Aristotle Beyond the Academy


Dr Peter Swallow

This research examines Aristotle’s works on natural science (including the Peripatetic Problems, treatises on animals, Physics, De Caelo, De Generatione et Corruptione, De Mundo, and the Parva Naturalia), which are (mis)quoted, illustrated and epitomised in works on zoology, health, reproduction, gynaecology, and more occult matters.

Firstly, we investigate the enduring presence of Aristotle’s works on natural science, especially in the later post-Darwinian 19th century attention, and his zoological works which were disseminated in translation, digest and excerpt ranging from Richard Creswell’s History of Animals (1864) and George Henry Lewes’ Aristotle: a Chapter from the History of Science including Analyses of Aristotle's Scientific Writings (1864) to the serialised investigation of Aristotle’s science in Boy’s Own Magazine (1862).

Secondly, we address the semi-underworld texts published under Aristotle’s name pertaining to sex and reproduction, with titles such as Aristotle’s Masterpiece and Secreta Secretorum. The Renaissance history of these sex manuals has been previously researched, but numerous editions, often with racy illustrations, continued to appear until at least the 1920s (Molly Bloom owns one in James Joyce’s 1922 Ulysses). Some include material derived from Aristotelian zoological works or Problems, but the precise relationship to Aristotle’s own works has received no attention whatsoever, even in a rare article on these manuals in 18th-century America [Nichols (2015)] and a book on the Secreta [Ryan and Schmitt (1982)]. Aristotle’s bizarre but recurrent manifestations in visual pornography fit into the argument here, ultimately derived from a prurient 13th-century fiction which described Aristotle’s affair with the dominatrix Phyllis, a silly Medieval sex story tale made available in English by 1386, when John Gower told it in his Confessio Amantis.

Thirdly, we look at Aristotle’s ambiguous status as both a respected astronomer and as a supposed authority on astronomy and dream interpretation. And finally, we delve into Timothy Taylor’s 1811 translation of the scientific treatises which made Aristotle’s work more accessible than ever before.


Nichols, M.D. (2015) ‘The Aristotle texts, sex, and the American woman’ in The Secrets of Generation, ed. R. Stephenson & D. N. Wagner, 417-437. Univ. of Toronto Press.

Ryan, W.F. and C.B. Schmitt (1982, ed.) Pseudo-Aristotle: Secret of Secrets. Warburg Institute.

Durham UniversityDurham University Centre for Classical ReceptionLeverhulme Trust