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Wives, Subjects, Sons, and Lovers: Phthonos and Entitlement in Xenophon’s Cyropaedia

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Guiding Question: What is the political and ethical significance of the emotion of phthonos (often translated as “envy”) in Xenophon’s Education of Cyrus?

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Abstract: In this post I explore a number of questions related to the ethical and political dimensions of phthonos, an emotion often but I believe incorrectly translated as “envy.” I argue rather that phthonos in the Cyropaedia is a (hostile) response to feeling that one is being deprived of an entitled possession broadly understood as anything from a physical object to a sovereign space to another person’s favorable regard, e.g., love and admiration. I am interested in the psychological experience of phthonos as an emotion, but also its ethical import: is phthonos regarded in a strictly negative light or is it sometimes seen more positively or at least with understanding (suggnomê)? I am also interested in the relationship between phthonos and leadership: how do leaders manage the emotion in themselves and in others? Does a leader ever need to forgive (for political reasons) ethically indefensible emotional behavior? Similarly, does a leader ever need to punish (again, for political reasons) ethically defensible emotional behavior? Cyrus, I argue, ultimately benefits from his treatment of the phthonos of others and from the ways he manages his own tendency to feel phthonos, but he does so in a way that is ethically consistent. In the conclusion I discuss the significance of Xenophon’s treatment of phthonos for political (or leadership) theory.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 The events described at Cyropaedia 3.1.38–40 are almost entirely unprompted by anything else in the plot; if this section had been lost from the manuscript, we might never have missed it.  At a banquet celebrating an alliance with the Armenians, Cyrus asks about the sophist-tutor who had once taught the Armenian prince, Tigranes, the art of rhetoric. This tutor had been mentioned a few sub-chapters earlier to explain how Tigranes could have received the training necessary to defend the Armenian king against charges of treason and why Cyrus would have entertained his arguments (cf. Cyropaedia 3.1.14). In response to Cyrus’ inquiry about the tutor, Tigranes explains that his father had put the tutor to death under the belief that the tutor was “corrupting” his son (cf. διαφθείρειν, Cyropaedia 3.1.38.5). The king then defends his decision to execute the tutor, saying that he felt phthonos toward him because the tutor had caused the son to feel more love (φιλία) and admiration (θαυμάζειν) for him than for his father.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 Scholars have noted several similarities between this scene and the trial and death of Socrates as described in Xenophon’s Apology (see Gera 1993:91–94 and n214). There Socrates is put on trial for “corrupting the youth” and he incurs the phthonos of both the Athenian jurymen, whom Socrates seems to have offended by refusing to “apologize” for his pursuit of virtue (Apology 14.3, 32.2), and of a father, Anytus, whose son Socrates had encouraged to become “something more than a tanner” (Apology 29–30). But more than an allusion to Socrates, the treatment of phthonos at the Armenian banquet is crucial to our understanding of the prominent place of this emotion in the rest of the Cyropaedia. Arguably phthonos is as an important for understanding the ethics and politics of leadership as the other most popular emotion in the Cyropaedia, erôs. Our discussion of it here seeks to complement other works on phthonos that have left the Cyropaedia out of the discussion and indeed omitted much of Xenophon (see Konstan, The Emotions of the Ancient Greeks (2006:111–128) and Konstan and Rutter, edd., Envy, Spite and Jealousy: The Rivalrous Emotions in Ancient Greece (2003); for an interesting and recent neurological account of envy see Takahashi at al. (2009): http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19213918).

