Thursday, December 11, 2008

Translating Aristotle's Sexism: Part 3

The following is a sample of a few more of Aristotle’s biological and political writings.  It’s for the doubters.  And can many of us doubt his male-dominating influence on our persistently patriarchal cultures today?

Aristotle is writing to coldly observe what he sees in nature.  He is, in most cases, using logic to define and academic elitist language to classify.  The entire process of his describing is a male prescribing.  Excerpts of Aristotle’s Greek with my feminist rhetorical translating appear below.  But I have bracketed the technical transliterations or sexist terms usually included by masculinist translators.  This translating and bracketing serves as my only commentary on these passages.  The aim of including them here is to recognize that Aristotle was thoroughly phallic in his various writing.  By no means am I trying to be comprehensive with the selections.  I begin with his physical science first and then move to his social science writings.  The bracketed phrases below indicated the “traditional phallogocentric translation,” and what precedes the bracketed phrases is the contrastive feminist rhetorical translating.  For example, in the first set of tables below, the Greek word στέρα is presented followed by its traditional phallogocentric translation, “a hysteria,” which I bracket; then, both before the brackets and in a fuller context in another box, I show “a uterus” as a feminist rhetorical translating.  I give several tables in succession without commentary below.  My purpose is to illustrate Aristotle’s most blatantly phallic writings and how a feminist rhetorical translating recognizes and highlights the phallicism.

Το δ θήλεος διον μέρος στέρα, κα το ρρενος αδοον,

--Aristotle History of Animals 493a

a uterus, [a hysteria]

--traditional phallogocentric translation

The respective part of a female is an emptiness, a uterus, and of a male is a spear, a penis.

--a feminist rhetorical translating


χουσι δ πλείους ο ρρενες τν θηλειν δόντας κα ν νθρώποις κα π προβάτων κα αγν κα ὑῶν·

--Aristotle History of Animals 501b

 humans [men]

 --traditional phallogocentric translation

Males have more teeth than females in the case of humans [men], sheep, goats, and swine.

 --a feminist rhetorical translating

Ο δ’ αλουροι οκ πισθεν συνίοντες, λλ’ μν ρθός, δ θήλεια ποτίθησιν ατήν· εσ δ τν φύσιν α θήλειαι φροδισιαστικαί, κα προσάγονται τος ρρενας ες τς χείας, κα συνοσαι κράζουσιν. 

 --Aristotle History of Animals 540a

 a sexual way [physically aphrodisiacal, peculiarly lecherous], and comes on to [wheedles] the male cat  with sexual advances, and cries out [caterwauls]

--traditional phallogocentric translation

Cats do not come together in intercourse  from the rear with respect to the female, but the male stands erect and the female puts herself underneath him; and, by the way, the female cat is naturally attracting in a sexual way, and comes on to the male cat  with sexual advances, and cries out as they come together.

--a feminist rhetorical translating



στι δ κα δύσθυμον μλλον τ θλυ το ρρενος κα δύσελπι, κα ναιδέστερον κα ψευδέστερον, εαπατητότερον δ κα μνημονικώτερον,. . . . . Βοηθητικώτερον δ καί, σπερ λέχθη, νδρειότερον τ ρρεν το θήλεός στιν 

--Aristotle History of Animals 608b

more lying [with pseudo behavior], readier to deceive

manlier [braver] than the female. 

--traditional phallogocentric translation

The female is more dispirited and more despondent than the male, more shameless and more lying, readier to deceive and possessing a better memory for grudges

. . . . But as we have stated, the male is more able to help and is manlier than the female. 

--a feminist rhetorical translating


οικε δ κα τν μορφν γυναικ πας, κα στιν  γυν σπερ ρρεν γονον· δυναμί γάρ τινι τ θλύ στι τ μ δύνασθαι πέττειν κ τς τροφς σπέρμα τς στάτης

--Aristotle Generation of Animals 728a

[morphed] like . . . in form

[sperm] seed or semen.

--traditional phallogocentric translation

Now a boy is like a woman or wife in form, and the woman or wife is, as it were, a childless impotent male; for it is through a certain lack of ability that the female is female, being unable to concoct the nourishment in its last stage into seed or semen.

