Socrates is often credited with the quote,
“By all means, marry. If you get a good wife, you will be happy. If you get a bad one, you will be a philosopher.”
And we all (mostly men) get a good chuckle out of that. As a consequence of Socrates’ attitude towards his wife, Xanthippe is often remembered as a shrew, a scolding wife who was a pain in the rear end for philosophy’s most prestigious character. It was said that Xanthippe was so disagreeable that she once poured the contents of a chamber pot over the head of Socrates. This brings us to the other old expression…
“Behind every great ancient philosopher, there is a woman who hates his freaking guts.”
I think that’s how that one goes…
That isn’t to say that all writers wrote of Xanthippe as a shrew. Plato portrays her as a devoted wife and mother within the early pages of the Phaedo. Still, the overwhelming consensus is that she was an argumentative, troublesome wife who was the source of many headaches for the philosopher. To be fair though, Socrates was most likely a difficult person to live with. He certainly was a difficult person to have a conversation with. I imagine a conversation would go like this…
Hey Socrates, nice day we have.
Is it? Perhaps since you are so knowledgeable and wise of all these things that are good, you would be able to tell me in satisfactory terms what it means to be “nice.”
Oh Zeus, help me. You keep this up and they will execute you one day.
Despite his tendency to turn any type of menial chit chat into a long philosophical discourse, there were a few other reasons why Socrates might have been a rather awful husband.
And I will say this as something of a disclaimer: When recounting Socrates’ life, we run into what is known as the Socratic problem. Basically, we can never be sure if the character of Socrates (Socrates within the pages of philosophical dialogues) bears any resemblance to the man himself.
We will have to take something of a leap of faith here. As one of our colleagues put it, “It may not be the best history, but it is history of a sort.”