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Discoursing of Xantippe: Amy Levy, classical scholarship, and print culture.

Amy Levy's "Xantippe," frequently mentioned in New Woman and fin de siecle scholarship as well as recent studies of women writers' engagement with classicism, represents the wife of Socrates on her deathbed as she looks back on her girlhood quest for knowledge, denial of access to learned discourse with Socrates or his intellectual circle, and gradual subsidence into the embittered role of subordinate wife. (1) In contrast to the feminist message of this, Levy's best-known poem, her choice of subject has occasioned surprisingly little comment, as if an eighteen-year-old poet's decision to write an extended dramatic monologue uttered by the wife of Socrates--so famous for ill temper that the OED lists her name as a synonym for "shrew"--were a matter of course. Levy turned to classical subject matter, in fact, only in three poems: "Xantippe," "Medea," and "A Greek Girl," all published in her 1884 collection, A Minor Poet and Other Verse. (2) Why did she turn to classicism at all when it was not to be an abiding focus in her work?

Asking why Levy might have assumed the poetic persona of Xantippe opens new perspectives on her self-positioning and her poems significance. Rather than pursuing an influence study, a general semiotics of intertextuality, or Levy's critique of classical tradition through a feminist parody of one of its famous narratives, I suggest that Levy deliberately inserted her poem into a complex discursive network of British and German classical scholarship, higher criticism, and popular print culture. Examining the poem from within this nexus of discourses indicates that, rather than a transparent feminist polemic, "Xantippe" is a multilayered and highly inflected poetic text. Levy's adoption of classical subject matter and Xantippe's persona in fact allowed her to write simultaneously as an authorized participant in classical studies, a Jew, and a woman writer. I begin with the poems relation to classical scholarship and its significance as a performative enactment of educated discourse.


The date of Levy's composition of "Xantippe" is telling. Her biographer Linda Hunt Beckman places it around or just after the publication in July 1879 of "Run to Death," the narrative poem in which nobility in pre-revolutionary France hunt a gypsy woman and her child for sport. Levy composed "Xantippe" between her conclusion of studies at Brighton High School for Girls and her matriculation to Newnham College, Cambridge, in October 1879. As Levy wrote to her sister from Brighton once she had determined to follow in the footsteps of her beloved headmistress Miss Creak, an alumna of Newnham, "I make such different pictures to what I used to--you married maternal, prudent ... with a tendency to laugh at the plain High School Mistress sister who grinds, and lodges with chums and adores 'without return." (3) "Xantippe" is thus the work not only of a poet invested in social injustice, as in "Run to Death," and author of a letter to the editor in the 17 February 1879 Jewish Chronicle entitled "Jewish Women and 'Women's Rights,'" (4) but also a prospective female member of an elite university who sought to find her place among the learned. In this context the selection of Xantippe as subject is not only a brilliant poetic choice of a mouthpiece perfectly suited to distill issues of social justice and feminism but also a performative act in the sense of a self-conscious rehearsal of and claim to the role of learned woman.

Since to represent Xantippe Levy must also characterize Socrates and members of his circle, "Xantippe" takes up a figure of unusual importance to Victorian scholars. As Frank Turner comments:

For the Victorian age the most famous citizen of Athens was Socrates, the philosopher-teacher who had urged his contemporaries to reexamine the quality and presuppositions of their lives and whose career as the self-proclaimed gadfly of the city ended with judicial condemnation and execution. Socrates' rise to prominence as a problematical figure in nineteenth-century scholarship and commentary came about for three reasons. First, the ancient sources displayed substantial disagreement about him. Second, his life and message and his fate at the hands of his fellow citizens were considered relevant for the modern age. Finally, controversy swirled about Socrates because of the stature and reputation of the philosophers and historians who discussed and evaluated his story. (5)

If on one hand Socrates could represent civilized progress from irrational pagan beliefs or the amoral inquiry of Sophists to individual-centered reason and systemic inquiry, on the other he was central to debates about the limits and claims of democracy and communal standards. Given Socrates' adherence to the dictates of an inner voice he termed his "daimon," still other Victorians perceived in him a mystic who, with his martyrdom for the sake of a higher truth, could be viewed as a parallel to Christ. (6)

By approaching Socrates in the guise of husband, Levy could address educated readers by reimagining the great philosopher from a fresh poetic standpoint and popular audiences by returning to them a stock figure from nursery rhymes and popular accounts in terms that called stereotypes of Xantippe and all women into question. Levy in part enacts the role of "high amateurism" identified by Yopie Prins, since Levy mediates "between the professionalization of classical scholarship and the popularization of 'Classics,'" (7) Yet writing "Xantippe" I suggest, also enables Levy to enact the role of learned woman that, within the poem, is so tragically denied the speaker. In the poem, accordingly, the speaker whose "soul ... yearned for knowledge, for a tongue / That should proclaim the stately mysteries / Of this fair world," only to learn the "bitter" lesson that she was to be shut out from learning, merges with the voice of a poet who in writing the poem demonstrates a woman's mastery of history, philosophy, and psychology. (8)

Scholarly historical sources on Socrates were widely available in Victorian Britain. Most famous was the twelve-volume History of Greece by George Grote. As Joseph Hamburger observes, this work "was well received and a commercial success; it was used at English universities, went through several editions, and became the standard work in English for the next half century." (9) So pervasive was Grote's influential account, often cited in popular as well as learned contexts, that anyone with an interest in classical subjects would have encountered at least summations of his work.

A biographical sketch of Socrates appeared in Grote's eighth volume, first published in 1850. Though finding Socrates a "good man" who "deserves our admiration and esteem," Grote records Socrates' "ugly physiognomy--his flat nose, thick lips, and prominent eyes, like a satyr or Silenus." (10) Though in less racialized or specific terms, Levy has Xantippe refer to Socrates' ugliness even while she remains aware that a deep soul might harbor within:
   Once, walking 'thwart the crowded market place,
   With other maidens, bearing in the twigs,
   White doves for Aphrodite's sacrifice,
   I saw him, all ungainly and uncouth,
   Yet many gathered round to hear his words,
   Tall youths and stranger-maidens--Sokrates--
   I saw his face and marked it, half with awe,
   Half with a quick repulsion at the shape....
   The richest gem lies hidden furthest down,
   And is the dearer for the weary search;
                                    So a soul,
      Found after weary searching in the flesh
      Which half repelled our senses, is more dear.

(53-62, 65-67)

Later, told by her father that she is to wed Socrates, she recounts how "I, foolish, wept to see at once cast down / The maiden image of a future love, / Where perfect body matched the perfect soul" (75-77). Even so, she observes carefully "the magic flash / Leap to the eyes" of her intended husband and ultimately "caught the soul athwart the grosser flesh" (79-80, 86). Her own ability to pierce surface phenomena in quest of subtler truths ironically confirms her capacity for dialogue and true partnership with her ugly philosopher husband, a process Socrates omits to pursue with his wife.

