Nagging Socrates: The Philosopher’s Wife, Xanthippe


After briefly discussing the Netflix show “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” on twitter this morning, I got to thinking about Socrates’ wife, Xanthippe (one of the characters has her name). Although she does not feature much in Plato* or Xenophon**, she becomes a stock character in Anecdotes during the second sophistic. In most cases, she functions as a stock-type shrew, nagging and hassling Socrates. In effect, she exists to allow him to seem magnanimous and clever (a bit of a stoic trope).

*In Plato’s Phaedo, she appears to increase the pathos of the philosopher’s death.

** Xenophon’s Symposium shows that the tradition of Xanthippe’s character is ancient:

And Antisthenes said “Socrates, even though you believe this, why don’t you ‘teach’ Xanthippe but instead tolerate the meanest wife of the present, past and future!”

καὶ ὁ ᾿Αντισθένης, Πῶς οὖν, ἔφη, ὦ Σώκρατες, οὕτω γιγνώσκων οὐ καὶ σὺ παιδεύεις Ξανθίππην, ἀλλὰ χρῇ γυναικὶ τῶν οὐσῶν, οἶμαι δὲ καὶ τῶν γεγενημένων καὶ τῶν ἐσομένων χαλεπωτάτῃ;


Here’s a quick selection (there are many, many more):


Plutarch De cohibenda ira

After Socrates brought Euthydemos home from the Palaestra, Xanthippe assailed them with rage, gave them a tongue-lashing, and flipped over the table. Euthydemos rose and was leaving, beset by anger himself. Then Socrates said, “Didn’t a bird fly in and do the same thing yesterday at your house? We weren’t put out then!”

τοῦ δὲ Σωκράτους ἐκπαλαίστρας παραλαβόντος τὸν Εὐθύδημον ἡ Ξανθίππη μετ’ ὀργῆς ἐπιστᾶσα καὶ λοιδορηθεῖσα τέλος ἀνέτρεψε τὴν τράπεζαν, ὁ δ’ Εὐθύδημος ἐξαναστὰς ἀπῄει περίλυπος γενόμενος• καὶ ὁ Σωκράτης ‘παρὰ σοὶ δ’’ εἶπεν ‘οὐ πρῴην ὄρνις τις εἰσπτᾶσα ταὐτὸ τοῦτ’ ἐποίησεν, ἡμεῖς δ’οὐκ ἠγανακτήσαμεν’;


Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Eminent Philosophers 2.37

After Xanthippe mocked him and later poured water on him, Socrates said “Wasn’t I telling you that Xanthippe would thunder and make it rain?” When Alcibiades claimed that her mockery was intolerable, Socrates said, “well, I have grown used to it just as if listening to a constant machine. And you, too, tolerate gees.” When Alcibiades responded, “Gees give me eggs and chicks,” Socrates said, “and Xanthippe gave me children.”

Once when she ripped even his cloak off him in the marketplace and his friends advised that he defend himself with his hands, he said “Sure, that way when we are punching each other, each of you can root ‘Well-hit, Socrates’ and ‘Well done, Xanthippe!’ ”.

He said that he lived with a rough woman the way that horsemen appreciated strong-willed horses. He summarized, “Just as these guys come to rule those and then have it easier with the rest, so I, accustomed to Xanthippe, have ease with the rest of humanity.”

πρὸς Ξανθίππην πρότερον μὲν λοιδοροῦσαν, ὕστερον δὲ καὶ περιχέασαν αὐτῷ, “οὐκ ἔλεγον,” εἶπεν, “ὅτι Ξανθίππη βροντῶσα καὶ ὕδωρ ποιήσει;” πρὸς ᾿Αλκιβιάδην εἰπόντα ὡς οὐκ ἀνεκτὴ ἡ Ξανθίππη λοιδοροῦσα, “ἀλλ’ ἔγωγ’,” ἔφη, “συνείθισμαι, καθαπερεὶ καὶ τροχιλίας ἀκούων συνεχές. καὶ σὺ μέν,” εἶπε, “χηνῶν βοώντων ἀνέχῃ;” τοῦ δὲ εἰπόντος, “ἀλλά μοι ᾠὰ καὶ νεοττοὺς τίκτουσι,” “κἀμοί,” φησί, “Ξανθίππη παιδία γεννᾷ.” ποτὲ αὐτῆς ἐν ἀγορᾷ καὶ θοἰμάτιον περιελομένης συνεβούλευον οἱ γνώριμοι χερσὶν ἀμύνασθαι• “νὴ Δί’,” εἶπεν, “ἵν’ ἡμῶν πυκτευόντων ἕκαστος ὑμῶν λέγῃ, εὖ Σώκρατες, εὖ Ξανθίππη;” ἔλεγε συνεῖναι τραχείᾳ γυναικὶ καθάπερ οἱ ἱππικοὶ θυμοειδέσιν ἵπποις. “ἀλλ’ ὡς ἐκεῖνοι,” φησί, “τούτων κρατήσαντες ῥᾳδίως τῶν ἄλλων περιγίνονται, οὕτω κἀγὼ Ξανθίππῃ χρώμενος τοῖς ἄλλοις ἀνθρώποις συμπεριενεχθήσομαι.”

‘Socrates, His Wives, and Alcibiades”, by  Reyer van Blommendae

Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights 1.17

“…Alcibiades was stunned, and asked Socrates why he didn’t kick his rather bitter wife out of the house. Socrates said, ‘Because, when I put up with her at home, such as she is, I develop a tolerance from the exercise, which allows me to bear a bit more lightly the insults and injustices of the outside world.'”

…Alcibiades demiratus interrogavit Socraten, quaenam ratio esset, cur mulierem tam acerbam domo non exigeret. 3 “Quoniam,” inquit Socrates “cum illam domi talem perpetior, insuesco et exerceor, ut ceterorum quoque foris petulantiam et iniuriam facilius feram.


Suda: s.v. troikhileas (“pulleys or block and tackle”)

“Pulleys”: When Alcibiades said that Xanthippe’s slander was unendurable, Socrates said: ‘Well, I have become accustomed to it as if I were hearing tireless machines.”

Τροχιλέας: Σωκράτης πρὸς Ἀλκιβιάδην εἰπόντα, ὡς οὐκ ἀνεκτὴ ἡ Ξανθίππη λοιδοροῦσα: ἀλλ’ ἔγωγ’, ἔφη, συνείθισμαι καθαπερεὶ καὶ τροχιλέας ἀκούων συνεχές.

3 thoughts on “Nagging Socrates: The Philosopher’s Wife, Xanthippe

Leave a Reply