Dissoi Logoi and Flying Ointments

Researching the motif of the “flying ointment” in the early modern period for my paper for the Sophia Centre conference on consciousness, I had to turn to the Malleus Maleficarum, that lovely book on witch-hunting (and on the general female predisposition to evil) written by two fifteenth-century Dominican monks.

Studying the section on “Why Superstition is chiefly found in Women,” I suddenly realized that my recent attention to Classical Rhetoric was paying off. What I might earlier have dismissed as mere wordiness was actually the use of one of those good old techniques of developing argument from the use language itself, such as dissoi logoi or Aristotle’s “common topic of degree.”

Knowing what the monks (trained, no doubt, on Aristotle and Quintillian) were doing, I found myself more willing to sit back and enjoy their verbal display–honed over hours of preaching out loud, no doubt–despite my disgust with their larger world view.