeavour to discover,114 if haply I might somewhere see the quality of good adhering to the quality of beauty. But, after all, it was otherwise ordained. I soon enough seemed to discover115 that some of those who in their outward form were beautiful were in their inmost selves the veriest knaves. Accordingly I made up my mind to let go beauty which appeals to the eye, and address myself to one of those “beautiful and good” people so entitled. And since I heard of Ischomachus116 as one who was so called by all the world, both men and women, strangers and citizens alike, I set myself to make acquaintance with him.

103 Lit. “with the gods,” and for the sentiment see below, x. 10; “Cyrop.” III. i. 15; “Hipparch,” ix. 3.

104 For bioteuein cf. Pind. “Nem.” iv. 11, and see Holden ad loc.

105 Lit. “try whether we can go through the remaining steps with like . . .”

106 This S. 6 has no parallel supra. See Breit. and Schenkl ad loc. for attempts to cure the text.

107 See Cobet, “N. L.” 580, reading uphemenous, or if aphemenous transl. “to abandon.”

108 raste mathein. Vide infra, not supra.

109 Lit. “least allowing the soul no leisure to care for friends and state withal.”

110 Cf. Aristot. “Oec.” I. ii. 1343 B, pros toutois k.t.l.

111 Cf. Aristoph. “Archarnians.”

112 Lincke conceives the editor’s interpolation as ending here.

113 Or, “a man ‘beautiful and good,’ as the phrase goes.”

114 Or, “and try to understand.”

115 Or, “understand.”

116 See Cobet, “Pros. Xen.” s.n.


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