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 The first thing I would like to point out about the Armenian king’s phthonos is that he does not show any regret for feeling it toward the tutor or for feeling the often concomitant sense of hostility (cf. πολεμίοις, Cyropaedia 3.1.39.7). By contrast, when English speakers admit to feeling “envy” or “jealousy,” typically we are admitting to some kind of a moral failing (unless we are trying to pay a friend a compliment by saying that we “envy” his success). And “envy” is never put forth as a mitigating emotion to a crime in the way fear or even anger might be. We could never imagine a defendant saying, “Yes, I killed the guy, but I did it out of envy!” Certainly if we ever admitted to killing someone out of envy, we would be admitting to a moral failing. Yet the most that the Armenian king acknowledges, perhaps with regret, is that his feeling of phthonos was based on a supposition rather than a certainty. He says that the tutor seemed to be causing Tigranes to admire him more than the king (cf. μοι ἐδόκει τοῦτον ποιεῖν αὐτὸν μᾶλλον θαυμάζειν ἢ ἐμέ, Cyropaedia 3.1.39.8–9). This perspective seems to explain why the tutor, on the verge of being executed, advises Tigranes not to be angry with his father since the king acted not out of malice (kakonoia) but out of ignorance (agnoia), presumably of the fact that the tutor was not actually stealing Tigranes’ love and admiration from his father. This point comes with greater poignancy when we realize that it was the tutor’s very rhetorical training that allowed Tigranes to defend his father of treason. The implication of the Armenian king’s explanation of his behavior is that a father’s phthonos is perfectly justified in cases where a tutor actually steals (or intends to steal) a son’s love and admiration, just as (according to the king) a husband’s phthonos is justified when an adulterer steals his wife’s love (cf. Lysias On the Murder of Eratosthenes 33). This claim is validated by Cyrus’ injunction to Tigranes “to have understanding” for his father’s action (συγγίγνωσκε τῷ πατρί), which Cyrus calls a “human” mistake (cf. ἀνθρώπινά μοι δοκεῖς ἁμαρτεῖν, Cyropaedia 3.1.40.2–3). Tigranes follows Cyrus’ command and the two are reconciled with friendly affection.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 Others have not shared Cyrus’ “humane” take on phthonos. Aristotle defines phthonos as “a kind of pain, in respect to one’s equals, for their apparent success in things called good, not so as to have the thing oneself but [solely] on their account” (Rhetoric 1387b23–25, translation Konstan 2006:112–113). Aristotle says further that phthonos is unsuited to a decent person (Rhetoric 1387b33–34). Konstan (2006:113 and 2006:113n1) provides several more examples of ancient and modern thinkers who hold a low estimation of those inclined to feel phthonos or envy, on the grounds that these emotions do not tend to take into account (1) that the successful person (i.e., the object of phthonos) deserves to be successful or (2) that the objects conducive to the prosperity of the successful person would actually benefit the envious person. For example, we might say that Person A feels badly (i.e., phthonos or “envy”) when he fails to win the affections of Person C (even though Person A has no real interest in Person C), whereas Person B justifiably wins the romantic affection of Person C through kindness, charm, and devotion.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 This narrative is familiar enough, but it does not capture the phthonos of the Armenian king (cf. Konstan 2006:126 for examples of favorable interpretations of envy and pthonos). First of all, before the tutor seemed to threaten the Armenian king’s relationship with his son, the father seemed already in possession of Tigranes’ love and affection; so, it was not regarded as something open for competition as though a prize in an athletic or romantic contest. Secondly, Tigranes’ love and affection is something highly prized by the Armenian king; they are not of secondary significance: kings need the devotion of their sons in order to ensure that their legacy, and indeed their kingdoms, will be preserved after their deaths. Thus, from the Armenian king’s perspective it does not seem to matter whether a tutor deserves to have the love and admiration of a son more so than a father. Similarly, the king’s example of the adulterer who steals the affection of someone’s wife does not leave open the possibility of a “worthy” seduction.

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 If the Armenian king’s phthonos is not of necessity immoral; if it does not take into consideration the justness of whether he is more lovable and admirable than Tigranes’ tutor; and if the object under dispute (i.e., a son’s love) is not a possession insignificant to the interests of the king, it is not correct to translate phthonos as “envy” or “jealousy” in an customary sense of the English word, or to see it as in agreement with Aristotle’s definition of phthonos in the Rhetoric (a definition which does agree more or less with our common understanding of envy).

