previous next

[3arg] Whether Plato and Xenophon were rivals and not on good terms with each other.

THOSE who have written most carefully and thoroughly about the life and character of Xenophon and Plato have expressed the belief that they were not free from certain secret and concealed feelings of enmity and rivalry of each other, and they have set forth some conjectural evidence of this, drawn from their writings. These are in fact of this sort: that Plato in his great number of works nowhere makes mention of Xenophon, nor, on the other hand, does Xenophon mention Plato in his writings, although both men, and in particular Plato in the dialogues which he wrote, mention many followers of Socrates. This too they thought was an indication of no sincerely friendly feeling: that Xenophon in opposition to that celebrated work of Plato, which he wrote on the best form of constitution and of governing a city-state, having barely read the two books of Plato's work which were first made public, proposed a different mode of government (to wit, a monarchy) in the work entitled παιδείας κύρου, or The Education of Cyrus. They say that Plato was so disturbed by that conduct and book of his, that having made mention of king Cyrus in one of his own books, in order to criticize and belittle Xenophon's work he said 1 that Cyrus was indeed a strong and active man, but “had by no means had a fitting education”; for these are Plato's words about Cyrus.

Moreover, they think that this also is added to [p. 35] what I have already said: that Xenophon, in the book which he wrote as records of the sayings and doings of Socrates, 2 asserts that Socrates never discussed the causes and laws of the heavens and of nature, and that he never touched upon or approved the other sciences, called by the Greeks μαθήματα which did not contribute to a good and happy life; accordingly, he says that those who have attributed discourses of that kind to Socrates are guilty of a base falsehood.

“But when Xenophon wrote this,” they say, “The of course refers to Plato, in whose works Socrates discourses on physics, music and geometry.” But if anything of this kind was to be believed, or even suspected, in noble and dignified men, I do not believe that the motive was hostility or envy, or a contest for gaining greater glory; for such considerations are wholly alien to the character of philosophers, among whom those two were in all men's judgment pre-eminent. What then is the reason for that opinion? Undoubtedly this: the mere equality and likeness of kindred talents, even though the desire and inclination of contention be absent, nevertheless create an appearance of rivalry. For when two or more men of great intellectual gifts, who have gained distinction in the same pursuit, are of equal or nearly equal fame, then there arises among their various partisans emulation in expressing an estimate of their efforts and merit. Then later, from the contention of others, the contagion of rivalry spreads to the men themselves, and while they are pressing on to the same goal of honour, the race is so even, or almost even, 3 that it comes imperceptibly under a [p. 37] suspicion of rivalry, not from any purpose of their own, but from the zeal of their partisans. 4 So then Xenophon and Plato, two stars of Socrates' charming philosophy, were believed to contend with and rival each other, because others strove to show that one or the other was the superior, and because two eminent characters, when they are labouring side by side for a lofty aim, beget a kind of appearance of rivalry and competition.

1 De Legg. 12, p. 694, c.

2 Memorabilia, i. l. ll.

3 For ambiguus in this sense see Virg. Aen. v. 326.

4 They were not rivals, but both equally eager to attain “virtue.” Thus they seen like competitors in a race, and as they run so that you can hardly tell which leads, their partisans insist on regarding them as rivals.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

load focus Introduction (John C. Rolfe, 1927)
load focus Latin (John C. Rolfe, 1927)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: