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Literature / Xanthippic Dialogues

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Xanthippic Dialogues are the Missing Episode of philosophy - before Roger Scruton unearthed them during his travels in a little tea-shop in Alexandria, we only had very slight mentions of these invaluable philosophical works by women. Consequently, our classical tradition had been one-sided. Now, the words of Xanthippe and her friend Periktione speak to us through time, revealing the much neglected point of view on being, learning and law.

Some time later, Scruton was sent the text of Phryne's Symposium, a long work about love that can be seen as analogous to Plato's Symposium, by an anonymous Turkish lady. It has apparently been read and preserved by women in harems. He decided to publish it along his earlier findings - due to the sheer amount of time spent discussing sex, this part of the book should probably be withheld from the minors (and some majors, as well).

Or so the Framing Device says - in reality, this Philosophical Novel slash Mockumentary has been written by Scruton himself. But it's still an uproariously funny (if you know enough philosophy, that is, and excepting Phryne's Rape as Drama backstory, which is straight-out sad) critique of what we've done wrong with our civilisation by focusing on one side of things and neglecting the other.

You will observe the following tropes in it:

  • All Men Are Perverts: Parmenides in Periktione's story was a Dirty Old Man, although he tried very hard not to show it. His student, Zeno, was much more at ease with ogling the dancer.
  • Artistic License Economics: Xanthippe explains to Plato why his ideal state would fail due to its economic structure.
  • Behind Every Great Man: Xanthippe turns out to have been behind Socrates, although he, and especially Plato, tended to change or misunderstand her words.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: When Periktione chastises her son for not showing proper decorum, she mentions "the audience" a couple of times.
  • Brick Joke: Young Plato's horrible poetry. We think he grew out of it, but in Phryne's Symposion it turns out he, not his eponymous playwright, wrote that ghastly poem to Archeanassa.
  • Broken Bird: You wouldn't see it if she didn't let you, and she probably wouldn't let you, but Phryne has been conned out of an agreeable marriage, hence Defiled Forever, then actually raped, abandoned like a used tissue, finally had to leave her Child by Rape in a temple, which broke her heart, and due to all this, gradually learned to treat men the way they treated her, as means to her own ends.
  • Cast Full of Gay: Shades of it, especially in Phryne's Symposium. Its Frame Story, too, is rather suggestive about the relationship between the storyteller and her lady friend.
  • Conversational Troping: Periktione, being an educated lady. See the Shout-outs entry. Also, the Phryne's Symposium is a discussion of love, constructed just like the one Plato wrote, with a similar Frame Story, except it's the ladies partying and talking.
  • Disappeared Dad: Plato's dad is dead, fuelling his youthful angst.
  • Elopement: In Phryne's backstory. But her lover Peleus turned out to be a lying bastard. And a rapist.
  • Emo Teen: When he first appears, Plato is just eighteen and very, very emo. Including bad poetry, messy room, blaming his mom for Parental Neglect and being terribly embarrassed by her. Also, his name is not Aristocles, it's Plato, get it right, mom!
  • Fan Boy: Young Plato, for Socrates, which really, really annoys him. Especially when the kid misunderstands what Socrates said. Young Aristotle seems more of an innocently smartass teenager than starstruck, though.
  • Foreshadowing: Periktione foresees and criticizes Hegel and Marx over two thousand years before either is born. Xanthippe seems to anticipate some things Aristotle would later say (her husband says she's ahead of her time, and sure enough, when Aristotle appears, she offers to teach him). There's also a footnote mentioning that the really great poets' influence stretches backwards in time, citing Shakespearean quotations in Athenian plays.
  • Footnote Fever: Since this is a Non-Fiction work or rather, a facsimile of one it has a fair share of footnotes, often displaying subtle Textbook Humor and quoting many other works both fictional and real.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Discussed and demonstrated during the symposium, when Lastanea thinks Fryne's Plato is the philosopher Plato, and when Archeanassa admits to being in love with Plato the philosopher, not that horrible playwright - cue Cat Fight.
  • Happily Married: Xanthippe says she and Socrates were, all their lives, unlike what the cynics claimed.
  • High-Class Call Girl: Phryne and her friend, Archeanassa.
  • Historical Domain Character: Pretty much everyone, obviously.
