Famous Men of Greece - John Haaren



One day as Socrates was walking through a narrow street in Athens he met a young man who was remarkably handsome. Socrates stretched out his staff so that the young man had to stop.

"Where can bread be found?" asked the philosopher.

The young man's manner was modest and pleasing as he told Socrates where to buy bread.

"And where can wine be found?" asked the philosopher.

With the same pleasant manner the young man told Socrates where to get wine.

"And where can the good and the noble be found?" asked the philosopher.

The young man was puzzled and unable to answer.

"Follow me and learn," said the philosopher. The young man obeyed and from that time forward was the pupil and friend of Socrates. He was called Xenophon, a name that afterward became famous among the Greeks.

The king of Persia at that time was Artaxerxes. He had a younger brother named Cyrus, who was the governor of some provinces of Asia Minor, which belonged to Persia. Cyrus thought that he had a better right to the throne than Artaxerxes and he determined to seize it.

The Persians had helped the Spartans in the Peloponnesian War, and Cyrus had found out what splendid fighters the Greeks were. He knew, also, that many of them had become so used to fighting that they did not like a life of peace and were willing to fight for any one who would pay them. He decided, therefore, to get the Greeks to help him to fight for the throne of Persia, and he sent to several Greek states to invite soldiers to join him, promising them great rewards if he succeeded.

Xenophon had a friend who was going with Cyrus and who advised Xenophon to go too. Xenophon talked the matter over with Socrates who told him to ask the oracle at Delphi what to do. So Xenophon went to Delphi, but as he had made up his mind to go on the expedition he did not ask the oracle whether he should go or not. He only asked to what gods he should sacrifice before he set out. After sacrificing as the oracle advised he started for Sardis, in Asia Minor, and reached that city just in time to join the expedition.

Eleven thousand Greeks from different states had entered the service of Cyrus; so that with his Persian forces, 100,000 strong, he had an army of 111,000 men. Xenophon was not a general, or even a soldier, in this army. He seems to have gone with his friend, hoping that some opening would be made for him.

There was a magnificent road from Sardis to Susa, Artaxerxes' capital. But even upon the best of roads an army of a hundred thousand men, most of whom were on foot, had to move slowly. Cyrus' troops went about fifteen miles a day, and it took them six months to reach a place called Cunaxa, about seventy miles from Babylon.

Here they found Artaxerxes at the head of an army of nearly a million men. The troops of the Persian king advanced with a great shout, thinking that the noise made by thousands of men shouting would terrify the Greeks. But the Greeks only raised their warcry—"Victory!"—and steadily advanced, overcoming everything that was opposed to them. Unfortunately, Cyrus went into the battle himself at the head of his Persian forces. Seeing his brother, he rushed forward, exclaiming, "I see the man," and wounded Artaxerxes with a javelin.

He himself, however, was quickly killed by the soldiers of Artaxerxes. As soon as their leader had fallen Cyrus' Persian soldiers lost heart and fled.


The Greeks were now in a terrible plight. They were six months' march from Sardis and opposed by an army a hundred times the size of their own.

In the battle of Cunaxa they had so thoroughly beaten the Persians that Artaxerxes and his men were afraid of them and decided to get rid of them by treachery. The Persian commander-in-chief, Tissaphernes, therefore invited the Greek generals to a friendly meeting and promised to furnish them guides and provisions, so that they might return safely to Greece. The generals, never suspecting foul play, went to the Persian camp. There they were all put to death.

The Greeks were now greatly alarmed. The night following the assassination of the generals was one of terror. Not a fire was lit, even for the cooking of the supper. All slept with arms at their sides while the sentries listened to catch the slightest sound.

Xenophon spent the night in thinking what was best to do. It was clear to him that some one must be chosen by the Greeks as their leader and that they all must stand by one another. He felt sure that if this were done there would be a good chance of getting home safely. In the morning he told his thoughts and hopes to others of the Greeks, who were greatly cheered by what he said. Although he had held no office in the army before, he was now made one of its generals.

The shortest way to get out of the kingdom of Persia was to go to the Euxine, now called the Black Sea, which lay many hundred miles to the north beyond rugged mountains. At one of the ports on the shore of that sea the Greeks hoped to find ships in which they might sail to Greece.

The march was at once begun. All sorts of hardships were met with. There were snow-storms and bitter north winds; it was sometimes hard to get enough food; the mountain tribes, through whose land the army had to march, were often unfriendly and rolled rocks down the mountain slopes upon the soldiers.

At last, however, the shores of the Euxine were reached. The Greeks, since the murder of their generals, had marched for five months in an enemy's territory. They had drawn supplies from the country and had lost but few of their men. The retreat was in fact a victory.

Xenophon returned to Greece, but he did not go back to Athens. During some of the time that he had followed a soldier's fortune he had fought with the Spartans against Athens and the Athenians had passed a sentence of exile against him.

He went to Sparta, and soon afterward settled on an estate in Elis. "Xenophon's farm" is still pointed out to visitors to Greece. He passed about twenty years quietly in hunting, writing, and entertaining his friends with stories of his life as a soldier on faraway battlefields.

From notes which he made he wrote a history called the Anabasis, or "March up," which is an account of Cyrus' march up to Babylon and of the retreat of the Greeks.

Owing to political troubles Xenophon finally had to leave his pleasant home in Elis. He went to Corinth, where it is supposed that he died.