Phyllis et Aristotles

"Phyllis and Aristotle." 


ARISTOTLES, cum doceret Alexandrum ut se contineret ab accessu frequenti uxoris suae, quae erat pulcra valde, ne animum suum a communi providentia impediret, et Alexander ei acquiesceret, hoc advertens regina et dolens, coepit Aristotelem trahere ad amorem suum, quia multociens sola transibat cum pedibus nudis et dissoluto crine, ut eum alliceret. 

Tandem allectus coepit eam sollicitare carnaliter, quae ait, 

"Hoc omnino non faciam, nisi videro signa amoris, ne me tentes: ergo veni ad meam cameram, reptando manibus et pedibus, sicut equus me portando, tunc scio quod non illudes mihi." 
Cui conditioni cum consensisset, illa intimavit hoc Alexandro; qui expectans apprehendit eum reginam portantem. Quem cum vellet occidere, ait Aristotles sic se excusando, 
"Si sic accidit seni sapientissimo, ut a muliere deciperar, potes videre quod bene docueram te, quid accidere potest tibi juveni." 


Quod audiens rex, ei perpercit, et in doctrina eius profecit. 

 ONCE upon a time, Aristotle taught Alexander that he should restrain himself from frequently approaching his wife, who was very beautiful, lest he should impede his spirit from seeking the general good. Alexander acquiesed to him. The queen, when she perceived this and was upset, began to draw Aristotle to love her. Many times she crossed paths with him alone, with bare feet and disheveled hair, so that she might entice him. 

 At last, being enticed, he began to solicit her carnally. She says, 

"This I will certainly not do, unless I see a sign of love, lest you be testing me. Therefore, come to my chamber crawling on hand and foot, in order to carry me like a horse. Then I'll know that you aren't deluding me." 
When he had consented to that condition, she secretly told the matter to Alexander, who lying in wait apprehended him carrying the queen. When Alexander wished to kill Aristotle, in order to excuse himself, Aristotle says, 
If thus it happened to me, an old man most wise, that I was deceived by a woman, you can see that I taught you well, that it could happen to you, a young man." 
Hearing that, the king spared him, and made progress in Aristotle's teachings. 

AND they lived happily ever after. 

Please, don't try this at home!

This is more than a tender love story.  It is a medieval exemplum (example story), in this case an exemplum of how we should NOT act.  Aristotle is an example of passion conquering reason, at least long enough for him to play horsey.  As with the "Wife of Bath's Tale," this story shows he debate over the proper place of women in society.  The debate had been going on for centuries regarding the place of women in the universe and society. The clergy she criticizes focused on the subordinate place of women in society. The aristocratic tradition of courtly love was one in which the man pledged to do whatever his lady commanded, giving her the superior place in the hierarchy. Equality of men and women was something that neither side considered much.

The concept of the great chain of being gave the medieval mind a way of comparing things from different sections of the chain. This type of comparison goes back to Plato's Republic, where Plato uses the ideal state as a model for the way the properly balanced person should live. What happens in the macrocosm (universe) is reflected in the mesocosm (society) and microcosm (individual).

One popular set of such links was to compare the human dominance over animals (especially the horse) to the husband's control of the wife and the reason's control of passion.


If the stories of Phyllis and Aristotle and the Wife of Bath invert the proper hierarchy, we can see the proper relationship in the painting "La Virtu che frena il Vizio" ("Virtue Restrains Vice") by Veronese.

And remember, kids, if any of your friends asks you to to something like this,

Just say neigh!