The central concern regarding Xenophon since the mid-1960s has been his place in the so-called Socratic problem, the question of to what extent our knowledge of the historical Socrates is accurate and on the basis of what sources we may have any confidence in the portrait of him that has come down to us. Although Xenophon's Socratic writings have been criticized on the grounds that their philosophical acumen does not compare with that of Plato, scholarship since antiquity has tended to regard them as important sources of information about the life and character of the historical Socrates. But Xenophon's portrait of Socrates has received mixed reviews. Scholars continue to debate whether the Socrates that we encounter in the early, Socratic dialogues of Plato is the historical man himself, a Platonic fiction, or something in between, and the portrait of Socrates that we find in Aristophanes is clearly something of a caricature, in which Socrates appears to serve virtually as a stock character for the ridicule of philosophers generally.
This has prompted some to claim that Xenophon is our best hope for piecing together the real life of the man. Others, however, argue that Xenophon shows no real sophistication in his writings and hence cannot be relied upon to produce an accurate portrait of such a central figure in the history of philosophy, and that if we compare Xenophon's portrait of Socrates with those of other writers of Sōkratikoi logoi (stories about Socrates), a genre that grew up among the followers of Socrates shortly after his death in 399 BCE, we find that we have no compelling reason to prefer his portrait to any other, including Plato's. Plato himself mentions the views of Xenophon only once (Laws 694c), and only to criticize an element of the political education of Cyrus as portrayed in the Cyropaedeia. Plato has nothing to say about Xenophon's portrait of Socrates. The other writers of Sōkratikoi logoi (Antisthenes, Phaedo, Eucleides, Aristippus, Aeschines, and Plato), were actively writing memoirs of Socrates as early as the 390s and 380s, but Xenophon did not begin to write his Sōkratikoi logoi until the 360s, and some scholars see in him a repository of recycled information, with at least one scholar suggesting that Xenophon's own youthful memories of Socrates were "filtered through the Socratic literature that had been published in the meantime" (Kahn 1996, p. 30).
Another area of scholarly attention since the mid-1960s has focused on Xenophon as comparative biographer. Even if we accept the view that his portrait of Socrates is as accurate than that of any other Socratic, some scholars maintain that we may nevertheless see in his accounts of Socrates and Cyrus an attempt at comparative biography that has value in its own right. This judgment must be weighed against the view of other scholars who argue that Xenophon's imagination is not on a par with those of the other Socratics, nor is his philosophical acumen up to the task of drawing and comparing such lives with anything like the skill that one finds in, for example, the writings of Plutarch.
works by xenophon
Xenophontis opera omnia, edited by E. C. Merchant. Oxford, U.K.: Clarendon, 1950–1954.
Mémorables, edited by Michele Bandini. Translated by Louis-André Dorion. Paris: Belles lettres, 2000–.
works on xenophon
Anderson, J. K. Xenophon. Bristol, U.K.: Bristol Classical, 2001.
Cooper, John M. "Notes on Xenophon's Socrates." In his Reason and Emotion: Essays on Ancient Moral Psychology and Ethical Theory, 3–28. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999.
Dorion, Louis-André, and Michele Bandini. "Introduction générale." In Mémorables, by Xenophon. Vol. 1. Paris: Belles lettres, 2000.
"Les écrits socratiques de Xénophon." Special issue, Études philosophiques 2 (2004).
Gray, Vivienne J. The Framing of Socrates: The Literary Interpretation of Xenophon's "Memorabilia." Stuttgart, Germany: F. Steiner, 1998.
Gray, Vivienne J. "Xenophon's Image of Socrates in the Memorabilia." Prudentia 27 (1995): 50–73.
Kahn, Charles H. "Sokratikoi logoi : The Literary and Intellectual Background of Plato's Work." In his Plato and the Socratic Dialogue: The Philosophical Use of a Literary Form, 29–35. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1996.
Morrison, Donald R. Bibliography of Editions, Translations, and Commentary on Xenophon's Socratic Writings, 1600–Present. Pittsburgh, PA: Mathesis Publications, 1988.
Morrison, Donald R. "On Professor Vlastos' Xenophon." Ancient Philosophy 7 (1987) 9–22.
Morrison, Donald R. "Xenophon's Socrates on the Just and the Lawful." Ancient Philosophy 15 (1995): 329–347.
Vander Waerdt, Paul A. The Socratic Movement. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1994.
Vlastos, Gregory. "The Evidence of Aristotle and Xenophon." In his Socrates: Ironist and Moral Philosopher, 81–106. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991.
Scott Carson (2005)