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The Economist by Xenophon

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you mentioned. That is just the puzzle, and again I beat my brains to
discover why, when you put to me that question a while back: "Had I,
in brief, the knowledge how to plant?" I answered, "No." Till then it
never would have struck me that I could say at all how planting must
be done. But no sooner do you begin to question me on each particular
point than I can answer you; and what is more, my answers are, you
tell me, accordant with the views of an authority[23] at once so
skilful and so celebrated as yourself. Really, Ischomachus, I am
disposed to ask: "Does teaching consist in putting questions?"[24]
Indeed, the secret of your system has just this instant dawned upon
me. I seem to see the principle in which you put your questions. You
lead me through the field of my own knowledge,[25] and then by
pointing out analogies[26] to what I know, persuade me that I really
know some things which hitherto, as I believed, I had no knowledge of.

[23] Or, "whose skill in farming is proverbial."

[24] Lit. "Is questioning after all a kind of teaching?" See Plat.
"Meno"; "Mem." IV. vi. 15.

[25] It appears, then, that the Xenophontean Socrates has {episteme}
of a sort.

[26] Or, "a series of resemblances," "close parallels," reading
{epideiknus}: or if with Breit. {apodeiknus}, transl. "by proving
such or such a thing is like some other thing known to me

Isch. Do you suppose if I began to question you concerning money and
its quality,[27] I could possibly persuade you that you know the
method to distinguish good from false coin? Or could I, by a string of
questions about flute-players, painters, and the like, induce you to
believe that you yourself know how to play the flute, or paint, and so

[27] Lit. "whether it is good or not."

Soc. Perhaps you might; for have you not persuaded me I am possessed
of perfect knowledge of this art of husbandry,[28] albeit I know that
no one ever taught this art to me?

[28] Or, "since you actually succeeded in persuading me I was
scientifically versed in," etc. See Plat. "Statesm." 301 B;
"Theaet." 208 E; Aristot. "An. Post." i. 6. 4; "Categ." 8. 41.

Isch. Ah! that is not the explanation, Socrates. The truth is what I
told you long ago and kept on telling you. Husbandry is an art so
gentle, so humane, that mistress-like she makes all those who look on
her or listen to her voice intelligent[29] of herself at once. Many a
lesson does she herself impart how best to try conclusions with
her.[30] See, for instance, how the vine, making a ladder of the
nearest tree whereon to climb, informs us that it needs support.[31]
Anon it spreads its leaves when, as it seems to say, "My grapes are
young, my clusters tender," and so teaches us, during that season, to
screen and shade the parts exposed to the sun's rays; but when the
appointed moment comes, when now it is time for the swelling clusters
to be sweetened by the sun, behold, it drops a leaf and then a leaf,
so teaching us to strip it bare itself and let the vintage ripen. With
plenty teeming, see the fertile mother shows her mellow clusters, and
the while is nursing a new brood in primal crudeness.[32] So the vine
plant teaches us how best to gather in the vintage, even as men gather
figs, the juiciest first.[33]

[29] Or, "gives them at once a perfect knowledge of herself."

[30] Lit. "best to deal with her," "make use of her."

[31] Lit. "teaches us to prop it."

[32] Lit. "yet immature."

[33] Or, "first one and then another as it swells." Cf. Shakespeare:

The mellow plum doth fall, the green sticks fast,
Or being early pluck'd is sour to taste ("V. and A." 527).


At this point in the conversation I remarked: Tell me, Ischomachus, if
the details of the art of husbandry are thus easy to learn, and all
alike know what needs to be done, how does it happen that all farmers
do not fare like, but some live in affluence owning more than they can
possibly enjoy, while others of them fail to obtain the barest
necessities and actually run into debt?