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 What then is the Armenian king feeling when he feels phthonos? To get a better sense of the term it is helpful to look at its earliest usage. There are no known cognates of the phthon– stem in other Indo-European languages (see Chantraine and Beekes on phthon– for some conjecture).  In Homer the phthon- stem always appears in verbal forms. Most (2003:129–130) argues that phthoneo means “to wish to forbid” in all but one place (where he argues that it means “to envy”).  I believe, however, that there is an emotional underpinning to this “wish,” which derives from a feeling of possessiveness or territoriality. Characters in Homer feel phthonos either at the act or the thought of someone using one of their possessions or violating a space they have authority over, real or presumed. We could say that the emotion is based on an underlying notion of rights, authority, or entitlement (cf. Konstan 2006:120, 122, who explores the association of phthonos with entitlement in Demosthenes and Aristotle). As such, phthonos is the word we might use today to describe the feeling we have when we go to the gym and a stranger decides to use our towel (or deodorant) without asking our permission; or when a parent enters into a teenager’s room without knocking.  We feel violated and then hostile, to varying degrees, toward the violator.

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 A good example of this use of phthonos occurs in Book One of the Odyssey when Penelope tells the singer Phemius to stop singing about the grievous return from Troy that the Achaeans faced (Odyssey 1.325–359). Telemachus, who has just been filled with courage and daring by Athena, asks Penelope why she feels phthonos at the fact that Phemius gives delight to his listeners however his mind compels him (cf. μῆτερ ἐμή, τί τ’ ἄρα φθονέεις ἐρίηρον ἀοιδὸν | τέρπειν ὅππῃ οἱ νόος ὄρνυται; Odyssey 1.346–347). He asserts that Zeus is instead responsible for the choice of song. Moreover, he says that it is not Penelope’s place to speak, but rather the place of men, especially Telemachus who now has authority over the house (cf. μῦθος δ’ ἄνδρεσσι μελήσει πᾶσι, μάλιστα δ’ ἐμοί· τοῦ γὰρ κράτος ἔστ’ ἐνὶ οἴκῳ, Odyssey 1.358-359).  Note again that phthonos is not per se based on an irrational judgment, pace Aristotle. Telemachus seems to mean that Penelope is not entitled to feel phthonos, but it is conceivable that her phthonos could be have been justified. Telemachus himself in effect feels (or pretends to feel) phthonos at Penelope’s phthonos because he now regards the household as his dominion that she had presumed to rule over (cf. Odysseus’ phthonos over his dominion of the sacrificial blood pool in the underworld, Odyssey 11.149).

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 In the Iliad Hera entertains feeling phthonos at the idea of Zeus destroying her three favorite cities, but then acknowledges that the feeling is useless since Zeus is stronger (cf. εἴ περ γὰρ φθονέω τε καὶ οὐκ εἰῶ διαπέρσαι, | οὐκ ἀνύω φθονέουσ’ ἐπεὶ ἦ πολὺ φέρτερός ἐσσι, Iliad 4.55–56). One may also feel phthonos toward a physical possession. Alcinous, as a stereotypical indulgent father, tells Nausicaa that he feels no phthonos at the idea of her using his mules to carry clothes to the river, nor does he feel phthonos for any of his other possessions as far as she is concerned (Odyssey 6.68). In each of these cases phthonos is felt in two directions, (1) for an object or dominion and (2) toward a particular person.  Thus it is conceivable that Alcinous might feel phthonos toward someone else for using his stuff. Not feeling phthonos can be a mark of generosity, as when Telemachus says that he does not feel phthonos if someone in his palace should give food to a beggar (Odyssey 17.400; cf. Odysseus at Odyssey 18.16). This seems to give rise later to the alpha-privative adjective, aphthonon, meaning “generous” or “abundant,” said of someone or some divinity who gives without stinginess (Homeric Hymn to Apollo 536, Homeric Hymn to Gaia 8, 16).

