Corbel with a scene of Phyllis riding Aristotle

Gender and body

Gender and sexuality

The Lai d’Aristote is a fable (amusing and frequently erotic fictional tale told for the purpose of entertainment) attributed to Henri de Valenciennes, whose moral lesson celebrates the absolute power of Eros (love). But a very different rereading soon emerged: Phyllis becomes the wife of Alexander, thus demonstrating the evil of women in general and the sexual desire that leads to the debilitating power of womanhood. The theme was used in medieval and later literature, giving rise to multiple interpretations: evil power of women, insurmountable power of carnal love, weakness of the wise man, conflict between religious and secular values, etc. And from the 14th to the 19th centuries, this theme was widely depicted in art, including choir misericords and architectural statuary, manuscript illuminations, aristocratic tapestries, gold and silverwork, luxury utensils, and particularly engravings.