I will tell you, Socrates (Ischomachus replied). It is neither
knowledge nor lack of knowledge in these husbandmen which causes some
to be well off, while others are in difficulties; nor will you ever
hear such tales afloat as that this or that estate has gone to ruin
because the sower failed to sow evenly, or that the planter failed to
plant straight rows of plants, or that such an one,[1] being ignorant
what soil was best suited to bear vines, had set his plants in sterile
ground, or that another[2] was in ignorance that fallow must be broken
up for purposes of sowing, or that a third[3] was not aware that it is
good to mix manure in with the soil. No, you are much more likely to
hear said of So-and-so: No wonder the man gets in no wheat from his
farm, when he takes no pains to have it sown or properly manured. Or
of some other that he grows no wine: Of course not, when he takes no
pains either to plant new vines or to make those he has bear fruit. A
third has neither figs nor olives; and again the self-same reason: He
too is careless, and takes no steps whatever to succeed in growing
either one or other. These are the distinctions which make all the
difference to prosperity in farming, far more than the reputed
discovery of any clever agricultural method or machine.[4]

[1] "Squire This."

[2] "Squire That."

[3] "Squire T'other."

[4] There is something amiss with the text at this point. For
emendations see Breit., Schenkl, Holden, Hartman.

You will find the principle applies elsewhere. There are points of
strategic conduct in which generals differ from each other for the
better or the worse, not because they differ in respect of wit or
judgment, but of carefulness undoubtedly. I speak of things within the
cognisance of every general, and indeed of almost every private
soldier, which some commanders are careful to perform and others not.
Who does not know, for instance, that in marching through a hostile
territory an army ought to march in the order best adapted to deliver
battle with effect should need arise?[5]--a golden rule which,
punctually obeyed by some, is disobeyed by others. Again, as all the
world knows, it is better to place day and night pickets[6] in front
of an encampment. Yet even that is a procedure which, carefully
observed at times, is at times as carelessly neglected. Once more: not
one man in ten thousand,[7] I suppose, but knows that when a force is
marching through a narrow defile, the safer method is to occupy
beforehand certain points of vantage.[8] Yet this precaution also has
been known to be neglected.

[5] See Thuc. ii. 81: "The Hellenic troops maintained order on the
march and kept a look-out until . . ."--Jowett.

[6] See "Cyrop." I. vi. 43.

[7] Lit. "it would be hard to find the man who did not know."

[8] Or, "to seize advantageous positions in advance." Cf. "Hiero," x.

Similarly, every one will tell you that manure is the best thing in
the world for agriculture, and every one can see how naturally it is
produced. Still, though the method of production is accurately known,
though there is every facility to get it in abundance, the fact
remains that, while one man takes pains to have manure collected,
another is entirely neglectful. And yet God sends us rain from heaven,
and every hollow place becomes a standing pool, while earth supplies
materials of every kind; the sower, too, about to sow must cleanse the
soil, and what he takes as refuse from it needs only to be thrown into
water and time itself will do the rest, shaping all to gladden
earth.[9] For matter in every shape, nay earth itself,[10] in stagnant
water turns to fine manure.

[9] Lit. "Time itself will make that wherein Earth rejoices."

[10] i.e. "each fallen leaf, each sprig or spray of undergrowth, the
very weeds, each clod." Lit. "what kind of material, what kind of
soil does not become manure when thrown into stagnant water?"

So, again, as touching the various ways in which the earth itself
needs treatment, either as being too moist for sowing, or too salt[11]
for planting, these and the processes of cure are known to all men:
how in one case the superfluous water is drawn off by trenches, and in
the other the salt corrected by being mixed with various non-salt
bodies, moist or dry. Yet here again, in spite of knowledge, some are
careful of these matters, others negligent.

[11] See Anatol. "Geop." ii. 10. 9; Theophr. "de Caus." ii. 5. 4, 16.
8, ap. Holden. Cf. Virg. "Georg." ii. 238:

salsa autem tellus, et quae perhibetur amara
frugibus infelix.