Grote also mentions that once Socrates abandoned sculpture for dialectic conversation with Athenians, he dropped all means of earning a livelihood, a point that figured in some accounts sympathetic to Xantippe, (11) since she had to support a household nonetheless. More pertinent to Levy, Grote observes that Socrates "visited all persons of interest in the city, male or female: his friendship with Aspasia is well known, and one of the most interesting chapters of Xenophon's Memorabilia recounts his visit to, and dialogue with Theodote--a beautiful Hetaera or Female Companion." (12) Aspasia, teacher of Socrates and mistress of Pericles (who is credited with writing many of his speeches), plays a key role in Levy's monologue. For it is when she hears Socrates praise Aspasia for the intellectual discourse from which Xantippe has been barred that she first expresses anger in the poem:
      with solemn tone, spake Sokrates:
   "This lair Aspasia, which our Pericles
   Hath brought from realms afar, and set on high
   In our Athenian city, hath a mind,
   I doubt not, of a strength beyond her race;
   And makes employ of it, beyond the way
   Of women nobly gifted: woman's frail
   Her body rarely stands the test of soul;
   She grows intoxicate with knowledge; throws
   The laws of custom, order, 'neath her feet,
   Feasting at life's great banquet with wide throat."
   Then sudden, stepping from my leafy screen,
   Holding the swelling wine-skin o'er my head,
   With breast that heaved, and eyes and cheeks aflame,
   Lit by a fury and a thought, I spake:
   "By all great powers around us! can it be
   That we poor women are empirical?"


Xantippe is here protesting a regressive generalization to which Socrates has already conceded an exception but also suffering anguish that another woman occupies the footing with learned men that Xantippe has yearned for in marriage.

Socrates' slighting of women's powers in Levy's poem diverges from a statement in Xenophon's Memorabilia, translated as "Recollections of Socrates" by Victorian scholar Alexander Grant, that affirms women's equal capacities. Numerous Victorians cited the passage to indicate Socrates' modernity and goodness. The entire passage in Xenophon, however, opens a space for Levy's countering emphasis. As Alexander Grant explains, the comments are occasioned by a woman dancer's acrobatic feats:

This wonderful exhibition caused Socrates to remark, that "the talent of women is not at all inferior to that of men, though they are weaker in bodily strength. So that any one who had a wife might confidently instruct her in whatever he wished her to know." This observation caused Antisthenes to put it to Socrates, "Why, if he thought so, did he not educate Xanthippe, instead of leaving her the most notoriously ill-conditioned wife in existence?" It is a question that Socrates pointedly deflects, instead turning it to his own moral advantage: "he, wishing to converse and associate with mankind, had chosen to have a wife of this kind, knowing that if he could bear her society, he would be able to get on with any one else in the world." (13)

Grote himself devotes only a single sentence to Xantippe that merely confirms her stereotype: "Respecting his wife Xanthippe, and his three sons, all that has passed into history is the violent temper of the former, and the patience of her husband in enduring it." (14) One of Grote's German rivals, however, did interest himself in Xantippe. As Turner remarks, "During the nineteenth century Eduard Zeller's History of Greek Philosophy was the most widely consulted reply to Hegel's analysis of ancient thought"; and he elsewhere terms Zeller "the great historian of Greek philosophy." (15) Zeller's Socrates and the Socratic Schools, twice translated into English in 1868 and 1877, may like Grote's History devote only a sentence to Xantippe in its survey of Socrates' life, but Zeller adds in a note, "Later writers of antiquity ... relate of [Xantippe] so many little stories and disgraceful traits that one almost feels inclined to take up the cudgels in her behalf, as Heumann has actually done." (16)

In his essay "Zur Ehrenrettung der Xanthippe" ("Toward the Rehabilitation of Xantippe"), first issued in 1850 and then in successive collections of Zeller's essays from 1865 onward, Zeller takes up those cudgels. Applying his considerable expertise in textual studies to the historical record (within which, he argues, Xenophon and Plato are the only reliable sources), Zeller suggests that other writers appropriated Xantippe to grind an axe or suit a theme, and he asks the crucial question: whether Socrates was a pleasant husband. (17) He insinuates a negative answer on several grounds: Socrates' ugliness, lack of work, prolonged absences from home while Xantippe and the children battled poverty, companionship with other women, and adherence to the dictates of inner voices. (18) He accordingly concludes that Xantippe and her sons endured more from Socrates' peculiarities than any others. (19) Intriguingly, Zeller ends his essay looking towards possible future women readers and the hope of pleasing them with his conclusion. (20) Having opened with the proverbial German rhyme--"Xanthippe war ein boses Weib, der Zank war ihr ein Zeitvertreib" [Xantippe was an evil wife whose pastime was quarreling]--he replaces the cliche with a love lyric by prominent poet Eduard Morike ("An--") reinscribed to Xantippe rather than to an unnamed woman:
   Madchen, wer ergrundet euch?
   Rathsel ohne Ende!
   Arg und falsch and engelgleich,
   Wer das reimen konnte!
   [Maiden, who can fathom you,
   Riddle without end!
   Peevish and false and angel-like
   Who can conceive the rhyme?]

(Zeller, "Zur," 57, 67)

Whether Levy knew Zeller's essay is impossible to determine, though she studied German at Brighton High School. (21) Certainly in discursive terms her poem answers Zeller's essay. Not only is Levy one of the future female readers Zeller invokes, but she herself creates a poem that represents Xantippe's complex many-sidedness, from idealism and spousal love to embitterment. In the final lines of the monologue, moreover, Levy incorporates details that imply she has a German context in mind. As Xantippe's death approaches she says to her attendant maidens, "The casement, quick; why tarry?--give me air--/ O fling it wide, I say, and give me light!" (278-79). This close echoes the poem's beginning, when Xantippe awaits the dawn (7) and recalls herself as a young girl "leaning from the lattice" to catch "The fair, far glimpses of a shining sea" (21-22). Her demand for light at the end is likewise a poignantly ironic reflection on her baffled quest for enlightenment in her youth and early years of marriage. But the lines also allude to the famous deathbed scene of Goethe, whose "last words audible were," according to the 1858 biography by George Henry Lewes, "More light!" (22) If the parallel calls for light from a dying housewife and Germany's premier writer further deepen the poems irony, they also suggest that a Xantippe, too, might have had the makings of genius within her but never had the chance to find it out.

