X is for Xanthippe

Xanthippe was an Athenian and the wife of Socrates. Together they had three sons called Lamprocles, Sophroniscus, and Menexenus. She was likely much younger than Socrates, perhaps by as much as forty years.[1]

 

Sadly it is hard to separate the myths about her from the facts.

 

It is believed that she had a bad temper and was a nagging wife. However, Socrates, though a great philosopher was without a paying job for fifty years, thought to be bisexual, and might have taken on a second wife. Because her husband refused to charge his pupils, Xanthippe had to live on only what Socrates had inherited-which still put them near the poverty level. However, historically she might have been from an upper class family – or at least a higher pecking order than her husband’s.

 

One reason for thinking Xanthippe’s family was socially prominent was that her eldest son was named Lamprocles instead of “Sophroniscus” (after Socrates’ father): the ancient Greek custom was to name one’s first child after the more illustrious of the two grandfathers. Xanthippe’s father is believed to have been named Lamprocles. Since he was even more well-established in Athenian aristocracy than was Socrates’ father, his name would have been the preferred choice for the name of the first-born son.[1]

 

She was considered far worse by the Romans than her own generation. There is a painting of Xanthippe and Socrates called: The chamberpot episode: Socrates, his Wives and Alcibiades, by Reyer van Blommendael (Musée des Beaux-Arts de Strasbourg) It’s a scene from a story that she was so furious at Socrates that she poured out a full chamber pot over him. It is believed that he replied: ‘after thunder comes rain.’ Socrates is also said to have advised, “By all means marry; if you get a good wife, you’ll be happy. If you get a bad one, you’ll become a philosopher.”

 

Plato‘s portrayal of Xanthippe in the Phaedo suggests that she was nothing less than a devoted wife and mother;[2] she is mentioned nowhere else in Plato.[3] Xenophon, in his Memorabilia, portrays her in much the same light, though he does make Lamprocles complain of her harshness;[4] it could be argued that this is fairly typical of an adolescent’s views of a strict parent.

 

We only hear Socrates’ point of view on Xanthippe. It so influenced society that now a Xanthippe is any nagging, peevish, or irritable woman.

Despite all the ridicule, she stayed with her husband until his suicide by hemlock at the age of seventy. It’s believe she wept.

 

Asteroid 156 Xanthippe is named in her honour.

 

Bibliography
Uppity Women of Ancient Times by Vickie Leon

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/xanthippe

http://www.in2greece.com/english/historymyth/history/ancient/xanthippe.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xanthippe

 

[1^ John Burnet 1911, Plato: Phaedo, p. 12.

[2^ Plato, Phaedo, 60a-b, 116b

[3^ Xanthippe does receive mention in two short, apocryphal pieces within the literature ascribed traditionally to Plato but considered generally by scholars to be inauthentic. These come in the Halcyon and the Epigrams.

[4^ Xenophon, Memorabilia, 2.2.7-9

 

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