But even if a man were altogether ignorant what earth can yield, were
he debarred from seeing any fruit or plant, prevented hearing from the
lips of any one the truth about this earth: even so, I put it to you,
it would be easier far for any living soul to make experiments on a
piece of land,[12] than on a horse, for instance, or on his fellow-
man. For there is nought which earth displays with intent to deceive,
but in clear and simple language stamped with the seal of truth she
informs us what she can and cannot do.[13] Thus it has ever seemed to
me that earth is the best discoverer of true honesty,[14] in that she
offers all her stores of knowledge in a shape accessible to the
learner, so that he who runs may read. Here it is not open to the
sluggard, as in other arts, to put forward the plea of ignorance or
lack of knowledge, for all men know that earth, if kindly treated,
will repay in kind. No! there is no witness[15] against a coward soul
so clear as that of husbandry;[16] since no man ever yet persuaded
himself that he could live without the staff of life. He therefore
that is unskilled in other money-making arts and will not dig, shows
plainly he is minded to make his living by picking and stealing, or by
begging alms, or else he writes himself down a very fool.[17]

[12] Or, "this fair earth herself."

[13] Or, "earth our mother reveals her powers and her impotence."

[14] Lit. "of the good and the bad." Cf. Dem. "adv. Phorm." 918. 18.

[15] Lit. "no accuser of." Cf. Aesch. "Theb." 439.

[16] Reading, with Sauppe, {all' e georgia}, or if, with Jacobs, {e en
georgia argia}, transl. "as that of idleness in husbandry."

[17] Or, "if not, he must be entirely irrational." Cf. Plat. "Apol."
37 C.

Presently, Ischomachus proceeded: Now it is of prime importance,[18]
in reference to the profitableness or unprofitableness of agriculture,
even on a large estate where there are numerous[19] workfolk,[20]
whether a man takes any pains at all to see that his labourers are
devoted to the work on hand during the appointed time,[21] or whether
he neglects that duty. Since one man will fairly distance ten[22]
simply by working at the time, and another may as easily fall short by
leaving off before the hour.[23] In fact, to let the fellows take
things easily the whole day through will make a difference easily of
half in the whole work.[24]

[18] Lit. "it made a great difference, he said, with regard to profit
and loss in agriculture."

[19] Or if, after Hertlein, adding {kai meionon}, transl. "workmen now
more, now less, in number."

[20] {ergasteron}, "poet." L. & S. cf. "Orph. H." 65. 4. See above, v.
15; xiii. 10.

[21] Cf. Herod. II. ii. 2.

[22] Or, "Why! one man in ten makes all the difference by . . ."
{para} = "by comparison with."

[23] Reading as vulg., or if {to me pro k.t.l.} transl. "by not
leaving off, etc."

[24] i.e. "is a difference of fifty per cent on the whole work."

As, on a walking-expedition, it may happen, of two wayfarers, the one
will gain in pace upon the other half the distance say in every five-
and-twenty miles,[25] though both alike are young and hale of body.
The one, in fact, is bent on compassing the work on which he started,
he steps out gaily and unflinchingly; the other, more slack in spirit,
stops to recruit himself and contemplate the view by fountain side and
shady nook, as though his object were to court each gentle zephyr. So
in farm work; there is a vast difference as regards performance
between those who do it not, but seek excuse for idleness and are
suffered to be listless. Thus, between good honest work and base
neglect there is as great a difference as there is between--what shall
I say?--why, work and idleness.[26] The gardeners, look, are hoeing
vines to keep them clean and free of weeds; but they hoe so sorrily
that the loose stuff grows ranker and more plentiful. Can you call
that[27] anything but idleness?

[25] Lit. "per 200 stades."

[26] Or, "wholly to work and wholly to be idle." Reading as Sauppe,
etc., or if with Holden, etc., {to de de kalos kai to kakos
ergazesthai e epimeleisthai}, transl. "between toil and
carefulness well or ill expended there lies all the difference;
the two things are sundered as wide apart as are the poles of work
and play," etc. A. Jacobs' emend. ap. Hartm. "An. Xen." p. 211,
{to de de kakos ergazesthai e kakos epimeleisthai kei to kalos},
seems happy.

[27] Or, "such a hoer aught but an idle loon."

Such, Socrates, are the ills which cause a house to crumble far more
than lack of scientific knowledge, however rude it be.[28] For if you
will consider; on the one hand, there is a steady outflow[29] of
expenses from the house, and, on the other, a lack of profitable works
outside to meet expenses; need you longer wonder if the field-works
create a deficit and not a surplus? In proof, however, that the man
who can give the requisite heed, while straining every nerve in the
pursuit of agriculture, has speedy[30] and effective means of making
money, I may cite the instance of my father, who had practised what he

[28] Cf. Thuc. v. 7; Plat. "Rep." 350 A; "Theaet." 200 B.

