For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

Memorabilia. Oeconomicus. Symposium. Apology

by Xenophon (1997)

Key Passage

(Memorabilia)“And so, just because they are free and related to you, you think they should do nothing but eat and sleep? Do you find that other free folk who live this sort of life are better off and happier than those who are usefully employed in work that they understand? Or is it your experience that idleness and carelessness help people to learn what they ought to know and remember what they learn, to make themselves healthy and strong, and to get and keep things that are of practical use, but industry and carefulness are useless things? When these women learned what you say they know, did they regard it as of no practical use, and had they no intention of taking it up, or did they mean to occupy themselves in it and obtain some benefit from it? Which makes men more prudent, idleness or useful employment? Which makes people more just, work or idle discussion about supplies? Besides, at present, I imagine, you don’t like these women and they don’t like you: you think they’re a drain on you and they see that you consider them a burden. And the danger in this situation is that dislike may grow and their former gratitude might fade away; but if you exert your authority and make them work, you will like them when you find that they are profitable to you, and they will be fond of you when they feel that you are pleased with them. Both you and they will like to recall past kindnesses and will strengthen the feeling of gratitude that these engender; thus you will be better friends and feel more at home. To be sure, if they were going to do something disgraceful, death would be a better fate. But in fact what they know how to do is what is considered the most honorable and the most suitable for women, it seems to me; and everyone does what they know with the greatest ease, speed, pride and pleasure. So don’t hesitate to offer them work that will profit both you and them, and probably they will welcome your proposal.” (p.163)


Xenophon, Ancient Greece, Freedom, Happiness, Female Work, Female Labour, Virtue


Xenophon Citations, Ancient Greece

Links to Reference


E. C. Marchant and O. J. Todd



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