Xenophon’s Socrates

Xenophon's Socrates, Cornell University Press, 1972.  Reprint: St. Augustine's Press, 1998.


The title Apomnemoneumata may be rendered provisionally by “Recollections.” Apomnemoneuein (or derivatives) occurs only once within the Memorabilia (I.2.31); there it means “resenting,” “remembering one’s grudge.” To use this passage for the interpretation of the title is to begin with the height of absurdity, and we all are beginners. The title is misleading for a more obvious reason: it is silent on the fact that the book consists exclusively of recollections about Socrates. The title would be appropriate if we could assume that the most memorable experience that Xenophon ever had was his intercourse with Socrates and not, for instance, with Cyrus or with Agesilaos. We do make that assumption and expect to transform it into a certainty.

The Memorabilia opens as follows: “Many times I wondered by what possible speeches those who indicted Socrates persuaded the Athenians that he deserved death from the city. For the charge against him ran about as follows: Socrates commits an unjust act by not worshipping (respecting, believing in) the gods whom the city worships but carrying in other, novel divine things (daimonia); he also commits an unjust act by “corrupting the young.” Xenophon indicates that his quotation of the indictment is not quite literal. In this he proceeds like the Platonic Socrates (Apology of Socrates 24b8-c1). But while the changes made by the Platonic Socrates are very considerable, the change made by Xenophon is almost negligible: he replaces the “leading in” of the original by “carrying in” (cf. Plato, Republic 514b8). This difference can be taken as representative of the difference between Plato’s presentation of Socrates and Xenophon’s.