On Hunting


Xenophon, creator; Scripta Minora; Marchant, E. C. (Edgar Cardew), 1864-1960, editor, translator; Bowersock, G. W, (Glen Warren), 1936-, editor, translator

Many hounds are killed in this kind of sport, and the huntsmen themselves run risks, whenever in the course of the pursuit they are forced to approach a boar with their spears in their hands, when he is tired or standing in water or has posted himself by a steep declivity or is unwilling to come out of a thicket; for neither net nor anything else stops him from rushing at anyone coming near him. Nevertheless approach they must in these circumstances, and show the pluck that led them to take up this hobby.

They must use the spear and the forward position of the body as explained; then, if a man does come to grief, it will not be through doing things the wrong way.

Caltrops are also set for them as for the deer and in the same places. The routine of inspection and pursuit, the methods of approach and the use of the spear are the same.

The young pigs are not to be caught without difficulty. For they are not left alone so long as they are little, and when the hounds find them or they see something coming, they quickly vanish into the wood; and they are generally accompanied by both parents, who are fierce at such times and more ready to fight for their young than for themselves.

Lions, leopards, lynxes, panthers, bears and all similar wild beasts are captured in foreign countries, about Mt. Pangaeus and Cittus beyond Macedonia, on Mysian Olympus and Pindus, on Nysa beyond Syria, and in other mountain ranges capable of supporting such animals.

On the mountains they are sometimes poisoned, owing to the difficulty of the ground, with aconite. Hunters put it down mixed with the animals’ favourite food round pools and in other places that they frequent.

Sometimes, while they are going down to the plain at night, they are cut off by parties of armed and mounted men. This is a dangerous method of capturing them.

Sometimes the hunters dig large, round, deep holes, leaving a pillar of earth in the middle. They tie up a goat and put it on the pillar in the evening, and pile wood round the hole without leaving an entrance, so that the animals cannot see what lies in front. On hearing the bleating in the night, the beasts run round the barrier, and finding no opening, jump over and are caught.

With the practical side of hunting I have finished. But the advantages that those who have been attracted by this pursuit will gain are many. For it makes the body healthy, improves the sight and hearing, and keeps men from growing old; and it affords the best training for war.

In the first place, when marching over rough roads under arms, they will not tire: accustomed to carry arms for capturing wild beasts, they will bear up under their tasks. Again, they will be capable of sleeping on a hard bed and of guarding well the place assigned to them.

In an attack[*](The word πρόσοδος in this sense is a hunters’ term.) on the enemy they will be able to go for him and at the same time to carry out the orders that are passed along, because they are used to do the same things on their own account when capturing the game. If their post is in the van they will not desert it, because they can endure.

In the rout of the enemy they will make straight for the foe without a slip over any kind of ground, through habit. If part of their own army has met with disaster in ground rendered difficult by woods and defiles or what not, they will manage to save themselves without loss of honour and to save others. For their familiarity with the business will give them knowledge that others lack.

Indeed, it has happened before now, when a great host of allies has been put to flight, that a little band of such men, through their fitness and confidence, has renewed the battle and routed the victorious enemy when he has blundered owing to difficulties in the ground. For men who are sound in body and mind may always stand on the threshold of success.

It was because they knew that they owed their successes against the enemy to such qualities that our ancestors looked after the young men. For in spite of the scarcity of corn it was their custom from the earliest times not to prevent hunters from hunting over any growing crops; and, in addition, not to permit hunting at

night within a radius of many furlongs from the city, so that the masters of that art might not rob the young men of their game. In fact they saw that this is the only one among the pleasures of the younger men that produces a rich crop of blessings. For it makes sober and upright men of them, because they are trained in the school of truth[*](i.e., a training that really builds up the character. There is an implied contrast with the imposture of the education given by sophists.) (and they perceived

that to these men they owed their success in war, as in other matters); and it does not keep them from any other honourable occupation they wish to follow, like other and evil pleasures that they ought not to learn. Of such men, therefore, are good soldiers and good generals made.

For they whose toils root out whatever is base and froward from mind and body and make desire for virtue to flourish in their place—they are the best, since they will not brook injustice to their own city nor injury to its soil.

Some say that it is not right to love hunting, because it may lead to neglect of one’s domestic affairs. They are not aware that all who benefit their cities and their friends are more attentive to their domestic affairs than other men.

Therefore, if keen sportsmen fit themselves to be useful to their country in matters of vital moment, neither will they be remiss in their private affairs: for the state is necessarily concerned both in the safety and in the ruin of the individual’s domestic fortunes. Consequently such men as these save the fortunes of every other individual as well as their own.

But many of those who talk in this way, blinded by jealousy, choose to be ruined through their own evil rather than be saved by other men’s virtue. For most pleasures are evil, and by yielding to these they are encouraged either to say or to do what is wrong.

Then by their frivolous words they make enemies, and by their evil deeds bring diseases and losses and death on themselves, their children and their friends, being without perception of the evils, but more perceptive than others of the pleasures. Who would employ these to save a state?