The poem's first publication venue, like its engagement with classical scholarship, is also crucial to its poetic effects and significance. Levy may have independently sought to publish "Xantippe" in University Magazine, or she may have responded to a suggestion by Richard Garnett, Superintendent of the British Library Reading Room, who commented on an early draft of the poem. (23) There was an inherent logic to her choice in any case, for the pages of University Magazine were marked as the discursive space of a university. The act of entering them likewise marked Levy as an educated woman qualified to participate in public learned exchanges. (24) Her subtitle of "A Fragment" may also position the poem within the framework of scholarship. "A Fragment" was a common title or subtitle for nineteenth-century poems, variously indicating embryonic rather than fully developed thought or statement, a brief glimpse or apercu, a sketch, or an open-ended lyric. More substantively, it could designate the innovative Romantic form theorized by Friedrich Schlegel, an aesthetic work unto itself that gestured toward the infinite. One of Goethe's famous maxims seems even more pertinent to Levy's poem: "Literature is the fragment of fragments. The smallest part of what has been done and spoken has been recorded; and the smallest part of what has been recorded has survived" (25) "Xantippe" foregrounds the fragmentary character of all surviving historical literature by crafting a supplement to it. In its most literal sense, however, her subtitle may be most scholarly in implication, for it suggests a classical text surviving only as a fragment, as with almost all of Sappho, and newly given to the public in translation. By writing "Xantippe" in terms that suggested acquaintance with current classical scholarship and publishing it in a periodical dedicated to university life, Levy enacted the mastery of learning and access to philosophical circles that both vindicated Xantippe's desire for knowledge and assuaged her tragic failure.


Recent commentary on "Xantippe" has moved beyond feminist analysis to explore issues of alienation and Jewish identity. Karen Weisman, for example, asserts that Xantippe's angry outburst against her husband "appropriates a rhetoric that would have been recognizable as belonging to the discourse of the 'nervous Jew,'" and that "the conditions of Xantippe's alienation are powerfully resonant of the subtle alienation experienced by Amy Levy" (26) Shanyn Fiske similarly reads Xantippe's alienated isolation even on her deathbed in relation to the problem of Jewish identity in a predominantly Christian culture. (27) I suggest that Levy's discernible engagement with classical studies also makes legible her separation from conventional Christianity and opens a space for a specifically Jewish poetry.

Classical studies, especially on the Continent, distanced art and scholarship from Christianity in several respects. As Turner comments, eighteenth-century German scholars such as Winckelmann and Schiller embraced "Greek experience either to throw off the asceticism of the Christian tradition and the restraints of French academic rules or to find an alternative secular confirmation for modes of taste and moral experience that were normally buttressed by Christianity or modern aesthetics." (28) To establish reliable texts from ancient Greece and negotiate conflicting accounts of historical figures, classical studies developed rigorous methods for authenticating texts and textual evidence that could then be--and were--applied to the sacred text of the Bible, a practice known as higher criticism. Scholars' analysis rendered Moses's authorship of the Pentateuch problematical, for example, since the first five books end by recounting his death (Deut. 34); similarly, systematic analysis underscored the alternate accounts of Jesus's life in the four gospels and the authors' temporal distance from events they described. The Bible's literal truth and textual authority were brought into question in the process. David Friedrich Strauss went on to argue in Das Leben Jesu (first translated into English by George Eliot in 1846) that the Bible conveyed a myth more than a reliable historical record. As Strauss commented in his preface to the first edition, "it is not by any means meant that the whole history of Jesus is to be represented as mythical, but only that every part of it is to be subjected to a critical examination, to ascertain whether it have not some admixture of the mythical." (29)

The intimate connection between classical studies and the higher criticism is exemplified in Zeller himself, a professor of theology and philosophy who was also closely associated with Strauss. Indeed Zeller's 1874 study of Strauss's life and writings was immediately translated into English, as was his 1866 essay on Strauss and Ernest Renan, whose Vie de Jesus (1863) was a French counterpart to Das Leben Jesu. (30) To the degree, then, that Levy implied by her subtitle and materials that her poem was an imaginative counterpart to the methods of historical textual criticism--a probing and sifting of the historical record to decenter old myths and recover a more accurate representation of history--she was recognizably allied with those who were questioning the literal truth of Christianity.

As noted earlier, Socrates and Christ were considered parallel historical figures by numerous scholars, historians, and thinkers. If methods developed for classical studies quickly migrated to biblical scholarship with a solvent effect, some British scholars hoped to use classical scholarship for the purpose of shoring up Jesus's historical validity. Turner instances Benjamin Jowett, Master of Balliol College: "It would seem that Jowett and others hoped that since the textual discrepancies cast little doubt on the historical Socrates, a similar sympathy might be extended to the texts recording the life of Jesus." (31) Given the close pairing of Socrates and Jesus in terms of textual studies or shared martyrdoms on behalf of higher truths, the skeptical treatment of Socrates in Levy's poem by association distances her text from Christianity as well. Though Xantippe twice expresses respect for her late husband, her utterance underscores his cold indifference or logical blunders, as when she excuses him to her attendant maidens:
      I would not that ye thought
   I blame my lord departed, for he meant
   No evil, so I take it, to his wife.
   'Twas only that the high philosopher,
   Pregnant with noble theories and great thoughts,
   Deigned not to stoop to touch so slight a thing
   As the fine fabric of a woman's brain-So
   subtle as a passionate woman's soul.


Not only does Xantippe here posit "subtle" intellectual problems beyond Socrates' ken, but the passage also sets up the blatant inconsistency between his neglect of her and his later praise of Aspasia (163-68). Similarly, Xantippe's deep grief for her husband ("Alas, alas, I was not there to sooth / The last great moment; never any thought / Of her that loved him" [262-64]) highlights by contrast his vitiated emotions and mean regard for the suffering of a household companion. In portraying Socrates' intellectual limits and personal imperfections, the poem undoes the cultural uses of Socrates to shore up the Bible's historical authority and, by association, opens a space for skepticism about Jesus as well. Of course, only those familiar with classical studies and the higher criticism might connect "Xantippe" to skepticism about Christianity. Nonetheless, the intimate interconnections between classical scholarship and the higher criticism provided a means for Levy to write both as an educated woman and as a Jew skeptical of Christianity's claim to preeminent moral and religious truth.


In situating "Xantippe" within the orbit of scholarship Levy enhanced the gravitas of her poem and imbued it with deepened poignancy and force given Xantippe's exclusion from learning and public voice. Yet Levy's poem engages multiple discourses, including popular culture. By recognizably drawing upon the latter, Levy could widen her potential readership beyond scholars and intellectuals and align herself with woman writers and other cultural outsiders. For as Isobel Hurst and Shanyn Fiske demonstrate, Victorian women writers often accessed classical culture and literary tradition not through elite educations but through popular culture or translations into English of classical sources that opened historical knowledge of classical Greece to the general public. (32) As with her textual conversation with classical scholarship or higher criticism, the terms on which Levy adapted popular culture made her revisionary history of Xantippe both legible and meaningful to a reading community beyond the university.

