Nearly all those who studied Greek in high school were given a much distorted image of the Athenian (and certainly of the pedophilic Spartan) society. Who told us that the wealth of Athens was based on silver mines (the university city of Ioanina is still one of the world's biggest centers of the silver industry)? And who told us why Socrates was forced to commit suicide?
One can find the answers on many questions about Greek society in Xenophon's works, the clever writer of `Hellenika' (`All Persians are educated to become a slave, except one').
In his works about Socrates, Xenophon brushes a lively picture of the `real' Socrates and explains clearly his political views: 'Where offices were filled by men who satisfied the legal requirements, he considered the constitution to be an aristocracy; where they were filled in accordance with a property qualification, a plutocracy; where they were filled by anybody, a democracy.'
Socrates was an anti-democrat and defended oligarchy is his teachings.
What oligarchy really meant for the majority of the Athenians, one can also read in `Hellenika'. Describing the reign of the Thirty (comprising two uncles of Plato), Xenophon states: `The oligarchs went on a killing spree murdering all democratic opponents, more Athenians than all the Peloponnesians did in ten years of war ... when people could vote, it was in full view.'
Xenophon explains one of the main reasons for oligarchic rule in his rhetoric question: `if people uses its superior power to enact measures against the propertied classes, will that be violence rather than law?'
Socrates was a moderate anti-democrat, not as his pupil Plato who fulminated relentlessly against the democratic beast (Gerard Koolschijn). He respected the law: `He disobeyed the illegal orders of the Thirty on the ground that what he was ordered to do was illegal.'
He also was a moderate in his personal life (`to need nothing is divine').
Xenophon's works are key texts for understanding the ancient Greek society (daily life, morals, social issues, drink-parties, sex, politics). They are a must read for all those interested in human history and for all lovers of classical texts.