Xenophon—Œconomick: IV

Western Thought

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

But I do not pretend that it can be learnt by barely looking on, or hearing it once repeated: On the contrary, I say it cannot be attained but by Study and Instruction, nor without a natural Dispositions nor unless a Man be qualified for it from above.



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

IIII. Ischomachus—Agriculture.



AGRICULTURE, said he, Socrates, is not so hard to learn as the other Arts; which take up many Years of the Learner’s Life, before he can practise them so as to get a Livelihood by them: But partly by looking upon the Labourers, partly by Instructions by Word of Mouth, you may soon know enough of Agriculture to teach it to another, if you please. And I believe you are not ignorant, That you already know a great deal of it. Now all other Artists take Delight to conceal, in some Measure, the Secrets of their Art: But a peasant, who is skillful in Planting, is pleased to have Lookers-on: And so is he who sows the Corn as he ought: And if you examine him concerning any Thing that seems to be well done; he will hide nothing from you of the Method he observed in doing it: And thus, Socrates, in regard even to Civility, Agriculture seems to make those who follow that Occupation, better-mannered, and more frank and open-hearted than others.

You begin, said I, by an Introduction so alluring, as will charm your Hearers to Attention: And because it is honourable to learn it, be you the more willing to teach me: Nor will your Instructions be any ways dishonourable to you; though indeed it is a great Shame in me, to be ignorant of these Affairs; especially since they are so useful.

In the first Place, said he, Socrates, I will shew you, That what they who talk much of Agriculture, but never practise it, pretend to be very difficult, has no great Mystery in it; I mean, to know the difference of Soils: For say they, He who would till his Land with Success, ought first to know the Nature of the Soil.

And they are in the right, said I, to say so: For he who has not discovered what the Soil will bear, cannot, in my Opinion, be certain, what Seeds it will be best for him to sow, nor what Plants it will be most proper to set.

We may know, added Ischomachus, what any Land will bear, and what it will not, if we take Notice of the Fruits and Trees. And when a Man once knows the Nature of the Soil, it will not be expedient for him to endeavour to force his Land to bear what naturally it will not. For by Sowing and Planting any Thing else he will not have so large a Crop, as of what the Soil will willingly produce, and bring to Maturity: But if through the Sloth and Laziness of the Owner it cannot declare its Strength, the true Nature of it may more certainly be known by the adjoining Grounds, than by inquiring of the Neighbours. And even though it be uncultivated, it yields Tokens of its Nature: For that which produces wild Fruits that are fair and large, will, if it be tilled, bear planted Fruits of the same Kind that are large and fair likewise. And thus they, who are not perfectly skilled in Agriculture, may discover the Nature of each Soil.

Methinks, said I, Ischomachus, you have sufficiently instructed me in this Matter, so that I need not abstain from Agriculture, suspecting that I cannot discover the Nature of the Soil. For I call to Mind what the Fishermen are wont to do; who, when they are following their Business at Sea, neither stand still to look upon the Land, nor go slowly forward, but sail swiftly coasting along the Shore; yet when they see the Fruits the Country bears, they scruple not to give their Opinions of the Goodness or Badness of the Soil; but blame one, and praise another: And thus I see that they ground, their Judgment of the Goodness of a Soil on the same1 Reasons as do the skilful Husbandman.

Upon what Point then, said he, Socrates, would you have me begin to discourse to you of Agriculture? for I plainly see that I am going to instruct you concerning the Culture of the Ground, who know the most that belongs to it as well as myself.

I should be glad, said I, Ischomachus, first to know this; In what Manner it is best to till the Earth, in order to have the most plentiful Crop of Wheat or of Barley?

I need not tell you, said he, That the Fallow Land must be prepared for Sowing?

I know it must, said I.

What think you, continued he, of beginning to plough it in the Winter?

I answered: It will then be too wet and miry.
Do you think then it ought to be done in the Summer?

