The Philosopher and the Student

 Posted by on May 7, 2011
May 072011

Or, the Aristotelian Perversion

By The Court Jester

The ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, noticed that his soon to be “great” student, Alexander, was distracted and inattentive to his studies. After some careful investigation he discovered that Alexander’s attention was being consumed a seductive, young female.

He scolded the young Alexander at length that this young woman, by the name of Phyllis, was doing harm to his academic studies by dominating his thoughts. He would do better to attend to his lessons.

Now, Phyllis did not take kindly to the philosopher’s advice. She planned revenge on this interfering old busy body. So she stole herself into Aristotle’s garden where she commenced a song and a dance that was seductive and irresistible to the old man.

He approached the young women and, despite his better and learned judgment, he succumbed to her sultry nature. Would he not, she opined, win her affections by crawling about, bit in his mouth and saddle on his back, like some beast of burden and parade her about the garden? The deluded and be smitten fool eagerly complied and borne her on all fours amongst the rose bushes.

Of course, this was not the only element of her scheme. A forewarned Alexander was secreted away in an overlooking window so that he was witness to his tutor’s humiliation as he cast aside his books for the affections of the fair Phyllis.

Needless to say, Alexander confronted Aristotle with his demeaning antics in his cultivated domain. As always, the philosopher attempted to draw a lesson from his humiliating experience. If, he reasoned, a person of his experience and with his knowledge could be led astray by a young beauty then think of the impact she could have on Alexander’s youth and innocence.

Nonetheless, the philosopher no longer lectured him on the neglect of his studies.

This is a lovely tale, whether true or not, and it has inspired artists, mostly in the Middle Ages, to bring this story to visual life. Below is a random collection by various artists in an attempt to convey this morality tale. There are many more.

In particular, I enjoy the print by Master MZ. She seems to be really enjoying herself and Aristotle looks particularly forlorn and humiliated. Also, the Georg Pencz print is enjoyable if only for its uniqueness. She is wearing spurs in the bottom center of the print. Ouch! Poor Aristotle.

Of course, all of this makes one think of “ponyboys”. Was this in the back of these artist minds? Was it in the minds of the viewers? It was an extremely popular topic in the 1500’s. In the absence of the Internet perhaps this was very titillating for all those secret ponyboys and ponygirls.