Xanthippe ( _el. Ξανθίππη) was the wife of Socrates and mother of their three sons Lamprocles, Sophroniscus, and Menexenus. There are far more stories about her than there are facts. She was likely much younger than the philosopher, perhaps by as much as forty years. [She must have been young enough to bear the three children Plato describes in his writings: In the "Apology" 34d, the sons are described as quite young: two of them "children", the other a "lad"; in Plato's "Pheado" 60a, one of them is small enough to be held in his mother's arms. Both dialogues take place when Socrates is supposed to have been 70 years old.]

Xanthippe means "yellow horse", from the Greek ξανθός "xanthos" (yellow) and ‘ιππος "hippos" (horse). Hers is one of many Greek personal names with a horse theme (cf. Philippos: "horse lover"; Hippocrates: "horse tamer" etc). The "hippos" in an ancient Greek name often suggested aristocratic heritage. [Aristophanes, [http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0241;query=card%3D%233;layout=;loc=25 "Clouds" 60-64] . Xanthippus, e.g., was the father of Pericles. Also, "hippeis", literally "horsemen" or "knights", was the name of one of the highest socio-economic classes of Athens.] There is additional reason for thinking Xanthippe's family was socially prominent: her eldest son was named Lamprocles rather than "Sophroniscus" after Socrates' father; because it was an ancient Greek custom to name one's first child after the more illustrious of the two grandfathers, there is reason to think that Xanthippe's father was named Lamprocles and was even more well-established in Athenian aristocracy than was Socrates' father. [John Burnet 1911, "Plato: Phaedo", p. 12.]

Plato's portrayal of Xanthippe (in his "Phaedo") suggests that she was nothing less than a devoted wife and mother (60a-b, 116b; she is mentioned nowhere else in Plato). Xenophon, in his "Memorabilia", portrays her in much the same light, though he does make Lamprocles complain of her harshness (2.2.7-9); it could be argued that this is fairly typical of an adolescent's views of a strict parent. It is only in Xenophon's "Symposium" where we have Socrates agree that she is (in Antisthenes' words) "the hardest to get along with of all the women there are" (2.10). Nevertheless, Socrates adds that he chose her precisely because of her argumentative spirit:

I follow the example of the rider who wishes to become an expert horseman: "None of your soft-mouthed, docile animals for me," he says; "the horse for me to own must show some spirit" in the belief, no doubt, if he can manage such an animal, it will be easy enough to deal with every other horse besides. And that is just my case. I wish to deal with human beings, to associate with man in general; hence my choice of wife. I know full well, if I can tolerate her spirit, I can with ease attach myself to every human being else. (Symposium 17-19)

Perhaps this picture of Xanthippe originated with the historical Antisthenes, one of Socrates' pupils, since Xenophon initially puts this view into his mouth. Aelian also depicts her as a jealous shrew in his description of an episode in which she tramples underfoot a large and beautiful cake sent to Socrates by his eromenos, Alcibiades. [Aelian, "Varia Hist." XI.12] Diogenes Laertius ("Lives" 2.36-37) tells of other stories involving Xanthippe's supposed abusiveness, but he does not cite any source for them.

It seems that Xenophon's portrayal of her in his "Symposium" has been the most influential (Diogenes Laertius, for example, seems to quote (2.37) the "Symposium" passage, though he does not mention Xenophon by name). For the term "Xanthippe" has now come to mean any nagging scolding person, especially a shrewish wife.

Later writers, such as Diogenes Laertius ("Lives" 2.26), say that Xanthippe was Socrates' second wife, that his first was Myrto. Diogenes does not cite his source. Plutarch tells of a similar story, reporting that it comes from a work titled "On Good Birth", which may or may not have been written by Aristotle. However, in Plutarch's version of the story, Socrates, who was already married, attended to Myrto's financial concerns when she became a widow; this does not entail marriage. Perhaps Diogenes' source was the same or no better. We have no more reliable evidence on this issue. [For the relevant quotes from Diogenes and Plutarch, see "The Complete Works of Aristotle", edited by Jonathan Barnes, vol. 2, p. 2423.]

