Xenophon on the Psychology of Supreme Political Ambition
by Lorraine Smith Pangle, University of Texas at Austin
This study illuminates Xenophon’s teaching about the underlying psychological motives of the most fully developed political ambition. An analysis of what the Cyropaedia portrays as the interplay among Cyrus’s spiritedness, justice, benevolence, piety, and cultivation of an aura of divinity leads to an unveiling of supreme ambition’s deepest root: not the desire for power as such, nor the love of justice, but the desire to be a quasi-divine benefactor. The paper traces the development of this ambition from its earliest manifestations in the young Cyrus’s puppy-like spiritedness, though his hope-filled rise to power, to his grim mature rein and his death, showing how a shadowy concern for immortality drives him in ways he is reluctant to see or acknowledge. Through analyzing the hopes, the cost of the successes, and the ultimate disappointments of this “godlike” ruler, the paper also offers a possible explanation for Xenophon’s cryptic suggestion that a wise divinity might not be a providential one.