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 Homer also has one example of phthonos felt by someone who does not technically possess the object in question but feels entitled to it nevertheless. Odysseus tells the beggar, Irus, that there is no need for him to feel phthonos toward the possessions of another beggar since there is enough to go around (Odyssey 18.18; cf. the “good” phthonos between beggars in Hesiod Works and Days 26). It is here that phthonos becomes explicitly rivalrous or competitive, that is to say, that part of one’s feeling of phthonos is tied up in convincing others in the community that one is indeed entitled to some particular possession. Thus, Odysseus and Irus must box one another for the right to beg in the palace.

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 After Homer phthonos is felt for plenty of things whose ownership is disputed, and thus we see humans complaining, often irrationally, that another’s ownership or entitlement has been reached unfairly. More often phthonos is felt not for objects themselves but for reputation, status, or office. Here we have the familiar understanding of phthonos as envy, where the feeler of the emotion reasons, “you have something I want and in order to establish my entitlement to it, I will work to discredit you and promote myself using arguments that seem valid to me but not to outside observers.” Pindar mentions several times that communities feel phthonos when one member excels in politics, warfare, or athletics (see Most 2003:133–141). Isocrates complains that people find fault with his speeches out of phthonos for the reputation they win him (Saïd 2003:218–234).

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 From these previous examples it is clear that phthonos comes with a wide range of feeling, including a sense of desire, hostility, violation, and entitlement. Phthonos may be felt for things one already possesses or for things whose possession is contested. When it does involve contested areas, we may speak of justified or unjustified phthonos.  It may also be felt for things that have no intrinsic value or interest but whose possession nevertheless confers apparent status, esteem, or glory on the possessor. In most instances it is attended by feelings of hostility when any of these forms of possession is threatened or taken away.

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 We return now to the Armenian king’s phthonos toward the tutor of Tigranes. As we noted above, the king feels phthonos for something he already feels entitled to, namely his son’s love and admiration. It seems that Xenophon is emphasizing the Homeric aspect of phthonos, that is, a feeling one has toward one’s possessions or territory that they might be taken away. There is no consideration of whether the father deserves his son’s devotion; it is presumably his. This sense of entitlement is reinforced by the analogy to the husband, wife, and adulterer. The only disputed point is whether the tutor, by winning the son’s favor, is actually depriving the father of similar favor. The father mistakenly believes that, yes, this is happening, but, as Cyrus says, he made a “human” or understandable mistake.

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 As if to drive home the point that phthonos is a “human” if not a tender feeling in such a situation, Xenophon concludes this banquet scene by giving Tigranes a taste of his own medicine (Cyropaedia 3.1.41). As everyone departs the banquet, the Armenians marvel at Cyrus’ beauty, stature, gentleness, and wisdom. Tigranes, however, shows signs of feeling threatened by this praise, turning to his new bride and asking her if she, too, finds Cyrus attractive (kalos). The roles have now been reversed, as Tigranes goes from the contested object of phthonos to someone who feels it (or we might say that Tigranes only potentially feels phthonos, as he shows no signs of hostility toward Cyrus). Fortunately for him, the Armenian princess says that she never even looked at Cyrus but was focused on Tigranes for his mortal devotion to her.

17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 Before we leave this scene, I want to raise one major problem: is it possible that Cyrus takes a more ethically generous stance toward the Armenian king’s phthonos simply for political ends? The king did in fact kill someone out of phthonos.  Nevertheless, by encouraging Tigranes to forgive his father’s “human” mistake, Cyrus brings the two allies closer together and wins additional gratitude, which has the immediate effect of facilitating his campaign against the Assyrians. Thus, does political expediency trump ethics here? One way to answer this question is to investigate whether or not Cyrus maintains the same ethical stance toward phthonos throughout the Cyropaedia.

