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Xanthippe's Last Night with Socrates

by Victor Gijsbers profile

Romance, Historical
2023

(based on 27 ratings)
11 reviews

About the Story

It's your last night together, for literal fuck's sake, but your husband is 'not in the mood'. Can you convince him to fulfil his marital duties?

And will that bring any solace at all?


Game Details


Awards

12th Place - 29th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2023)

Winner, Outstanding Historical Game of 2023; Winner, Outstanding Romance Game of 2023; Winner, Outstanding Ink Game of 2023 - The 2023 IFDB Awards

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Member Reviews

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Number of Reviews: 11
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Most Helpful Member Reviews


7 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
IFComp 2023: Xanthippe's Last Night with Socrates, October 7, 2023
by Kastel
Related reviews: ifcomp2023

We know little about Socrates. We know even less about Xanthippe, the second wife of Socrates. And yet, here is a story that imagines their last romantic night together before the esteemed philosopher took the hemlock.

As historical fiction, it teeters on the edge of implausibility. As an homage to the philosophy of Socrates, it is deeply Platonic and not very Socratic. But as a fantasy that disrupts our popular notions of the past, it does the job quite well.

On the Dedication page, Gijsbers writes that we'll never know who Xanthippe is or what she's like. However, it is possible to "complicate our idea of her; reimagine her; give her a voice that is necessarily our own voice." Putting on the mask of Xanthippe (and Socrates by extension) in the theater of interactive fiction brings them back to life and lets us "dwell in possibility". They speak with our voices, of course, but "the dead do not resent us." Instead, they will recognize this dialog between Xanthippe and Socrates as necessary "for our sake".

Keeping in the spirit of relevance, the game revels in our current vernacular of love-making: Xanthippe calls Socrates her "big man" and may choose to stroke his cheek. She wants to fulfill her marital duties and the player can make her pounce on poor Socrates. It is no wonder then that Gijsbers's version of Socrates often shudders at her actions. Grumpy at first glance, he is actually vulnerable to Xanthippe's sensuality. He becomes apologetic after a fit of rage and even uncertain of his own beliefs when he talks to her -- a far cry from the popular image of the individualistic Socrates from Plato's Apology. But it's also later revealed that (Spoiler - click to show)both characters lead adulterous lives because they can't help it. Socrates even gets a feminist lecture from Xanthippe about the sex workers he's involved with because they might not be consenting figures. As a result, their relationship has the baggage of most contemporary amours, but they choose to stay together in Socrates's final hours. Their love transcends time and space itself. I imagine their affection is strong enough to melt even the most stoic of hearts.

This is only possible because we have a rigid conception of the Ancient Greek world. We read in Plato's Phaedo that Socrates drinks the hemlock because he believes in his own philosophy and is first and foremost an Athenian citizen. A simple shift in this narrative changes everything. Socrates is not the ubermensch of Platonic philosophy in this story; he is someone who loves Xanthippe in his own way and he owes his life and death to her. Everything in Phaedo, from the Forms to the immortality of the soul, is attributed to his love for Xanthippe. She is his muse and, echoing Stephen Granade's romantic masterpiece of age and death, he "will not let her go". This work reframes everything we know about Socrates and his philosophy into a love ode for Xanthippe.

It's ahistorical and improbable, but the fantasy in Xanthippe's Last Night with Socrates is so strong that I want to believe in it. Those amorous embraces between those two characters we'll never know feel so real to me because I know it's fiction. The dialectical tensions between anachronisms and the quasi-historical details only speak to a higher understanding on why the love of wisdom feels so empty.

Perhaps, Socrates never loved Sophia. Xanthippe is a "horny cow" who sees Socrates as a "beast" that knows how to make her feel good. She's a far more beautiful figure than wisdom herself.

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
This man knows nothing, January 4, 2024
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2023

(This is a lightly-edited version of a review I posted to the IntFiction forums during 2023's IFComp. I beta tested this game).

