Xenophon’s view of Sparta: A study of the “Anabasis,” “Hellenica” and “Respublica Lacedaemoniorum”
By Noreen M. Humble
PhD Dissertation, McMaster University, 1997
Abstract: This thesis has two primary aims: (1) to add weight to the minority opinion that Xenophon is not naively pro-Spartan and that while he appreciates and admires certain facets of the Spartan socio-political system, he recognises and criticises its inherent flaws, and (2) to show that Xenophon is consistent and even-handed in his treatment of Spartans throughout his works with no significant alteration over the period of his literary output. The focus is on those works in which Spartans figure most prominently: the Anabasis, Hellenica, and Respublica Lacedaemoniorum; the Agesilaus and Cyropaedia are dealt with insofar as they complement and illuminate matters under discussion. The first two chapters show that very little is known with certainty about Xenophon’s life and the chronology of the relevant works. I argue that this lack of factual evidence has opened the way for scholars to make inaccurate and misleading speculations in support of the traditional view that Xenophon is uncritically pro-Spartan.
In the next two chapters various Spartan leaders in the Anabasis and Hellenica are examined with respect to the qualities which Xenophon believed a good leader should possess. It is concluded that Xenophon shows no obvious bias toward Spartans in either work; praise and criticism are apportioned as due. The fifth chapter considers the Respublica Lacedaemoniorum with emphasis on those aspects of the Spartan lifestyle which bear most directly on the way Spartan leaders function. The standard view of the work as encomiastic is challenged and its purpose is reassessed. I argue that Xenophon simply presents an analysis of those Spartan laws and institutions which he believed allowed Sparta to rise to pre-eminence in the Greek world. A comparison with what he says elsewhere shows that he did not necessarily consider these laws to be ideal or worthy of imitation. A short conclusion draws attention to the consistency in Xenophon’s attitude to Sparta in the works considered.