Ideas in Antiquity--Leadership in the Ancient World: From Telemachus to T'Challa

Week Five: Education

I had always been smart, but I needed to test myself against those who were smarter, more talented, more accomplished.--Stacey Abrams, Minority Leader: How to Lead from the Outside and Make Real Change (p. 8) 

Session One

This week we are transitioning from the one-on-one nature of the mentor-mentee relationship to various institutions of education, including formal training and informal dialogue. Our focus will be the Education of Cyrus, a work written by an Athenian author named Xenophon (he was a contemporary of Plato and Socrates) about the first king of the Persian Empire, Cyrus II or Cyrus "the Great". In this work we will see that Cyrus receives three kinds of education to become a leader: (1) he receives formal training in the Persian Educational System (agoge, in Greek); (2) he learns how to ride a horse, dress well, and play the cup-bearer at the court of the Median king, Cyrus' grandfather Astyages; and (3) in dialogue with his father Cambyses.

Assignment One: As an introduction into the process of becoming a leader in Xenophon’s Education of Cyrus (c. 365 BCE), read the following scenario and answer the associated written and survey questions.


In the middle of your time in high school you are sent to live with relatives in another country whose customs are largely strange and unfamiliar to you. The food, the clothing styles, cultural references, the educational system, even the form of government are different. Through no fault of your own, the father of your host family seems to like you more than his oldest son and might even be grooming you for a political career in this new country, which the son seems to resent at least a little. You are more naturally talented than he is and generally more likeable. This political career would give you access to more resources than you would ever command from a career in your home country.

In order to prepare for this career you are expected to assimilate many of the customs of the new country. You are expected to dress differently, eat differently, and get a very different education. This education might include doing and learning things that your home country would not approve of. What would you do?

  1. What emotions do you expect you would feel (mark all that apply)?

2. Which three of these emotions do you believe you would find it most difficult to manage? Explain your choices.

3. Which three of these emotions do you believe you would find most easy to manage? Explain your choices.

4. Circle how easy or difficult you believe you would find it to carry out each of the following responses (very difficult, difficult, neutral, easy, very easy):
Wear completely different clothes
very difficult        difficult        neutral        easy    very easy

Eat food that you don’t care for
very difficult        difficult        neutral        easy    very easy

Partake of drugs and alcohol that you know your parents would not approve of
very difficult        difficult        neutral        easy    very easy

Compete with people your own age who are already much better at the skills you are trying to master
very difficult        difficult        neutral        easy    very easy

Be at your best in spite of how the son of your host father will resent you
very difficult        difficult        neutral        easy    very easy

Form friendship networks between the father of your host family and the other people in the country
very difficult        difficult        neutral        easy    very easy

Put the interests of the citizens in your new country above your own
very difficult        difficult        neutral        easy    very easy

Make requests of the father of your host family, even if you think he might not approve
very difficult        difficult        neutral        easy    very easy

Risk offending your host family by declining to do something that they consider culturally acceptable but which you consider morally wrong

very difficult        difficult        neutral        easy    very easy

Assignment Two: Click on this link and complete the first THREE STEPS (at the bottom of the page), including the "Listening for Leadership" assignments that correspond to each step.

Session Two

Assignment One: Complete Step Four on this link, including the "Listening for Leadership" assignments.