Lesbian rule

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A flexible curve: the modern counterpart of a lesbian rule

A lesbian rule was historically a flexible mason's rule made of lead that could be bent to the curves of a molding, and used to measure or reproduce irregular curves.[1][2][3] Lesbian rules were originally constructed of a pliable kind of lead which could be found on the island of Lesbos.[4]

The rule is alluded to by Aristotle in his Nicomachean Ethics (bk V, ch. 10) as a metaphor for the importance of flexibility in equitable justice: "For what is itself indefinite can only be measured by an indefinite standard, like the leaden rule used by Lesbian builders; just as that rule is not rigid but can be bent to the shape of the stone, so a special ordinance is made to fit the circumstances of the case."[5]

In the 17th and early 18th centuries the term was often used figuratively (as Aristotle had used it) to mean a pliant, flexible and accommodating principle of judgement.[1] Thus Samuel Daniel in 1603 described equity as "that Lesbian square, that building fit, Plies to the worke, not forc'th the worke to it".[6] In the later 17th century, the antiquary John Aubrey used the metaphor in a more pejorative sense, implying the distortion of evidence to fit a preconceived theory. He accused Inigo Jones, who had interpreted Stonehenge as a Roman monument, of having "made a Lesbians rule, which is conformed to the stone: that is, he framed the Monument to his own Hypothesis, which is much differing from the Thing it self".[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "lesbian, adj. and n.". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.) (subscription required)
  2. ^ Loughlin, Gerard (2007). Queer Theology: Rethinking the Western Body. Blackwell. 
  3. ^ Magee, Maggie; Miller, Diana C. (1997). Lesbian Lives: Psyschoanalytic Narratives Old and New. Routledge. p. 36. 
  4. ^ http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=lesbian
  5. ^ Aristotle (1934). Rackham, H. (trans.), ed. "Nicomachean Ethics, Book 5 Chapter 10". 
  6. ^ Daniel, Samuel (1603). "To Sir Tho: Egerton Knight". A Panegyrike Congratulatorie delivered to the Kings Most Excellent Maiestie at Burleigh Harrington in Rutlandshire ... Also certaine epistles. London. p. C3v.  (subscription required)
  7. ^ Vine, Angus (2010). In Defiance of Time: antiquarian writing in early modern England. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 124. ISBN 978-0-19-956619-8.