Thursday, April 16, 2020


Plato and Xenophon

"On Xenophon's Hellenics and the Character of Plato," in The Life and Letters of Barthold George Niebuhr and Selections from His Minor Writings, tr. Susanna Winkworth, 2nd ed., Vol. III (London: Chapman and Hall, 1852), pp. 198-212 (at 200):
Truly no state has ever cast out a more degenerate son than this Xenophon! Plato, too, was no good citizen, he was not worthy of Athens, he took some incomprehensible steps, he stands like a sinner beside those saints, Thucydides and Demosthenes, but yet how utterly unlike this old fool! How disgusting is the latter with his στωμύλματα, and the lisping naïveté of a little girl!
Id. (at 203):
An article for the Rhenish Museum accidentally gave rise to the above essay; and just as accidentally, without any idea of controversy, I gave utterance in it to an opinion which I had often expressed in conversation,—that Plato was not a good citizen and that Xenophon was a thoroughly bad one. Besides, I thought that some one ought at last to declare openly, that the reputation of the latter, as a man of elevated mind and a great author, is entirely undeserved and absurd, and simply rests upon a traditional and superstitious prejudice.
Id. (at 204):
I have not even called Plato a bad citizen; to pervert my words in this way is a controversial trick. I called him "not a good" one, because the spirit of faction and deeply-rooted personal predilections made him inimical to the hereditary and legitimate constitution, and inclined to a party the hypocrisy of whose delusive representations was demonstrated when they came into power, representations which had no longer a basis in realities, and rendered them as absolutely useless to their country, as the Jacobites were, after the middle of the eighteenth century. All party spirit, political and religious, produces this incapacity to receive natural impressions from facts, but above all when the spirit is one of repression and negation. Would to God it were otherwise!
Id. (at 205-206):
I call Plato "not a good citizen," because he never expresses the very slightest appreciation or love of Athens; but, on the contrary, the scorn and contempt which he pours on democracy, derive their bitterness and point from the circumstance that he was thinking of his mother-city when he wrote them;—because, while possessing every gift that would have made him useful to her and fitted him to guide her into the right course, he proudly held himself aloof;—because, nothing but the blindness of party-spirit can account for the slighting manner in which he speaks of the noble patriot Lysias, and his endeavours to exalt Isocrates at his expence, although the latter was decidedly—at all events in his old age—a thoroughly bad citizen, as well as an unspeakable fool, whose conduct is not atoned for, by the despair which seized him, when he suddenly beheld the abyss open before him.

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