Xenophon—Œconomick: III

Western Thought

Xenophon—a student of Socrates—writes the first work on the study of economics.

I cannot exempt myself from the Calumnies of many of my Countrymen: Though you perhaps thought I would say, that I was upon these Accounts, called an honest and good Man.



A Treatise
On The
Management of an Estate and a Household.

III. Ischomachus—Management Without Doors.



I THEN told him, I thought I had heard enough of the Admonitions he had given his Wife, and of her Way of Living, which were highly to be commended in both of them: Now, said I, Ischomachus, let me know about what you imployed yourself as Master of the Family. I presume it will not be ungrateful to you to relate to me those Actions, that have justly acquired you so great Esteem: And I for my Part shall think myself extreamly obliged to you, if you will let me hear from your own Mouth, how you have behaved yourself, to have every where gained the character of a good and honest Man.

I will very willingly, said he, Socrates, tell you what have been my constant Imployments, to the End that if you find any Thing amiss in my past Course of Life, I may be able by the Advices you shall give me, to amend it for the future.

How is it possible, said I, that you should be the better for any Advice of mine, you who are already acknowledged by all to be a perfectly good and honest Man; especially too since the general opinion of me is, That I am but an idle Tatler, and one that builds Castles in the Air: And what is alledged as the chief Evidence of my Folly seems to be this, That I am extreamly poor, and even next to a Beggar. And indeed, Ischomachus, this Character, which is meant me by Way of Reproach, would afflict me very much, but that not long ago I happened to meet the Horse of Nicias, that Foreigner who is lately come hither, and saw that a great Croud of Spectators were following him: And when I had heard what many of them said of him; I went to the Groom, who took Care of him, and asked him if that Horse had a great Estate? He looked earnestly upon me, and seemed to judge by the Question I asked him, that I was not overmuch burdened with Wit: However, he gave me this Answer; How, said he, can a Horse have any Estate at all? Hearing this I lift up my Eyes, well pleased to think, that even a poor Horse may be good, if Nature have given him a good Mind. Since therefore poor though I be, I may nevertheless be good, do not you disdain to relate to me your Course of Life, to the End I may make my Advantage by hearing it, and, if I can, begin from To-morrow to tread in your Steps: For even To-morrow is not too late to begin to be virtuous.

You rally me now, said he, Socrates: But yet I will inform you, how and in what Manner I endeavour to spend my Days. Now having, as I thought observed, That the Gods prosper not those Men, who are ignorant of what they ought to do, or careless in the Performance of their Duty; and that they partly grant Happiness to the Prudent and the Diligent; and partly not: I therefore begin by the worship of the Gods; and beseech them to give me Health and Strength of Body, Honour in the Republick, the Love of my Friends, an honourable Safety in War, and an honest Gain and Increase of Riches. Hearing this, I asked him. Do you then, Ischomachus, give yourself any Trouble to grow Rich; and having already a great Estate, do you imploy yourself much in taking Care to increase it? Indeed, said he, that is my chief Care: For my greatest Delight, Socrates, is, to worship the Gods magnificently, to do Good to my indigent Friends, and to see, as much as in me lies, that this City do not want rich and noble Ornaments. All these Things that you mention, said I, Ischomachus, are truly great, and not to be performed but by a wealthy Man. And since there are many who cannot live without the Assistance of others, all such Persons will take it in good Part, if they are supplied with what is sufficient for them. But why should not they who have not only wherewith to support their Families, but can save something out of their Revenues, by Means of which they adorn the City and relieve their indigent Friends, why should not these, I say, be esteemed wealthy and great Men?

And indeed these are the Men, who are universally honoured. But pray, Ischomachus, said I, continue where you begun, and let me know how you preserve yourself in Health, how you keep your Strength, and what Method you take to come off in the War with Safety and with Honour? For it will be Time enough afterwards to hear how you govern your private Affairs, as to the Conduct of your Estate.

