Meno (general)

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Meno (/ˈmn/; Greek: Mένων, Menon; c. 423 – c. 400 BC), son of Alexidemus, was an ancient Thessalian political figure. Probably from Pharsalus,[1] he is famous both for the eponymous dialogue written by Plato in which he features and his role among the generals killed by Artaxerxes at the Battle of Cunaxa, as depicted in Xenophon's Anabasis.

Biography[edit]

Meno is reported, by both Xenophon and Plato, to have been attractive and in the bloom of youth and was quite young at his death. He had many lovers, including Aristippus of Larissa, Tharypas, and Ariaeus the Persian. Xenophon gives a strongly hostile description of Meno as a disreputable, ambitious and dishonest youth, willing to commit any injustice for advancement,[2] though Meno's actions in the Anabasis may not entirely merit such a negative portrait.[3]

Meno while still young was given command of 1000 hoplites and 5000 peltasts[4] from Thessaly as hired by Aristippus[5] to assist Cyrus the Younger in his attempt to seize the Persian throne from his brother Artaxerxes. Artaxerxes was made king of Persia upon the death of Darius II, but Cyrus believed that he had a more rightful claim to the throne and gathered an army to contend his kingship. Cyrus gathered together Persian supporters and Greek mercenaries, including Xenophon himself. Cyrus at first deceived the Greeks about the purpose of his mission and led them some considerable way, to the Euphrates River at Thapsacus, before telling them his true intentions.

Xenophon goes into some detail about the march and mentions Meno on a few occasions. Meno escorted, with some of his troops, the Cilician queen Epyaxa back to Cilicia.[6] Meno lost some hundred troops on this mission, either because his troops were caught pillaging and killed by the Cilicians or because they got lost and wandered until they perished.[7] Later, after Cyrus first told the Greeks that he was leading them into battle against Artaxerxes to seize the Persian throne, the Greeks were dismayed and demanded more money before they would continue. Meno won the admiration of Cyrus by persuading his troops to cross the Euphrates first (as a show of their willingness to follow Cyrus) before the other troops had decided.[8] At another point, Meno's soldiers became enraged with Clearchus, the Spartan general, unsuccessfully trying to stone him to death, an act which nearly led to Meno's and Clearchus' men openly fighting between them.[9] This story, along with his loss of 100 men in Cilicia, suggests that Meno maintained poor discipline among his troops. Xenophon claims that Meno maintained discipline by participating in his troops' wrongdoings.[10]

Cyrus eventually engaged with Artaxerxes' troops headed by Tissaphernes at the Battle of Cunaxa. The Greek contingent won easily, but Cyrus and his troops were repulsed and Cyrus himself was killed in battle. The Greek troops, now led by Clearchus, viewing themselves as the victors, declared their support for Ariaeus, one of Cyrus' commanders and the most senior Persian on their side still living. Ariaeus, accompanied by Meno, his "guest-friend," met privately with Tissaphernes. Ctesias tells us that Tissaphernes here began to plot with Meno to betray the Greeks.[11] Xenophon writes that Clearchus believed that Meno had been pouring false slander about the Greeks into Tissaphernes' ear and was aware that Meno was plotting to seize control of the army from Clearchus with Tissaphernes's favor.[12] Sherylee Bassett suggests that Tissaphernes may have been here deceiving Meno into thinking he would support his leadership aspirations, playing the two main leaders, Clearchus and Meno, off against each other.[13] Ariaeus declined the offer of kingship and Tissaphernes began apparently friendly negotiations with Clearchus for a truce, finally inviting him for a cordial meeting with the other Greek generals and officers. According to Ctesias, some of the Greek soldiers were hesitant to attend the meeting, but Meno persuaded the soldiers, who thereby persuaded the reluctant Clearchus, to comply.[14] Clearchus, with four other generals (Agis of Arcadia, Socrates of Achaea, Proxenus of Boetia and Meno), twenty officers and some two hundred troops visited the tent of Tissaphernes but they were betrayed, Clearchus and the generals being captured and all of the officers and as many of the soldiers as could be caught being killed. The generals were taken to Artaxerxes and all were beheaded, except Meno.

