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Bruno Jacobs (ed.): Ancient Information on Persia Re-assessed: Xenophon’s Cyropaedia. Proceedings of a Conference Held at Marburg in Honour of Christopher J. Tuplin, December 1–2, 2017 (= Classica et Orientalia; Bd. 22), Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz 2020, XXXII + 407 S., 3 s/w-Abb., ISBN 978-3-447-11283-3, EUR 98,00
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Rezension von:
Andrew G. Nichols
Department of Classics, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL
Redaktionelle Betreuung:
Matthias Haake
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Andrew G. Nichols: Rezension von: Bruno Jacobs (ed.): Ancient Information on Persia Re-assessed: Xenophon’s Cyropaedia. Proceedings of a Conference Held at Marburg in Honour of Christopher J. Tuplin, December 1–2, 2017, Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz 2020, in: sehepunkte 22 (2022), Nr. 12 [15.12.2022], URL:

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Bruno Jacobs (ed.): Ancient Information on Persia Re-assessed: Xenophon’s Cyropaedia

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This collection of essays, stemming from a conference in Marburg in 2017, is dedicated to Christopher Tuplin on the occasion of his 65th birthday. The volume opens with a brief introduction by the editor on the career of Tuplin; a full bibliography of Tuplin's works is included. The essays are divided into four thematic sections: Genre and Meaning, The Author's View, Cyropaedia as Historical Source, and Literary Reception.

The first section opens with Frances Pownall's discussion of the various versions of Cyrus' upbringing that were circulating when Xenophon was writing. She argues that, while adhering "to the basic outline of Herodotus' version of Cyrus' parentage" (9), Xenophon, addressing an elite audience, offers an account in which Cyrus is raised in an aristocratic household, contradicting the popular variants related by Herodotus and Ctesias.

Irene Madreiter tackles a recurring theme in recent scholarship on the Cyropaedia, the problematic placement of this work in a specific literary genre. She rejects the notion that Xenophon's work should be described as the "first extant novel" or even as one of the novel's direct forerunners. Rather, she sees the Cyropaedia as more closely related to the romantic history of Ctesias. She also addresses the over three century long gap between Xenophon and the earliest proper novels of the Imperial Period, concluding that the romances of Nicolaus Damascus, who relied heavily on Ctesias, should perhaps be seen as an intermediary between the two.

Louis-André Dorion offers a comparison between Cyrus's portrayal in the Cyropaedia and that of Socrates in the Memorabilia, seeking to determine whether Cyrus fits the model of the ideal ruler as described by Socrates. He concludes that, while Cyrus embodies many of the virtues requisite of a great leader, he remains inferior to Socrates as a man of virtue.

In the second section, Reinhold Bichler discusses the use of 'Historical Space' in reference to the lands of the Persian Empire and the distant tribes at the edge of the inhabited world. He argues that Xenophon, although putting forth numerous geographical inaccuracies in creating a "fictitious 'geographical' setting", avoids any discussion of marvels that are so prevalent in other works treating the fringes of the oikoumene, in order to maintain an aura or plausibility. As Bichler notes, Xenophon does in fact omit many geographical details, such as natural boundaries between nations, and was likely drawing on Ctesias for his account of many of the smaller tribes, such as the Cadusians, while purposefully ignoring both Ctesias and Herodotus in minimalizing the role of the Sacae (85-88).

John E. Esposito and Norman B. Sandridge co-author a study on how leadership is portrayed and promoted in the Cyropaedia. Drawing on the Harvard Business Review Leader's Handbook, the authors question whether the prostates of the Cyropaedia displays what we would call 'leadership qualities' in the modern world. Although I am unfamiliar with the HBR study, the analysis put forward by the authors is intriguing.

Michael Fowler links the Cyropaedia with the Anabasis, arguing that the two works should be read together. In doing so, the reader is drawn to compare the characters of Cyrus the Elder with Cyrus the Younger, in accordance with Xenophon's ultimate goal of illustrating the ideal commander (132). Fowler gives a nuanced discussion of the role of the 'narrator' in the works of Xenophon, concluding that, whoever the narrator of each work may be, the ultimate purpose remains the same. Fowler is also right to be cautious in over emphasizing the impact of Xenophon's life experiences on his work. His views of Xenophon's conflicting portrayals of the two Cyruses are further supported by the next paper in the collection (see below). However, Fowler's contention that "Xenophon wrote his lengthy obituary of Cyrus the Younger in the Anabasis expecting readers to compare this Cyrus with the depiction of his famous namesake in Cyropaedia" (147) is problematic in that there is no evidence that the Cyropaedia was written first. Rather, it seems more likely that Xenophon would have composed the memoirs of his adventures with the Ten Thousand soon after his return to Greece.

