Stone Carving Depicting Samson Forcing Open The Mouth Of A Lion While Delilah Cuts His Hair
Phyllis et Aristoteles

"Phyllis and Aristotle." 
(Woodcutting by Lucas van Leyden.) 
Stone Carving Depicting Phyllis Riding Aristotle

ARISTOTELES, 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 Aristoteles 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.

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 ask you to to something like this,

Just say neigh!