As noted above, the poems climactic moment comes when Xantippe tells how "one summer's eve" she obeyed her husband's request that she "bring fresh wine-skins" but lingered a moment "upon the threshold, half concealed / By tender foliage" to gaze upon the men "seated in an arbour's leafy shade," including Plato, "Deepest in shade" "Sokrates, / With one swart finger raised admonishing" and "Alkibiades the beautiful" who "loung[d]" at Socrates' feet, "one fair arm thrown / Around his knee" (141-45, 148, 153-54, 156-57, 161). If Xantippe speaks out when her husband praises "fair Aspasia" for mind "of a strength beyond her race" and "the way of women," her attempt to dispute her husband's hasty generalization fails utterly. She encounters condescension and smirks from Socrates' companions, while the husband who never troubled to teach her demands to know from what philosophical sources she has "cull[ed]" her ideas (209). Xantippe's only recourse is intensified fury and violence:
   Then stood I straight and silent for a breath;
   Dumb, crushed with all that weight of cold contempt;
   But swiftly in my bosom there uprose
   A sudden flame, a merciful fury sent
   To save me; with both angry hands I flung
   The skin upon the marble, where it lay
   Spouting red rills and fountains on the white;
   Then, all unheeding faces, voices, eyes,
   I fled across the threshold, hair unbound-White
   garment stained to redness....


As Isobel Hurst astutely remarks, Xantippe here symbolically assumes the role of maenad, a figure that had contemporary as well as classical associations since French female revolutionaries and contemporary "wild women" were termed maenads for their "unnatural" violence and aggression. (33)

An illustration of Xantippe in the 26 June 1875 Good Things for the Young of All Ages, a children's spinoff of the religious periodical Good Words, could almost serve to illustrate the poem Levy wrote four years later. (34) Though Alcibiades (who was famous for a beautiful dog that here accompanies him) lounges beside Socrates rather than at his feet, all are seated in a leafy arbor while off to the side Xantippe, sourly unattractive, frowns and spills wine onto the ground. The text of the accompanying article, "Women of the Olden Times" by N. O. Rees, identifies her as the proverbial scold. Rees momentarily considers whether she might merit more sympathetic treatment only to dismiss the possibility abruptly:


Xantippe we have all heard of in the rhyming alphabet--"X was Xantippe, a terrible scold." She was the wife of Socrates, and is said to have been a very noisy, ill-tempered woman. But when she came in, while Socrates was talking to Alcibiades and other guests about wisdom, and goodness, and politics, and social laws, we may be sure that the great man was too much of a philosopher to care much, though she screamed at him, and spilled the wine, and made herself very disagreeable. Perhaps, after all, she was not as bad as she is made out to be. At all events we would rather learn about Socrates than about her, poor stupid woman. (35)

That such an anecdote circulated in the pages of a children's magazine indicates a larger repository of popular lore about the wedded life of Socrates and Xantippe familiar to wide audiences.

One strand of this popular discourse focuses on Xantippe's rage versus Socrates' morally exemplary patience and concerns what she spilled in Socrates' presence, or on him. The second-century Discourses of Epictetus, retranslated into English by George Long in 1877, tells of Xantippe "pouring water on his head as much as she liked" and "trampling" a cake given to her husband. (36) Greek biographer Diogenes Laertius (active in the second or third century) elaborates the former detail into an anecdote in Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, translated by Charles Duke Yonge in 1853: when Xantippe "first abused him, and then threw water on him" Socrates replied, "'Did I not say that Xanthippe was thundering now, and would soon rain?'" (37) The notoriously misogynist Saint Jerome (c. 347-420) turned the water into dirty water in Book I of Dialogue Against Jovinianus, and the story became scatological by the time Erasmus (1469-1536) retold it in his sayings of Socrates, as this 1564 translation by Nicolas Udall, reissued in 1877, indicates:

Socrates after that he had within dotes forborne his wife Xantippe, a greate while scoldyng, and at the last beyng wearie, had set him doune without the strete doore, she beyng moche the more incensed, by reason of her housbandes quietnesse and stilnesse, powred doune a pisse bolle vpon hym out of a windore, and al beraied him. But vpon soche persones as passed by, laughing and hauing a good sport at it, Socrates also for his part, laughed again as fast as the best, saiyng: Naie, I thought verie well in my minde, and did easily Prophecie, that after so greate a thonder, would come a raine. (38)

The incident became so famous that it inspired a Dutch engraving by Otto Van Veen entitled Xantippe Dousing Socrates in 1607 and a 1655 painting of the same title attributed variously to Cesar van Everdingen and Reyer Van Blommendael. (39) The Classical Dictionary of John Lempriere consulted by so many nineteenth-century writers reverted from urine to an ambiguous "vessel of dirty water on his head" but still recorded the anecdote. (40)

Xantippe's spillage in both Good Things for the Young and Lew's poem may thus allude simultaneously to classical tradition and popular historical anecdotes of an outrageous shrew. In Levy's poem, however, Xantippe's maenadic fury marks the beginning of her life as a shrew, not her constant venom. The poems shattered wineskin bypasses blatant indecorousness yet still echoes the popular tradition of Xantippe emptying urine or slops on her husband's head and thus suggests women's capacity to recoil from domestic subordination. Possibly there is a counterpart in the children's periodical. In Good Things for the Young the text and image of Xantippe are paired with a brief narrative and illustration of "Judith Slaying Holofernes" (figure 1). Insofar as Judith was a figure of sacred history, as in the group biographies studied by Alison Booth, Judith contrasts the shrewish Xantippe. But even some nineteenth-century feminist historians found Judith's beheading of a sleeping man troubling. (41) In the periodical illustration Judith's action suggests murderous violence befitting a maenad more than heroic virtue; and since her right arm unsheathing the sword visually parallels Xantippe's arm grasping the vessel of wine immediately below, they seem linked by shared aggression.

Alternatively, Victorian popular culture circulated numerous defenses of Xantippe. William Enfield's History of Philosophy, first published in 1791, abridged and translated a five-volume history by German scholar Johann Jakob Brucker. Enfield notes Xantippe's violent temper, then adds, "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" (42) In support of this contention Enfield cites the dialogue in Xenophons Memorabilia in which Socrates reprimands his son Lamprocles for complaining of his mother, thereby implicitly defending Xantippe as a worthy parent and Xantippe's deep grief at her husband's approaching death.

