The Economist

The Economist

Xenophon

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The Economist records Socrates and Critobulus in
            a talk about profitable estate management, and a
            lengthy recollection by Socrates of Ischomachus'
            discussion of the same topic.

The Oeconomicus by Xenophon is a Socratic dialogue principally about household management and agriculture.

It is one of the earliest works on economics in its original sense of household management, and a significant source for the social and intellectual history of Classical Athens. Beyond the emphasis on household economics, the dialogue treats such topics as the qualities and relationships of men and women, rural vs. urban life, slavery, religion, and education.

Joseph Epstein states that the Oeconomicus can actually be seen as a treatise on success in leading both an army and a state.

Scholars lean towards a relatively late date in Xenophon's life for the composition of the Oeconomicus, perhaps after 362 BC. Cicero translated the Oeconomicus into Latin, and the work gained popularity during the Renaissance in a number of translations.

The opening framing dialogue is between Socrates and Critoboulus, the son of Crito. There Socrates discusses the meaning of wealth and identifies it with usefulness and well-being, not merely possessions. He links moderation and hard work to success in household management. The dramatic date of this part of the work can be no earlier than 401 BC, as the Battle of Cunaxa is referred to at 4.18.

When Critoboulus asks about the practices involved in household management, Socrates pleads ignorance on the subject but relates what he heard of it from an Athenian gentleman-farmer (kaloskagathos) named Ischomachus. In the discussion related by Socrates, Ischomachus describes the methods he used to educate his wife in housekeeping, their practices in ruling and training slaves, and the technology involved in farming. Approximately two thirds of the dialogue concerns the discussion between Socrates and Ischomachus. There is no final reversion to further discussion with Critoboulos.

Leo Strauss wrote a political-philosophical commentary on the dialogue. He took the Oeconomicus as a more ironic examination of the nature of the gentleman, virtue, and domestic relationships.

Michel Foucault devoted a chapter in his The History of Sexuality (1976–1984) to "Ischomachus' Household". He took Xenophon's depiction of the relationship between Ischomachus and his wife as a classical expression of the ancient Greek ideology of power, according to which a man's control of his emotions was externally reflected in his control of his wife, his slaves, and his political subordinates.
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