- Xenophon’s Mirror of Princes: Reading the Reflections by Vivienne J. Gray
Although the topic of leadership in Xenophon is not new, the growing interest in Xenophontic studies in the last decades has necessitated a rigorous reappraisal. In this rich and stimulating study, Vivienne Gray undertakes a difficult task: to offer a comprehensive and thorough interpretation of Xenophon against (what she calls) “darker readings”—represented by Straussian scholars, as well as those who focus on irony—which have been gaining ground in recent scholarship.
Gray argues that Xenophon has a literary theory of leadership and that his works should be examined with emphasis on narrative patterns and repeated motifs. According to her approach, Xenophon’s Socratic works set “horizons of expectations” (on topics such as leaders and followers, the importance of willing obedience and knowledge) that can be applied in his other works, too (ch. 1). She then challenges darker readings concerning Xenophon’s explicit authorial evaluations about leaders in the Hellenica, the Anabasis, and the Cyropaedia. In her view, Xenophon explicitly praises and blames his leaders by using various rhetorical devices and by anticipating negative evaluations (ch. 2). In chapter 3, she deals with Xenophon’s adaptations of his literary predecessors, showing how Xenophon’s Socrates reinterprets Homeric images and motifs about leadership (such as Agamemnon as a shepherd, Thersites as a disobedient follower, arming scenes, aristeia) by adapting them to Xenophontic ideas and concerns. Xenophon also adapts Herodotus in the meeting between Croesus and Cyrus in the Cyropaedia, by exploiting at the same time the tradition of the meeting between the wise and the powerful.
Gray then analyzes patterned narratives of leadership (ch. 4). These patterns include scenes in which the importance of willing obedience is highlighted, scenes which reveal the leader’s character, particularly his self-control and moderation, and speeches which represent Xenophon’s views on leadership. In chapter 5, devoted to the Cyropaedia, Gray addresses the notorious topic of the epilogue and argues that the emphasis on the decline of the Persians serves to confirm the previous praise of their leader, Cyrus the Great. In a rapid survey she again challenges current readings concerning Cyrus’ virtues, his use of fear, and his attitude towards eunuchs and commoners, topics which have triggered many ironical interpretations. Chapter 6 is mainly an attack against Vincent Azoulay’s influential study Xénophon et les grâces du pouvoir (Paris 2004), on the topic of friendship: contrary to Azoulay, Gray believes that friendship in Xenophon is not unequal and hierarchical and that the Socratic works again set the framework for a positive evaluation of friendship. In a final illuminating chapter, Gray examines Socratic and other ironies in Xenophon in order to show that these [End Page 285] ironies do not support darker readings as is usually assumed: ironies in Xenophon are clearly signaled and have specific moral purposes.
In sum, as Gray ably argues, there is no hidden message that Xenophon would want to transfer, as Straussian scholars maintain. The book ends with an epilogue where the main results are summarized, a bibliography, and two indices locorum and nominum). Gray’s book, with its many interesting analyses and important insights increases our sensitivity to motifs and patterns in Xenophon. The main issue that arises from her approach, however, is that the priority given to the Socratic works as the key to positive “horizons of expectation” is not adequately justified: we do not have firm evidence that these works were written before the other works and thus can constitute a sort of background for them, and there is no historical discussion in the book that would support this view; nor does Xenophon himself seem to give such priority. Consequently, statements such as “Xenophon agrees with Socrates” (328) seem infelicitous, since Socrates is indeed Xenophon’s creation rather than a historical person with whom Xenophon agrees. The emphasis given on intratextuality (in the sense of interpreting Xenophon through Xenophon) is precious, but one would perhaps also expect a greater exploitation...