Why Philosophy is for Chumps (Mmm… Marginalia #5)

Today’s marginal image comes from the fan-favorite* Macclesfield Psalter, which, as the name suggests, is a lavishly illuminated psalter once owned by the Earl of Macclesfield. In the lower margin beneath the collect Deus qui caritatis (f. 223v) you can find the following couple:

I know what you’re thinking, and, really, it’s not porn. Promise. Rather, it’s a picture of a common late medieval joke about Aristotle,** who you may know from such philosophical works as On Generation and Corruption, On the Parts of Animals, and The Organon 4: Posterior Analytics***

According to the medieval story, while Alexander the Great was conquering Asia, he fell in love with a beautiful lady named Phyllis and spent all his time with her, neglecting his duties as world conqueror and general baddass.

Aghast, his nobles call on Aristotle, Alexander’s old tutor, to step in and talk some sense into him. Aristotle does, and the world-conquering badassery is resumed. Now, our Phyllis is a bright girl and quickly realizes that Aristotle is the one to blame for her lover’s sudden change of heart, so she sets out to get her revenge. She begins by flirting shamelessly with Aristotle, until she has him sufficiently head-over-heels and wrapped around her finger. Then, she tells the besotted philosopher that she will not do him give herself fully to him until he proves his love to her by letting her ride him around like a horse. No doubt hoping that this is the prelude to something seriously kinky, Aristotle agrees and goes to fetch the riding gear. Phyllis tips off Alexander as to where aforesaid horsing around is going to go down, so that the two are subsequently discovered making the beast with one back and a bit and saddle, if you know what I mean… [Pornometer reports: 1.47 and falling.]

When Alexander demands an explanation, Aristotle replies, essentially: “Didn’t I tell you how dangerous she was? If a woman can make such a fool out of someone as old and wise as me, how much worse would she be for a young man like you? I’ve made myself an example so you could benefit more from my teachings.”****

So, like I said, it’s not porn. It’s an exemplum meant to teach you how terrible women can be, even to philosophers.

*Those of you doubting that this psalter has fans, let me remind you that you are reading this post on the Internet. Everything ever created has fans here. Indeed, this post has already created quite the buzz on the Macclesfield Psalter slashfic forum, resulting in a flamewar, which then resulted in a flamearmistic, which then resulted in a flamecoldwar whose accompanying climate of anxiety and repression may in fact result in a new form of minimalist techno in a few weeks. Check back for updates!
**Famed as a bugger for the bottle, according to some reports.
***The pornometer reports that this sentence contains entendres that are well within local tolerances, barely past a 1.385 and nowhere near the 1.95 that marks the legal limit.
****Interestingly enough, this is one of the few defenses that R. Kelly did not offer up in his recent trial. Also, here’s a link to one version of the story, complete with Latin.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Rachel

    Or, of course, if you want a more interactive version, you can wash your hands with an Aristotle and Phyllis Aquamanile. What every bathroom needs.

  • Got Medieval

    Screw CafePress. I need to start selling those.

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