Philobiblon: Riding Aristotle

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Riding Aristotle

More from Natalie Zemon Davis, from the famous "Women on Top" essay.

"The most popular comic example of the female's temporary rule, however, is Phyllis riding Aristotle, a motif recurring in stories, paintings, and household objects from the thirteenth through the seventeenth centuries." (p. 135-6)

Apparently, the story goes that his pupil Alexander (the Great) was admonished by the philosopher for paying excessive attention to the lady in question, one of his new subjects from India. Phyliss got her revenge in front of Alexander by flirting with the old man and getting him to get down on all fours, to be ridden like a horse, with saddle and bridle.

More on the source here; some images here and here.

Oddly enough, although I am something of a habitue of art galleries and museums I've never come across this before. Perhaps it wasn't a favourite topic for all those 18th-, 19th and 20th-century (male) collectors who shaped them.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

That might tie in with the argument - it may be in women on Top, I'm pretty sure it's in E P Thompson's essay on Rough Music (in his book Customs in Common) - that in the eighteenth century as views of women changed (from being dangerous oversexed harpies etc to fragile virtuous creatures in need of male protection etc), the most common targets of charivaris changed from unruly wives to abusive husbands... In that environment, Phyllis might well become, um, unfashionable.


9/11/2004 11:32:00 pm  
Blogger Natalie Bennett said...

That really is one of the great questions, isn't it. Why that dramatic change? There's changes in economics, religion and the whole culture of sensibility stuff, but none seem entirely sufficient as an explanation.

9/12/2004 11:13:00 pm  

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