--a feminist rhetorical translating


δι γένος ε  νθρώπων κα ζων στ κα φυτν. πε δ τούτων ρχ τ θλυ κα τ ρρεν νεκα τς γενέσεως ν εη τ θλυ κα τ ρρεν ν τος χουσιν. βελτίονος δ κα θειοτέρας τν φύσιν οσης τς ατίας τς κινούσης πρώτης— λόγος πάρχει κα τ εδος—τς λης, βέλτιον κα τ κεχωρίσθαι τ κρεττον το χείρονος. δι τοτ’ ν σοις νδέχεται κα καθ’ σον νδέχεται κεχώρισται το θήλεος τ ρρεν· βέλτιον γρ κα θειότερον ρχ τς κινήσεως τ ρρεν πάρχει τος γιγνομένοις—λη δ τ θλυ. συνέρχεται δ κα μίγνυται πρς τν ργασίαν τς γενέσεως τ θήλει τ ρρεν· ατη γρ κοιν μφοτέροις.

--Aristotle Generation of Animals 732a

 [men] humans

[generation] birthings

the [definition] statement and the [form] visual,

 [cause] birth

mixes sexually [mingles]

 work of birth [generation]

--traditional phallogocentric translation

This is why there is always a class of humans and animals and plants. But since the male and female essences are the first principles of these, they will exist in the existing individuals for the sake of birthings. Again, as the first efficient or moving cause, to which belong the statement and the visual, is better and more divine in its nature than the material on which it works, it is better that the superior principle should be separated from the inferior. Therefore, wherever it is possible and so far as it is possible, the male is separated from the female. For the first principle of the movement, or efficient birth, whereby that which comes into being is male, is better and more divine than the material whereby it is female. The male, however, comes together and mixes sexually with the female for the work of birth, because this is common to both.

--a feminist rhetorical translating

In addition to observations in his physical-science writings, Aristotle says similar things in his ethical, political, and metaphysical works.  In these, Aristotle is also sexist:

ν ος φανερόν στιν τι κατ φύσιν κα συμφέρον τ ρχεσθαι τ σώματι π τς ψυχς, κα τ παθητικ μορί π το νο κα το μορίου το λόγον χοντος, τ δ’ ξ σου νάπαλιν βλαβερν πσιν. ν νθρώπ κα τος λλοις ζοις σαύτως· τ μν γρ μερα τν γρίων βελτίω τν φύσιν, τούτοις δ πσι βέλτιον ρχεσθαι π’ νθρώπου· τυγχάνει γρ σωτηρίας οτως. τι δ τ ρρεν πρς τ θλυ φύσει τ μν κρεττον τ δ χερον, κα τ μν ρχον τ δ’ ρχόμενον. τν ατν δ τρόπον ναγκαον εναι κα π πάντων νθρώπων.

--Aristotle Politics 1254b

the chief nature [physical properties]

the person [soul, psyche]

over the body [soma],

the statement [the rational element] over the passionate [pathetic, pathos]

broken apart [analysized].

humans [men];

[physical] nature

ruled [by man];

this principle [trope],

people or humankind [all men].

--traditional phallogocentric translation

And it is apparent that the chief nature born together is that of the person over the body, and the mind and the parts of the statement over the passionate is natural and expedient; whereas the equality of the two or the chief part of the inferior is always hurtful or broken apart. The same holds good of animals in relation to humans; for tame animals have a better nature than wild ones, and all tame animals are better off when they are ruled; for then they are preserved or rescued. Again, the male is by nature superior, and the female inferior; the one rules, and the other is ruled; and this principle, by force, extends to all people or humankind.

--a feminist rhetorical translating


πε δ τρία μέρη τς οκονομικς ν, ν μν δεσποτική, περ ς ερηται πρότερον, ν δ πατρική, τρίτον δ γαμική (κα γρ γυναικς ρχει κα τέκνων, ς λευθέρων μν μφον, ο τν ατν δ τρόπον τς ρχς, λλ γυναικς μν πολιτικς τέκνων δ βασιλικς· τό τε γρ ρρεν φύσει το θήλεος γεμονικώτερον, ε μή που συνέστηκε παρ φύσιν, κα τ πρεσβύτερον κα τέλειον το νεωτέρου κα τελος)—ν μν ον τας πολιτικας ρχας τας πλείσταις μεταβάλλει τ ρχον κα τ ρχόμενον (ξ σου γρ εναι βούλεται τν φύσιν κα διαφέρειν μηδέν), μως δέ, ταν τ μν ρχ τ δ’ ρχηται, ζητε διαφορν εναι κα σχήμασι κα λόγοις κα τιμας, σπερ κα μασις επε τν περ το ποδανιπτρος λόγον· τ δ’ ρρεν ε πρς τ θλυ τοτον χει τν τρόπον. δ τν τέκνων ρχ βασιλική· τ γρ γεννσαν κα κατ φιλίαν ρχον κα κατ πρεσβείαν στίν, περ στ βασιλικς εδος ρχς. (δι καλς μηρος τν Δία προσηγόρευσεν επν πατρ νδρν τε θεν τετν βασιλέα τούτων πάντων.)  φύσει γρ τν βασιλέα διαφέρειν μν δε,