  • Historical In-Joke: A book-length one to Platonic dialogues, complete with a story of how Scruton found these previously unknown writings in Alexandria.
  • Hysterical Woman: Inverted - it turns out Socrates's male students were the ones to get overwhelmed by emotion and needing to be led out of the room, while Xanthippe stays with him to the end.
  • The Ingenue: Phryne, at seventeen, was a naive country girl, overwhelmed by her mother's death, the big city and the perspective of an Arranged Marriage to a (supposedly...) terrible man.
  • Ignored Enamored Underling: Everyone can tell Lastenea is starstruck with Plato, her teacher, who, as far as we know, pretends not to notice her. Possibly because she's pretending to be a boy so she can attend his lectures.
  • Improbably Female Cast: Phryne's symposium is ladies-only. All the existent sources from the era only mention exclusively male symposia, although...
  • Instructional Dialogue: In the vein of the classical Platonic dialogues. Except matters addressed are quite modern - or maybe just timeless?
  • Measuring the Marigolds: Both the main speakers think this is where the philosophers go wrong, disregarding the concrete (including love, which is always particular) in favor of the general and abstract. They deem this especially bad in ethics and politics.
  • Men Are Better Than Women: Lastenea claims men love better than women - from Doylist perspective, she's obviously recounting Plato's views, so they can be picked apart later. From Watsonian perspective, she's just as obviously head over heels with the philosopher.
  • Mother Nature, Father Science: The men, especially Plato and Parmenides, are single-mindedly after their vision of truth, neglecting everything else. The women know better.
  • Libation for the Dead: Xanthippe is reminded to make one. By the dearly departed, her husband's, ghost himself.
  • Love Hurts: Discussed during Phryne's symposium. Phryne herself describes how she desperately loved Peleus, all the while hating him for what he did.
  • One-Steve Limit: Averted in Athens - Phryne's latest conquest is Plato the playwright, not Plato the philosopher.
  • Platonic Cave: Xanthippe reinterprets it: the person who goes out of the cave won't be able to help those remaining when he comes back, because he's blinded by the light. The real life is back in the cave, or in a house (houses were rather dark back then).
  • Parent with New Paramour: Periktione having remarried is a constant source of Parental Sexuality Squick and shame for her son, Plato.
  • The Philosopher: Everyone! More or less successfully.
  • Politically Correct History: It appears that our vision of history is sadly incomplete, in parts even plain wrong (more than we thought it was), having neglected the women's opinions.
  • Police State: Plato's ideal (see The Republic), criticized by Xanthippe, who seems to be an adherent of The Common Law.
  • Promiscuity After Rape: Phryne's road from a naive country girl to the most famous courtesan in Athens begins with her rape by a man she was in love with and would have slept with willingly if he hadn't forced himself on her.
  • Stacy's Mom: Plato's mom Periktione is stated to look much younger than she really is.
  • Socialite: Periktione, the classy, somewhat self-absorbed and flighty, but generally friendly lady.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Aristophanes is mentioned along with his The Clouds (the one that ridicules Socrates) and The Frogs.
    • Socrates also, his ghost and Plato are speaking characters. Parmenides as well, although we see him through Periktione's eyes. Aristotle appears briefly as a student.
    • The Republic, especially Plato's vision of a perfect political entity gets thoroughly discussed and reinterpreted from a woman's point of view.
    • Several Greek playwrights and poets like Pindar, Sappho or Corinna are mentioned by the ever classy Periktione. Sappho's hymn to Aphrodite is also sung by Periktione's granddaughter during Phryne's symposium.
    • Xanthippe quotes the future (to her) philosopher Hegel's famous saying: the owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk.
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: How Lastenea and Arete get around town (Lastenea disguises herself to study in the Academy). Phryne has also used a male disguise in the past.
  • Textbook Humor: The index has a recursion joke. It's also full of shout-outs, Author's tongue-in-cheek opinions, and has nothing to do with the book at all. It's hilarious.
  • Textile Work Is Feminine: Xanthippe, when she's widowed, makes her living this way. She teaches Plato a little, but he's no good at it.
  • Wine Is Classy: Yes and no - everyone drinks wine, because it's Ancient Greece. Plato complains about the horse piss they have in Sicily, though, so there's at least some elitism about it.
  • Women Are Wiser: Xanthippe and Periktione are consistently portrayed as more practical, far-seeing and magnanimous than their men.