Italy, the Aged, Amore

It forever staggers me how apparently disjoint ideas gravitate towards each other, reinforcing, coalescing, the whole exceeding the sum of the parts. But such unity only comes about effortlessly when one is alone; society has the uncanny knack of blinding us to the connections which make all the difference.

And so, today, several things from very different sources grabbed my attention, and I saw they were all trying to pull together, just in different words. Don't ask me to recreate how these wildly dissimilar and mostly obscure sources flagged me down. But it's really clear my brain has way too many synapses for its own good. I welcome days of forgetfulness.

It all began by reflecting on the concluding stanza of Oscar Wilde's magnificent The Ballad of Reading Gaol:
And all men kill the thing they love,
  By all let this be heard,
Some do it with a bitter look,
  Some with a flattering word,
The coward does it with a kiss,
  The brave man with a sword!
Aristotle and PhyllisAs an example of how my mind works, that prompted me to recall the story of Phyllis and Aristotle. The tale is not so well known nowadays, but it was the sort of thing the National Enquirer would have featured had that rag existed in sixteenth century Europe. A popular woodcut from 1503, etched by Hans Baldung, titillates as much now as it did then. Can you figure it out and do you recognize anyone? 

Permit me to relate the story, in case you've never heard it. Despite the flabdominals, that babe really was the Kim Kardashian of Greece, you know. The narrative begins concerning an emperor.

Alexander the Great, of course, was a pupil of Aristotle. The latter could be a bit of a stern taskmaster and urged Alexander to forego carnal dalliances with women, which would only get in the way of his serious empire-building. "Beware the bints," he urged, "or you'll never wind up running the world." Aristotle's advice anticipated that of Oscar Wilde's Lord Henry in The Picture of Dorian Gray:
Women, as some witty Frenchman once put it, inspire us with the desire to do masterpieces and always prevent us from carrying them out.
Alexander took the injunction to heart and sent his main squeeze, Phyllis, packing. However, in a rather uncommon bit of kindness you'd never expect from the Macedonian, he had the decency to explain why there could be no more whoopee: "Aristotle told me to."

Well, Phyllis wasn't going to take this lying down (although lying down was certainly what she craved most). Holding the master Aristotle responsible for the loss of the best bang she'd ever had, Phyllis crept into the teacher's school and undid her bustier to reveal a bit of skin. Aristotle looked up, right in the midst of a lesson he was delivering, saw the jiggling, and excused himself from the pupils. He probably told the lads to count the teeth of a horse, to keep them occupied in his absence. (Look up that parable some day when you have a spare moment; I frequently used it in my classes and got blank stares on the folly of empiricism.)

Phyllis and Aristotle withdrew to his private chambers with alacrity. The latter was apparently delirious with desire and expected some a-courting and a-sparking.

They got naked and Aristotle anticipated action. Instead, Phyllis, to enact a bit of revenge (which was her intention all along), demanded he get down on all fours and convey her like a horse. He did. Check out the spicy pic, above, once more. Baldung wasn't the only artist to spread this Grecian porn; quite a few other woodcuts by various artists exist of a dominatrix riding the elderly philosopher. 

Quite a story. But wait, there's more! In some sort of weird coincidence, I learned just this week that Dr. Richard von Krafft-Ebing incorporated the Phyllis/Aristotle tale into his magnum opus mentioned so frequently in this blog. (By the way, did you know the good doctor was the one to popularize the word masochism? Maybe he had an insight into Aristotle the rest of us missed.)

Then, while pondering Phyllis applying the spurs to the philosopher, a phrase from the vasty deep popped to mind:
Oh God! There's nothing so foolish as an old man in love!
Now where would I have read that? My mind really is a trap of curious detritus.

It took some doing, but eventually I ran it down. It's from the play I Suppositi (The Pretenders) by Ludovico Ariosto. In yet another curious twist of fate, it was first performed in 1509, just six years after Baldung's centerfold shot of the buxom Phyllis appeared. I have no idea why that line from such an obscure play stuck with me for all these years. But it did.

So late tonight prepping my homemade spaghetti supper, the Sherlock Holmes tale, The Adventure of the Retired Colourmanresurfaced after nearly a half-century. Another instance of such foolishness, but with far more serious consequences.

And then I thought of the old radio play from the forties based upon this Holmes' adventure. The playwrights (Anthony Boucher and Dennis Green) were quite literate and worked in a bit of William Shakespeare's Shylock shrieking, "My daughter, oh my ducats, oh my daughter!" Italy, once more.

Apparently today was destined to be tainted Neapolitan. And the title? Well, ever the language slut, I just wanted an excuse to wield an asyndeton.

Next installment: 1+1=0

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