In the English class I took as a high-school sophomore, in lieu of formal essays the teacher would have us write little weekly papers in response to a quote he’d pull from whatever book we were reading. Usually the quote would clearly invite a specific kind of analysis, like it’d spotlight a key theme or a bit of character development or what have you, but every once in a while he’d mess with us, like when we were reading Updike’s The Centaur: out of that novel’s heady mix of mythological allegory, lyrical landscape-painting, and squalid small-town depression, he extracted for our waiting pens the bare clause “…a sluggish digestive rumbling.”

This was, so far as I remember, a totally insignificant quartet of words, brought on by one character drinking coffee on an empty stomach or something like that – a mere incidental detail signifying nothing. The upside was that I felt free to write whatever I felt like, and for whatever reason, I decided what I felt like writing was a three-page narration of Socrates’s last hours. I had him run through a monologue about his devotion to philosophy and the ideal, drink the hemlock in perfect equanimity, and say goodbye to his disciples with no great show of emotion. Yet even as his spirit faced its end with calm, I had his body rebel, guts heaving and roiling against the hemlock, lungs desperate to keep gasping down air. The ending line (I was very proud of the ending line) was “what is Truth? Truth is a sluggish digestive rumbling.”

All of which is to say that even to a teenager whose knowledge of Socrates came mostly from The Cartoon History of the Universe, the idea of using him to dramatize the physical nature of man is irresistible: to levy a critique of pure reason (wait, that’s Kant) by bringing the body into the equation, to juxtapose the phenomenology of spirit (oops, that’s Hegel) with the reality of flesh. This is something Xanthippe’s Last Night with Socrates does, and does well – we meet an embodied, earthy Socrates, with a big nose and a bigger belly, and with a taste for wine and food and sex – but it’s also, let’s face it, a sophomoric trick that isn’t actually that interesting: ideas come from people, and people exist in the world, film at 11.

No, what’s interesting in this game isn’t so much what’s done with Socrates qua Socrates, as what’s done with his wife Xanthippe, and therefore with him in relation to her. Xanthippe has come down through history only as a silent archetype, demonized by centuries of male writers as a shrew so vituperative that Socrates turned to harassing passers-by in the agora just to escape her clutches. It would be tempting to flip the tables on this legacy of misogyny by positing a Xanthippe who’s a perfect mate for her husband, someone who’s supportive of his endeavors, an intellectual match for him, and able to create a harmonious home for him as a refuge from the small-minded politics that ultimately killed him. Fortunately, Victor resists this temptation: his Xanthippe is certainly Socrates’s equal, but she’s recognizably someone who gossips would turn into a legendary termagant. She holds a grudge, she knows what buttons to push, she calls him on his BS. It would have been easy to write this game to be about reacting to the great philosopher; instead, he has to react to her.

There’s a lot of skill needed to make this work, though; it’s easier to describe the dynamic between two long-married people than it is to show it, especially when they’re interacting in circumstances as extreme as these (the premise, memorably laid out by the blurb, is that as Xanthippe you’ve bribed your way into his prison cell on the eve of his execution, bent on one last roll in the hay). The game rises to the challenge by slaughtering sacred cows left and right. Almost the first thing out of Xanthippe’s mouth is ”come here, humpty grumpy Socratumpy,” which is a hilarious line but also a statement of intent: these characters aren’t going to be mere figures mouthing stentorian dialogue, but human beings who demand to be understood as such. This does mean that there’s more than a bit of anachronism in the dialogue (there’s a reference to a cuckold’s horns, for example, though I’m pretty sure that figure didn’t exist in antiquity) but the game is more than worth the candle: freed of the need to hew to some imagined Merchant-Ivory portrait, the game has full rein to be funny and sincere.

Indeed, while the circumstances of the characters are quite dire, Xanthippe’s Last Night with Socrates made me laugh as much as any game in the Comp. There are of course philosophy jokes sufficiently accessible that I got them (despite the passage of 25 years, I’m still mostly relying on that Cartoon History for my knowledge of Socrates), little Classical in-jokes (“That’s not what Alcibiades told me”/”You shouldn’t believe everything Alcibiades says”), and parodies of Homer, but the humor really proves its worth in the fights between the two spouses – for of course, whatever you choose, the evening quickly goes off the rails and a lifetime of resentment, regret, and suspicions get dredged up for one final look.