No, said I; for it will then be so hard that the Cattle will scarce be able to turn it up.

Perhaps then, added he, we ought to begin this Work in the Spring.

That season, said I, seems to be the most proper, because the Ground is then the most easy to move; and work.

Nay more, said he, Socrates; the Grass and Weeds being then turned upside down by Ploughing, grow rotten, and serve in some Measure to manure and dung the Ground: But it is not yet Time to sow the Seed, if you expect it produce a plenteous Crop: For in my Opinion, to make the Fallow perfectly good, it ought to be cleared of all Manner of Weeds, and lie a while baking in the Sun.

I answered; I agree with you in all this.

And do you think, said he, That this can better be done, than by turning the Earth often in the Summer? I know for certain, That there is no better Way to kill the Weeds, and Roots, and to have the Soil baked by the Sun, than by ploughing it about Midsummer, and even in the Heat of the Day: And if the Fallow be prepared by digging it, the Labourers ought to clear it of Weeds and Roots.

They ought, said I, to throw them on the Surface of the Ground to dry and wither there, and to turn the Earth so, that the Sun may scorch and bake the crude Parts of it.

Methinks, said he, Socrates, we seem to agree in Opinion concerning the Fallow? I answered: We certainly do.

Concerning the Time to sow the Corn, do you not, said he, Socrates, take that to be the most proper, which has been approved by the Practice of former Ages, and which even all Men in our Days find by Experience to be best? For when Autumn comes, they all look up to God, to send them seasonable Showers that they may sow their Corn.

All Men, said I, Ischomachus, agree in this, That by their Good-will they would never commit the Seed to the Ground when it is dry. For they who sow before God has commanded them, have been forced to struggle with many Inconveniencies, and seldom have a plenteous Crop.

Therefore, said Ischomachus, all Men are agreed in Opinion upon this Matter.

We ought, said I, to agree in the Things that God himself teaches us: For Example: All Men think it best to go thicker cloathed, if they can, in the Winter, than in the Summer: And in that Season all Men make Fires, if they have Fuel.

But many, said Ischomachus, differ in this, Socrates: Whether it be best to sow late, or early, or between both.

God himself, said I, sends us not all Years alike: One proves best to sow early, another late, another between both.

And are you, Socrates, of Opinion, That any one of these seasons is to be made choice of before the other, whether a Man sow much, or but a little Seed; or would you have him begin very early, and continue to sow very late?

I answered: In my Opinion, Ischomachus, it is best to have a Share in the whole Season: For I think it much better always to have as much Wheat as is necessary, than at one Time too much, at another not enough.

You are then of the same Opinion, said he, Socrates, with me in this Matter likewise, and thus you, who pretend to learn, have made a right Judgment of this Affair, even without any Assistance from me, who have taken upon me to instruct you.

But is there not, said I, a different Method to be observed in Sowing the Seed?

Let us, said he, Socrates, consider this Point also. And first I suppose you are not to be told, That it must be thrown out of the Hand.

I have, said I, seen them do so.

But some, said he, can scatter it equally, and others cannot.

That, said I, proceeds from want of Practice: For neither can a Choir of Musicians keep Time with one another, unless they have been used to play in Concert.

You are in the right, said Ischomachus. But one Soil is thinner and more light, one thicker and more heavy than another.

What do you mean? said I: Do you call that Soil thin and light, which is poor and weak; that thick and heavy, which is rich and strong?

He answered: You have spoke my Meaning: And therefore I ask you, whether you would sow more Seed in one of them, than in the other, or both of them alike?

Indeed, said I, I use to put more Water into strong Wine than into weak; and when I have Burdens to carry, to lay the heavier Load on the stronger Man: And if a great many Men were to be maintained, I should think it just, that they should keep most, who had the greatest Estates. But tell me if a weak Soil be made strong, must we sow it the thicker; in like Manner, as we lay a heavier Load upon a Beast that is grown strong, than we did on the same Beast, when he was weak?