--Aristotle Politics 1259b

what’s home-order-esque [economics, the science of household management]

the ruler-esque [despot, leader]

 the father-esque [paternal] relation,

the marriage-esque [conjugal]

these two at least [both]

rule [trope or mode of government],

City-state-esque control [political, republican government]

a kingdom [monarchy];

by nature [physically]

to command [rule hegemonically]

nature [physics] and the older [presbyterian] and fully developed [telos] younger and immature [a-telos]).

City-state-esque control [Politics, republican government]

nature [physical properties]

patterns and statements [schematics and logistics, or insignia and titles]

statement [logos, speech]

relationship [trope]

The rule [of the father]

affection [philea] and of seniority [presbyter],

good form [kalos, finely]

father [pater] of men or husbands and of gods [theos],

by nature [by physics]

--traditional phallogocentric translation

And since, as we saw, what’s home-order-esque has three divisions, one the relation of the ruler-esque to slave, of which we have spoken before, one the father-esque relation, and the third the marriage-esque—(for it’s a rule over woman or wife and over children, these two at least as under freemen, yet not with the same sort of rule, but over the woman or wife as in the exercise of

City-state-esque control and over the children as in a kingdom; for the male is by nature better fitted to command than the female except in some cases where their union has been formed contrary to nature and the older and fully developed person than the younger and immature). It is true that in most cases of City-state-esque control the ruler and the ruled interchange in turn (for they tend to be on in equal level in their nature and to have no difference at all), although nevertheless during the period when one is ruler and the other ruled they seek to have a distinction by means of patterns and statements  and honors, just as Amasis made his statement about the foot-bath; but the male stands in this relationship to the female continuously. The rule over the children on the other hand is that of a king; for the male parent is the ruler in virtue both of affection and of seniority, which is characteristic of a kingdom or royal government (and therefore Homer by good form designated Zeus by the words of the father of men or husbands and of gods, as the king of them all women and men).  The rule that a husband has over his wife, a free person, is the same sort of rule that exists over free persons in a City-state.  For by nature [by physics], the kingdom ought to be this way.

--a feminist rhetorical translating

λλον γρ τρόπον τ λεύθερον το δούλου.  ρχει κα τ ρρεν το θήλεος κα νρ παιδός,. . .  .

στε φανερν τι στιν θικ ρετ τν ερημένων πάντων, κα οχ ατ σωφροσύνη γυναικς κα νδρός, οδ’ νδρεία κα δικαιοσύνη, καθάπερ ετο Σωκράτης, λλ’ μν ρχικ νδρεία δ’ πηρετική,

--Aristotle Politics 1260a

otherwise [troped, has no deliberative faculty at all]

custom-esque culture of good character [ethical arete, moral virtue]

all women, men, slaves, and free [all men]

the restraint [temperance]; manliness [courage]

Dike’s Justice [justice]

ruler-esque [archike]

server-esque [hyperetike]

--traditional phallogocentric translation

The slave of the freeman or free woman, in fact, is otherwise; the female of the male has rule, as does a child. . . .

Clearly, then, the custom-esque culture of good character belongs to all women, men, slaves, and free but the restraint of a man or husband and of a woman wife, or their manliness and Dike’s Justice, are not, as Socrates maintained, the same; his manliness is ruler-esque, but what she has is server-esque.

--a feminist rhetorical translating

Aristotle’s voice in these passages is that of the misogynist.  He assumes, reasons, and concludes that the male sex is superior to the female sex.

Nonetheless, a defender of Aristotle may claim that among scholars generally “[t]here is a great deal of confusion over what Aristotle says in his biological writings about females and whether what he says about them there is ideological”; this is what Robert Mayhew says in The Female in Aristotle's Biology (2).  And Mayhew argues that he himself can “determine” that Aristotle’s biological treatises “are products of honest science” and “not of bias and ideology” (2).  Moreover, a feminist may allow that “Aristotle is never dogmatic . . . and does not profess to give anything but the somewhat casual expression of his own personal knowledge and opinions”; this is what Wright says in Feminism in Greek Literature (218-19).  Wright adds that “[i]t is unfortunate that [Aristotle’s] experience of women was misleading, and that the problems of feminism do not always fall within the confines of science” (221).  