18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 There is reason to doubt that he does. We move now from the Armenian kingdom to the Assyrian one and two other acts committed by a king out of phthonos. At Cyropaedia 4.6.2–7 Cyrus meets an Assyrian nobleman named Gobryas who explains that the current Assyrian king had murdered his son because the son had excelled the king on a hunt, bringing down first a bear and then a lion. Gobryas explains that the king killed his son out of phthonos (cf. τὸν φθόνον, Cyropaedia 4.6.4.6) and treated him as a personal enemy (cf. ὥσπερ ἐχθρὸν, Cyropaedia 4.6.5.4). (We later learn that the king also made the Assyrian nobleman, Gadatas, into a eunuch out of phthonos.) Contrary to the case of the Armenian king, neither Gobryas nor Cyrus tries to construe the Assyrian king’s behavior as a “human” or forgivable mistake, even though Cyrus had shown understanding for the Armenian king’s phthonos and shows understanding elsewhere for other forms of “human” weakness, including his own (cf. Cyropaedia 5.4.17, 7.2.5, 8.2.20). In fact Gobryas piles up reasons why the Assyrian king’s phthonos is not forgivable: the Assyrian king showed no change of heart and did not attempt to honor the son to compensate for his wicked deed, whereas his own father pitied Gobryas and showed sympathy for his misfortune (Cyropaedia 4.6.5.5–8). For his part Cyrus vows to avenge Gobryas’ loss (Cyropaedia 4.6.8).

19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 And yet the Assyrian king’s behavior resembles the Armenian king’s in several important ways. Both either kill or have someone killed out of phthonos. And we recall that, like the Assyrian king, the Armenian king showed no remorse for executing Tigranes’ tutor. The Armenian king also had a history of lawless behavior, given his refusal to pay tribute to the Medes (the basis for Cyrus’ attack on him) and his decision to plot a revolt from them. He is clearly no angel. Why is his phthonos forgiven and the Assyrian king’s not? Is Cyrus merely passing judgment on phthonos as it suits his political interests, in one case forgiving it to make allies and in another avenging it—also to make allies?

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 To answer this question we should consider the different realms in which each king feels phthonos. As we noted above, the Armenian king feels phthonos when he fears losing the love and admiration of his son, Tigranes. The king likens this feeling to how a husband feels possessive of his own wife’s love in the presence of a suitor. We may take a further cue from Xenophon that the father-son relationship is very important as a means of preserving the wisdom of leadership from one generation to the next. The Cyropaedia is full of such relationships, e.g., Cyrus and his father, Cambyses; Cyrus and his son, Cambyses; the Armenian king and his son; Gobryas and his son.  It is one of the conveniences of the narrative that Cyrus’ father also happens to be his most important tutor, which eliminates any potential for phthonos.

21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 We may ask then if there is similar basis for the Assyrian king to feel entitled to what is presumably his reputation as a hunter and thus a warrior king. There is a fragment preserved in Ctesias (F14.43) of a story of the Persian noble, Megabyzus, killing a lion and thus running afoul of Artaxerxes II, presumably because it was the royal prerogative to slay lions (see Llewellyn-Jones 60:2010). For his offense Megabyzus was ordered to be beheaded but escaped into exile. Thus there would have been some precedent for Xenophon to humanize the Assyrian king’s phthonos and subsequent murder of Gobryas’ son, if not for the fact that Xenophon shows clearly that the Assyrian king not only invited Gobryas’ son to excel in the hunt but did in fact make the first (failed) spearcasts himself (Cyropaedia 4.6.3). Elsewhere Xenophon is very clear that a leader must prove his moral and martial excellence in competition with others. Cyrus competes with his peers in the Persian agôgê and surpasses them in everything from hunting to justice (dikaiosune), self-restraint (sôphrosunê), and self-mastery (enkrateia)—despite the temptations of Medan luxury (cf. Cyropaedia 1.5.1). When he goes to Media as a young man, he challenges his Medan contemporaries to contests of horseback riding (Cyropaedia 1.4.4). Most importantly for our understanding of the Assyrian king’s phthonos, when Cyrus goes on a hunting expedition in Media, he insists that his comrades be allowed to compete with him on equal terms, even though his grandfather, Astyages, tries to institute a rule for Cyrus to make the first kill (Cyropaedia 1.4.14).  During the hunt Cyrus cheers on his comrades without the slightest hint of phthonos (cf. οὐδ’ ὁπωστιοῦν φθονερῶς, Cyropaedia 1.4.15.7). By this implicit contrast between Cyrus and the Assyrian king, Xenophon seems to be making the point that feeling phthonos over a son’s love is more understandable (even justifiable) than phthonos for one’s reputation on the hunt.