Then Ischomachus laughing, said: You are merry now, Socrates: But this I would have you know: After you have sown the Seed, if there fall much Rain to nourish the Ground, so that the Corn comes up very thick, it will do well to turn it again with the Plough; for that will be as Food to the Soil, and make it get Strength as if it were dunged anew. But if you suffer your Land to bring to Maturity all the Corn that springs from the Seed, it will at length grow weak, and scarce be able to bear much Corn; even as a weak Sow can scarce nourish a Litter of many Pigs.

I replied: According to this Instruction, Ischomachus, the Land that is poor and weak ought not to be sown thick.

True, said Ischomachus: and you confers it to be so, by saying you are wont to lay the lightest Burden on the weakest Beast.

But why, said I, do you use Weeding-hooks in your Fields of Corn?

You know, answered Ischomachus, that there falls a great deal of Rain in the Winter. Now suppose that some Corn, by Means of those great Rains, is covered with Mud, and on the contrary, that the Earth is washed away from the Roots of other; besides, that much wet Weather produces Weeds, as it is wont to do, that grow up with the Corn, and choak it.

It is certain, said I, That all this may happen.

And do you not think, said he, That in any of these cases, the Corn wants some Assistance?

Most certainly.

And what would you do, said he, to help the Corn that is covered and oppressed with Mud?

I would, said I, gently stir, and lighten the Earth.

What, said he, when the Roots are bare, and appear above Ground?

I answered; I would sprinkle them over with Earth.

What if Weeds springing up with the Corn, choak it, and rob it of its Nourishment: As Drones, that are wholly useless, take from Bees the Honey they have laboured, and laid by for their own Support?

I answered: That the Corn may be the better fed, those Weeds must be killed; in like Manner as it is of absolute Necessity to drive the Drones from the Hive: And I suppose that for this Purpose, you make use of Weeding-hooks.

We do so, said Ischomachus.

But I am reflecting, said I, of what great Force it is in all Sort of Discourse and Arguments to make use of apt and proper Similitudes: For by making mention of Drones, you have provoked me to Anger against the Weeds, much more than you did, when you spoke only of the Weeds themselves. But the Corn, when it is ripe, must be got in: Therefore pray teach me the Method you observe in that Matter likewise.

No doubt, said he, but you understand this as well as myself: You know that the Corn must be cut down?

I do so.

And when you are about that Work, said he, do you stand with the Wind, or against the Wind?

Not against it certainly, said I, for it would be troublesome both to the Hands and Eyes of the Reapers to have the Stalks blow against them.

Do you chuse to cut it near the Ear, or close to the Ground.

That, said I, is according as the Corn is in Height: For if it be short, I would cut it the lower, that I might have the more Straw: But if it be high, I think it is best to cut it about the Middle of the Stalk, that neither the Threshers nor the Winnowers may have a needless Labour: Besides, I believe, That the Stubble that is left, will, if it be burnt, and mixt with Dung, help to mend the Ground.

You see, said he, Socrates, That I have taken you in the very Fact; for you know as much of Harvest as I do.

It seems so, said I: But I have a Mind to know whether I understand any thing of Threshing likewise.

You know, said Ischomachus, that we make use of Cattle to tread out the Corn; that under the Name of Cattle are comprehended Oxen, Mules, and Horses: And you believe that these Cattle know nothing of the Matter, but only trample the Corn as they are driven about.

How, said I, should Cattle understand any thing of what they are doing?

To whom then, said he, belongs the Care to see that the Corn be trod equally, and in all Places alike?

No Doubt, said I, to the Threshers: For by turning, and always putting under their Feet what is not yet trod, they carry on the Threshing equally and in good Order, and do their Business the sooner.

You see now, said he, that you understand this Part of Husbandry as well as myself.

After this, said I, Ischomachus, we separate the Wheat from the Chaff; and this we call winnowing or fanning the Corn.

