Fish Eaters: The Whys and Hows of Traditional Catholicism

``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D

Phyllis and Aristotle:
A Medieval Tale of Warning Against Lust

The tale of Phyllis and Aristotle is an early 13th c.story about the power of lust to turn even the greatest of intellects, a man who extolled the virtues, into a humiliated, lowly being. The story has been told with slight variations throughout the centuries, but one of the most famous recountings is in the French "Le Lai d'Aristote" by Henri de Valenciennes (a "lay" is a short lyric or poem that is meant to be sung).

The story's outline as given in the paper "Henri de Valenciennes: The Lay of Aristote," edited and translated with introduction and notes by Leslie C. Brook and Glyn S. Burgess, 2011.

The Story of Phyllis and Aristotle

Alexander, King of Greece and Egypt, has recently conquered Greater India and taken up residence there. In spite of the military and political power he wields, he has succumbed to the power of love and encountered a maiden with whom he has become smitten. He spends so much time by her side that the members of his court grumble about it behind his back. Alexander‘s tutor Aristotle hears of their discontent and attempts to make him alter his behaviour. Aristotle argues that it is wrong to abandon all one‘s people for the sake of a single, foreign woman. In reply Alexander asks Aristotle how many women he should love and goes on to praise the concept of devotion to just one woman and to blame those who chide him for this, claiming that they lack love within themselves.

Aristotle‘s response is that it is shameful for him to spend his entire week in the company of his mistress and not to take his ease with his own men. He suggests to Alexander that he has gone blind and that his wits have become deranged, adding that he is acting like any beast in a meadow and therefore could be put out to pasture. He urges Alexander to mend his ways, as he is paying too high a price for his behaviour. Alexander heeds his advice and manages to keep away from his mistress for some time. But separation merely increases his desire, and even such feelings as shame and consternation cannot prevent him from returning to her. She expresses her surprise that a fin‘amant‘ could refrain from seeing his beloved, so he tells her about the disquiet felt by his knights and barons because he was not spending more time with them. Crucially, he blames Aristotle for his temporary desertion of her.

The maiden responds that she will turn the tables on Aristotle and bring it about that Alexander will be able to reprimand him for a worse affair. She tells Alexander to rise early the next day and to position himself at the window of his tower...

...The next morning, scantily clad and making the best use of her appearance, in particular her hair, the maiden frolics around the garden, raising her chemise and singing a love song. All this pleases the watching king and entices Aristotle away from his books. Aristotle realises that, in spite of his learning, if she draws near to him he will be powerless to resist his desire for her, as love has taken hold of him.

The maiden continues her antics, making a garland of flowers for her hair and singing another song. Finally, singing a weaving song as she does so, she approaches Aristotle‘s window, and as she passes near to him he grabs her by the tunic. The maiden pretends not to know who has seized her and expresses disingenuous surprise when she discovers that it is Aristotle. When the latter declares his love for her, she claims that she will never blame him. She also pretends not to know who has embroiled her with the king. In order to enhance his attraction as a potential lover, he offers to put things right for her with Alexander and begs her to come inside and allow him to satisfy his desire with her. With the aim of inflicting maximum humiliation on Aristotle, the maiden announces deceitfully that, before she indulges in any wanton behaviour with him, he must allow her to put a saddle on him and ride around the garden on his back, as she has conceived a strong wish for this. He accepts this willingly, and as she rides on him she sings a triumphant song in which she claims she is being carried by 'Master Fool‘.

When you're tempted to befoul yourself with porn, think of the above detail from the woodcut at the top of this page.

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