Xanthippe and Xerxes


Xanthippe Pours Water over Socrates, by Luca Giordano

Xanthippe, the wife of Socrates, has unfortunately been assigned a very negative, nasty reputation which I’m inclined to believe is as false as the bad reputations given to women like Queen Jezebel and Countess Erzsébet Báthory.

Xanthippe was probably much younger than Socrates, possibly up to 40 years younger. They had three sons, Lamprocles, Sophroniscus, and Menexenus. It’s believed she came from a very prominent family, since names with the hippos element often belonged to people of aristocratic descent. It was also the custom to name the first son after the more illustrious grandfather, and her first son was named for her father instead of Socrates’s father.

Xanthippe is the feminine form of Xanthippos, which means “yellow horse,” from the elements xanthos (yellow) and hippos (horse). It’s come to be slang for a shrewish, naggy woman, thanks to the reputation assigned to Xanthippe thousands of years ago. Even if she were argumentative, so freaking what? If she’d been a man, no one would’ve made such a huge, scandalous deal out of it! The name is still used in Greece, though usually with the spelling Xanthippi.

King Xerxes I (519–465 BCE), Copyright Mbmrock

King Xerxes I was the son of King Darius the Great and Queen Atossa, and is believed to have been King Achashverosh of the Book of Esther, since Achashverosh “translates” as Xerxes. He ruled the Persian Empire at its height, and conquered even more land than his father.

Xerxes is mentioned in Canto XXVIII of Purgatorio:

Three paces the stream parted me from her [Matilda];
But Hellespont, where Xerxes bridged the strait
That still makes human vaunt wear a bridle,
Endured not from Leander keener hate,
‘Twixt Sestos and Abydos full in foam,
Than this from me, because it closed the gate.

Xerxes is mentioned again in Canto VIII of Paradiso, as one of a list of different types of professions. I’ve been passionately in love with Dante for 12 years now, but even I have to admit the dated translation I have often makes it kind of hard to understand what’s going on or being said at first reading!

Xerxes is the Greek form of Khshayarsha, which means “ruler over heroes.”