Literary references

In Shakespeare's "Taming of the Shrew", Petruchio compares Katherina "As Socrates' Xanthippe or a worse" in Act 1 Scene 2. ( [http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Taming_of_the_Shrew#SCENE_II._Padua._Before_HORTENSIO.27S_house. Read here] )

The novelist Henry Fielding describes the shrewish Mrs. Partridge thus:

cquote|She was, besides, a profest follower of that noble sect founded by Xantippe of old; by means of which she became a prostitute; for, to confess the truth, he was never master there, or anywhere else, in her presence. ... for she continued longer in a state of affability, after this fit of jealousy was ended, than her husband had ever known before: and, had it not been for some little exercises, which all the followers of Xantippe are obliged to perform daily, Mr Partridge would have enjoyed a perfect serenity of several months.:"The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling", Book II, Chapters iii & iv.

The English Victorian poet Amy Levy wrote a dramatic monologue called "Xantippe" [http://www.indiana.edu/~letrs/vwwp/levy/xantippe.html] .

"Puttermesser and Xanthippe" is the title of one of the chapters of American novelist Cynthia Ozick's 1997 novel "The Puttermesser Papers", a National Book Award finalist.

In Michelle Cliff's poem "The Garden," the speaker wears a t-shirt that reads "Xantippe."

In Chesea Quinn Yarbro's book of short stories entitled in the story "Harpy"

Philosopher Daniel Dennett named his sailboat "Xanthippe".

In Maryse Conde's book "Crossing the Mangrove," there is a character named Xantippe. He lives outside the community in the woods and many characters are afraid of him; this is because he rarely speaks and is a hermit.

A fictional account of Xanthippe's relationship with her husband is presented in the play "Xanthippe" by the British author and playwright Deborah Freeman. "Xanthippe" was first produced at the Brockley Jack Theatre, London (UK), in 1999.


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  • Xanthippe — Sf streitsüchtige Ehefrau erw. bildg. (16. Jh.) Onomastische Bildung. Nach gr. Xanthíppē, dem Namen der Frau von Sokrates, die in der griechischen Literatur als besonders streitsüchtig beschrieben wird.    Ebenso nndl. xantippe, ne. xant(h)ippe,… …   Etymologisches Wörterbuch der deutschen sprache

  • Xanthippe — »zanksüchtige Frau«: Die Bezeichnung geht auf den Namen der Ehefrau des altgriechischen Philosophen Sokrates (griech. Xanthíppē) zurück, die in der griechischen Literatur (speziell in Xenophons »Gastmahl«) als zanksüchtig geschildert wird …   Das Herkunftswörterbuch

  • Xanthippe — Xanthippe, 1) Tochter des Doros, Gemahlin Pleurons, s. d; 2) Gattin des Sokrates, s.d. Da sie gewöhnlich als sehr mürrisch u. zänkisch geschildert u. von ihr mehre ungünstige Anekdoten erzählt werden, 3) sprüchwörtlich eine böse, zanksüchtige… …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

  • Xanthippe — Xanthippe, die Gattin des Sokrates, die (vielleicht mit Unrecht) zum Typus einer bösen, zanksüchtigen Ehefrau geworden ist. Vgl. Zeller, Vorträge und Abhandlungen (2. Aufl., Leipz. 1875) …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

  • Xanthippe — Xanthippe, die als launenhaft geschilderte Gattin des Sokrates; als zänkisches Weib sprichwörtlich geworden …   Kleines Konversations-Lexikon

  • Xanthippe — Xanthippe, berühmt als die Gemahlin des Sokrates, berüchtigt wegen ihrer heftigen, zänkischen Gemüthsart, aber auch ehrenvoll erwähnt durch den aufrichtigen Schmerz und ein edles Benehmen an dem Sterbelager ihres Gatten. Wie viel dieser übrigens… …   Damen Conversations Lexikon

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  • Xanthippe — XANTHIPPE, es, Gr. Ξανθίππη, ης, (⇒ Tab. XXV.) des Dorus Tochter, die; Pleuron heurathete, und mit ihr den Agenor, die Sterope, Stratonice, und den Leophon zeugete. Apollod. l. I. c. 7. §. 7 …   Gründliches mythologisches Lexikon

  • Xanthippe — épouse (acariâtre, selon Platon) de Socrate …   Encyclopédie Universelle

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