Arguing with your spouse is usually not considered fun IF gameplay, but here, it’s both integral to the story and entertaining in its own right. The marital dynamics here are very keenly observed – I swear that I’ve had some of these exact fights with my wife, especially the one about what counts as an apology, and Socrates’s inability to let an opportunity for a little joke slide or refrain from raising tiny, completely insignificant objections had more than a bit of a personal resonance – but among the heart-truths they sling at each other are enough gags and funny moments to make the conflict go down easily. The game’s also careful to manage the power disparities: neither one is wholly right or wholly wrong, the emotions aren’t allowed to go too far out of bounds, and since the game is necessarily framed by the question of when to sacrifice truth for social expedience (with Socrates’s example implicitly suggesting the answer is “very rarely”), it would feel perverse to try to avoid conflict when there are things left unsaid. As a result, despite being the kind of player who’s almost invariably polite when given the option, here I was gleefully picking the choices that maximized the amount of time Socrates was raked over the coals for slipping and calling Xanthippe a cow.

So yeah, this is quite a fun and funny game – I think this is the only time in IF Comp history when a player character has (Spoiler - click to show)shagged Plato. But as with many of Victor’s games, the comedy is in service of a non-frivolous examination of what we owe each other, what partnership can look like, and how we can imagine saying goodbye to the most important people in our lives. The closing scene is lovely and wraps many of these threads together, positing a domestic origin for the famous Allegory of the Cave that’s sweet and sexy and segues beautifully into the final bout of lovemaking (I know a mid-Comp update added the option to wrap up with cuddling, but that choice feels decidedly non-canonical to me).

For all that it’s set almost 2,500 years ago, Xanthippe’s Last Night with Socrates feels vital and contemporary; just as the questions Socrates grappled with are still ones that haunt us today, there’s nothing in this story that feels like it’s since been solved. Shorn of their dramatic circumstances, these dialogues are ones many of us have, or will have, with our partners – and just as in the game, those conversations proceed a lot of yelling and ill-advised joking that we hope history will fail to record.

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Love or hate you one last time, October 4, 2023
by Hyacinthos
Related reviews: "IFComp 2023"

The extensive and highly informative review posted before this one, provided almost everything one needs to know about the game, so in this one, I'm going to be writing my thoughts and impressions on the overall story instead.

IFComp 2023 has started a few days ago, yet unfortunately, I didn't have the time to check any of the entries. Fortunately, yesterday was my day off. While perusing the entries, the unusual name on the title and Socrates caught my eye first. When I read the description, then it was an insta-"Play online" for me.

I'll have to admit: I failed the first playthrough on reaching the main objective. Following the usual logic of games in the romance genre didn't work. Had to get creative and think out-of-the box, meaning: Searching on google who Xanthippe was and hopefully learn of her personality/relationship with Socrates. Surprisingly, it said Socrates liked her difficult and contrarian personality.....

To make a long story short, I decided to choose the most spiteful options one would expect to start a fight, along with the appreciation for philosophy. Managed to both achieve the main goal and get into a philosophical debate with the famous philosopher, Socrates. That's a win in my book.

Lovely concept the author has here. Seeing the last night before his death from the wife's POV. It was both a touching farewell and a good exploration on Socrates' possible psyche.

Playtime: 3 hours

Would I play it again: Yes, if not only to see the rest of Socrates arguments towards the second half of the game.

IfComp rating scale: 8/10 A great game which I'm pleased to have played, and which I'd recommend to others.

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Xanthippe's Last Night with Socrates on IFDB

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The following polls include votes for Xanthippe's Last Night with Socrates:

games with female protagonists by X.W

Outstanding Romance Game of 2023 by MathBrush
This poll is part of the 2023 IFDB Awards. The rules for the competition can be found here, and a list of all categories can be found here. This award is for the best Romance game of 2023. Voting is open to all IFDB members. Suggested...

Outstanding Historical Game of 2023 by MathBrush
This poll is part of the 2023 IFDB Awards. The rules for the competition can be found here, and a list of all categories can be found here. This award is for the best historical game of 2023. Voting is open to all IFDB members. Suggested...

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