Tell me then, Socrates, said Ischomachus, do you not know, that if you begin this Work, in that Part of the Floor where the Wind comes in, the Chaff will blow all over the Floor?

It cannot, said I, but do so.

And therefore, said he, it will fall among the Corn.

It will then, said I, be best, so to order the Matter, that the Chaff may be carried over the Corn, into the void Part of the Floor.

Suppose, said he, we should begin to winnow in that Plate, which is farthest from the Entrance of the Wind?

It is plain, said I, that the Chaff will then be blown where it ought to be.

But, continued he, when you have winnowed and cleared the Corn to the middle of the Floor, will you leave it spread there, and continue to winnow the rest, or will you first lay aside that which is already fanned?

I would, said I, lay that aside in a Heap by itself; otherwise the Chaff of the other would fly among it, and thus I should be obliged to fan it over again.

Indeed, said he, Socrates, you understand the winnowing Part so well, that you are able to teach it to others.

Truly, said I, I was ignorant that I knew any thing of it. And therefore I am thinking that perhaps I am only ignorant likewise that I understand what belongs to the melting of Gold, that I can play upon the Flute, and draw pictures, since I never was taught any of those Arts, any more than Agriculture.

Now, said Ischomachus, you see, Socrates, that I was in the Right, to tell you, that Agriculture is the most generous of all the Arts, because it is the most easy to learn.

I see now, said I, that it is so, Ischomachus. Yet when I was beginning to talk to you of the sowing of Corn, I knew not that I understood any thing of it. But does not the planting of Trees belong likewise to Agriculture?

Ischomachus answered: It does. How then, said I, can I be thought to understand that Art, who know nothing of Planting?

Have you, said Ischomachus, no Knowledge of it?

How should I, said I, who know neither in what Sort of Soil it is best to Plant, nor how deep the Plants are to be set in the Ground; how much of them is to be buried, nor how to place them to the best Advantage to make them sprout the sooner.

Come on then, said Ischomachus; and learn what you know not. I know you have seen the Trenches, that are dug for the Plants:

I have so, said I, very often.

Did you ever see any that were above three Foot deep?

I never, said I, saw any that were above two and a half.

Have you ever seen any that were above three Foot broad?

No, said I, I never observed any that were more than two.

Did you never, said he, see a Trench, that was under a Foot deep?

No, said I, never under a Foot and a half: For in digging the Ground, the Plants would be dug out, if they were planted no deeper.

Observe, Socrates, said he, you are not ignorant, that we dig our Trenches not more than two Foot and a half deep.

I cannot, said I, but have taken Notice of a thing that I have seen so often.

Can you, said he, by looking upon the Soil, distinguish whether it be wet or dry.

I believe, said I, the Soil of the Mountain Lycabettus to be dry, and that of the Fens of Phaleron to be wet: And that whatever Soil is like either of those, is either wet or dry.

Would you dig a deep Trench for Plants in a dry Ground, or in a wet.

Certainly, said I, the drier the Ground is, the deeper ought to be the Trench. For if you dig deep in a wet Soil, you will find Water; and it would not do well to plant Trees in Water.

I am of the same Opinion, said he: And you have hitherto seen how to make the Trenches, in which you are to plant the Trees. Now if you would have them shoot up very fall, do you believe that the Bud of the Plant will sooner pierce through a soft Earth that is newly tilled, or through a hard and untilled Soil?

It is evident, said I, That it will sooner shoot up through a Soil that is cultivated, than through one that is not.

It is best then, said he, to till the Ground from Time to Time: But do you think that the Plant will take Root, and spring up the sooner, if it be planted strait upright, or if that Part of the Shoot, that is in the Ground be placed obliquely, and like a Gamma laid down in this Manner ().

No doubt, said I, it is best to plant it obliquely: For by that Means several Eyes or Buds will be under Ground; and young Shoots will spring up from each of them; as I observe that Branches shoot from Buds in the Bodies of Trees. And when many Twigs shoot out of the Earth, I take it that the Plant thrives apace.

