Xenophon’s Cyropaedia and Plato’s Laws


  • William Henry Furness Altman Independent Scholar




Plato and Xenophon, Herodotus, Laws, Cyropaedia, Vivienne Gray, Epinomis


The passage about the flaws of Cyrus the Great in Laws 3 has led scholars both ancient and modern to conclude, accurately, that Plato was responding to Xenophon’s Cyropaedia but they have erred in assuming that this response was critical. Current scholarly debate is focused on whether Cyropaedia deserves a “sunny” reading, championed by Vivienne Gray, or a “darker” one, and this article aligns Plato with the “darker” reading: he was the first reader who demonstrably identified Cyrus himself, and specifically his inattention to the παιδεία of his sons (Lg. 694c6-7), as the cause of Persia’s post-Cyrus decline. But Cyrus must appear to embody Xenophon’s political ideal, and this explains why the text’s narrator adulates him, just as the Athenian Stranger appears to be Plato’s spokesman. Against these misconceptions, both authors use Herodotus to undermine their spokesman’s credibility, and an analysis of how they do so shows that Plato is not so much criticizing as imitating Xenophon. By aligning Plato’s Stranger with Xenophon’s Cyrus, the article argues that both Cyropaedia and Laws deserve a “darker” reading, thus creating a revealing parallel between the last chapter of Cyropedia—where Persia falls apart—and Plato’s Epinomis.




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