Ischomachus answered: All these Things depend upon one another. For he, who hath eaten sufficiently to support himself, may, in my Opinion, so digest his Meat by Labour, as to preserve himself in Health, and to acquire Strength of Body; and by exercising himself, he will, if he follow the Trade of War* be the better able to come off with Safety and Honour: And it naturally follows, That his Estate must increase, who is not slothful and remiss, but diligent and careful in the Management of it.

Hitherto, said I, I think take you right, Ischomachus; You tell me that a Man, who takes Care to digest his Meat by Labour, who exercises himself, and is prudent in his conduct, will find great Advantage in doing so. But what Labour did you use to keep yourself in Health, and strong in Body, how do you exercise and train yourself up for War, what Course do you take to flow in Riches, so as to be able not; only to do Good to your Friends, but to add likewise to the Strength and Ornaments of this City? These are the Things, said I, that I would willingly learn of you.

I, Socrates, answered Ischomachus, get up in the Morning, by about the Time that I think I may meet with those persons that I have Occasion to speak with: And if I have any Business to do in the City, I walk up and down to do it: If I have none there, one of my Servants leads my Horse before me into the Country, while I walk on Foot thither, which I take to be a better Sort of Exercise than walking up and down in a Gallery. When I am come into the Country, I go to see my Labourers, who are Ploughing, Sowing, or Planting my Land, or at Harvest getting in the Fruits of it, and I instruct them to do all Things in the best Method I can: This I do on Horseback, and accustom myself to ride in such Places, as I should be obliged to do in War, avoiding neither steep Ascents nor Descents, neither Hedges, Ditches, nor Streams of Water: And all the while, I take all the Care I can not to lame my Horse. After this my Servant carries back my Horse, taking along with him whatever we have Occasion for out of the Country: I return leisurely on Foot, and when I am got Home, take Care to rub the Sweat from my Body, and dry myself: Then I take my Dinner, eating always moderately, and so as not to overcharge my Stomach.

Indeed, said I, this Method of yours pleases me very much: For what can be better than to use an Exercise that conduces to your Health and Strength of Body, That enables and makes you fit to undergo the Hardships and Fatigues of War, and all the While to be taking Care to improve your Estate? And that you attain these Ends, is evident: For we know that you enjoy a perfect Health, a robust Constitution of Body; that you ride as well as any Man, and that you are one of the richest Men in Athens.

But while I behave myself thus, said he, Socrates, I cannot exempt myself from the Calumnies of many of my Countrymen: Though you perhaps thought I would say, that I was upon these Accounts, called an honest and good Man.

This too, said I, Ischomachus, I would enquire of you; what Course you take, that if there be Occasion, you can at any Time answer for your own Actions, and call others to Account for theirs?

Do you think, said he, Socrates, that I am not perpetually meditating on this Matter: And that I cannot easily justify myself, since I do not the least Injury to any Man; but to the utmost of my Power endeavour to oblige and do good to all: And do you not think that I take upon me to reprove others; since I often blame those who are guilty of any Injustice to private Persons, or to the Republick? If I find any one of my own Family accusing another, or defending himself, I reprehend him I find to be in the Wrong: I complain of one Man to my Friends, and I praise another: I make it my Business to reconcile Relations who are fallen out, endeavouring to persuade them, that it is much more for their Advantage to be Friends than Enemies. When we are summoned before the Judges of Military Affairs; I blame one, and defend the cause of another, who is wrongfully accused; and we all of us complain, if any Man receive Honours that he has not deserved: We praise those who advise the Things that ought to be done, and reprehend those that propose and counsel what is not convenient. And I very often, Socrates, pass Judgment upon myself, what I ought to suffer, what pay by way of pecuniary Mulct or Fine.

And how, said I, do you plead in your own Defence?

Very well, said he, when it is of Advantage to tell the Truth; but if I must lie for the Matter, I cannot make the worse appear the better Reason.

I believe, said I, you cannot make a Truth of what is False; but do not I, Ischomachus, detain you against your Will?

Not in the least, said he, Socrates: For I will not leave you till we have finished our Discourse of all these Matters.

You are very careful, said I, not to lose the character of a good and honest Man: For though perhaps you have many Affairs that require your Attendance elsewhere; yet having promised to meet your Friends here, I find you will not be worse than your Word.

