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(ca. 430 - 354 BC) Greece


Soldier of fortune and man of letters


Born into a wealthy Athenian family, he joined the army of Cyrus as a mercenary. When Cyrus was killed, Xenophon joined the Spartan army, and found himself fighting against the Athenians. Exiled from Athens, he was installed by the Spartans in a country estate at Scillus in the Peloponnese. Here he lived with his wife and twin sons for some 20 years, then he moved to Corinth. He was reconciled with Athens, though it seems not to have returned there to live.

During his long life Xenophon wrote on a remarkable variety of subjects. His importance for us is he was a transmitter of Socrates' teaching on same-sex love and his own, rather different, views on the subject. There are sufficient clues in his narrative that he himself had found a male lover to accompany him in his life as a soldier. In his dialogue The Symposium, Critobulos makes an ardent speech in praise of his beloved, Clinias, and of homosexual love in general.


Edmund Spenser noted that English scholars of the Renaissance were much more likely to have read Xenophon than Plato. Xenophon's The Symposium parallels Plato's and makes reference to it. It purports to be an account of a feast given by Callias to honor his young lover Autolycus who had won a prize in the Panathenaic games. (This victory took place in 422 B.C.E. at which date, however, Xenophon would have been only eight years old.)

XenophonDuring the evening, leading citizens of Athens discuss - and demonstrate by their present behavior - the power of male beauty to entrance other males. However, this is no special coterie: Callias' guests speak freely of the ubiquitousness of such infatuations in their society.

Socrates delivers a definitive speech rhapsodically extolling male love but deprecating any sexual expression. He argues that Zeus's love for Ganymede and Achilles' for Patroclus was free from carnality, and that male love in Sparta is similarly nonphysical.

At the same time, he strongly commends Callias' love for Autolycus and names approvingly a number of other prominent Athenians whose (Platonic) love affairs with other males were widely recognized. Xenophon's dialogue, though hardly of Platonic caliber, has substance, charm, and eloquence, and deserves to be better known.

His other works - The Constitution of Sparta, the Economist, and the Anabasis - are also important for what they reveal of Greek attitudes; sometimes Xenophon's view of male homosexuality is matter of fact, sometimes it is romantic, but it lacks Socrates' puritanism.


Source: excerpts from: Aldrich R. & Wotherspoon G., Who's Who in Gay and Lesbian History, from Antiquity to WWII, Routledge, London, 2001 - et alii

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