“Is there anyone to whom you speak less than to your wife?”
Socrates, in Xenophon’s The Estate Manager
Thomas Aquinas suggests that spouses ought to have the greatest of friendships. His central reason is that they share in the “whole course of daily life.”
In Socrates’ discussion of domestic life with Critobulus, he asks the above question about marital conversation. In context the question clearly means: do you speak to your wife in a way that is commensurate with the nature of the spousal relationship?
Here indeed is a point for reflection: what is the quantity and quality of our marital conversation?
Socrates puts the responsibility especially on the husband. Again, in context the question suggests that as Critobulus goes about his business he puts more stock in extra-marital conversation than he does in marital conversation.
Socrates does not explicitly indicate what in his view would be the primary subject of the conversation of spouses. Yet as the main issue of The Estate Manager is just what are the nature and the end of household life, we are left to ponder. Surely the conversation of spouses will itself be, among other things, an exercise in considering this most vital of realities.
Just what is the nature and end of our life together? What is this astounding reality—this natural masterpiece of family and household—that is ours to discover and to enact together? In what ways should we enact it, and how are we doing at it?
In another place, after asserting that the unexamined life is not worth living, Socrates says that he spends his days—every day—in serious discussion about the good life. Spouses have the privilege, even if at times an onerous charge, to spend their days discussing this with one another. For them, the good life will always begin, every day, in the home.
Xenophon (430-354 B.C.) was a soldier, historian, and philosopher of Athens. Like Plato he wrote dialogues featuring Socrates as a great teacher. Among these dialogues is Oeconomicus, translated as The Estate Manager, in which we get an insight into the structure and principles of the ancient household.
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