Xanthippe from Guillaume Rouillé's Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum

Xanthippe (/zænˈθɪpi/; Greek: Ξανθίππη [ksantʰíppɛː]; fl. 5th–4th century BCE) was an ancient Athenian, the wife of Socrates and mother of their three sons: Lamprocles, Sophroniscus, and Menexenus. She was likely much younger than Socrates, perhaps by as much as 40 years.[1]


Xanthippe means "yellow horse", from Ancient Greek: ξανθός xanthos "blond" and ἵππος hippos "horse". Hers is one of many Greek personal names with a horse theme (cf. Philippos "Friend of Horses", Hippocrates "Horse-tamer", etc.). The hippos in an ancient Greek name often suggested aristocratic heritage.[2]

One additional reason for thinking Xanthippe's family was socially prominent was that her eldest son was named Lamprocles instead of "Sophroniscus" after Socrates' father Sophroniscus: 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. If 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.[3]


Socrates, his two Wives, and Alcibiades, by Reyer van Blommendael. Instead of a chamberpot, Xanthippe douses her husband with cold water from a hydria.

Plato's portrayal of Xanthippe in the Phaedo suggests that she was a devoted wife and mother;[4] this is the sole mention of her in Plato's works.[5] Xenophon, in his Memorabilia, portrays her in much the same light, although he does make Lamprocles complain of her harshness.[6] It is only in Xenophon's Symposium where Socrates agrees that she is (in Antisthenes' words) "the hardest to get along with of all the women there are."[7] Nevertheless, Socrates adds that he chose her precisely because of her argumentative spirit:

It is 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.[8]

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 Alcibiades.[9] Diogenes Laërtius tells of other stories involving Xanthippe's supposed bad attitude.[10]

An emblem book print portraying Xanthippe emptying a chamber pot over Socrates, from Emblemata Horatiana illustrated by Otho Vaenius, 1607.

It seems that Xenophon's portrayal of her in his Symposium has been the most influential: Diogenes Laërtius, for example, seems to quote the Symposium passage, though he does not mention Xenophon by name,[10] and the term "Xanthippe" has now come to mean any nagging scolding person, especially a shrewish wife.

Later writers, such as Diogenes Laërtius who cite Aristotle as the earliest source, say that Socrates had a second wife called Myrto.[10] Plutarch tells of a similar story, reporting that it comes from a work entitled On Good Birth, but he expresses doubt as to whether it was written by Aristotle.[11] In Plutarch's version of the story, Socrates, who was already married, merely attended to Myrto's financial concerns when she became a widow, which does not entail marriage; there is no other evidence on the matter.[12]

A different account of Xanthippe and Myrto is given in Aristoxenus's Life of Socrates written in the latter part of the fourth century BC that Aristoxenus asserts is based on first-person accounts by his father. This claims that Myrto was his legitimate wife and Xanthippe his mistress, whose child became legitimate.[13]

An unconfirmed anecdote purports that Xanthippe was once so enraged with her husband that she took a chamber pot and poured it out over Socrates' head, which – according to the tale  – the philosopher accepted with the allegory: "After thunder comes the rain."

The widely cited quote from Socrates about Xanthippe, "By all means, marry. If you will get for yourself a good wife, you will be happy forever after; and if by chance you will get a common scold like my Xanthippe — why then you will become a philosopher." is misattributed.[14]

Literary references

In William Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, Petruchio compares Katherina "As Socrates' Xanthippe or a worse" in Act 1 Scene 2. (Read here)

Addison discusses matrimony in The Spectator no. 482, dated Friday 12 September 1712:

An honest Tradesman, who dates his Letter from Cheapside, sends me Thanks in the name of a Club, who, he tells me, meet as often as their Wives will give them leave, and stay together till they are sent for home. He informs me, that my Paper has administered great Consolation to their whole Club, and desires me to give some further Account of Socrates, and to acquaint them in whose Reign he lived, whether he was a Citizen or a Courtier, whether he buried Xantippe

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

She was, besides, a profest follower of that noble sect founded by Xantippe of old; by means of which she became more formidable in the school than her husband; 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".[15]

In his poem "An Acrostic", Edgar Allan Poe makes references to her although he (allegedly purposely) misspells her name and instead writes 'Zantippe'.

