Here Comes My Ride (It’s Aristotle)

Phyllis and Aristotle, by Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1530.

Phyllis and Aristotle, by Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1530.

If you have perused sculpture, paintings, and other forms of art from the Northern Renaissance, you may have stumbled upon imagery of a woman riding sidesaddle on the back of none other than the philosopher Aristotle. Bedecked in fine garments (most of the time, anyway), she is Phyllis, said to be the mistress or wife of one Alexander the Great. Aristotle, looking rather silly and sometimes topping off his look with a bridle, the reins of which Phyllis grasps with a firm and unwavering hand, was Alexander’s teacher. So what brought them into such a strange predicament?

A manuscript dating back to the 13th century provides some answers. Apparently, Phyllis overheard Aristotle’s advice to his pupil that he should “restrain himself from frequently approaching his wife,” and, furious, she devised a plan to seduce the great philosopher. She was successful, and when he “began to solicit her carnally,” she told him:

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 Ill know that you arent 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 Aristotles teachings.

Some quick thinking on Aristotle’s part, evidently.

Read the full post, “The Slave of Passion,” over on Futility Closet.

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