However, more than inconsistencies in the textual record propelled defenses of Xantippe. Several accounts (discussed below) shared an increasing propensity to reframe and/or fictionalize the marriage of Socrates and Xantippe in terms of domestic history and Socrates' shortcomings as a husband. In part this trend parallels the shift in another popular form, the novel, from public or political analysis to private relations. (43) But as Miriam Burstein indicates, the trend also reflects the popularity of fictional memoirs and the historical novel, which creates private histories impossible to glean from the historical record, and the complex role of nineteenth-century women's history, which was largely pursued as a Christian history of women's spiritual heroism in the home. (44) In this context the emphasis in popular culture and in Levy's poem on Socrates and Xantippe's marriage is less a startling innovation than part of a larger interest in the history of women's private domestic lives.

Thus the 15 August 1820 Liverpool Kaleidoscope, commenting that "it is never too late to vindicate the character of one who has been calumniated," defended Xantippe by pointing to the uncongenial domestic life Socrates offered due to his prolonged absences from home, inviting of guests despite inadequate domestic provisions, and ridicule heaped on him by other Athenians. (45) Roughly three decades later, in "The Character of Socrates," the May 1851 Gentleman's Magazine brought political economy and norms of Victorian masculinity to bear upon Socrates. The anonymous author speculated that it was Socrates' "refusal to be paid for his instructions [that] was a principal cause of the curtain lectures he himself received gratis from Xantippe" and proceeded to invent a sample sentence of the "curtain lecture" (46) This and other subsequent defenses of Xantippe suggest popularizations of "Zur Ehrenrettung der Xanthippe" (noted above) by the German scholar Eduard Zeller, illuminating as well the degree to which scholarship and popular culture intersected--in reciprocal directions. For if Zeller retains the authority of classical scholarship, he, too, applies the standards of nineteenth-century domesticity to the wedded pair and revisits history through the lens of women's private lives in his essay, as in popular histories.

Zeller's work is again a probable source behind "A Word for Xantippe" first published on 21 October 1866 in the atheist periodical National Reformer by poet James Thomson, an unquestionable influence on Levy. (47) Thomson cites the popular story of Xantippe "empt[ying] the vessels of her wrath upon the sacred head of Socrates,' thereby activating the "dousing" tradition, enumerates several conditions in her domestic life mentioned by Zeller, and then fictionalizes an entire scene:

Let any respectable English matron try to conceive the case of Mrs. Socrates, when Mr. Socrates came home one evening after an absence of two days and a night. Be sure that he had done no work and brought home no money for a long time, be sure that she had not a decent gown to her back, be sure that if the children had dined scantily on bread and olives, the dinner had been procured with the greatest difficulty. Remember that she was never invited to the fine parties he frequented, and that every day of her life she must have heard her gossips cry shame on this disreputable husband of hers, and hint with awe and horror at the queer tales told about some of the women and young men with whom he was most intimate.

If Thomson hints at transgressive sexuality in his mention of "queer tales," he also declares the need of a female-centered narrative of the married pair ("would that she had left her own statement of the case!") and suggests that only George Eliot is fit to tell the story. (48)

Charles Creighton Hazewell, American correspondent for the London Morning Post and a specialist in historical criticisms, may well have known Zeller's and Thomson's essays. Like them, Hazewell notes Socrates' refusal to earn money to support a household, his prolonged absences from home to discourse with Athenians, his friendship with Aspasia and visit to the beautiful hetaera Theodore, and the ridicule he elicited. His article, "Some Unappreciated Characters" in the May 1867 Atlantic Monthly, constructs a humorously anachronistic fictional portrait of Xantippe closer to Mrs. Micawber than to long-ago Athenian wives:

when the last obolus had been drawn out of the savings' bank, and there was a dearth of cash, and a plentiful supply of care by way of keeping the balance even, she could no longer keep silence, tightly reined as were Athenian matrons, and proceeded to give Socrates a piece of her mind,--the only gift that, thanks to his shiftlessness, she had it in her power to make to any one.

And who can blame her? ... Her last gown had been turned, and turned again, till it could be turned no more .... She had not had a new hoop for years, and had been unable to purchase the last specimen of crinoline....Her cap was of that Parisian mode which had been obsolete for a lustrum.... The butcher never called at the house, having long called in vain for the amount of his last bill.... How far she punished him for his shortcomings as a husband and father in refusing to provide for his family--which made him worse than an infidel--we can only guess. (49)

Hazewell more directly provides a precedent for Levy's poem in representing Xantippe's inner life. His Xantippe harbors no impassioned quest for knowledge but like Levy's embarks on marriage in a spirit of hope: "She entered on 'a union of hearts and housekeeping' with the usual high hopes that animate all young women under circumstances so interesting to them, but which are disappointed in most cases" Most notably, he invokes a feminist framework, remarking on the problem of history written only by men: "Take her at her worst, as women mostly are taken when men paint them, there is something to be said in her behalf" Concluding that "the charitable, and we believe the reasonable, view of her life is this,--that she was driven half mad by the foolish action of her wise husband," Hazewell contends that "she should be looked upon, not as a shrew ... but as a woman asserting the rights of her sex.... As such she is entitled to the grateful remembrance of all women, as the originator of that movement which has for its end the equalisation of women with men." (50) Though Hazewell may partly or wholly have written tongue in cheek, he opened a space in popular public discourse for feminist response to Xantippe. And his readership grew in Britain when first the passage on Xantippe and then his entire essay were pirated respectively in "A Plea for Xanthippe" fallaciously signed J. L. in the 1871

Treasury of Literature and the Ladies' Treasury, and "Some Unappreciated Characters" in the 1872 Dublin University Magazine--the same in which Levy would publish "Xantippe" eight years later. (51)

A more integral feminist antecedent of Levy's poem was "The Position and Influence of Women in Ancient Athens," the second in a series of essays on classical women in the Contemporary Review by James Donaldson, rector of Edinburgh High School and future professor at Aberdeen University. Donaldson's essay, like Levy's poem, mediates between popular culture and classical scholarship. Published only four months before Levy began to write "Xantippe," the essay links analysis of Aspasia, hetaera, and Athenian wives to a politics of women's rights--much as Levy would interweave education, marriage, and feminism in her poem. In classical Athens, Donaldson asserts, only women considered sexually transgressive by Victorian standards, whether hetaera or foreigners ineligible to marry Greek citizens like Aspasia (whom Donaldson terms "the most remarkable woman of antiquity"), could study philosophy, art, and politics. In contrast, girls destined for marriage were allowed outside the home only for religious processions (compare "Xantippe," 53-55) and trained solely "for a life of spinning, sewing, provision-getting and child-nursing." Since after marrying at fifteen or sixteen wives occupied separate women's apartments and could not attend banquets, Athenian men "did not discuss" with wives "subjects of the highest moment" or "share with them their thoughts and aspirations." (52)