In all this, said Ischomachus, you and I are of the same Mind. Now tell me, whether you would lay the Earth lightly on the Plant, or press it down hard about it.

I would press it hard, said I; for otherwise the Earth would be so loose, that the Rain would make it like Mud, and the Sun would dry it to the very Bottom: Thus the Plants would be in Danger of growing Rotten through too much Moisture; or the Roots might be heated and withered, by Reason of the Dryness and Looseness of the Earth.

I see, said Ischomachus, by this Answer of yours, That you know what belongs to the Planting of Vines too, as well as I do.

But, said I, are Fig Trees planted in the same Manner?

I think so, answered Ischomachus; and all Sorts of Fruit Trees likewise. For why should what is fit to be done in planting of Vines, not be proper in planting any other Sorts of Trees?

But how, said I, are we to plant Olive Trees?

You ask me this too, said he, only to try me; for you know it as well as I do. For you see that the Trenches for Olive Plants are dug deeper than for other Trees, because they are generally planted along the Roads. You see too that there are Stocks in all our Plantations: That we lay Dirt at the Roots of all the Plants.

I own, said I, that I see this generally done:

And if you see it, said he, is there any Thing relating to it, that you do not know? Are you ignorant that we lay a Pot-shard, or a Tile over the Dirt?

I confess, said I, Ischomachus, I know all you have mentioned: And I am again thinking with myself, why when you asked me in general, if I understood the Method of planting, I denied that I did: Nor indeed did I believe I should be able to tell you the Manner of it. But when you begun to examine me particularly concerning it; I answered you, as you tell me, as well as you yourself could have done, who are eminent for your Knowledge and Skill in Agriculture: And when I reflect on your Way of Questioning me as to each Particular, I doubt whether Interrogation be not a Sort of Doctrine: For while you lead me through Things that I know, and teach me others like to them, and that I know not; you persuade me, I think, that I know those Things, of which I thought myself ignorant.

And if I should ask you, said Ischomachus, whether Money were good or not; should I persuade you that you knew the Way to try it, and that you could distinguish between the true Coin and the counterfeit? And if I should Question you concerning Trumpeters, should I persuade you that you know how to sound a Trumpet? Is of Painters, that you could draw a picture? and in like Manner of other. Things of the like Nature?

Perhaps so, said I: Since you have persuaded me that I am skilled in Agriculture, though Lam certain that no Man ever taught me that Art.

Not so, said he, Socrates: But I told you before, That so great is the Benignity of Agriculture to Men, that it immediately makes them skilful in it, who but see it practised, or but hear the Method that is observed in the Practice of it: Nay, it gives us of itself many very useful Instructions: First, the Vines, by climbing up the Trees, if any Trees are near them, shew us how we ought to prop them up. Then by spreading abroad their Leaves, while the Grapes are are yet young and tender, they teach us, That to be much exposed to the Sun is at that Time hurtful to them, and that they require to be hid in the Shade. But when the Time is come for the Grapes to be ripened in the Sun, they shed their Leaves to shew us, That the Fruit ought to be exposed to the Sun, to help it to ripen the sooner. And lastly, by bearing at once some Grapes that are ripe, while others are yet green, it teaches us to gather the Ripe, in like Manner as we do the Figs as soon as they are come to Maturity.

I then asked him this Question: How comes it to pass, Ischomachus, since what relates to Agriculture is so easy to learn, that all Men know alike how they ought to practise it, that all too have not the like Success in it: But that some live in great Plenty of all Things, while others cannot get themselves Necessaries for Life, but are ruined by running into Debt?