22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 What about the Assyrian king’s phthonos toward Gadatas, the Assyrian nobleman made into a eunuch for catching the eye of one of the king’s harem women (Cyropaedia 5.2.28)? Is there any basis for forgiving this emotion on the grounds that it is “human” for a king to feel threatened when another person’s good looks catch the attention of one of his harem women?  According to Gobryas, who relates the story, the Assyrian king tries to rationalize his feeling by claiming (falsely) that Gadatas intended to woo his harem woman. This would create a rationalization similar to what the Armenian king describes of the husband’s hostile feelings toward an adulterer (and indeed Tigranes’ feelings toward Cyrus when he believes Cyrus has caught the loving eye of his wife). The key distinction here seems to be between a wife, whom it is acceptable to feel phthonos over and a harem women, whom it may not be. Again, we have the point of contrast between the Assyrian king and Cyrus.  Cyrus not only abstains from amassing a harem or engaging in the predation of other men’s wives and daugther (e.g., Pantheia, the Armenian princess, and the daughter of Gobryas), but he also reunites husbands and wives and creates opportunities for romantic bonds to be forged and strengthened. He reunites Abradatas with Pantheia and Croesus with his wife (Cyropaedia 6.4.7–9, 7.2.26–28). He dubs himself an “accomplice” (sunergos) in matchmaking, giving the daughter of Gobryas to Hystaspas and humorously offering to find a wife for Chrysantas (Cyropaedia 5.2.12, 8.4.13–22). Cyrus is, as it were, an “abundant” (aphthonos) giver, whereas the Assyrian king seems to hoard privileges and women.

23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 0 Having looked at two extreme cases of phthonos in the Armenian and Assyrian kings, in which behavior out of phthonos is forgiven in the former case and avenged in the latter, we should look now at a case that seems to fall somewhere in between, the phthonos that Cyrus’ uncle, Cyaxares, feels for Cyrus. Cyaxares is not described as feeling phthonos for Cyrus until Book Four but all the symptoms show up early in the work and intensify over time. The boy Cyrus succeeds at hunting despite great personal risk, for which Cyaxares dubs him a “king” (Cyropaedia 1.4.9), even though Cyaxares is the legitimate heir to the Medan throne. When Cyrus pursues some Assyrians in a skirmish, Cyaxares joins the chase out of shame in the eyes of Astyages (cf. αἰσχυνόμενος, Cyropaedia 1.4.22). On campaign against the Assyrians, Cyrus regularly contradicts Cyaxares’ orders and proposals (Cyropaedia 2.4.5, 2.3.31, 2.3.47, 2.3.56). Cyaxares feels phthonos at Cyrus’ eagerness to wage war on the Assyrians but is too risk-averse and too drawn to luxury to continue the campaign with him (cf. ὑπεφθόνει, 4.1.13). As their rivalry comes to a head, Cyaxares refuses to allow Cyrus to give him a kiss of greeting. He then tries to rationalize his feelings toward Cyrus as though Cyrus had left him in a vulnerable position while pursuing personal glory. The more accurate reason for Cyaxares’ phthonos eventually comes to light, though: by doing so many good deeds to the Medes, Cyrus has stolen their affection from Cyaxares, as one might steal the affection of someone’s most beloved companions. Cyaxares asks Cyrus how he would feel if someone were to take his pet dogs and by petting them make them more familiar to himself than to Cyrus (Cyropaedia 5.5.28). While this metaphor of followers-as-puppies may strike us as condescending and presumptuous, Isocrates also uses, too, in advising Nicocles in his regard for his followers (cf. Isocrates To Nicocles 15). Perhaps more compellingly, like the Armenian king before him, Cyaxares draws on the analogy of the husband whose wife has been seduced by a suitor. He says to Cyrus:

24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 0 What if someone were to show so much attention to your wife so as to make her love him more than yourself, would you then delight in this benefaction? Far from it, I think. But I think that in treating you this way he would be doing the greatest injustice of all (Cyropaedia 5.5.30).

