Sunday, May 28, 2017

Shadows in a Timeless Myth presents Xantippe a Lady of History


390 B.C.

THE woman who could teach Socrates the virtue of patience deserves to be remembered. Xantippe, concerning whom writers relate so many amusing tales, was certainly a woman of a high and unmanageable spirit. But Socrates, while he endeavoured to curb the violence of her temper, improved his own. When Alcibiades expressed his surprise that his friend could bear to live in the same house with so perverse and quarrelsome a companion, Socrates replied, that being daily inured to ill-humour at home, he was the better prepared to encounter perverseness and injury abroad. After all, however, it is probable that the infirmities of this good woman have been exaggerated, and that calumny has had some hand in finishing her picture; for Socrates himself, in a dialogue with his son Lamprocles, allows her many domestic virtues, and we find her afterwards expressing great affection for her husband during his imprisonment. She must, indeed, have been as deficient in understanding as she was froward in disposition, if she had not profited by the daily lessons which for twenty years she received from such a master.

News being at length brought of the return of the ship from Delos, the officers to whose care Socrates was committed, delivered to him early in the morning the final order for his execution, and immediately, according to the law, set him at liberty from his bonds. His friends, who came early to the prison that they might have an opportunity of conversing with their master through the day, found his wife sitting by him with a child in her arms. As soon as Xantippe saw them, she burst into tears and said, "Oh, Socrates, this is the last time your friends will ever speak to you, or you to them." Socrates, that the tranquillity of his last moments might not be disturbed by her unavailing lamentations, requested that she might be conducted home. With the most frantic expressions of grief, she left the prison. An interesting conversation then passed between Socrates and his friends, which chiefly turned upon the immortality of the soul. After a short interval, during which he gave some necessary instructions to his domestics, and took his last leave of his children, the attendant of the prison informed him that the time for drinking the poison was come. The executioner, though accustomed to such scenes, shed tears as he presented the fatal cup. Socrates received it without change of countenance, or the least appearance of perturbation; then, offering up a prayer to the gods that they would grant him a prosperous passage into the invisible world, with perfect composure he swallowed the poisonous draught. His friends around him burst into tears. Socrates alone remained unmoved. He upbraided their pusillanimity, and entreated them to exercise a manly constancy worthy of the friends of virtue. He continued walking till the chilling operation of the hemlock obliged him to lie down upon his bed. Then, covering himself with his cloak, he expired.

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Smiles & Good Fortune,
It is not wealth one asks for, but just enough to preserve one’s dignity, to work unhampered, to be generous, frank and independent. W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) Of Human Bondage, 1915

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