Ischomachus answered me thus. I will tell you the Reason of this too Socrates: It is not the Knowledge or Ignorance of Agriculture in the Peasants that is the cause why some of them flow in Plenty, while others are oppressed with Want. And you have scarce ever heard it said, that such a Man’s Land produced but little, because his Corn was not sowed as it ought, nor his Plants planted in good Order; nor because he knew not what Soil was proper for Vines, and therefore planted them in a barren Earth; nor because he was ignorant that he ought to plough his Fallow before he sowed it, or that it is good to dung the Ground: But it is much more frequently said: He had no Crop of Wheat, for he took no Care to dung his Land, nor in sowing it: He had no Wine because he took not Care In planting and tilling his Vines so as to make them fertile; he had no Oil nor Figs, for he used no Diligence to have them. These are the Things, Socrates, in which Peasants behave them differently, and therefore prosper not alike. We see that even of Generals of a like Capacity to Command, some are better, some worse than others, by Reason of their Diligence: For those very things, which all of them, nay, even most of the common Soldiers, know are fit to be done, only some of them do, others neglect them: For Example; they all of them know alike, that when they are to pass through an Enemy’s Territories, it is best for them to march with their Troops in order of Battle, as much as the Country will permit, that they may be ready to fight if there should be Occasion; and yet though they all know this, some only take Care to do so, others not: They know that ‘tis best to have advanced Guards and Centinels before their Camps, both by Day and by Night, and yet but few of them observe to do so, while others neglect it. There is scarce a Soldier to be found, but knows, that when he is to march through Defiles and narrow Passes, ‘tis best to secure those Posts, before the Enemy have taken Possession of them; nevertheless some only are careful to do so, others not. Thus all Men know that Dung is very useful in Husbandry, and see that it is produced in a Manner of its own Accord; yet how well soever they know how it may be procured, and how easily they may have Plenty of it, some take Care to provide themselves with it, while others neglect to do so. God, who is Above, sends us Rains, by Means of which all hollow Places become moorish, and the Soil itself produces several Sorts of little Shrubs and Weeds, of which he who is about to sow his Corn, ought first to clear it: Now even these, when taken from the Ground, and laid in Water, produce something that is very grateful to the Earth: For Weeds, and all other other things of the like Nature, when laid in Standing Water, turn into Dung. And all Men know the Remedy a Soil requires when it is either too wet for Sowing, or too salt for Planting: They know how to make Rills to drain away the Water; and to correct the Saltness of the Soil, by mixing it with others that are not salt, and with moist as well as dry: Yet some are negligent of all these Things likewise, while others are careful to practise them. But if a Man be wholly ignorant of what a Soil will bear, and can neither see any Fruit nor Plant it produces, and if he can meet with none can tell him the Nature of it, is it not much easier for him to make Trial of any Soil, than of a Horse, or a Man? For no Soil will deceive by salse Appearances, but gives manifest Tokens of the Truth, and honestly shews what it can, or cannot bear. And the Earth seems to me to explore, and excellently well to make Trial of the Slothful and Industrious, by offering and requiring nothing, but what is easy to be learnt and known. For it is not with Agriculture,as with the other Arts; which Men, by pleading their Ignorance, may justly excuse themselves from following: But none are ignorant that the Earth, when it has received a Benefit, makes a grateful Return: And when it is cultivated by Agriculture, manifestly reproaches a slothful Mind: None fondly persuade themselves, that Men can live without the Necessaries of Life; and he who knows no other Art, by which he can get a Livelihood, and will not till the Ground; evidently discovers that he Means to get his Bread by cheating, stealing, or begging: Or else is wholly void of Reason.