Donaldson's essay, like Levy's "Xantippe," also connects an erudite, dreamy, attractive adolescent Greek girl to the confining realities of marriage in classical Athens:

when I came upon her in her sad melancholy moods, she would tell me that she was puzzled with the mystery of life and was wondering what it all meant. I have no doubt there were many such girls in old Athens, and many an Athenian wife could discuss the highest subjects with her husband. In fact it is scarcely possible to conceive that such a marvellous crop of remarkable men, renowned in literature and art, could have arisen, if all the Athenian mothers were ordinary housewives. But circumstances certainly were exceedingly unfavourable to them; and ... not one Athenian woman ever attained to the slightest distinction in any one department of literature, art, or science. (53)

In herself taking up a dreamy, intellectually aspiring Greek girl who is forced into the narrow confines of wifehood until she explodes in a moment of maenadic fury that destroys her own highest self rather than a male victim, (54) Levy was participating in a complex range of multiple discourses available to her from print culture. She herself had combined classical material with a Jewish heroine in a story she wrote at age eleven. (55) Still just eighteen when she composed "Xantippe," Levy did not create her protagonist out of whole cloth or craft a mere mouthpiece for feminist politics. Rather, Levy's poem orchestrates and draws details from popular traditions of an infamous shrew, popularizations of classical history that reframed Socrates and Xantippe in terms of domesticity or feminism, higher criticism, and scholarly and popular defenses of Xantippe. Reading her poem intertextually illuminates how successfully she constructed a poem that rippled with multivalent significance and appealed to multiple constituencies. In appropriating multiple discourses to her own ends, moreover, she enacted the power of contemporary women to reframe the lives of historical women, diverge from oppressive precedent, and become new subjects of discourse and history in every sense.

Texas Christian University


For permission to reproduce images from Good Things for the Young of All Ages I thank Cambridge University Library. I am also grateful to Teresa Mangum and Laura Capp for their responses to an earlier draft of this essay, and to Bill Boos for suggestions about my German translations.

(1) For "Xantippe" as a New Woman poem, see Deborah Epstein Nord, Walking the Victorian Streets: Women, Representation, and the City (Cornell U. Press, 1995), 199; Cynthia Scheinberg, "Recasting 'Sympathy and Judgment': Amy Levy, Women Poets, and the Dramatic Monologue," Victorian Poetry 35 (1997): 180-82; and my "Daughters of Danaus and Daphne: Women Poets and the Marriage Question," Victorian Literature and Culture 34 (2006): 482-83, 485, 491. For "Xantippe" as a fin de siecle poem, see Karen Weisman, "Playing with Figures: Amy Levy and the Forms of Cancellation," Criticism 43 (2001): 60-61, 63, 67-68. For its role in women's appropriation of classicism, see Isobel Hurst, Victorian Women Writers and the Classics: The Feminine of Homer (Oxford U. Press, 2006), 168-70; Yopie Prins, "'Ladies' Greek' (With the Accents): A Metrical Translation of Euripides by A. Mary F. Robinson," Victorian Literature and Culture 34 (2006): 592; and Shanyn Fiske, Heretical Hellenism: Women Writers, Ancient Greece, and the Victorian Popular Imagination (Athens: Ohio U. Press, 2008), 59.

(2) All three deal with betrayals or disappointments in love. Xantippe fails to find the companionate, intellectually rich marriage for which she hoped. The protagonist of "Medea," written three years later than "Xantippe" (1882), is racially marked and passionate. Spurned by Jason, who determines to wed Glauke out of political ambition and calls Medea a shrew when she strongly reacts to the news in the public space of her dwelling's threshold, Medea ultimately murders Glauke, then her own sons by Jason. In "The Greek Girl" a plain maiden set to spin with others in the weaving room passively suffers unrequited love for a man whom another, fairer woman has won, then finds all hope and joy as well as an outlet of mourning thwarted when he dies prematurely. The poems seem interconnected insofar as Xantippe and Medea are both deemed shrews and the unnamed Greek girl resembles the maidens whose weaving Xantippe oversees after she abandons all hope of meaningful self-development. In this essay I emphasize Levy's sophisticated handling of classical and popular tradition to craft a mobile poetic identity, but the hopelessness of heterosexual couplings in all three poems can also be read in relation to feminism and lesbian identity.

(3) Linda Hunt Beckman, Amy Levy: Her Life and Letters (Athens: Ohio U. Press, 2000), 37, 224.

(4) Levy's letter is pertinent to both "Xantippe" and Levy's educational goals. Defending the opening of careers and institutions to women, she argues that solely consigning women to the domestic sphere is not "sufficient to console many a restless, ambitious woman for the dreary performance of work for which she is quite unsuited, for the quenching of personal hopes for the development of her own intellect." In a subsequent riposte to the editor she instances "the opening of degrees to women at the London University, the establishment of Newnham Hall and Girton College, &c." as evidence of society's "beginning to acknowledge the justice of [women's] claims." See "Jewish Women and 'Women's Rights,'" Reuben Sachs, ed. Susan David Bernstein (Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press, 2006), 173-74.

(5) Frank Turner, The Greek Heritage in Victorian Britain (Yale U. Press, 1981), 264.

(6) See Turner, Greek Heritage, 264-321. As Richard Jenkyns, The Victorians and Ancient Greece (Harvard U. Press, 1980), 229-31, makes clear, Socrates was a vital parallel to Christ for agnostics and radicals as well, from Byron to J. S. Mill.

(7) Prins, '"Ladies' Greek,"' 592. Prins's term is drawn from The Gender of History by Bonnie Smith, whom she cites as follows: '"Amateurs articulated liminality that worked to mark out the boundaries, spaces, and locations of femininity' ... and 'expanded cognition to include aesthetic, emotional, and kinetic registers, constructing these within a historical knowledge that was--and remains--beyond the horizons of the professional'" (592).

(8) Amy Levy, "Xantippe: A Fragment," University Magazine 5 (May 1880): 592 (lines 38-40), 594 (line 96). Subsequent references are given as in-text citations. Line numbers are derived from The Complete Novels and Selected Writings of Amy Levy, 1861-1889, ed. Melvyn New (Gainesville: U. of Florida Press, 1993), 357-65.

(9) Joseph Hamburger, "Grote, George (1794-1871)," Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford U. Press, 2004). Online database

(10) George Grote, History of Greece, vol. 8, 2nd ed. (London: John Murray, 1851), 552, 554. Levy partially follows Grote's transliteration of Greek names, adopting a "k" for "Sokrates" and "Alkibiades." But she retains the popular English spelling of Xantippe ("Xanthippe" in Grote). Levy's motives are uncertain. Possibly her transliteration represents another mediation between professionalism and popular tradition; possibly her Englishing of Xantippe suggests a modern construct embedded within a classical context.