[29] Or, "the expenses from the house are going on at the full rate,"
{enteleis}. Holden cf. Aristoph. "Knights," 1367: {ton misthon
apodoso 'ntele}, "I'll have the arrears of seamen's wages paid to
a penny" (Frere).

[30] {anutikotaten}. Cf. "Hipparch," ii. 6.

[31] Or, "who merely taught me what he had himself carried out in

Now, my father would never suffer me to purchase an estate already
under cultivation, but if he chanced upon a plot of land which, owing
to the neglect or incapacity of the owner, was neither tilled nor
planted,[32] nothing would satisfy him but I must purchase it. He had
a saying that estates already under cultivation cost a deal of money
and allowed of no improvement; and where there is no prospect of
improvement, more than half the pleasure to be got from the possession
vanishes. The height of happiness was, he maintained, to see your
purchase, be it dead chattel or live animal,[33] go on improving daily
under your own eyes.[34] Now, nothing shows a larger increase[35] than
a piece of land reclaimed from barren waste and bearing fruit a
hundredfold. I can assure you, Socrates, many is the farm which my
father and I made worth I do not know how many times more than its
original value. And then, Socrates, this valuable invention[36] is so
easy to learn that you who have but heard it know and understand it as
well as I myself do, and can go away and teach it to another if you
choose. Yet my father did not learn it of another, nor did he discover
it by a painful mental process;[37] but, as he has often told me,
through pure love of husbandry and fondness of toil, he would become
enamoured of such a spot as I describe,[38] and then nothing would
content him but he must own it, in order to have something to do, and
at the same time, to derive pleasure along with profit from the
purchase. For you must know, Socrates, of all Athenians I have ever
heard of, my father, as it seems to me, had the greatest love for
agricultural pursuits.

[32] i.e. out of cultivation, whether as corn land or for fruit trees,
viz. olive, fig, vine, etc.

[33] Or, "be it a dead thing or a live pet." Cf. Plat. "Theaet." 174
B; "Laws," 789 B, 790 D, 819 B; "C. I." 1709.

[34] Cf. "Horsem." iii. 1; and see Cowley's Essay above referred to.

[35] Or, "is susceptible of greater improvement."

[36] Or, "discovery." See "Anab." III. v. 12; "Hell." IV. v. 4;
"Hunting," xiii. 13.

[37] Or, "nor did he rack his brains to discover it." See "Mem." III.
v. 23. Cf. Aristoph. "Clouds," 102, {merimnophrontistai}, minute

[38] "He could not see an estate of the sort described but he must
fall over head and ears in love with it at first sight; have it he

When I heard this, I could not resist asking a question; Ischomachus
(I said), did your father retain possession of all the farms he put
under cultivation, or did he part with them whenever he was offered a
good price?

He parted with them, without a doubt (replied Ischomachus), but then
at once he bought another in the place of what he sold, and in every
case an untilled farm, in order to gratify his love for owrk.

As you describe him (I proceeded), your father must truly have been
formed by nature with a passion for husbandry, not unlike that corn-
hunger which merchants suffer from. You know their habits: by reason
of this craving after corn,[39] whenever they hear that corn is to be
got, they go sailing off to find it, even if they must cross the
Aegean, or the Euxine, or the Sicilian seas. And when they have got as
much as ever they can get, they will not let it out of their sight,
but store it in the vessel on which they sail themselves, and off they
go across the seas again.[40] Whenever they stand in need of money,
they will not discharge their precious cargo,[41] at least not in
haphazard fashion, wherever they may chance to be; but first they find
out where corn is at the highest value, and where the inhabitants will
set the greatest store by it, and there they take and deliver the dear
article. Your father's fondness for agriculture seems to bear a
certain family resemblance to this passion.

[39] Lit. "of their excessive love for corn."