He told me besides, that it imported much to good or ill Success in Agriculture, if a Man took Care to make his Labourers, of whom there is frequently no small Number, perform their Work within the limited Time; or if he neglected to do so: For a Labourer, who performs his Task in Time, is worth ten others: And one excels another in not leaving off before his Time: But that to permit them to work slothfully all the Day, delays at least one half of the Work: In like Manner as when two Persons set forward together on a Journey of two hundred Furlongs, one of them who makes Haste, gets sometimes to his Journeys End a hundred Furlongs before the other, though they are both young and in perfect Health: The Reason of which is, because one of them is mindful of the Business, for which he undertook the Journey; while the other loiters away his Time by Fountains, and in refreshing Shades, and by regarding every Thing as he goes along: Thus too in the Labours of Husbandry, there is a great Difference between those who do what is commanded them, and those who do not, but invent Pretences to excuse themselves from working, and get Leave to be idle. And to do our Work well, or to be careless in doing it, are as much different, as working hard is from being idle. They who are appointed to dig the Vineyards, are to take Care to clear the Vines of Weeds and Brambles: But if they flubber over their Work in so careless a Manner, that they grow more rank and in greater Abundance than before, may we not justly say, that such Labourers were better have been doing nothing? These are the Things that are much more prejudicial to a Family, than those pretended Ignorances, with which some colour their Neglects: Now since all the Expences must be provided for out of the Land, if it be not cultivated in such a Manner as to make it bring in Profit; what Wonder is it, if instead of flowing in Plenty, we find only Poverty.

But my Father, continued Ischomachus, practised himself, and taught me the most effectual Method, for those who will spare neither Pains nor Diligence to improve and get an Estate by Agriculture: For he never suffered me to buy any Land ready cultivated; but advised me to purchase only such, as through the Neglect or Indigence of the Owners, was untilled, and least stocked with Plants. And he was wont to say, That Land well cultivated was sold at a great Rate, and that nothing could be got by buying it: He held besides, That there is no pleasure in Things that afford no Prospect of Advantage; but that whatever we enjoy that is capable of Improvement, affords the greatest Delight: Nor is there any greater Improvement to be made of any Thing, than if a barren uncultivated Piece of Land be made fruitful. And indeed, Socrates, we have improved several Farms to that Degree, that they will now sell for many Times as much as they would have done formerly. And this Invention, though it be of so great Value, is nevertheless so easy to learn, That though this be the first Time that ever you heard it mentioned, you go hence as knowing in it as myself, and can if you please, teach it to others. Nor did my Father ever learn it from any Man, or find it out by dint of Study; but by the Delight he took in Agriculture; and he often said, That nothing pleased him more, than to purchase a Spot of Land, that would at once keep him imployed, and be an Advantage to him by improving it: For indeed, Socrates, he was, I think, of all the Athenians naturally the most fond of Agriculture, and a Country Life.

Hearing this, I asked him this Question: Tell me, said I, Ischomachus; did your Father keep all the Farms he improved; or did he sell them, if he could find a good Price for them?

He sold them to be sure, answered Ischomachus: But so great was his Fondness of rural Labour, that he had no sooner sold one, than he bought another, that was uncultivated in the Room of it.

I replied; You represent your Father, Ischomachus, to be naturally as much in Love with Agriculture, as some Merchants are greedy of getting a great Stock of Wheat: Insomuch that wherever they hear there is Plenty of that Grain, they embark immediately, and fail to buy it, even to the Countries that lie beyond the Ægean, Euxin, and Sicilian Seas. And when they have got as great a Quantity of it as they can, they bring it away with them, and that too aboard the same Vessel in which they trust their own Persons. And though they have Occasion for Money, they will not sell it at the first Place they come at; but carry it where they hear it is in most Esteem, and bears the highest Price, and there expose it to Sale. Now your Father seems to me to have been no less fond of Agriculture.

To this Ischomachus replied: You are in jest now, Socrates: Nevertheless, I take those Architects to be no less in Love with Building, who sell the Houses they have built, and immediately build others.

I protest to you, said I, Ischomachus; That I am of your Opinion, and believe that all Men love those Things by which they hope to gain some profit. But I am thinking, Ischomachus, how excellently the whole Series of your Discourse has supported the Argument you pretended to make good: For you took upon you to prove, That the Art of Agriculture is of all others the most easy to learn: And I am very fully persuaded from all you have said, that it is so indeed.