But neither, Socrates, said Ischomachus are those Things, of which you were speaking neglected: For I have Bayliffs in all my Farms.

But tell me, said I, Ischomachuss, when you have Occasion for a Bayliff, do you inquire for one who is capable of that Business; in like Manner as when you have any Work for a Smith, I know very well that you endeavour to imploy one who is skilled in that Trade; or do you instruct your Bayliffs yourself?

I take Care, said he, Socrates, to instruct them myself: For since he is to look after my Affairs in my Absence, what Need is there he should know any more than I do? For if I am capable of ordering those Affairs myself, I can teach another what I know of them. He ought, said I, to be well affected to your Service and Interest, since by his presence he is to supply your Place? It is true, what you say, answered Ischimachus; and the first Thing I indeavour is, to create in them a Good-will to me and mine.

Pray, said I, how do you teach whomsoever you will, to wish well to you and yours?

By Liberality, said he, to them, whenever the Gods give us Plenty of any good Thing.

You mean, said I, that all who participate of what you have, are by that Means excited to wish you well, and become desirous to promote your Advantage.

Indeed, said he, I take Liberality to be the surest Means to procure the Good-will of all Men.

But if any one, said I, Ischomachus, conceive an Affection for you, will that sufficiently capacitate him to take Care of your Affairs? Do you not observe, that though all Men, in a Manner, wish well to themselves; yet there are many, who will not give themselves the Trouble to obtain the good Things they desire?

Ischomachus answered: Before I appoint any to be my Bayliffs, I teach them to be careful.

And how, in the Name of the Gods, said I, can you do this? For in my Opinions Diligence cannot be attained by Instruction.

Indeed, said he, Socrates, no certain Method can be observed to teach all Men to be alike diligent. Who are they then, said I, that can be taught to be so?

First, answered Ischomachus, you can never teach a Man to be diligent, who is intemperate in drinking: For Drunkenness causes a Forgetfulness of what ought to be done.

And are they, said I, who cannot abstain diligent, from Wine, the only Persons who cannot be diligent, or are there any others likewise?

Not they only, said Ischomachus, for neither can such be diligent, as cannot content themselves with little Sleep: For he who is asleep, can neither do what he ought, nor make others perform their Duty.

And are these, said I, the only persons who cannot be taught to be diligent, or are there still anymore?

In my Opinion, answered Ischomachus, they too who are addicted to Intemperance in Love, cannot be taught to imploy greater Diligence in any other Affair, than in satisfying their lustful Desires: For it is not easy to find any Occupation more pleasing than the Pursuit of an Amour; or any punishment more grievous than to be taken off from it, to be imployed about other Affairs. And therefore when I discover any of these Inclinations, I never appoint such Men to be my Bayliffs, or to inspect my Business of Husbandry:

But when, said I, you find any Man who is greedy of Gain, do you not think him unfit to be instructed in your rural Affairs?

The contrary, answered Ischomachus; for such Men are generally the most proper, and the most easily instructed in that Business: For they need only be shewn, that Diligence is ever attended with Gain.

But if you observe any, said I, who are temperate in those Things, in which you require them to be so, and only moderately desirous of Gain; how do you teach such to be diligent, as you would have them to be?

Very well, said he, Socrates: For when I see any who are careful in their Business, I not only commend them, but endeavour to set some Mark of honourable Distinction upon them: But all that are negligent, I rebuke severely both in Words and Actions.

Tell me then, said I, Ischomachus; is it possible for one who is negligent himself, to make others diligent?

By no Means, said he; no more than a Man, who, knows nothing of Musick, can make others Musicians: For it is very difficult to learn to do any Thing well, if the Master instruct you not aright: Thus, too, when the Master gives the Example of Negligence, it is hard for a Servant to become diligent: In a Word, I think I never took Notice that the Servants of a lavish Master were thrifty: I have indeed seen the Servants of a careful Master of little Service to him; but at the same time, they were rather a Prejudice than an Advantage to his Service. And the Answer of a certain Barbarian seems to me to be very true, and much to our present purpose. The King had got an excellent Horse, and desired to have him fat as soon as possible: He asked therefore one who was very skillful in Horses, what would make a Horse fat soonest: And it is reported that he answered, The Eye of the Master. In like Manner, in my Opinion, Socrates, the Eye of the Master is of the greatest Moment in other Things, and is the Reason that they are best done likewise.

