Xenophon, an Athenian author, the son of Gryllus, a native of the demus of Erchea, and of the order of knights. The date of his birth is uncertain. Some, accepting the statement of Diogenes Laėrtius and Strabo that he was in the battle of Delium in 424 B. C, place it as early as 444; others fix upon 431. He is said to have been 90 years old when he died. Almost nothing is positively known of his early years, save that he became a pupil of Socrates. In 401 he went to Sardis on the invitation of his friend Proxenus, who was on intimate terms with the younger Cyrus, and promised to introduce him to the, Persian prince. He joined the expedition of Cyrus, but without any special office in the army. The object of the expedition was unknown to the Greeks in the employ of Cyrus; they were, however, induced by the promise of higher pay to adhere to the commander after his intention of dethroning his brother Artaxerxes II., the reigning king of Persia, was disclosed. Cyrus lost his life at the battle of Cunaxa, and the Greeks then began that return to Europe which has become famous as the retreat of the 10,000. "When Clearchus and other Greek leaders had been treacherously massacred by the satrap Tissaphernes, Xenophon, who had acted hitherto as a volunteer, assembled the officers, and pointed out to them the only practicable course to be pursued.
His confidence, his practised talent, and his rhetorical powers enabled him to influence the soldiers. He was elected one of the five generals, and appointed to the command of the rear guard, and by degrees came to be regarded as the controlling head of the army. He conducted the troops through many trials and perils across Mesopotamia and through the mountainous regions of Armenia to Trapezus on the Euxine, and thence to Europe, and was thus the first to demonstrate the invincible character of a body of trained Greek soldiers, and to point out the pathway to conquest which was afterward followed by Alexander the Great. After handing over his troops to the Spartan general Thimbron (399), he is supposed to have returned to Athens. Three year9 afterward he was serving in Asia under Agesilaus, the Lacedaemonian king. In the mean while war sprang up anew between Sparta and Athens, and Xenophon, accompanying his leader back to Europe, was present (though probably not a combatant) at the battle of Coronea in 394. Athens now passed against him a sentence of banishment.
The Lacedaemonians rewarded him for his attachment to their cause by allowing him land and a house at Scillus, a village of Triphylian Elis. After the battle of Leuctra in 371 he was expelled by the Eleans from his residence, and is said to have taken up his abode in Corinth. Not long afterward peace was concluded between Athens and Sparta, followed by a close alliance. The sentence of exile passed against Xenophon was revoked, and some of the last years of his life were probably spent in Athens. In character he appears to have been humane and cheerful, although not a little selfish, and deeply religious and superstitious. - Xenophon's style has been uniformly praised by critics both ancient and modern, and Diogenes Laertius calls him the "Attic muse." Of his historical works, the best is the Anabasis, descriptive of the advance into Persia, and the retreat of the 10,000 Greeks. It abounds in interesting information. The Hellenica, in seven books, is a history of Grecian affairs from the time at which Thucydides ends his narrative to the battle of Mantinea in 362. It is generally an unentertaining account, disfigured by his partiality for Agesilaus and undisguised admiration for the oligarchical spirit of Sparta. The Cyropoedia is a political romance, in which the author gives his ideas of the state, and pictures the advantages of a wise despotism, taking as a basis the history of Cyrus the Great. The Agesilaus is a panegyric on his friend and commander.
The Hipparchicus is a treatise on the duties of a cavalry officer; the Hippike, on the horse itself; and the Cynegeticus, on the dog and the chase, to which recreation Xenophon was much addicted. The two treatises on the republics of Sparta and of Athens manifest still more plainly than his other works his prejudices against a democratic form of government. The treatise on the "Revenues" of Athens is a short tract, which is said to have been written by him after his return to his native city as a peace offering to his countrymen. The Hiero is an imaginary dialogue between the king of Syracuse of that name and the poet Simonides on the advantages and disadvantages of the possession of absolute power. The other works of Xenophon are records of the acts and conversations of Socrates. Of these, by far the best known is the Memorabilia, in which he undertakes to defend his idolized but hardly well understood master against the charge of irreligion and of corrupting the youth of Athens. It consists of a series of conversations, all of which turn upon the duties of active life; and in no other of his works does Xenophon show more clearly that taste for practical pursuits and matters which was the leading element in his character.
The " Apology" for Socrates is a short treatise defending the conduct of that philosopher after he had been pronounced guilty, and giving the reasons why he preferred death to life. The Symposium or "Banquet" is the narration of a conversation at a feast given by Callias, in which the guests, among whom is Socrates, discuss the nature of love and friendship. The oeconomicus is a dialogue carried on between Socrates and Critobulus in regard to agriculture and the management of household affairs. The best editions of his collected works are those of Weiske (6 vols. 8vo, Leipsic, 1798-1804), Schneider (revised by Bornemaun and Sauppe, 6 vols. 8vo, Leipsic, 1825-'49), and L. Dindorf, published by Teubner (3 vols. 12mo, Leipsic, 1869-73). Of separate works, especially the Anabasis, the editions are very numerous. The latest and best English translation of Xenophon's works is that by the Rev. J. S. Watson, in Bohn's " Classical Library".