Frank Osbaldistone, the first-person narrator of Rob Roy by Sir Walter Scott (1817), records this event: "While I trembled lest the thunders of their wrath might dissolve in showers like that of Xantippe, Mrs Flyter herself awoke, and began, in a tone of objurgation not unbecoming the philosophical spouse of Socrates, to scold one or two loiterers in her kitchen." (Book 2, Chapter 7)

In Doctor Thorne by Anthony Trollope, the author says of wives 'There may possibly have been a Xantippe here and there, but Imogenes are to be found under every bush.'

Salomon Maimon refers to a woman's "Xanthippe-like character" in Chapter 10 of his autobiography. ("A widow, celebrated for her superior talents, as well as for her Xanthippe-like character, kept a public house at the extremity of one of the suburbs. She had a daughter who yielded to her in none of the above-mentioned qualities, and who was indispensable to her in the management of the house. [...]"

In episode 9 of James Joyce's Ulysses ("Scylla and Charybdis") John Eglinton asks Stephen Dedalus, ″What useful discovery did Socrates learn from Xanthippe?″[16]

In his essay "The Case for Xanthippe" (1960), Robert Graves suggested that the stereotype of Xanthippe as a misguided shrew is emblematic of an ancient struggle between masculinity (rationality, philosophy) and femininity (intuition, poetry), and that the rise of philosophy in Socrates' time has led to rationality and scientific pursuit coming to exercise an unreasonable dominance over human life and culture.

In The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, "The Tale of the Wyf of Bathe" states:

No-thing forgat he the penaunce and wo

That Socrates had with hise wyves two;

How Xantippa caste pisse up-on his heed;

This sely man sat stille, as he were deed;

He wyped his heed, namore dorste he seyn

But "er that thonder stinte, comth a reyn."


In popular culture


Asteroid 156 Xanthippe is named in her honour.

In 1995, P. Naskrecki and R.K. Colwell[18] gave the patronym Xanthippe to a genus of flower mite that inhabits flowers of palms of the genus Socratea and is probably phoretic on the beetles that pollinate the palm.

A species of African white-toothed shrew was described by Wilfred Hudson Osgood in 1910 as Crocidura xantippe, common name "Xanthippe's shrew."

See also


  1. ^ She must have been young enough to give birth to their 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 Phaedo 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.
  2. ^ Aristophanes, 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.
  3. ^ John Burnet 1911, Plato: Phaedo, p. 12.
  4. ^ Plato. Phaedo, 60a–b, 116b
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ Xenophon, Memorabilia, 2.2.7–9
  7. ^ Xenophon, Symposium, 2.10
  8. ^ Xenophon, Symposium 17–19 [= 2.10]
  9. ^ Aelian, Varia Hist. XI.12
  10. ^ a b c Diogenes Laërtius 2.36–37
  11. ^ Plutarch, Aristides xxvii. 3–4
  12. ^ For the relevant quotes from Diogenes and Plutarch, see The Complete Works of Aristotle, edited by Jonathan Barnes, vol. 2, p. 2423.
  13. ^ Huffman, Carl (2012). Aristoxenus of Tarentum. New Brunswick, N.J: Transaction Publishers. ISBN 978-1-315-08215-8. OCLC 777330122.
  14. ^ "Socrates - Wikiquote".
  15. ^ "Xantippe, and Other Verse". indiana.edu.
  16. ^ Ulysses, James Joyce, p. 170. Wordsworth Classics edition. Notes for James Joyce's Ulysses, Don Gifford with Robert J Seidman, Revised and Expanded edition, University of California Press, 1988.
  17. ^ Chaucer, Geoffrey, p. 325. The Modern Library New York, 1994
  18. ^ Naskrecki, P. and R.K. Colwell. 1995. A new genus and two new species of Melicharini from Venezuela (Acari: Mesostigmata: Ascidae). Annals of the Entomological Society of America 88:284–293.