Gabriel Danzig continues the theme of the two Cyruses, which in many ways offers a fine companion to Fowler's contribution, as both authors independently discuss many of the same issues and come to the same conclusions. Like Fowler, Danzig stresses that the portrayal of the younger Cyrus in the eulogy of the Anabasis was less than favorable (even if Xenophon referred to him as the most kingly since Cyrus the Elder) and certainly not meant to show him as an equal to his elder counterpart: "Being better than all the other post-Cyrean kings might not amount to very much if the other members of the group were terrible failures" (165). In offering a detailed and nuanced analysis of the contrasts between the two Cyruses, Danzig gives sound reason for a more critical reading of the eulogy of Cyrus the Younger.

The third section contains papers on how the Cyropaedia is used as a historical source. Focusing on Near Eastern concepts of kingship, Julian Degen discusses the evidence for authentic Near Eastern traditions found in the Cyropaedia. He correlates Cyrus' skills in divination (1.6.2) with the divine favor found so prevalently in Near Eastern inscriptions. He highlights parallels between Xenophon's accounts of divine light, portending victory in battle and transference of power, to the concept of melammu, which he describes as "radiant and awe-inspiring sheen" (209). He concludes that, while Xenophon was taking most of his information on Persian kingship from his Greek predecessors, he was also likely drawing on authentic Persian tradition for his unprecedented accounts of divine light. Nevertheless, in Degen's opinion, Xenophon's Cyrus remains more the result of Xenophon's Greek imagining than a genuine reflection of Persian royal authority.

Bruno Jacobs examines scenes of gift-giving in the Cyropaedia to visualize transference or confirmation of authority, contrasting them with reliefs from Persepolis illustrating offerings to the Great King. Jacobs notes the similarities and overlap between the objects given in the works of Xenophon and those depicted in the reliefs. However, he also points out that the reliefs do not in actuality reflect gift-giving, since these depictions, lacking the "irregularity and voluntariness" aspects that are central to gift-giving, rather denote obligatory offerings to the King and thus are not direct parallels to Xenophon's accounts.

The final section deals with the reception of the Cyropaedia. Sabine Müller discusses the impact of Xenophon on the historians who accompanied Alexander. She points out the problems with trying to assert a Xenophontine influence on Alexander, as there is no evidence to support this oft repeated claim. However, she notes that the influence of the Cyropaedia is more easily seen in the historians themselves, who certainly drew on Xenophon for many underlying themes in their works. The table illustrating authors, themes, and their possible sources is especially useful.

Deborah Gera analyzes the thematic similarities between the Cyropaedia and the Old Testament books of Esther and Judith, questioning whether Xenophon, whose work predates the other two, may have played a direct influence on either or both. Focusing on the role of luxury in all three works, after noting some striking similarities, Gera concludes that "there is simply not sufficient evidence" (298) to determine whether the latter two authors were directly familiar with Xenophon.

Sulochana Asirvatham investigates the influence of the Cyropaedia on Greek literature of the Roman Imperial period. While Xenophon's Cyrus seldom appears in Imperial literature, the concept of his "self-control (σωφροσύνη or ἐγκράτεια) over appetite, primarily sexual" had a profound impact on later authors writing in a variety of genres, including biography and the novel. Asirvatham shows that the Cyropaedia's influence on Imperial literature was significant, even if "largely silent" (320).

Richard Stoneman looks at how the Cyropaedia shaped views of kingship in Early Modern Europe, particularly England. While pointing out the impact the work had on such continental writers as Machiavelli (332-333), Stoneman notes that it is in Elizabethan England where the work's influence can especially be noticed. For many of the royal class, Xenophon's Cyrus served as a model to follow. Stoneman offers a detailed and fascinating overview of how deeply influential Xenophon's work continued to be, so long after its composition.

Noreen Humble continues the theme of Xenophon's impact in the Early Modern period, narrowing her focus to the Sixteenth Century. She gives a thorough account of the various editions and translations that were available at that time, offering some insight into how widely read the Cyropaedia was, both in Greek and in translation, including contemporary vernacular languages. The large number of Greek school editions point to it being a central work in many school curricula.

In the final paper, Melina Tamiolaki examines the impact of Leo Strauss' interpretation of the Cyropaedia on subsequent analyses. Tamiolaki argues that many in the Straussian School view the work as strictly philosophical, nearly in the same class as a Socratic dialogue. Although she points out the shortcomings of such interpretations, she concludes with a call for more dialogue between scholars from the fields of literature and political science.

Vivienne Gray offers some brief concluding remarks on the volume.

Overall, this is a fine collection of essays that offer much to the study of the Cyropaedia. The book is a handsome volume that is well produced and well edited with few errors.

Andrew G. Nichols