I think, to be fair, there should be a look at both Aristotle’s “ostensibly-honest” science but also at passages in which he seems “friendlier to females” than normally he seems.  Of course, there are only a few more-obviously benign passages by Aristotle on females.  These include the following:

νδρ δ κα γυναικ φιλία δοκε κατ φύσιν πάρχειν· νθρωπος γρ τ φύσει συνδυαστικν μλλον πολιτικόν, σ πρότερον κα ναγκαιότερον οκία πόλεως, . . .


ο δ’ νθρωποι ο μόνον τς τεκνοποιίας χάριν συνοικοσιν, λλ κα τν ες τν βίον· εθς γρ διρηται τ ργα, κα στιν τερα νδρς κα γυναικός· παρκοσιν ον λλήλοις, ες τ κοινν τιθέντες τ δια. δι τατα δ κα τ χρήσιμον εναι δοκε  κα τ δ ν ταύτ τ φιλί.

 --Aristotle Nichomachean Ethics 1162a

an affectionate friendship [philea]

by nature [physicality];

a human being [a man]

naturally [physically]

City-state-esque [politicking]

 human beings [men]

 life [bios]

 these two . . . at least [both; necessarily the one is not the other]

--traditional phallogocentric translation

But a man or husband and a woman or wife seem to have an affectionate friendship by nature; for a human being, there is naturally a coupling together —even more than being naturally City-state-esque, inasmuch as the household is earlier and more forceful than the City-state . . .

human beings live together not only to create children in households favored together but also for the various purposes of life; for from the start the work is divided, and that of men or husbands and women and wives are different; so they help each other by sharing their individuality. It is for these two reasons at least, for utility and sweet pleasure, that there seems to be something special found in this kind of affectionate friendship.

 --a feminist rhetorical translating


διόπερ ο μν νδρώδεις τν φύσιν ελαβονται συλλυπεν τος φίλους ατος. . . .

γύναια δ κα ο τοιοτοι νδρες τος συστένουσι χαίρουσι, κα φιλοσιν ς φίλους κα συναλγοντας. μιμεσθαι δ’ ν πασι δε δλον τι τν βελτίω.

--Aristotle Nichomachean Ethics 1171b

manly by nature [courageous physically]

affectionate friends [philea]. . . 

to copy [to mimick]

--traditional phallogocentric translation

Therefore, those who’re manly by nature take on this blessed resistance to sharing their own pain with their affectionate friends. . . 

In contrast, women or wives and these different men or husbands favor mourning together, and are affectionate and friendly with affectionate friends and with sufferers together. However, it is clear that in everything one ought to copy the better sort.

--a feminist rhetorical translating

But even these passages (i.e., from the Politics and Ethics), that sound to Mayhew somewhat kinder to females. do not make the pro-Aristotle Mayhew retreat from his observation that “Aristotle’s conception of the female is, in general and in many details, false” [i] (2).  This exceptional concession for Mayhew actually supports the view of most people who recognize Aristotle’s misogyny and his pro-slavery views.  Most agree with F. A. Wright:  When Aristotle said “‘Women and slaves are inferior [to all men and especially to free men . . . ] by the conditions of existence as I see them: therefore they are inferior by the laws of nature’ . . . he was wrong in this matter” (Feminism In Greek Literature From Homer To Aristotle 219, 221).  An examination of Aristotle’s own phallic statements makes clear that his methods and his conclusions by them are suspect.

[i] Mayhew, in his The Female in Aristotle's Biology: Reason or Rationalization, does determine that “Aristotle’s conception of the female is, in general and in many details, false.”  His aim, however, seems to be to discredit other Aristotle scholars who find the Greek man to be a sexist misogynist.  Mayhew adds:  “But frequently, too little care is taken over rigorous scholarship on the part of some of his fiercest critics.  Often, there is little concern for what precisely his views are on a particular issue.  Nor is there much concern with presenting support for the claim that his arguments about females are little more than rationalization” (2). 

Mayhew would, rather, have done well to review Gareth B. Matthews’s “Gender and Essence in Aristotle,” which considers whether Aristotle intends a “Complementarity Theory” or a “Norm-Defect Theory” of difference between the sexes; Mayhews carefully examines all of Aristotle’s writings on the difference to show that sometimes Aristotle does not seem to speak of females as defective males.  But Mayhew also completely ignores the two best contemporary works that are concerned precisely with both Aristotle’s science and his philosophy on females and women.  The best works are the following books by two of the “fiercest critics” of Aristotle’s sexism: Feminism In Greek Literature From Homer To Aristotle (first published in 1923) by F. A. Wright and The Concept of Woman: The Aristotelian Revolution 750 Bc-Ad 1250 (1997) by Prudence Allen

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