Chapter 11

The Routine of an Economist

by Xenophon

I thanked Ischomachus for what he had told me on the occupations of his wife.


The facts you mention reflect the greatest credit on both wife and husband.

Can you describe your work and business?

Ischomachus I will be very glad to tell you my daily occupations. In return, I beg you to reform me if you find some flaw in my conduct.

The idea of my reforming you!

How could I hope to reform you, the perfect model of a beautiful, good man? I am but an empty babbler who is poor?

A crowd started to gather. I listened to a story from someone who mentioned about the horse of Nicias, the foreigner. I asked that person:

Socrates Has the horse much wealth?
Someone What an absurd question. How can a horse have wealth?

From that point, I learned that the only thing needed by a poor penniless horse to be a noble animal is to have a good spirit.

Ischomachus’ Mentality


You are kidding, Socrates.

Unless a man first discover what he needs to do, and seriously study to bring the same to good effect, the gods have placed prosperity beyond his reach. Even to the wise and careful they give or they withhold good fortune as seems to them best.

Such being my creed, I begin with service rendered to the gods; and strive to regulate my conduct so that grace may be given me, in answer to my prayers, to attain to health, and strength of body, honour in my own city, goodwill among my friends, safety with renown in war, and of riches increase, won without reproach.

Socrates Are you then indeed so careful to grow rich?—amassing wealth but to gain endless trouble in its management?

Most certainly, and most careful must I needs be of the things you speak of.

So sweet I find it to honour God magnificently, to lend assistance to my friends in answer to their wants, and, so far as lies within my power, not to leave my city unadorned with anything which riches can bestow.


No, you see so many human beings need the help of others merely to carry on existence, and so many are content if they can win enough to satisfy their wants.

What of those therefore who are able, not only to administer their own estates, but even to create a surplus sufficient to adorn their city and relieve the burthen of their friends?

We may regard such people as men of substance and capacity. But stay (I added), most of us are competent to sing the praises of such heroes. How do you study to preserve your health and strength of body? How do you escape from the perils of war with honour untarnished? How do you make money?


Yes, all these matters are in close connection, each depending on the other.

Given that a man have a good meal to eat, he has only to work off the effect by toil directed rightly.

In the process, his health will be confirmed, his strength added to.

Let him but practise the arts of war and in the day of battle he will preserve his life with honour. He needs only to expend his care aright, sealing his ears to weak and soft seductions, and his house shall surely be increased.


You tell me that by labouring to his full strength, by expending care, by practice and training, a man may hope more fully to secure life’s blessings.

What particular toil do you impose on yourself in order to secure good health and strength?

How do you practise the arts of war?

How do you take pains to create a surplus which will enable you to benefit your friends and to gratify the state?

Ischomachus’ Schedule


My habit is to rise from bed betimes, when I may still expect to find at home this, that, or the other friend, whom I may wish to see.

Then, if anything has to be done in town, I set off to transact the business and make that my walk.

If there is no business to do in town, my serving-boy leads my horse to the farm.

I make the country-road my walk. It is better than pacing up and down the colonnade.

At the farm, I inspect some of my men planting trees, breaking fallow, sowing or getting in the crops. I see whether I can improve the present system and introduce reform.

Afterwards, I mount my horse and take a canter. I put him through his paces, suiting these, as far as possible, to those inevitable in war—in other words, I avoid neither steep slope nor sheer incline, neither trench nor runnel, only giving my utmost heed the while so as not to lame my horse while exercising him.

When that is over, the boy gives the horse a roll, and leads him homewards, taking at the same time from the country to town whatever we may chance to need.

Meanwhile I am off for home, partly walking, partly running, and having reached home I take a bath and give myself a rub. Then I breakfast—a repast which leaves me neither empty nor replete, and will suffice to last me through the day.

Then eat a temperate luncheon, just to stay A sinking stomach till the close of day (Conington).


By Hera, I cannot say how much your doings take my fancy.

How you have contrived, to pack up portably for use—together at the same time—appliances for health and recipes for strength, exercises for war, and pains to promote your wealth!

My admiration is raised at every point. That you do study each of these pursuits in the right way, you are yourself a standing proof.

Your look of heaven-sent health and general robustness we note with our eyes, while our ears have heard your reputation as a first-rate horseman and the wealthiest of men.

Ischomachus Yes, in return for my conduct, I am rewarded with—the calumnies of half the world. You thought, I daresay, I was going to end my sentence different, and say that a host of people have given me the enviable title “beautiful and good.”
Socrates Do you take pains also to acquire skill in argumentative debate, the cut and thrust and parry of discussion, (19) should occasion call?

Does it not strike you rather, Socrates, that I am engaged in one long practice of this very skill, now pleading as defendant that, as far as I am able, I do good to many and hurt nobody?

And then, again, you must admit, I play the part of prosecutor when accusing people whom I recognise to be offenders, as a rule in private life, or possibly against the state, the good-for-nothing fellows?

Socrates Do you put defence and accusation into formal language?

I always practise speaking. Some member of my household has some charge to bring, or some defence to make, against some other. I have to listen and examine. I must try to sift the truth.

Or there is someone whom I have to blame or praise before my friends.

Or I must arbitrate between some close connections and endeavour to enforce the lesson that it is to their own interests to be friends not foes.

We are present to assist a general in court.

We are called upon to censure some one; or defend some other charged unjustly; or to prosecute a third who has received an honour which he ill deserves.

It frequently occurs in our debates that there is some course which we strongly favour.

Naturally, we sound its praises or some other, which we disapprove of= no less naturally we point out its defects.

Things have now got so far. Many times I have had to stand my trial and have judgment passed upon me in set terms, what I must pay or what requital I must make.

My wife gives the sentence.

I conduct my own case not so badly when truth and interest correspond.

But when they are opposed, I have no skill to make the worse appear the better argument.

Socrates Perhaps you have no skill, Ischomachus, to make black white or falsehood truth.


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