The Cyropaedia Of Xenophon: Its Historical Character, And Its Value In The Illustration Of Scripture -- By: J. Emerson

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 033:130 (Apr 1876)
Article: The Cyropaedia Of Xenophon: Its Historical Character, And Its Value In The Illustration Of Scripture
Author: J. Emerson


The Cyropaedia Of Xenophon: Its Historical Character, And Its Value In The Illustration Of Scripture

Rev. J. Emerson

It is a habit with a modern school of historical critics to exalt Herodotus and depreciate Xenophon. This preference has arisen, probably, from political, quite as much as from critical, considerations; and if it cannot be met except by showing that Xenophon had the same sympathy for popular right, and the same faith in democratic institutions, which are the honor of our historians, and were, so far as in his time they could be, the inspiration of Herodotus, we must leave him under the ban. But if we allow, in his behalf, as well as in the case of his teacher Socrates, and his fellow pupil Plato, that a man may be more conservative than we, and yet speak the truth, we may reconsider the question of his veracity as a historian, especially in view of evidence which has come to light since Niebuhr’s day.

It is common to speak of the Cyropaedia as a historical romance, in which we cannot distinguish between the truth of history and the invention of the author, and which, therefore, cannot be considered as authority for any historical fact — which, indeed, its author never intended to be received as history. It is certainly true that Xenophon had a moral

object in view in the book, and so had Herodotus, and so has every other man who has soul enough to be worthy to write history. Xenophon tells us1 that he has found Cyrus the kingliest man in history, and therefore has carefully inquired into the facts of his life and character, and presents the result in his work. He certainly had some excellent opportunities for such inquiries, and no doubt he improved them, and would have us believe that his book presents correctly the image and the career of the man. He would have been an exception among ancient historians, if he had not filled out his outlines by conversations and speeches of his own composition; and it would be strange if in him, as well as in Herodotus, we did not often find the thoughts of a Greek, rather than of a Persian. But all this would not show that he has perverted those historical facts which he assures us that he has sought out with so much care. He claims to write history. We must judge of his claim by an examination of his work. As a literary Athenian, he must have been acquainted with the work of Herodotus, who precedes him by a short generation, and he himself quotes Ctesias in his Anabasis.2 But, with these two works before him, he gives us a history differing widely from either of them. He is then, either a bold inventor, or an original authority, dependin...

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