No doubt of it, said Ischomachus: But as to the Art of commanding and governing others, which is common to all Actions; as well to Agriculture, as the Administration of the Civil Government, and of domestick and warlike Affairs, I agree with you, that some excel others in Judgment. As in Ships, that make daily Voyages at Sea, there are some Masters, who by exhorting the Mariners, have found the Art to excite and stir them up to Work the Vessel with Chearfulness, and of their own Accord: While others who have not the Art to encourage their Crews spend twice the Time in going the same Voyage: Besides, the first of them get to the Port whither they are bound, and go ashore mutually content and satisfied with one another: The Master praises his Sailors, and they their Master:. The others come in lazily and dissatisfied; the Master not only blames and bears Ill-will to the Seamen, but they hate and speak ill of him likewise. In like Manner some Generals are different from others: For some of them behave themselves so toward their Troops, that unless absolute Necessity forces, they will neither undertake any Fatigue, expose themselves to any Danger, nor obey the Commands of their Leader: Nay, they conceive a great Opinion of themselves, because they dare oppose him: Nor if the Army receive any Disgrace, are they ashamed or concerned at if. But divine, good, and skilful Generals, even though they have these very Troops under their Command, as well as others, carry themselves towards them in such a Manner, that they will rather die than behave themselves cowardly, and think it honourable to obey, nay, take Delight in being obedient to the Orders of their Leader, willingly undergo all Manner of Fatigues, and readily expose their Lives to Danger. As some private Men are stirred up to have an Aversion to idleness, and as we may observe in them as it were a created Desire, a certain Fondness of Imployment and Labour: So good Generals have the Art to excite in their Troops an Emulation of distinguishing themselves by some brave Actions, that they may be taken Notice of above their Fellows. And all Generals, whose Troops are thus affected towards them, become eminent Leaders in War; Not they, who have a greater Share of Strength than the Soldiers they command; who are better skilled in throwing the Dart, in using the Bow, who have better Horses, are better Riders, and being armed from Head to Foot, lead on the others, and charge at the Head of them: But they, who can win the Hearts of their Soldiers, and make them resolve to follow them through Fire, or any other Danger. All Men allow those to be the best Generals, whom all the Troops unanimously respect and obey: And as his Strength is indeed formidable, who has many Hands always willing to perform his Commands, so he too is indeed a great Man, who can atchieve noble Exploits, by Counsel and Prudence, rather than by meer Strength. And thus likewise in a Man’s private Affairs, whether it be a Bayliff, who commands the Labourers, or the Master himself, whoever has found the Art to make them Work chearfully and be assiduous in their Labour, never fails to improve his Estate, nor to acquire a great Abundance of all Things.

And indeed, Socrates, I should wonder very much, if Labourers did nothing extraordinary for a Master, who overlooked them himself, and took Care to punish the Slothful, and to reward the industrious and the Diligent: And he whose very Sight encourages them to Labour, and excites in them a mutual Strife and Emulation to outvie each other, which is of the greatest Moment in all Affairs, has, certainly a regal Disposition, and is fit to command others: And as this is a Matter of the highest Importance in all the Actions that are performed by the Labour of Men, it is of absolute Necessity in the Affairs of Agriculture: But I do not pretend that it can be learnt by barely looking on, or hearing it once repeated: On the contrary, I say it cannot be attained but by Study and Instruction, nor without a natural Dispositions nor unless a Man be qualified for it from above: For to be able That to be able to command, and render Men willing to obey, is not, in my Opinion, a human Acquisition, but a Gift of Heaven; which is bestowed only on those who are initiated in the Mysteries of Prudence: But to oppress unwilling Slaves with Tyranny is, I think, given to none but those, whom the Gods have doomed to lead a Life like that which Tantalus is said to do in Hades, where he is eternally in dread, that he shall suffer Death a second Time.


—Xenophon; Edward Bysshe (translator), 1712.


To Part I,  Part IIPart III


Courtesy of Democratic Thinker.