[40] Lit. "they carry it across the seas again, and that, too, after
having stored it in the hold of the very vessel in which they sail

[41] Or, "their treasure." {auton} throughout, which indeed is the
humour of the passage. The love of John Barleycorn is their master

To these remarks Ischomachus replied: You jest, Socrates; but still I
hold to my belief: that man is fond of bricks and mortar who no sooner
has built one house than he must needs sell it and proceed to build

To be sure, Ischomachus (I answered), and for my part I assure you,
upon oath, I, Socrates, do verily and indeed believe[42] you that all
men by nature love (or hold they ought to love) those things
wherebysoever they believe they will be benefited.

[32] Reading {e men pisteuein soi phusei (nomizein) philein tauta
pantas . . .}; and for the "belief" propounded with so much
humorous emphasis, see Adam Smith, "Moral Sentiments." Hartman,
"An. Xen." 180, cf. Plat. "Lysis."


After a pause, I added: I am turning over in my mind how cleverly you
have presented the whole argument to support your thesis: which was,
that of all arts the art of husbandry is the easiest to learn. And
now, as the result of all that has been stated, I am entirely
persuaded that this is so.

Isch. Yes, Socrates, indeed it is. But I, on my side, must in turn
admit that as regards that faculty which is common alike to every kind
of conduct (tillage, or politics, the art of managing a house, or of
conducting war), the power, namely, of command[1]--I do subscribe to
your opinion, that on this score one set of people differ largely from
another both in point of wit and judgement. On a ship of war, for
instance,[2] the ship is on the high seas, and the crew must row whole
days together to reach moorings.[3] Now note the difference. Here you
may find a captain[4] able by dint of speech and conduct to whet the
souls of those he leads, and sharpen them to voluntary toils; and
there another so dull of wit and destitute of feeling that it will
take his crew just twice the time to finish the same voyage. See them
step on shore. The first ship's company are drenched in sweat; but
listen, they are loud in praise of one another, the captain and his
merry men alike. And the others? They are come at last; they have not
turned a hair, the lazy fellows, but for all that they hate their
officer and by him are hated.

[1] See "Mem." I. i. 7.

[2] Or, "the crew must row the livelong day . . ."

[3] For an instance see "Hell." VI. ii. 27, Iphicrates' periplus.

[4] Or, "one set of boatswains." See Thuc. ii. 84. For the duties of
the Keleustes see "Dict. Gk. Rom. Ant." s.v. portisculus; and for
the type of captain see "Hell." V. i. 3, Teleutias.

Generals, too, will differ (he proceeded), the one sort from the
other, in this very quality. Here you have a leader who, incapable of
kindling a zest for toil and love of hairbreadth 'scapes, is apt to
engender in his followers that base spirit which neither deigns nor
chooses to obey, except under compulsion. They even pride and plume
themselves,[5] the cowards, on their opposition to their leader; this
same leader who, in the end, will make his men insensible to shame
even in presence of most foul mishap. On the other hand, put at their
head another stamp of general: one who is by right divine[6] a leader,
good and brave, a man of scientific knowledge. Let him take over to
his charge those malcontents, or others even of worse character, and
he will have them presently ashamed of doing a disgraceful deed. "It
is nobler to obey" will be their maxim. They will exult in personal
obedience and in common toil, where toil is needed, cheerily
performed. For just as an unurged zeal for voluntary service[7] may at
times invade, we know, the breasts of private soldiers, so may like
love of toil with emulous longing to achieve great deeds of valour
under the eyes of their commander, be implanted in whole armies by
good officers.

[5] Lit. "magnify themselves." See "Ages." x. 2; "Pol. Lac." viii. 2.

[6] Or, "god-like," "with something more than human in him." See Hom.
"Il." xxiv. 259:

{oude eokei
andros ge thnetou pais emmenai alla theoio.}

"Od." iv. 691; {theioi basilees}. Cf. Carlyle, "Heroes"; Plat.
"Meno," 99 D: Soc. "And may we not, Meno, truly call those men
divine who, having no understanding, yet succeed in many a grand
deed and word?" And below: Soc. "And the women too, Meno, call
good men divine; and the Spartans, when they praise a good man,
say, 'that he is a divine man'" (Jowett). Arist. "Eth. N." vii. 1:
"That virtue which transcends the human, and which is of an heroic
or godlike type, such as Priam, in the poems of Homer, ascribes to
Hector, when wishing to speak of his great goodness:

Not woman-born seemed he, but sprung from gods."