25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 0 Even if Cyaxares seems ungrateful, invidious, and petty, his perspective is morally defensible according to Cyrus’ own prior judgments about the Armenian king, and according to Cyrus’ frequent sympathy for human mistakes. Moreover, Cyrus himself later shows concern for possibility that his followers might rally against him, presumably around an outstanding leader like himself. Xenophon says that Cyrus sought to elicit phthonos among his followers by having them compete for special honors (cf. Cyropaedia 8.2.26–28). In fairness to Cyrus, though, Xenophon makes it clear that Cyrus worked very hard to compete for affections of his followers rather than take them for granted. Nevertheless, Xenophon (and Cyrus) does seem to believe that a king, so long as he is not tyrannical, is entitled to the loyalty of his people (cf. his exhortations to his son, Tanaoxares, to be loyal to Cambyses, Cyropaedia 8.7.16). Thus one could argue that it is “human” for a leader to feel threatened when followers seem to stray and to feel hostile toward those who seduce them. Without such implicit loyalty it might be difficult for a leader to avoid becoming paranoid.

26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 0 For his part Cyrus insists that he has done nothing but strive to benefit Cyaxares, yet he acknowledges Cyaxares’ seniority and entitlement as king of the Medes to their affection, even though Cyaxares does not “deserve” it by any metric of leadership ability. This is neither a condemnation nor a sanction of Cyaxares’ phthonos. And while his understanding of Cyaxares is ethically consistent with other treatments of phthonos in the work, Cyrus here, too, benefits politically. In the short term, he keeps the Medes and Persians allied for the campaign against the Assyrians (cf. the troops’ anxiety at a potential rift, Cyropaedia 5.5.37). In the end he is able to marry Cyaxares’ daughter and win the Medan empire as his dowry (Cyropaedia 8.5.28). Danzig (2009:292–293) calls Cyrus’ success in his management of Cyaxares “the crowning example of the redistribution of offices during peacetime by means of persuasion and threat.” He notes that Cyrus succeeds both in satisfying his own self-interest while justly avoiding violence and harm to Cyaxares.

27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 0 Having explored these three places where Cyrus, as leader, is called upon to treat the phthonos of leaders, we should look now at the extent to which Cyrus himself feels this emotion and takes pains to see that others do not feel it for him.  As we noted above, Cyrus does try to cultivate phthonos in his own followers by generous and strategic gift-giving. It would seem, too, that the fewer possessions Cyrus’ has, the fewer chances there are for others to feel phthonos toward him (cf. Simonides’ formula for Hieron, εὐδαιμονῶν γὰρ οὐ φθονηθήσῃ, Xenophon Hieron 11.15.4). Finally, Cyrus seems to stave off feelings of phthonos by being amazing at everything. One of the prerequisites of feeling phthonos is some rationale (however irrational) for laying claim to the possessions of another person. Yet Cyrus is indisputably the best at everything he does. And, at least in Persia and among his peers in other nations, there seem to be objective standards at what is good and bad behavior.

28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 0 Despite being good at discouraging others from feeing phthonos toward him, as a boy, Cyrus grapples with his own feeling of phthonos toward Astyages’ cup-bearer, Sacas. Xenophon does not actually say that Cyrus felt phthonos; instead, perhaps as clever touch of youthful psychology, he has Cyrus admitting to feeling “hatred” (cf. μισῶ αὐτόν, Cyropaedia 1.3.11.6). Sacas is not an enemy of Cyrus, but Cyrus regards him hostilely for the threat he poses by forbidding Cyrus to visit his grandfather (Cyropaedia 1.3.10–11). To justify his phthonos Cyrus attempts to show that he can pour wine as well as Sacas and claims that he will not poison his grandfather (Cyrus mistakenly believes that the intoxicating effects of the wine are the result of poisoning). While this argument does not initially succeed, Cyrus eventually wins Sacas over by taking counsel with him on the proper times to visit his grandfather and thus becoming “his own Sacas” (cf. αὐτὸς ἤδη Σάκας ἑαυτῷ ἐγίγνετο, Cyropaedia 1.4.6.4). As general rule it seems that Cyrus avoids feeling phthonos because he knows how to get what he wants and feels minimally threatened by the excellences of others.

