Fruitless Grain

The great American story for at least 100 years has been a tale like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington or Hawthorne's "My Kinsman Major Molineux": the rube who comes to the city and loses his innocence. Like Jack in the fairy tale, we are eager to trade in the family cow for a chance to get fabulous wealth. The change from an essentially rural way of life to urbanity has had enormous consequences, not least of all on our literary taste. In simpler times, Xenophon was a popular author. Along with Plutarch's Lives, the Bible, and a set of the Waverly Novels, you could not escape seeing copies of the Anabasis or the Cyropedia on the shelves of comfortable country houses.

Xenophon would have been pleased with his rustic success. Of all serious writers, ancient and modern, he was the most devoted to rural life. He not only wrote more earnestly about hunting than either Trollope or the creator of Jorrocks but also composed a major work on the problems of managing a country household. In that work, the Oeconomicus, he records a conversation between the younger Cyrus (whose attempt to win the Persian throne made a soldier out of Xenophon) and the great Spartan general Lysander. When Lysander complimented the prince on his gardens, Cyrus insisted that he had planted them himself and added:

Whenever I am well, I never dine before I have worked up a sweat either in military...

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