And when, said I, you have thoroughly inculcated into any one to be diligent, will he then be fit to be trusted with the Care of your Affairs; or must he learn any thing else to capacitate him to be a good Bayliff?

Yes indeed must he, answered Ischomachus, for he must understand besides the several Works that ought to be done, and how, and when each of them: For without this Knowledges Bayliff can be of no more use than a Physician who indeed takes Care to visit his Patient every Morning and Evening, but knows not what is fit to be done in order to his Recovery.

And if he have learnt, said I, how the several Works are to be done, is any thing else requisite in such a Man, to make him a good Bayliff?

Indeed, said he, he ought besides to learn how to command the Labourers.

Do you then, said I, instruct your Bayliffs, that they may be fit to command?

Truly, I do, said Ischomachus.

How, said I, do you teach them the Way to govern others?

The Method I observe, said he, in this Matter, is so vulgar, that perhaps when you hear it, you will laugh at me.

Certainly, said I, Ischomachus, it is a Thing not to be laughed at: For it is evident that he, who can make Men fit to command others, can teach the Doctrine that a Master ought to observe, and consequently can instruct a King: You therefore who can do this, are so far from deserving Laughter, that you justly merit the greatest praise.

Ischomachus replied: The other Animals, Socrates, are taught Obedience by two several Means: Partly, by being punished, when they will not obey; partly, by being rewarded, when they obey with readiness: Thus him. Colts are taught to obey those that break them, by being treated with kindness when they are gentle and obedient to the Bridle; but when they are stubborn and resty, they are made to feel some uneasiness, till they submit to the Will of the Rider. Thus Dogs likewise, though they are much inferior to Understanding, are nevertheless brought to run round in a Ring, to tumble over upon their Heads, and to shew many other Tricks by the like Method: For when they obey, we give them something to eat, and make much of them; but when they will not do what we desire, we beat them. Now Men may be rendered more obedient by Discourse and Reasoning, if we demonstrate to them that it is for their Advantage to obey. And the same Discipline which seems to be that we use with Beasts, will conduce very much to make Servants obedient: For if you gratify their Desires in eating and drinking, you will gain a great Power over them. Ambitious Inclinations are likewise encouraged by Praise: For the Minds of some are no less thirsty of Praise, than others are greedy of Meat and Drink. For these Reasons, when I give Instructions, to those, whom I design to appoint to be my Bayliffs, and to oversee my rural Affairs, I observe in Effect the same Method towards them: For I take Care that the Shoes and Cloaths that are to be given to my Labourers, be not all of the like Make or Value; but some better, some worse than others, that I may bestow the best on those that behave themselves best; and the worst on the worst Servants. For methinks, Socrates, I perceive a great Affliction in the Minds of good Servants, when they observe that they work better than others, and nevertheless receive the same Rewards with those who will not take Pains, nor undergo any Danger, when Occasion requires. Wherefore, I by no Means suffer the Good and Bad to be alike rewarded; but commend my Bayliffs, when I see they have distributed the best to those that have best deserved them; but if I perceive that through Favour or Partiality any undeserving Servant have received the best Rewards, I pass it not over, but chide the unequal Bailiff, and endeavour to shew him that he ought not to do so, even for his own interest and Advantage.

Tell me in the next Place, said I, Ischomachus, if when you have taught a Man to command others, so that he can make them obedient to him, you then look upon him to be perfectly qualified for the Office of a Bayliff; or will he want any other Qualifications, besides those you have already mentioned?

He must besides, said Ischomachus, abstain from converting to his own Use, the Goods that belong to his Master, and take nothing from him by Stealth: For if he who hath in his Hands the Fruits of the Land, and other Effects of him whom he serves; embezzles and makes them away to his own Use, what will all his Care in Husbandry avail his Master?

Therefore, said I, you must teach him to be Just likewise.