29 Leave a comment on paragraph 29 0 How different would the situation have been if Cyrus were not great at everything, if, for example, he happened not to be as intelligent, beautiful, brave, clever, skilled, or eloquent as one of his peers? How different would Cyrus’ phthonos have been if Cyaxares had had a less-competent son (instead of a lovely daughter) with a legitimate claim to the Medan throne (cf. Cyrus the Younger’s situation vis-à-vis his elder brother, Artaxerxes II, in the Anabasis)? The closest we come to an answer is Cyrus’ treatment of the (potential) phthonos of Hystaspas for Chrysantas. The two are Cyrus’ closest Persian comrades and have been with him throughout his entire campaign. At a banquet, after Xenophon has made it clear that Cyrus assigns rotating seats of honor, Hystaspas approaches Cyrus to ask why Chrysantas has received the greater honor (Cyropaedia 8.4.10). Cyrus explains that Chrysantas is not only obedient, but that he also serves as a good counselor and is always watchful of how to benefit Cyrus further.  Being a good man, Hystaspas accepts this explanation and vows to do better, but, perhaps as consolation, Cyrus offers him the daughter of Gobryas to wed (Cyropaedia 8.4.13–26). Thus Xenophon shows how phthonos may be managed in situations where the excellence of two good characters is in close dispute; but his solution still requires a wise leader. It is not as clear what would have happened if Chrysantas and Hystaspas had contended for high honors with no one above them to adjudicate.

30 Leave a comment on paragraph 30 0 Conclusions. The extensive presentation of phthonos in the Cyropaedia brings with it questions of what human beings (and leaders especially) are entitled to.  In tackling these questions Xenophon emphasizes the roles and relationships that are (seemingly) important to him for a healthy political system (e.g., relations between fathers and sons, husbands and wives, leaders and followers). At the same time Xenophon highlights much of what is great about Cyrus’ leadership: stated bluntly, Cyrus does not hoard prizes on the hunt (or in any other venue) and he does not hoard women. Instead, even as his authority continues to grow, he creates opportunities for others both to pursue romantic relationships without predation from their king and to demonstrate their virtues in different arenas without fear of being punished for it.

31 Leave a comment on paragraph 31 0 Nevertheless, the value of Xenophon’s treatment of phthonos for leadership theory, or political theory, is I believe open to question. Yes, Cyrus does turn out to hold ethically consistent views on phthonos, particularly whether it should be forgiven or avenged. And he does this in a way that does not compromise his own ambitions or (seemingly) the prosperity of his community; if anything, he benefits his community and himself by a judicious treatment of phthonos, both his own and that of others. Nevertheless, Cyrus’ success in these areas seems predicated on two conditions that are seldom found in practical politics. First, Cyrus is not just a good or exceptional leader, he is exceptional at everything. As such, he gives his followers virtually no rationale (even a highly irrational one) to support their own budding feelings of phthonos; and he himself can operate largely without phthonos, secure in the belief that no one’s talents pose any real threat to him. Secondly, Cyrus lives in a meritocratic world, namely an idealized Persia and a society of upstanding peers from other nations, where what it means to be excellent is agreed upon and easily identified. If by contrast he lived in a world of competing values or insufficient information, his excellence may have been much more in dispute. (We might argue that the Babylon Cyrus conquers is such a world, and it is for this reason that Cyrus adopts less than honest ways of appearing excellent, like wearing the Medan style of dress to impress his followers with more stature and beauty than he actually possesses.) In this regard, we may say that Xenophon was as much of an idealist as Plato, though his leader is very different from the Philosopher King. The lesson, as with Plato, seems to be that good leadership can only flourish in the company of a following that is educated broadly in the intellectual and moral virtues.

32 Leave a comment on paragraph 32 0