a1 Rhodes College
Xenophon’s Cyropaedia is the gripping account of one young man’s rise to unprecedented political prominence. As has often been noted, however, the text is marked by an abrupt and chilling conclusion. Some have taken the ending to signify not only Cyrus’ particular political inadequacy, but also the tragic inadequacy of politics in general, and political philosophy in particular, to promote stability, justice, and the common good. By examining Xenophon’s portrayal of Cyrus’ nature, education, and actions, and by comparing Cyrus to other characters of the Cyropaedia, I come to a different conclusion. Cyrus’ limits prove not to be inevitable, and the failure of his empire is not “generalizable” to all political endeavors. In studying Cyrus’ case, we deepen our thinking about civic education, justice, rule, freedom, and the law—matters that Cyrus neglected—and are led to prudential insights that are vital to the cultivation and support of healthy politics.
Laura K. Field is a postdoctoral Fellow at Rhodes College in Memphis, TN 38112.