52 Books Challenge: #15 The Xanthippic Dialogues

The Xanthippic Dialogues is a work of “fictional philosophy” written by the late great English philosopher, Sir Roger Scruton, who passed away in December 2019. It is a parody on the writings of Plato which were mostly based on his dialogues with Socrates, his mentor. Remember as you read this, it’s fiction!

The book begins with Sir Roger as a young man having just left university and touring the Cyclades with Plato as his only “friend”. He had hoped to find inspiration there to write a book about the Plato that the Greeks had known, but failed miserably and took the ferry back to Piraeus on the mainland. Leaving the ferry he is told by a gypsy woman that he will find what he is seeking in Egypt, not in Greece, and so unsurprisingly he makes his way to Alexandria. He whiles away his time in cafes until one day he is approached by the female owner of one who sits with him to drink araq before showing him part of an ancient manuscript and asking if he can translate it. He can, and over the next few days she feeds him further fragments, at a price of course, which he willingly pays because he has discovered the long lost dialogues of Xanthippe, the wife of Socrates! It is Xanthippe’s dialogues therefore that led to the fame of Plato and NOT anything to do with Socrates!

So, you have probably heard of Plato’s Republic but not Xanthippe’s Republic, so let’s begin with introducing the characters. Plato was a student/follower of Socrates, both memorable philosophers from Ancient Greece. Xanthippe was the wife of Socrates and 30 years his junior. 

Plato wrote his “Republic” based on his conversations with, and listening to others’ conversations also with ….. Socrates …… or was it with Xanthippe? These conversations centred on the notion of “justice” and “form”, in particular discussions about what is justice, how would a just man act, what would define a just state (republic) as opposed to an unjust state, how would such a state/republic be led and governed? This led to Plato (?) writing The Republic.

However in Sir Roger’s fiction these discussions originally took place between Socrates and his wife, Xanthippe, who calls him “Socks” which he hates. She argues with him about justice and government using the home as an analogous structure with the wife being the leader, the organiser, the accountant, the educator of children, the manager of servants, the provisioner etc. She nails her points by making comparisons with men who sit around all day eating drinking and philosophising! 

There are other chapters where Xanthippe has conversations with Plato’s mother and one with Plato himself, both of which translate across into actual books written by a Plato as if his own work!

I think you have probably got the gist of it by now, but I would advise you to know a little about Plato especially and his writing. You don’t need to be a philosophy graduate or have any in depth knowledge of Plato or Socrates to enjoy this book. It’s very funny in parts …. but only if you understand the joke!

“The British philosopher and conservative thinker Roger Scruton’s appropriation and re-writing of Socratic dialogues in his Xanthippic Dialogues offers one of the most fascinating examples of a contemporary philosopher employing the literary form of the dialogue for philosophical purposes. Scruton’s output is considerable and remarkably diverse, ranging from fiction (novels, short stories and dialogues) to philosopical essays and treatises, especially on aesthetics (most recently Scruton 2009a), textbooks and political pamphlets to books that use the modes of autobiographical writing to put forth a partly nostalgic image of England and English traditions. These memoirs go beyond the merely personal by rediscovering the meaning and significance of lived traditions such as British common law (Scruton 2001a) and particularly hunting (Scruton 1998a). In addition, Scruton is also well versed in all things musical, having written extensively on the aesthetics of music (Scruton 1999; 2009b), but also having composed two operas, The Minister and Violet, that were performed to some acclaim. It is thus notweworthy but hardly surprising that he should also have tried his hand at writing philosophical dialogues.” (Till Kinzel and Jarmila Mildorf, Heidelberg)

Categories: books, Philosophy

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2 replies

  1. That sounds like a Must-Read — a tongue-in-cheek conundrum wrapped up in an enigma (or is it the other way around?)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Could be either Margaret, but it’s an interesting and funny read but PROVIDED you have a small knowledge of Plato. And … according to Scruton, the author you should drink Chenin Blanc wine whilst reading him 👍🙏🙏🍷


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