Ischomachus replied: That too is absolutely requisite: And for this Reason I observe some Maxims, partly of the Laws of Draco, partly of Solon, by which I endeavour to make my Servants honest and just to me. Now those Legislators seem to me to have made many Laws that tend to the advancement of Justice: For they have ordained, That they who are convicted of Stealing, shall be fined, thrown into Chains and punished with Death: And this these Laws prescribe, to the end the Thief may not enjoy the Advantage of what he hath unjustly taken from others. By observing therefore some Things in these Laws, and others that are in the Laws of the Kings, I endeavour to make my Servants honest in the Administration of the Goods they have in their Hands: For the Laws of Draco and Solon only appoint Punishments for Offenders: But the regal Laws do not only punish the Unjust; but order the Just to be rewarded: Whence it comes to pass, that many who are unjust, especially if they are greedy of Gain, when they observe that the Just become the richer because they behave themselves justly, refrain from committing any Injustice. But when I observe any, who, though they receive Favours and Benefits, nevertheless act unjustly; I throw them off as Men of insatiable Avarice, and have nothing more to do with them. On the other Hand, those whom I find not only to be the more careful to do well, because they are the better used, by Reason of their Honesty, but to be desirous likewise to gain my Esteem; I treat like freeborn Persons, and not only reward them with Gifts, but shew them Respect and Honour, as to good and honest Men. For a Man desirous of Honour seems to me, Socrates, to differ from one greedy of Gain in this, that when there is occasion, he is willing to undergo any Difficulties, to expose himself to any Dangers, and is always careful to abstain from dishonest Advantages. Now when you have so far prevailed over the Mind of any Man, that he wishes you to succeed in all Things, and is become zealous to promote your Interests; when you have instructed him besides to know how to order every Thing to be done in the best Manner; when he knows how to command others, and makes a conscience of being Just and Honest in all his Actions, so that by his Diligence your Land brings you in as much Profit, as if you yourself took Care of it; nothing more can be desired of him; and such a Bayliff is an invaluable Treasure.

But omit not, said I, Ischomachus, to tell me what you have already slightly hinted at; I mean, that it is of great Importance to know in what Manner every particular Work is to be done; for you told me that Care and Diligence will avail nothing, unless a Man understand what is needful to be done, and how.

Ischomachus replied: You now, Socrates, bid me teach you the very Art of Agriculture?

I would know, said I, how it comes to pass That Agriculture enriches some that are skilful in it; and suffers others, who are not so knowing, to live all their Days in Want, even though they apply themselves to it with the utmost of their Care and Industry.

To this Purpose, said he, Socrates, I will now take Notice to you, of the Generosity, if I may so call it, of this Art to Men. For why may not that be stiled Generous and Noble, which is most useful, most pleasant to practise, most honourable and acceptable both to the Gods and to Men; and, besides all this, most easy to learn? We call those Animals generous, which, though they are beautiful, strong and useful, are nevertheless tame and gentle to Men.

I think, said I, Ischomachus, I sufficiently understand what you have been telling me concerning the Manner of instructing a Bayliff: For I suppose I have learnt, how to behave myself towards him, so as to create in him a Desire of my Welfare: What I am to do to make him diligent, fit to govern others, and just in all his Actions. But you were saying, That he who would manage rural Affairs as he ought, must learn what Works are to be done, and how, and when to do each of them: Now in my opinion, you have not been particular enough in these Matters: For what would it signify to say, That he who would be able to write what is dictated to him, and to read what he has written, must learn to know the Letters; for all I am taught by this is, that he must know the Letters; but no Man knows the Letters one Jot the more for this Instruction. Thus too I am fully convinced, that he who would take Care of rural Affairs aright, must understand Husbandry: But though I know this, I am never the more advanced in the Knowledge of that Art; and therefore if I should undertake to practise it, I should methinks be like the Physician who went indeed regularly to visit his Patients, but knew not what was proper for them to take: To the End therefore that I may not be like him, teach me the several Works of Agriculture.

End of Part III.

—Xenophon; Edward Bysshe (translator), 1712.

Courtesy of Democratic Thinker