Saturday, June 13, 2009

Aristotle on Rape

This week, I learn that another of my friends has been raped. And, in a horrible coincidence, on the very same day, I learn that the "Top keywords driving traffic to from search engines" are "Aristotle on Rape." I wish I could say I am more surprised by the former.

The former makes me wonder about the long long painful silences outside of anonymous meetings - grieving, again. The latter makes me want to stop blogging entirely - hoping that men and women won't come to a blog when they can hear and interpret Aristotle for themselves.

The latter comes to my attention after reading Dr. Jim West's post on Alexa ratings. I wasn't surprised to learn that many of you find this blog, "Aristotle's Feminist Subject," from the top search words "aristotle logic essays." (In fact, some time ago, I wrote a series of long posts on "logic," and once many of you found a short post I'd composed comparing Aristotle's logic with Alice Walker's womanist essaying: "Aristotle's logic vs. Alice Walker's womanism" in which you and I considered "What does this mean for your writing?." And, indeed, some of you have come across a few posts I've labeled with the word "rape.")

But "Aristotle on Rape"? You've never read anything on that here. "Aristotle on Rape" is a dissertation. It's what translators like John Gillies get in 1823 when rendering the Greek of the Rhetoric into English this way:

"Again, If Theseus did not commit wrong in the rape of Helen, neither did Paris: if the sons of escaped punishment for carrying off the daughters of Leucippus, so neither ought the elopement with Helen to be prosecuted with vengeance."

It's what translator Ernest Barker, who really likes Aristotle and his Politics, finds he must write commentary on in 1962 when translating Aristotle's words in the treatise. Researcher Michael Davis explains:
[At the end of Book 5 of the Politics, one reads] Aristotle's long and detailed list of tyrants and their outrages, mostly sexual. We are given examples of rape, pederasty, insincere pederasty, pederasty in which the beloved is insulted by being asked playfully why he is not yet with child, wife-stealing, and castration, to name a few. So [ostensibly] uncharacteristic of Aristotle is this lurid account that one translator, Sir Ernest Barker, for the only time in his entire edition, relegates an undisputed portion of the text of the Politics to a footnote. His reasons are worth relating. The translator has omitted these passages in the text.
They are matters of scandal, or at best curiosities of history such as Aristotle with his encyclopedic habit loved to collect, rather than [Aristotle's own] matters of politics and theory.
Now, it is to be taken as a certain sign that something interesting is going on when an Oxbridge don's sense of propriety is offended.
What is most peculiar about Aristotle's account of revolution is the connection he tacitly makes between sex and violence. Sexual outrages seem to be the paradigm for that hybris which
although having many parts, each of them is the cause of anger, and being angry, most men ordinarily attack for the sake of revenge and not preeminence. [Aristotle, Politics] (1311a33-36).
(Davis, "Erôs and Physics," The Politics of Philosophy: a Commentary on Aristotle's Politics, pages 90-91.)
What is staggering is how Aristotle's logic goes unnoticed. How surprised rational men like Barker and Davis can be by Aristotle's justifications for men raping women.

One only needs to start at the beginning of Aristotle's Politics to get more than hints. Aristotle is justifying his own elite Greek male dominant City State, "which is the highest of all... at the highest good." This is not just the ideal; it is the real, the status quo of Nature.

Here he explains how it must be, and how good it is:
For that which can foresee by the exercise of mind is by nature intended to be lord and master, and that which can with its body give effect to such foresight is a subject, and by nature a slave; hence master and slave have the same interest. Now nature has distinguished between the female and the slave. For she is not niggardly, like the smith who fashions the Delphian knife for many uses; she makes each thing for a single use, and every instrument is best made when intended for one and not for many uses. But among barbarians no distinction is made between women and slaves, because there is no natural ruler among them: they are a community of slaves, male and female. Wherefore the poets say,

"It is meet that Hellenes should rule over barbarians; "

as if they thought that the barbarian and the slave were by nature one.

Out of these two relationships between man and woman, master and slave, the first thing to arise is the family, and Hesiod is right when he says,

"First house and wife and an ox for the plough, "

for the ox is the poor man's slave. The family is the association established by nature for the supply of men's everyday wants....
And Aristotle goes on teaching the boys in his Aca-Demy:
Again, the same holds good between man and the other animals: tame animals are superior in their nature to wild animals, yet for all the former it is advantageous to be ruled by man, since this gives them security. Again, as between the sexes, the male is by nature superior and the female inferior, the male ruler and the female subject. And the same must also necessarily apply in the case of mankind as a whole; therefore all men that differ as widely as the soul does from the body and the human being from the lower animal (and this is the condition of those whose function is the use of the body and from whom this is the best that is forthcoming) these are by nature slaves, for whom to be governed by this kind of authority 1254b.20is advantageous, inasmuch as it is advantageous to the subject things already mentioned. For he is by nature a slave who is capable of belonging to another (and that is why he does so belong), and who participates in reason so far as to apprehend it but not to possess it; for the animals other than man are subservient not to reason, by apprehending it, but to feelings. And also the usefulness of slaves diverges little from that of animals; bodily service for the necessities of life is forthcoming from both, from slaves and from domestic animals alike.
Are we following what he writes (albeit through translation into our bar-bar-ic English)?
they say that it is monstrous if the person powerful enough to use force, and superior in power, is to have the victim of his force as his slave and subject; and even among the learned some hold this view, though others hold the other. But the reason of this dispute and what makes the theories overlap is the fact that in a certain manner virtue when it obtains resources has in fact very great power to use force, and the stronger party always possesses superiority in something that is good, so that it is thought that force cannot be devoid of goodness, but that the dispute is merely about the justice of the matter (for it is due to the one party holding that the justification of authority is good-will, while the other identifies justice with the mere rule of the stronger); because obviously if these theories be separated apart, the other theories have no force or plausibility at all, implying that the superior in goodness has no claim to rule and be master....

For a man's acts can no longer be noble if he does not excel as greatly as a man excels a woman or a father his children or a master his slaves, so that one who transgresses cannot afterwards achieve anything sufficient to rectify the lapse from virtue that he had already committed; because for equals the noble and just consists in their taking turns, since this is equal and alike, but for those that are equal to have an unequal share and those that are alike an unlike share is contrary to nature, and nothing contrary to nature is noble. Hence in case there is another person who is our superior in virtue and in practical capacity for the highest functions, him it is noble to follow and him it is just to obey
Lest it's lost in translation, that "very great power to use force" is that Greek man's ability to rape: βιάζεσθαι δύναται.

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