Aristotle (385 -322 BC)
As a prolific writer and polymath, Aristotle of Stagirus (384 BCE – 322BCE) radically transformed most, if not all, areas of knowledge he touched. He was a tutor of Alexander the Great (Alexander III of Macedon). In a word — an outstanding man no matter which way you look at him, his life or his philosophy.
Aristotle mentors Alexander
“Love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies,” Aristotle taught young Alexander, initiating the future warrior-king in philosophy of carnal love.
Campaspe, also known as Pancaste, Phyllis and Phillida, initiated the young Alexander in love beyond philosophy, the first women with whom Alexander was intimate. She was thought to be a prominent citizen of Larisa in Thessaly.
One of the most popular legends and artistic motifs of the Northern Renaissance was the tale of Phyllis, Alexander’s mistress (in some accounts, his wife) who once rode the Greek philosopher Aristotle like a pony.
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 acquiesced 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.
Lucas Cranach — Phyllis und Aristotle (1530) Aristotle and his lover Phyllis. Phyllis is riding on the great philosopher, which is used to symbolize the power of the women. Story often pictured by Renaissance artists.
As Aristotle admitted, “There is no great genius without a mixture of madness.”
Whether a true story or a mythical one, it was duly, gleefully and plentifully reflected in numerous artworks through the ages. Images of Aristotle on all fours with Phyllis on his back has become more popular a subject than that of Aristotle in less compromising positions.
The writing tablet with a depression for wax on the underside, but the lid that protected the wax is missing. Legends about wily women making fools of intelligent men from classical times were very popular in the late Middle Ages. The relief on this writing tablet contains two such episodes. In the upper register, the Roman writer Virgil, who thought that he was being drawn up in a basket for a secret rendezvous with a beautiful woman, was left suspended in mid-air for all to laugh at. Below, on the left, Alexander asks his lover Campaspe (also known as Phyllis) to ensnare the Greek philosopher Aristotle. Her success is depicted on the right.
Hans Baldung – Aristotle and Phyllis.
Lucas van Leyden: Arisztotelész és Phyllis
Maltererteppich, Augustinermuseum Freiburg
Master Of The Housebook – Aristotle and Phyllis
French Casket with Scenes of Romances. The casket is carved with scenes from romances and allegorical literature representing the courtly ideals of love and heroism. In the center of the lid, knights joust as ladies watch from the balcony; to the left, knights lay siege to the Castle of Love, the subject of an allegorical battle. The remaining scenes on the casket are drawn from well-known stories about Aristotle and Phyllis, Tristan and Iseult, and tales of the gallant, heroic deeds of Gawain, Galahad, and Lancelot. The box may originally have been a courtship gift.
French Box. Front with Scenes of Alexander and Pyramus Walters (1)The first two scenes, from the left, show Aristotle teaching Alexander and Aristotle ridden by Phyllis, observed by Alexander. The next two scenes show Thisbe and the lion and the death of Pyramus and Thisbe. There is a roughened area for the lock in the upper center. The upper border is recessed for the lid and has been cut down on each side. A piece of raised border is missing at each end. There is a longitudinal break, and pieces of ivory are mssing along the break and at the right end. Although the first two scenes depict two of the same subjects fround on the Paris box (Walters 71.264), the work here is somewhat coarser and must either have come from another shop or been done by a lesser hand. The change of the second two scenes from the Fountain of Youth to Pyramus and Thisbe suggests that there was a variety of subjects available to the carvers.
And a contemporary rendition:
Indeed, For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them. (–Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics)
There is an interesting article on the subject Phyllis Rides Aristotle by Justin Erik Halldór Smith.