X is for Xanthippe

Xanthippe was the wife of Socrates and her name means ‘yellow horse.’  That’s really all we know for sure, but her reputation has come down to us as a rather unpleasant nagging woman.  Socrates is alleged to have said that you can either have a nice wife and be an ordinary man or have Xanthippe and be a philosopher.

Those words he may or may not have said raise a question in my mind.  Aspiring writers certainly appreciate the support of their partners, children, other family members and friends.  But is it possible we also need our own versions of Xanthippe?  Should we try to find people who will not just support us but also nag us?

In the last few years, as I have tried to learn how to write novels, I’ve been very grateful to my teachers and fellow writers who have the kindness and commitment to demand that I set some words down on a page and, yes, nag me.  So here are some heartfelt thanks to people who have demanded I do more than I might have been inclined to do:

·         Thanks to my teacher in a Lifelong Learning class who set the assignment that we hand in a query letter, an outline of our novels and the first three chapters; his kind comments that I should send the package out to possible agents were premature, but have kept me going for several years.

·         Thanks to the three leaders of my local writing group who have insisted we play monthly writing games, writing for half an hour on scraps of paper, sitting at tables in the room we meet in on the top of an old pub across from the castle.  Even at those times when I think I’m unable to write (see B for Blocked), I write what I can and feel amazed at what I end up writing.

·         Thanks to a tutor on an Arvon course who insisted that we act out our hardest bits of dialogue (arguably the genesis of Café Aphra) and nagged me to think as hard as I could until I figured out how my protagonist who lives on another planet in 2683 could have possibly read Jane Austen.

·         Thanks to the peer from that Arvon course who kept our virtual community alive by setting up a website, and in a slightly Xanthippean manner insisted that we write a full chapter of our novel in the month following our return from the course.  That’s how I finished my first draft.

·         Thanks to all the friends who have set up Café Aphra’s November challenge and now our alphabet challenge.  I’m doing my best to get this in in time!! 

·         Thanks to my friends from an American writing course who, in their emails, gently insist that I take my writing seriously by, you know, actually doing some.  And thanks to my website peers who tell me that one of these days, if I keep working and redrafting my outlines, I really will learn how to plot.

Of course we know nothing about the true state of affairs in ancient Greece, but I think Xanthippe was probably a great help to her philosophical husband, perhaps by nagging him to get some of his thoughts down before he lost them.  I can hear her saying, if he didn’t want to use a tablet, why not just dictate his ideas to that nice young Plato…

Plato had nothing but good to say of Xanthippe.  After all, she may be the one who got him published.

Frances Hay


  1. A positive nag as a beta reader sounds a great idea to me, Frances. This was a brilliant use of the 'X' letter.

  2. Really enjoyed this! Who would have thought that Socrates had a (nicely) nagging wife - though really I shouldn't be surprised, after all as they say, "behind every successful man,...."! I really enjoyed the idea of her though as a character, especially as we know so little about her. But Plato liked her so she can't have been that much of a shrew (perhaps he had a crush on her, the older woman and all that?).... hmm.... I can see the beginnings of a story in here.... :)


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