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The World's First Online Collaborative Commentary to an Ancient Text

Xenophon’s Unusual Character Introductions in the Cyropaedia

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Question: Why does Xenophon introduce several characters without giving their names but then reveal their names, often without apparent emphasis, several chapters or even books later?

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 1 The following is a list of characters who are not introduced by name but are named later.  After the list I provide a few hypotheses for why Xenophon may be doing this.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Cyaxares.  Cyrus’ uncle is first mentioned at Cyropaedia 1.3.12 and identified as the brother of Mandane.  We do not learn that his name is Cyaxares until Cyropaedia 1.4.9. Xenophon draws no special attention to his name but seems to take it for granted that we already know it, even though, as far as we can tell, Cyraxares is not a historical figure or known from other extant sources.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 Araspas. At Cyropaedia 1.4.26 Xenophon says that Cyrus, as he departed from Media and gave gifts to his friends, presented his robe (which had been a gift from his grandfather, cf. Cyropaedia 1.3.3) to “the one he favored most” or “to indicate whom he favored most,” depending on the manuscript reading. Then at Cyropaedia 5.1.2 Xenophon says that Cyrus summoned “Araspas,” here named for the first time, to watch over Pantheia.  He reveals that Araspas had been the recipient of Cyrus’ Medan robe at the point of Cyrus’ departure from Media as a boy.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 Artabazus.  In the sub-chapter following the introduction of (the unnamed) Araspas, the Mede Artabazus is introduced as being in love with Cyrus and trying to steal kisses from him on the basis of kinship (Cyropaedia 1.4.27).  He is mentioned again at Cyropaedia 4.1.22. He is not named until Cyropaedia 5.3.38, where there is no effort made to connect this scene to his previous scenes.  Finally at Cyropaedia 6.1.9 Artabazus is named again, when he speaks in favor of continuing the campaign against the Assyrians.  Here Xenophon does reference him as “the one who once said he was a kinsmen of Cyrus.”  At Cyropaedia 6.1.34-35 Artabazus rebukes Araspas for allowing his love for Pantheia to go too far.  Overall Artabazus seems to be a figure in the Cyropaedia associated with the proper and improper behavior of those in love.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 Pantheia. Pantheia is introduced (again, not by name) at Cyropaedia 4.6.11 as a captive Susan woman and the most beautiful (kallistê) in all of Asia.  She is mentioned again at Cyropaedia 5.1.2–3 and identified as the “wife of Abradatas” (who is introduced by name).  She is subsequently described at length by Araspas, who of course tries to induce Cyrus to gaze upon her, arguing at that Cyrus can choose to resist the power of erôs. Pantheia is not mentioned by name until Cyropaedia 6.1.41, after Araspas’ affections for her have been made known and after Cyrus has commissioned him to spy on the Assyrians as penance for forcing himself on her.  She is then mentioned by name fifteen more times in the work.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 2 Hypotheses. One explanation for these unusual introductions is that Xenophon is (1) just sloppy or that the Cyropaedia was (2) unfinished, both of which seem highly unlikely to me.  I have a number of other hypotheses, not yet tested and not clearly formulated. (3) It may be that Xenophon is striving for some kind of suspense and recognition by withholding the name of a character.  This is probably not true in the case of Cyaxares, but more likely in the cases of Araspas and Artabazus, although the gap in the narrative is so great that the impact of the recognition seems not to matter much. (4) It may be that Xenophon is emulating a style of narration from Iranian folklore, in which a character is named (if he/she is very significant) but sometimes not (the assumption being that folklore is a collection of discrete stories and not necessarily one continuous and planned narrative). If this is true (and these characters are fabrications), Xenophon has given his narrative the appearance of “true folklore.” (5) It may be that Xenophon is in fact preserving true folklore with these characters but very selectively.  Perhaps Araspas, for example, has a much richer back-story of nobility and romance.  The fact that Cyrus gives him a robe, to mark him out as “most favored” (and that the robe itself may denote royal lineage), and the fact that he falls in love with and forces himself on Pantheia (but that Cyrus does not punish him) may suggest a history of a more legitimate but ill-fated courtship.  Finally, it is interesting to note that at least three of these oddly-introduced characters (Araspas, Artabazus, and Pantheia) are all connected in some way, though it is also possible that there are other characters I haven’t noticed yet who are introduced in a similarly unusual way.

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 2 Finally, I would note that this process of what we might call “retrojection,” whereby we learn more about an earlier story or character by some casual mention of something in a later story, seems to apply in the Cyropaedia to plot events as well as names.  For example, it is revealed by Gobryas at Cyropaedia 4.6.2–7 that the Assyrian prince has killed his son on a hunting expedition.  If we recall that the Assyrian prince went hunting in Book One on the eve of his marriage (Cyropaedia 1.4.16), we realize that this may have been the same hunting expedition.  Also, we are told that Gobryas’ son was to marry the Assyrian king’s daughter (Cyropaedia 4.6.3).  Perhaps there is a much larger story here of a dual marriage and attempted alliance between Gobryas and the Assyrian royal family.  Moreover, the Assyrian hunting expedition takes place immediately after Cyrus’ hunt with his friends, where he not only does not kill anyone but encourages his friends (including perhaps Tigranes, cf. Cyropaedia 3.1.7) to succeed in an without envy of their success (Cyropaedia 1.4.14–15).  Whatever effect Xenophon may have been going for by scattering names and the threads of stories throughout his text, the Cyropaedia is a surprisingly complex narrative.