Why Didn’t Socrates Seek a Divorce?

Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights 1.17:

XVII. With what equanimity Socrates endured the intractable spirit of his wife; and also, what Marcus Varro wrote about the duty of a husband in a certain satire.

Xanthippe, the wife of the philosopher Socrates, is said to have been so given to distemper and quarreling, and to have poured out her wifely irritations upon him both day and night. Alcibiades marveled at these fits against the husband, and asked Socrates why he did not drive such a bitter woman from his house. ‘Because,’ said Socrates, ‘when I put up with her at home, I become accustomed to and exercised in the art of bearing more readily the insolence and injustice of others when I am out of the house.’

In accordance with this sentiment, even Marcus Varro wrote in a Menippean Satire about the duty of a husband, ‘The faults of a wife are either to be removed or endured. He who removes his wife’s faults makes her more pleasant; but he who bears them, makes himself better.’ These words of Varro, ‘remove’ and ‘bear’ are well-turned, but it appears that he wrote ‘to remove’ in the sense of ‘to correct.’ It even appears that Varro would think that the faults of this same wife, should they not admit of correction, should simply be born, if a husband can bear them honestly; for our faults are at any rate not as serious as crimes.

XVII. Quanta cum animi aequitate toleraverit Socrates uxoris ingenium intractabile; atque inibi quid M. Varro in quadam satura de officio mariti scripserit.

1Xanthippe, Socratis philosophi uxor, morosa admodum fuisse fertur et iurgiosa irarumque et molestiarum muliebrium per diem perque noctem scatebat. 2 Has eius intemperies in maritum 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.” 4 Secundum hanc sententiam M. quoque Varro in satura Menippea, quam de officio mariti scripsit: “Vitium” inquit “uxoris aut tollendum aut ferendum est. Qui tollit vitium, uxorem commodiorem praestat; qui fert, sese meliorem facit.” 5 Haec verba Varronis “tollere” et “ferre” lepide quidem composita sunt, sed “tollere” apparet dictum pro “corrigere”. 6 Id etiam apparet eiusmodi vitium uxoris, si corrigi non possit, ferendum esse Varronem censuisse, quod ferri scilicet a viro honeste potest; vitia enim flagitiis leviora sunt.

For even more on Socrates’ wife, see earlier posts on Xanthippe in Plutarch and Diogenes. There are also accounts that Socrates had two wives!

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