(11) These include poet James Thomson in "A Word for Xantippe" (National Reformer, 21 October 1866), discussed below, and four years later the chapter on Xenophon's Memorabilia in Alexander Grant, Xenophon (1870; repr. Philadelphia, 1878). Though, as will be clear subsequently, Grant alludes to the article of a German scholar, he comments in a note that "attempts to 'rehabilitate' her come to this, that Socrates could not have been a very comfortable husband" As he adds in the text, "In all probability Xanthippe may have had many a word with him on the subject of his not going on with his profession, and making money to keep his family in comfort" (90-91).

(12) Grote, History of Greece, 560-61.

(13) Grant, Xenophon, 118.

(14) Grote, History of Greece, 552.

(15) Turner, Greek Heritage, 274, 277.

(16) Eduard Zeller, Socrates and the Socratic Schools, trans. Oswald J. Reichel, 3rd ed. (1885; repr., New York: Russell & Russell, 1962), 62-63n3. Christoph Adolf Heumann (1681-1764) in his Acta Philosophorum, 18 vols. (1715-27), defended Xantippe in part by comparing hers to the marriage of Martin Luther and Catharina von Bora.

(17) "Aber ob er darum auch der angenehmste Ehemann war, fragt sich"; Zeller, "Zur Ehrenrettung der Xanthippe," Vortrage und abhandlungen (Leipzig, 1875), 62.

(18) Zeller, "Zur," 62-66.

(19) "Wet unter diesen Eigenthumlichkeiten des Philosophen am meisten zu leiden hatte, das waren ohne Zweifel seine Frau und seine Kinder" (Zeller, "Zur" 64).

(20) "Mag er aber auch nach wie vor uns andern verpont bleiben, so lasst ihn sich doch vielleicht die eine oder die andere Leserin, falls diese Blatter uberhaupt Leserinnen finden sollten, wenigstens aus dem Munde des liebenswurdigen Dichters gefallen, mit dessen Worten ich schliesse:
   Madchen, wer ergrundet euch?
   Rathsel ohne Ende!
   Arg und falsch and engelgleich,
   Wer das reimen konnte!

   O nicht sussen Honig nur
   Fuhren eure Lippen;
   Und so seid ihr von Natur
   Liebliche Xanthippen."
   (Zeller, "Zur," 67)

(21) Beckman, Amy Levy, 30, 224.

(22) George Henry Lewes, The Life and Works of Goethe, 2d ed. 2 vols. (Leipzig, 1858), 2:391.

(23) Beckman, Amy Levy, 37.

(24) Indeed, in the same volume as "Xantippe" was an ongoing series entitled "Spirit of the Universities" The installment devoted to Cambridge University announced the new Cambridge Review--a matter of material interest to Levy, who went on to publish translations, poems, stories, and essays in the periodical from 1880 to 1885. A. Mary E Robinson, who studied Greek literature at University College, London, for several years (Prins, '"Ladies' Greek"' 596 and passim), was also a contributor to the volume of University Magazine in which "Xantippe" appeared.

(25) Quoted in John Stuart Blackie, The Wisdom of Goethe (Edinburgh, 1883), 138. For Romantic conceptualizations of the poetic fragment, see Thomas McFarland, Romanticism and the Forms of Ruin (Princeton U. Press, 1981), 22-29. As Schlegel averred, "Many works of the ancients ... have become fragments. Many works of the moderns are so at their genesis'" (McFarland, Romanticism, 22).

(26) Weisman, "Playing with Figures," 76-77. Weisman also discerns Levy's assertion of Jewish identity by way of James Thomson. Noting Thomson's identification of Socrates as a type of Christ in "A Word for Xantippe," discussed below, Weisman continues, "If Socrates' rejection of Xantippe is the type, as Thomson has it, of a specifically Christian domestic morality, and if, as we have already seen, the dramatic monologue ironically showcases the speaker's essential alienation, then the feminist railing against women's exclusion also provides a nuanced reference to Jewish self-identity in a predominantly Christian society" (74-75). While I concur that Socrates' perceived parallel with Christ allows for a non-Christian and specifically Jewish feminist stance in the poem, I approach this within the larger context of classical studies and higher criticism. Many others besides Thomson, as Frank Turner and Richard Jenkyns demonstrate, associated Socrates with Christ.

(27) Fiske, Heretical Hellenism, 59.

(28) Turner, Greek Heritage, 3.

(29) David Friedrich Strauss, The Life of Jesus, Critically Examined, trans. Marian Evans, 3 vols. (London: Chapman, 1846), 1:ix-x.

(30) Eduard Zeller, David Friedrich Strauss in His Life and Writings (London, 1874), and Strauss and Renan: An Essay (London, 1866).

(31) Turner, Greek Heritage, 265.

(32) Hurst, Victorian Women Writers, 34, 71, 80; Fiske, Heretical Hellenism, 4-5.

(33) Hurst, Victorian Women Writers, 169-70; Linda M. Shires, "Of Maenads, Mothers, and Feminized Males: Victorian Readings of the French Revolution," Rewriting the Victorians: Theory, History, and the Politics of Gender, ed. Shires (New York: Routledge, 1992), 147, 151-52. See also Yopie Prins, "Greek Maenads, Victorian Spinsters," Victorian Sexual Dissidence, ed. Richard Dellamora (U. of Chicago Press, 1999), 48-49, 54-72, for the maenad's associations with violence, the insurgent "wild woman" of nineteenth-century feminism, and sexual dissidence.

(34) "Women of the Olden Times," Good Things for the Young of All Ages (26 June 1875): 477. Good Words for the Young became Good Things for the Young of All Ages after publisher Alexander Strahan, encountering financial difficulties, was forced out of his publishing partnership in 1872; he kept the children's magazine but was forced to change its title. See Leslie Howsam, Kegan Paul, A Victorian Imprint; Publishers, Books, and Cultural History (London: Kegan Paul, 1998), 40. Whether Levy saw the image of Xantippe in Good Things is again unknowable, though she was clearly reading children's periodicals at the time. As Naomi Hetherington points out, Levy was awarded "a junior prize for her review of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Aurora Leigh in Kind Words" in October 1875, yet another Evangelical title. See Hetherington's "New Woman, 'New Boots': Amy Levy as Child Journalist," The Child Writer from Austen to Woolf, ed. Christine Alexander and Juliet McMaster (Cambridge U. Press, 2005), 261.

(35) N.O. Rees, "Women of the Olden Times," Good Things for the Young of All Ages (26 June 1875): 476, 478.

(36) The Discourses of Epictetus, trans. George Long (London, 1877), 338. The influential translation of Epictetus by Elizabeth Carter, associate of bluestocking Elizabeth Montagu as well as of Samuel Johnson, had appeared in 1758.

