Xenophon, Hellenica 1



This unit has four main aims:

  1. To read, understand and translate accurately into idiomatic English the first book of Xenophon's Hellenica;
  2. to gain an insight into the historical and political developments of the last eight years of the Peloponnesian War, including trial procedures in Athens at this time;
  3. to gain an appreciation of the structure and stylistic features of Hellenica I;
  4. to study features of linguistic interest contained in the work.


The Author

Xenophon son of Gryllus, came from a wealthy Athenian family. He was probably born sometime between 430 and 425, and in his youth was a pupil of Socrates. In 401 he joined the force of "Ten Thousand" Greek mercenaries who took service with the Persian prince Cyrus in his revolt against his brother, the Persian king Artaxerxes II. When Cyrus was killed in the battle of Cunaxa, and the commanders of the Greek force were treacherously murdered, Xenophon was chosen as one of the new Greek leaders. Under his leadership, the Greeks made their way back through Asia Minor on a long and hazardous march that brought them eventually to the Black Sea, to the Greek colony of Trapezus (modern Trabzon). The Greek retreat to the sea, covering a distance of almost 2500 kilometres, is recorded by Xenophon in his work called the Anabasis. It is one of the most graphic narratives that have survived in Greek literary tradition, and provides us with many interesting first-hand observations by its author of the customs of the peoples whom the Greek force encountered as they made their way homewards, as well as the many dangers and privations which the Greeks experienced on the journey.

Subsequently Xenophon and the force which he led took service with the Spartans against the Persian satraps of Asia Minor. While in Asia Minor, Xenophon joined the staff of the Spartan king Agesilaus II, and accompanied the king back to Sparta in 394. This was the year in which Sparta defeated an Athenian-Theban alliance in the battle of Coronea. Xenophon was almost certainly present at the battle, though he may not have taken an active part in it. And his Spartan loyalties led to his Athenian countrymen branding him as a traitor and sentencing him to banishment. But by this time Xenophon was a man of considerable wealth, and in recognition of his services the Spartans provided him with an estate at Skillous (in territory taken by the Spartans from the state of Elis) where he lived in comfort until 371. In that year, Sparta was defeated by Thebes in the battle of Leuctra, and Xenophon was forced to flee his estate. He apparently spent his remaining years in Corinth, even though a change of heart in Athens had led to the lifting of the decree of banishment.

Other works written by Xenophon include the Cyropaedia, a fictional biography of Cyrus the Great, Agesilaus, an encomium written in honour of the Spartan king of whom Xenophon was the protegé, several works on the teachings of Socrates (including the Apologia, Memorabilia, Symposium), and essays on horsemanship (Hipparchicus) and economics (Oeconomicus).

The Hellenica

Xenophon's Hellenica is a history of the Greek world written in seven books, covering the period from the autumn of 411 to the summer of 362. The first part of the history, 1.1.1 - 2.3.10, begins with the overthrow of the democracy in Athens in 411 and the establishment of a Council of 400 oligarchs (the oligarchic regime lasted from July to September, 411), and concludes with the last year of the Peloponnesian War (404) in the course of which Athens' walls were destroyed and the democratic government once more overthrown.

This part of the Hellenica thus serves to complete Thucydides' account of the Peloponnesian War, which ends abruptly in the course of recording events of the year 411 (Book 8, ch. 109). Xenophon probably had the express intention of "completing" Thucydides' narrative, although in fact there is no clear link or transition between the two works, and Xenophon's intention "is achieved with little reproduction of Thucydides' historiographical characteristics." (Oxford Classical Dictionary).

At all events the Hellenica begins essentially where Thucydides leaves off, with an account of the last eight years of the Peloponnesian War, the conflict between Athens and Sparta (and their allies on each side) which broke out in 431 and occupied much of the following three decades.

The second part of the Hellenica (2.3.11 - 7.5.27) covers the period from the rise of the Thirty Oligarchs in Athens following the second overthrow of the democracy (403 B.C.) to the (second) battle of Mantinea in 362. This battle was fought between the Boeotians and their allies on the one side and the Spartans and their allies on the other.

The notes

In the notes which follow, a number of references are made to comments contained in the editions of Hellenica I by P. Krentz, Xenophon, Hellenika I-II.3.10, Warminster, Aris & Phillips, 1989; G.M. Edwards, Xenophon, The Hellenica Books I and II, Cambridge Univ. Press, 1939; G.E. Underhill, Xenophon, Hellenica, Books I and II, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1907. Krentz's edition also has an English translation of the work, along with a detailed political and historical commentary.
The notes also make occasional reference on grammatical points to JACT (Joint Association of Classical teachers Greek Course, Grammar, Vocabulary and Exercises).


The notes provide literal translations of a number of passages. These translations are intended to assist you in analysing and interpreting sentences or phrases which may cause you some difficulty. Occasionally the notes provide a freer or more idiomatic translation of a passage as well as a literal one. But generally it will be left to you to compose a final translation, which should of course be expressed in good, idiomatic English.

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