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Aulus Gellius 1.17

Translation copyright 2000 Neil W. Bernstein; all rights reserved.

How calmly Socrates (1) tolerated his wife's intractable nature; and what Marcus Varro (2) wrote in a certain satire about the husband's duty.

  1. Xanthippe, the wife of the philosopher Socrates, is said to have been very stubborn and prone to complaint. She was brimming day and night with womanly angers and annoyances.
  2. Alcibiades (3) was amazed by her fury against her husband, and asked Socrates why he did not kick such a troublesome woman out of his house.
  3. "Because I endure such a woman at home," said Socrates, "and am trained and accustomed to her, once I am out of the house I can endure other peoples' arrogance and insult more easily."
  4. Varro followed the same idea in a Menippean satire (4) that he wrote about the husband's duty: "A wife's fault should either be removed or endured. The husband who removes his wife's fault makes her more agreeable; the husband who endures the fault makes himself better."
  5. The words that Varro used, remove and endure, were charming choices; but remove appears to have been written in place of correct.
  6. It seems, furthermore, that Varro thought that a fault in this kind of woman should be endured if it cannot be corrected; that is, to be sure, if it is a fault that can be endured by a respectable husband (as faults are less serious than disgraceful acts).

Notes:

  1. Perseus Encyclopedia entry (Socrates #2).
  2. 116-27 BC; the surviving works of Varro, "the most learned of the Romans", include an essay on farming (Res Rustica) and part of a treatise on the Latin language (de Lingua Latina).
  3. Perseus Encyclopedia entry (Alcibiades #2).
  4. A literary genre associated with Menippus of Gadara (3rd c. BC), featuring outrageous satire written in a mixture of prose and verse. Though the satires of Varro have been lost, some idea of Menippean satire can be reconstructed from surviving Roman works such as Seneca's Apocolocyntosis and Petronius' Satyricon.

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