(37) Diogenes Laertius, The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, trans. Charles Duke Yonge (London, 1853), 70-71.

(38) Desiderius Erasmus, The Apothegms of Erasmus, trans. Nicolas Udall (1564; repr. Boston, England: 1877), 26. The shift from water to urine occurred prior to the sixteenth century, since in her fourteenth-century prologue Chaucer's Wife of Bath mentions "the wo / That Socrates hadde with his wyves two; / How Xantippa caste pisse upon his heed. / This sely man sat stille as he were deed; / He wiped his heed, namoore dorste he syn, / But 'Er that thunder stynte, comth a reyn!" (Chaucer's Major Poetry, ed. Albert C. Baugh [New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1963], "Wife of Bath's Prologue," lines 727-32). The assertion of two wives (the second called Myrto) dates back to Aristotle, as Diogenes Laertius observes (66-67); most Victorian scholars doubted the existence of two wives and preferred the account of Xenophon.

(39) See Kenneth Lapatin, "Picturing Socrates," A Companion to Socrates, ed. Sara Ahbel-Rappe and Rachana Kamtekar (Oxford: Blackwell, 2006), 137-39, for further discussion and reproductions of this episode. Two versions of Xantippe dousing Socrates can be seen at and http://www.wga. hu/frames-e.html?/html/b/blommend/xantippe.html.

(40) John Lempriere, A Classical Dictionary, ed. Charles Anthon, 5th ed. (New York, 1825), 795.

(41) Alison Booth, How to Make It as a Woman: Collective Biographical History from Victoria to the Present (U. of Chicago Press, 2004), 108-16.

(42) William Enfield, The History of Philosophy, from the Earliest Times to the Beginning of the Present Century: Drawn up from Brucker's "Historia Critica Philosophiae," 2 vols. (1791; repr. London, 1819), 1:171.

(43) Nancy Armstrong, Desire and Domestic Fiction: A Political History of the Novel (Oxford U. Press, 1987), 4.

(44) Miriam Elizabeth Burstein, Narrating Women's History in Britain, 1770-1902 (Aldershot, England: Ashgate, 2004), 9-11.

(45) A Correspondent, "Xantippe," Kaleidoscope (15 August 1820): 54. A decade later the column was reprinted and identified in a headnote as a translation by L. Man of a passage from Kotzebue ("Defence of Xantippe," Kaleidoscope [6 July 1830: 428]).

(46) "The Character of Socrates" Gentleman's Magazine 35 (March 1851): 271-78. The article responds to the biographical account of Socrates in volume 8 (1850) of Grote's History of Greece. "Curtain lectures" alludes to the famous series of illustrated satiric sketches by Douglas Jerrold in Punch (1845). The fictional sentence ascribed to Xantippe in Gentleman's Magazine is as follows: "Look you, Daimonie, I keep your house, and I wash, wring, brew, bake, scour, dress meat and make the beds, and do all myself while you are for ever lounging and sauntering and talking with Glaucon and Critias, with that ruffian Thrasymachus, or that scapegrace Alcibiades, and never bring home so much as a single mina to me or your children" ("Character," 273). For the intersection of political economy and normative masculinity, see James Eli Adams, "Victorian Sexualities," A Companion to Victorian Literature and Culture, ed. Herbert F. Tucker (Oxford: Blackwell, 1999), 127-28.

(47) Weisman, "Playing with Figures," 74-75. Thomson could certainly read German sufficiently to access Zeller's essay, since he translated Heine and formed the second half of his pen name, Bysshe Vanolis, from an anagram of the German writer Novalis. Though Levy published "James Thomson: A Minor Poet," in Cambridge Review (February 1883), it is unclear whether she knew Thomson's essay at the time she composed "Xantippe." She was only five years old when his essay appeared in an atheist periodical, and it was not reprinted until after "Xantippe" was published. In any case, in issuing his article Thomson was participating in a wider matrix of popular and scholarly writing about Xantippe and Socrates as would Levy with her poem.

(48) James Thomson, "A Word for Xantippe," Essays and Phantasies (London, 1881), 223, 225, 227. As Daniel R. McLean notes, Socrates' relation with Alcibiades had developed an overtly sodomitical significance by the seventeenth century ("The Private Life of Socrates in Early Modern France," Ahbel-Rappe and Kamtekar, "Companion to Socrates, 358). Alastair Blanshard briefly discusses Lew's poem in "From amor Socraticus to Socrates amoris: Socrates and the Formation of Sexual Identity in Late Victorian Britain," Socrates in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, ed. Michael Trapp (Aldershot, England: Ashgate, 2007), 106-7, and traces the significance of Socrates for homosexual discourse and practice in the nineteenth century. Blanshard points out that Socrates offered "a palette of positions" some not tied directly to homosexuality, and that "different aspects do not form a synthetic whole" (98). Levy opens the possibility of homoeroticism between Socrates and Alcibiades in the ambiguous phrasing of "one fair arm thrown / Around his knee" (156-57), which might imply the young man's arm thrown about Socrates' limb rather than his own, and the emphasis on the young man's feminine beauty. Thomson's allusion to "queer tales" may be related to the agenda of the National Reformer insofar as the hint of scandal would demythologize Socrates as a precursor or parallel to Christ and undo the sanctity of both.

(49) Charles Creighton Hazewell, "Some Unappreciated Characters," Atlantic Monthly 19 (May 1867): 604-5.

(50) Hazewell, "Some Unappreciated Characters," 603, 606.

(51) J.L., "A Plea for Xantippe," Treasury of Literature and the Ladies' Treasury (2 October 1871): 133-36; "Some Unappreciated Characters," Dublin University Magazine 79 (April 1872): 426-46.

(52) James Donaldson, "The Position and Influence of Women in Ancient Athens," Contemporary Review 34 (March 1879): 704-5, 707 8. Donaldson's link between sexual transgression and educated women could have had particular importance for a woman who, like Levy, harbored lesbian desire. Levy's portrait of Alcibiades also established a context of same-sex desire for her poem. Significantly, Donaldson paralleled Sappho's erotically charged relations with her pupils and Socrates' erotic attraction to his (Donaldson, 701).

(53) Donaldson, "Position and Influence," 706.

(54) The self-destructiveness of Xantippe's flinging the wineskin is conveyed by the image of blood spurting ("it lay / Spouting red rills and fountains on the white" 215-16, the suggestion of a wound in Xantippe's stained garment ("White garment stained to redness," 219), and her earlier reference to herself as a shattered vessel ("I might have risen nearer to his height, / And not lain shattered, neither fit for use / As goodly household vessel" 122-24).

(55) Hetherington, "New Woman, 'New Boots,'" 259-60.
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Date:Jun 22, 2009
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