JEAN-JACQUES ROUSSEAU Putting Babies in the Corner
One of the most important figures of the French Enlightenment, Jean-Jacques Rousseau believed that humankind's natural state had been corrupted by society. "Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains," the philosopher once wrote. Rousseau believed that marriage was a necessary "chain" that mankind needed to submit to, and he argued that the nuclear family -built around the core of a husband and wife- was integral to society's success.
Of course, Rousseau's personal appetites were in stark contrast to the conventional morals that he publicly championed. He enjoyed flashing women, claiming to get an "absurd pleasure" out of the practice. And while he praised the nuclear family as that necessary straightjacket that all men must wear, it wasn't cut to his own liking. In his autobiography, Rousseau recounted his many relationships with upper-class women ...and their staffs. When Madame de Warens took Rousseau into her home in 1729, the philosopher initiated a menage a trois with the noblewoman and her property manager. The three only broke up when Rousseau took a job in another city.
But the philosopher didn't restrict his philandering to high society. In fact, Rousseau's longest relationship was with Therese Lavasseur, an illiterate seamstress whom he met in March 1745. They had a sizable family -or would have, if they'd kept any of their offspring. Rousseau personally abandoned every one of their five children to a French foundling hospital (sort of a YMCA for unwanted children). These tinier chains, he argued, would have interfered with his important work.
Neither Rousseau nor Lavasseur was faithful to the other, but after abandoning their fifth and final child in 1768, they decided to marry. The ceremony wasn't legal, though, as marriages between Catholics (Rousseau) and Protestants (Lavasseur) weren't recognized in France at the time. That appeared to be fine with Rousseau, who barely acknowledged Lavasseur anyway: Instead of referring to her as his wife, he preferred to call her his "housekeeper." He kept her "services" until his death in 1778.
ARISTOTLE The Man, the Myth, the Misogynist
Aristotle has taken plenty of abuse over the years for his misogynistic views. The Greek philosopher believed that women were "monstrosities" and little more than tamed animals, views that couldn't have ingratiated him to the opposite sex. He also believed that women were inherently defective creatures, based on his erroneous observation that they have colder blood and a shorter lifespan than men.
For their part, many historians have simply ignored these little mistakes. After all, Aristotle was one of the founding fathers of Western philosophy. He had created the first formal study of logic and advanced the fields of biology, ethics, and politics. Couldn't a little misogyny be swept under the rug?
At the ripe age of 37, Aristotle decided to take a wife. He married an 18-year-old girl named Pythias, who was the adopted daughter of his mentor, Hermias. The difference in their ages didn't seem to bother Aristotle. And while the historical record seems to indicate their union was a happy one, Pythia's feelings on the marriage have been lost to history. She died at an early age, leaving Aristotle to raise their only child.
Aristotle's second wife was a former slave with the unbecoming name Herpylis. Few details of their relationship remain, but Aristotle clearly preferred monstrosity #1 to monstrosity #2; when he died, Aristotle requested that he be buried beside his first wife. He continued to treat women like tamed animals to the very end, willing Herpylis to the executors of his estate.
There was one way in which Aristotle didn't treat his women like livestock -he never bothered to inspect their teeth. In addition to his other incorrect theories, Aristotle believed that women had fewer teeth than men. As the philosopher Bertrand Russell put it, "Although he was twice married, it never occurred to him to verify this statement by examining his wives' mouths." Perhaps smiles were rare in the Aristotle household. Or perhaps the philosopher was simply too busy with his work to find time to check. According to Diogenes the Cynic, Aristotle would "walk up and down [a public walkway in the Lyceum] discussing philosophy with his pupils until it was time to rub themselves down with oil." Women were confined to the home and barred from public and social functions, while Greek men were free to teach, learn, and get greasy.
LOUIS ALTHUSSER World's Worst Masseur
Louis Althusser was a 30-year-old virgin when he met the 38-year-old Helene Rytman in 1946. Worldly and experienced, she introduced the French philosopher to a brave new sexual world, a world that Althusser clearly wasn't ready for: After sleeping with Helene for the first time, he fell into a deep depression, leading to hospitalization and shock treatment.
Despite this inauspicious start, Althusser eventually accepted sex as part of his life. He also married Helene. Unfortunately, she may have taught her young lover too well. Before long, Althusser was cheating on his wife with other women. That they had no close friends only compounded their marital woes. The marriage was punctuated by violent fights, and Helene frequently threatened to kill herself. Of course, none of this helped Althusser's fragile mental state. The beleaguered philosopher fell into a pattern of frequent hospitalizations and extensive psychoanalytic treatment.
Somehow, the drama didn't seem to impede his work. Althusser lectured for more than 30 years at the prestigious Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris, influencing an entire generation of French thinkers with his radical Marxist philosophy.
But on a quiet Sunday morning in 1980, Althusser's life came crashing down. While lovingly massaging his wife's neck, Althusser "accidentally" strangled Helene to death. To the dismay of the press, he was judged mentally unfit to stand trial and spent almost three years in psychiatric hospitals before being released back into society in 1983. And while he mastered Marx, he never quite figured out the opposite sex. As he put it, "The trouble is there are bodies, and worse still, sexual organs."
MORE GREAT MINDS More Bad Ideas
Simone de Beauvoir: Adopted her lover as daughter.
Henry Ward Beecher: Called marriage "the grave of love" (strange for a clergyman!)
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: Revealed lust for sister in autobiography.
Leo Tolstoy: Shared lurid sex journal with fiancee right before their wedding.
Ayn Rand: Generously dedicated a book to both her spouse and her lover.
_______________________The article above, written by Andrew Shaffer, is reprinted with permission from the January-February 2012 issue of mental_floss magazine. Get a subscription to mental_floss and never miss an issue!
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