And below: "And exactly as it is a rare thing to find a man of
godlike nature--to use the expression of the Spartans, 'a godlike
man,' which they apply to those whom they expressively admire--so,
too, brutality is a type of character rarely found among men"
(Robert Williams).

[7] Reading {etheloponia tis}, or if {philoponia}, transl. "just as
some strange delight in labour may quicken in the heart of many an
individual soldier." See "Anab." IV. vii. 11.

Happy must that leader be whose followers are thus attached to him:
beyond all others he will prove a stout and strong commander. And by
strong, I mean, not one so hale of body as to tower above the stoutest
of the soldiery themselves; no, nor him whose skill to hurl a javelin
or shoot an arrow will outshine the skilfullest; nor yet that mounted
on the fleetest charger it shall be his to bear the brunt of danger
foremost amid the knightliest horsemen, the nimblest of light
infantry. No, not these, but who is able to implant a firm persuasion
in the minds of all his soldiers: follow him they must and will
through fire, if need be, or into the jaws of death.[8]

[8] Or, "through flood and fire or other desperate strait." Cf.
"Anab." II. vi. 8.

Lofty of soul and large of judgment[9] may he be designated justly, at
whose back there steps a multitude stirred by his sole sentiment; not
unreasonably may he be said to march "with a mighty arm,"[10] to whose
will a thousand willing hands are prompt to minister; a great man in
every deed he is who can achieve great ends by resolution rather than
brute force.

[9] See "Ages." ix. 6, "of how lofty a sentiment."

[10] See Herod. vii. 20, 157; Thuc. iii. 96.

So, too, within the field of private industry, the person in
authority, be it the bailiff, be it the overseer,[11] provided he is
able to produce unflinching energy, intense and eager, for the work,
belongs to those who haste to overtake good things[12] and reap great
plenty. Should the master (he proceeded), being a man possessed of so
much power, Socrates, to injure the bad workman and reward the zealous
--should he suddenly appear, and should his appearance in the labour
field produce no visible effect upon his workpeople, I cannot say I
envy or admire him. But if the sight of him is followed by a stir of
movement, if there come upon[13] each labourer fresh spirit, with
mutual rivaly and keen ambition, drawing out the finest qualities of
each,[14] of him I should say, Behold a man of kingly disposition. And
this, if I mistake not, is the quality of greatest import in every
operation which needs the instrumentality of man; but most of all,
perhaps, in agriculture. Not that I would maintain that it is a thing
to be lightly learnt by a glance of the eye, or hearsay fashion, as a
tale that is told. Far from it, I assert that he who is to have this
power has need of education; he must have at bottom a good natural
disposition; and, what is greatest of all, he must be himself a god-
like being.[15] For if I rightly understand this blessed gift, this
faculty of command over willing followers, by no means is it, in its
entirety, a merely human quality, but it is in part divine. It is a
gift plainly given to those truly initiated[16] in the mystery of
self-command. Whereas despotism over unwilling slaves, the heavenly
ones give, as it seems to me, to those whom they deem worthy to live
the life of Tantalus in Hades, of whom it is written[17] "he consumes
unending days in apprehension of a second death."

[11] According to Sturz, "Lex." s.v., the {epitropos} is (as a rule,
see "Mem." II. viii.) a slave or freedman, the {epistates} a free
man. See "Mem." III. v. 18.

[12] Apparently a homely formula, like "make hay whilst the sun
shines," "a stitch in time saves nine."

[13] Cf. Hom. "Il." ix. 436, xvii. 625; "Hell." VII. i. 31.

[14] Reading {kratiste ousa}, or if with Heindorf, {kratisteusai},
transl. "to prove himself the best."

[15] See "Cyrop." I. i. 3; Grote, "Plato," vol. iii. 571.

[16] See Plat. "Phaed." 69 C; Xen. "Symp." i. 10.

[17] Or, "it is said." See Eur. "Orest." 5, and Porson ad loc.

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