Xenophon’s Hellenika Book VI Study Guide Questions

Dear fellow Xenophon readers,

As you finish reading through Book VI, here are some questions for us to think about and discuss on Monday.  I hope your reading has been stimulating.  It has been for me.  I have found that Xenophon has had to figure out a way to relate the battle of Leuctra and the invasion of Laconia to a Spartan audience stung by the shame of these defeats.  We’re in for an interesting discussion.  Enjoy the questions for now. 


1.  Spartan hegemony challenged 

In chapter 1 (375 B.C.) Polydamas of Pharsalus brings news of how Jason of Pherai intends to challenge rule in Thessaly.  According to Polydamas’ speech, how is Spartan hegemony perceived by Jason of Pherai?  by the people of Pharsalus?  What do Thebes’ actions indicate about hegemony by either Athens or Sparta?  What does Xenophon indicate about Sparta’s military commitments? 


2.    Corcyra and Greek allies 

In chapter 2 (375-372 B.C.), Athens and Sparta spar in the Western coastal islands of Greece.  What do the actions and description of Iphikrates, the Athenian admiral, show concerning Athenian control of the sea-lanes?  What do the actions and description of Mnassipos, the Spartan admiral, show concerning Spartan influence in this area of the Mediterranean?  How significant is the outcome of this particular engagement with respect to both Athens and Sparta?  How does it relate to the allies of each Greek superpower? 

3.  Saber rattling 

In chapter 3, Athenian-Theban relations grow more tense and Sparta is appealed to as a mediator.  Three influential Athenians speak openly about the situation with Thebes in 371 B.C.  What do each of these speeches reveal concerning: 

   Athens’ relationship with Sparta?   

   the autonomy of Greek cities under the “King’s peace” (i.e. treaty with king of Persia)? 

   Athens’ relationship with Persia? 

   Greece’s overall relationship with Persia? >

  Thebes’ relationship with the rest of Greece? 


4.  Thebes ascendant 

The year 371 B.C. finds the Spartan king Kleombrotos in chapter 4 stationed in Phocis just north of Boeotia near Thebes.  After consulting with Sparta, what is Kleombrotos’ strategy for dealing with Thebes’ disregard of the recently established treaty?  How is Kleombrotos ultimately compelled to attack Thebes?  What is the point of comparing Kleombrotos to Agesilaos (VI. 4. 5)?  How were the Thebans compelled to fight against the might of Sparta?  What part does religion play in the events leading up to, as well as in the actual battle at Leuctra?  What about the “fortune of war”? 

5.  Battle of Leuctra 

As with other Greek historians, the details of the battle of Leuctra are not always as clear as we modern readers would like since most of it would have been common knowledge to any Greek schoolboy at the time.  However, Xenophon’s emphasis in describing this battle should give hint to how he sees the battle.  Starting at VI. 4. 8, how did the Spartan’s initial victorious skirmish with the Thebans contribute to Theban victory later?  What two other components of Spartan military organization does Xenophon point out that are deficient?  How does Xenophon’s account differ with Diodorus’ (pp. 476-479)?  After a Spartan defeat like this, who grieves more for the Spartans, the families of those Spartan soldiers who died or those who survived to tell about it (VI. 4. 16)? 

6.  Rise and Fall of Thessaly 

After the battle, Thebes requests Athens to ally itself with them (VI. 4. 19), but Athens fails to react.  Thebes then seeks help from Jason of Pherai (VI. 4. 21) who immediately responds.  Looking back at the beginning of Book VI, how does Polydamas portray Jason of Pherai?  How does Jason show himself here?  What do you suppose Jason’s overall strategy is concerning Greece?  What does the rest of Greece think about Jason and his plans?  How does Jason’s death give a clue to what the rest of Greece suspected about Jason?  What does Xenophon think Jason is up to? 

7.  Inva
sion of Spartan territory 

In chapter 5, Sparta intervenes in affairs between Tegea and Mantineia, and events snowball until the Spartan king Agesilaos invades Mantineia to settle matters in Sparta’s “backyard.”  How does Xenophon describe Agesilaos’ deployment of Spartan force in the Mantineian intervention (VI. 15-21, pp. 254-255)?  Does Agesilaos make any mistakes?  What would have been the best outcome for the Spartans in this intervention?  Why did that not happen?<o:p></o:p>

When Thebes finally arrives to support its allies against Sparta, Xenophon carefully leaves out Agesilaos as leading the Spartan effort.  Who exactly is in charge during this battle between Sparta and Thebes?  What encourages Thebes to actually invade Sparta, something no other Greek city-state had ever done successfully, including Athens?  How does Xenophon characterize the Spartan defense of their own city?<o:p></o:p>

The actual battle between Spartan and Theban forces is represented primarily by an infantry battle at Oion (VI.5.26) and subsequent cavalry skirmishes (VI.5.30-32).  According to Xenophon’s account, what were the primary reasons for Sparta’s defeat and Theban victory?  Is there a decisive moment to this battle or is the decisive moment for Spartan defeat symbolized in some other description by Xenophon?  How is Sparta’s fate in this battle understated and why?

8.  Thebes and Athens

As Xenophon concludes Book VI, he reports on deliberations in the city of Athens by Spartan envoys (VI.5.33-48).  We can see Hellenic policy (albeit without much Theban input) being discussed vis-à-vis Athens’ role in the balance of power between Sparta and Thebes.  As Xenophon relates a summary of Spartan arguments for Athens’ help against Thebes (VI.5.33-35), how does Xenophon characterize the logic of these Spartan delegates?  How is the Athenian response in VI.5.36 indicative of a democratic process?<o:p></o:p>

In VI.5.37-48, Xenophon includes two speeches that advocate for closer relations between Sparta and Athens in response to Theban supremacy.  I know that these Greeks can be very persuasive, but how do either Kleiteles or Prokles manage to persuade Athens that it is in their best interest to honor Athens’ treaty with Sparta and confront Thebes with military action? 

Xenophon’s concluding remarks center on Athens’ military response to Theban incursion into the Peloponnese.  How does Xenophon characterize this Athenian response?  How does Xenophon describe Iphikrates, the Athenian general, whom Xenophon had shown to be a very able general/admiral both in Books IV and VI?  How is this assessment of Iphikrates also a comment on Athens’ policy toward Sparta?  on Greek politics in general? 

02. June 2010 by Arrian
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