Ctesias' account simply tells us, at this point, that Meno was spared.[15] Diodorus says Meno was spared since he alone was thought willing to betray the Greeks.[16] According to Xenophon, Meno was kept alive and tortured for a year before finally being killed.[17] Ctesias is generally an overall unreliable historian, but since he was at the time a physician to Artaxerxes and was witness to some of the events (for example, attending to Clearchus before he was beheaded), he may be considered more reliable than Xenophon, who, as he himself admits, is merely repeating a report that he heard. On the other hand, the two reports need not necessarily differ, if Ctesias only knew of Meno being spared and was not aware that he was subsequently tortured and ultimately killed.[18][19]

In Plato[edit]

Meno appears his eponymous Platonic dialogue as a guest of Anytus accompanied by a considerable retinue of slaves.[20] Meno's stay in Athens is short and Socrates mentions that Meno is not able to stay to attend the mysteries.[21] The dialogue is probably not historical, but is meant to take place in 402 BC, shortly before Meno's Persian generalship[22] or in 401 BC, while he is en route to Persia.[23][24]

Socrates says that Meno is a former student of Gorgias[25] and Meno notes that he has made many speeches on virtue before large audiences,[26] suggesting an interest in sophistry. Socrates' comments also suggest that he is associated with the Greek eristic tradition of debate.[27] Meno asks Socrates the question of whether virtue can be taught, leading to the epistemological quandary known as Meno's paradox which Socrates attempts to address through dialectic with one of Meno's slaves. Ultimately, Meno seems little interested in discovering the answer, but rather seeks a strong argument to use in debate and public speech. Xenophon had described Meno as being the complete opposite of virtuous and as believing that virtuous people were weak and ripe for being exploited.[28] Socrates tries to lead Meno into the question of what virtue is, but Meno resists, asking Socrates to answer his initial question of whether virtue is teachable.[29] The dialogue ends with the conclusion that virtue is not teachable, though without a conclusion on what virtue is.

See also[edit]

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ Diodorus incorrectly identifies him as from Larissa (Bigwood, Ancient Accounts of the Battle of Cunaxa, p. 350 fn 45)
  2. ^ Xenophon, Anabasis, II.6.21-27
  3. ^ Cf. Brown, "Menon of Thessaly," p 401
  4. ^ Xenophon, Anabasis, I.2.6
  5. ^ Xenophon, Anabasis, II.6.28
  6. ^ Xenophon, Anabasis, I.2.20
  7. ^ Xenophon, Anabasis, I.2.25
  8. ^ Xenophon, Anabasis, I.4.11-17
  9. ^ Xenophon, Anabasis, I.5.11-13
  10. ^ Xenophon, Anabasis, II.6.27
  11. ^ Ctesias Fr. 27, Photius' summary of Ctesias' Persica §68
  12. ^ Xenophon, Anabasis, II.5.28
  13. ^ Sherylee Bassett, "Innocent Victims or Perjurers Betrayed?" p 454
  14. ^ Since Ctesias couldn't have been present at these events, his source would have been Clearchus, who he attended before his beheading. It's possible that Clearchus could have falsely portrayed himself as cautious and Meno as an active deceiver to Ctesias.
  15. ^ Fr. 27, Photius' summary of Ctesias' Persica §69
  16. ^ Diodorus, Bibliotheca historica, XIV.27.2
  17. ^ Xenophon, Anabasis, II.6.29
  18. ^ cf. also Brown Menon of Thessaly pp 401-402
  19. ^ Bigwood, Ancient Accounts of the Battle of Cunaxa p 356.
  20. ^ Plato, Meno 82a
  21. ^ Plato, Meno 76e
  22. ^ Debra Nails, The People of Plato, p 204
  23. ^ Hoerber, "Plato's Meno," p 78.
  24. ^ Brown, Menon of Thessaly pp 399-400
  25. ^ Plato Meno 70b & 96d
  26. ^ Plato, Meno 80b
  27. ^ Plato, Meno 75d, 80e
  28. ^ Xenophon, Anabasis, II.6.21-26
  29. ^ Plato, Meno 86c-d

Sources[edit]

Ancient sources[edit]

Modern sources[edit]

  • Bassett, Sherylee R. "Innocent Victims or Perjurers Betrayed? The Arrest of the Generals in Xenophon's Anabasis," The Classical Quarterly, New Series, 52: 2 (2002) pp 447–461
  • Bigwood, J. M. "The Ancient Accounts of the Battle of Cunaxa," The American Journal of Philology, 104:4 (Winter, 1983) pp 340–357
  • Brown, Truesdell S. "Menon of Thessaly" Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte, 35:4 (1986) pp 387–404
  • Hoerber, Robert G. "Plato's Meno," Phronesis, 5:2 (1960), pp 78–102
  • Nails, Debra, The People of Plato: A Prosopography of Plato and Other Socratics, (Hackett 2002) pp 204–205

Historical novels[edit]

  • Valerio Massimo Manfredi L' Armata Perduta (The Lost Army), Arnoldo Mondadori Editore S.p.a. 2007

External links[edit]