Thursday, 19 March 2009


NAME Aristotle

WHAT FAMOUS FOR Greek Philosopher

BIRTH B 384BC Stagira, in Thrace, a small town on the Chalcidic Peninsular of Northern Greece.

FAMILY BACKGROUND Aristotle's father, Nichomachus, was a physician to King Amyntas III of Macedonia (the Grandfather to Alexander the Great). Little is known about Aristotle's mother, Phaestis , except she died when he was 9 and his father passed away a year later. Afterwards he was raised by an uncle called Proxenus.

CHILDHOOD Aristotle Spent most of his childhood at King Amynta's court.

EDUCATION His guardian, Proxenus, taught young Aristotle Greek, rhetoric and poetry then in his teens art, literature and music. This complimented the biological teachings that Aristotle's physician father had given his son as part of training his son in medicine.
At the age of 18, Aristotle went to Athens, where he was taught by Plato at his school in Athens. There he had a reputation for his keen intellect and was recognised by Plato as the "Mind of the School". He didn't leave until Plato's death in 347BC. In later years he renounced some of Plato's theories and between 345-342BC, the mature student studied marine biology at the shore waters at Mytilene, Lesbos.
In 335BC Aristotle opened his own school, The Lyceum, where he taught, whilst pacing up and down. Because much of the discussion in his school took place while teachers and students were walking about the Lyceum grounds, it came to be known as the Peripatetic ("walking" or "strolling") school.
Aristotle was a brilliant teacher. He held rather heavy going morning lectures and more accessible evening ones. The Greek philosopher made a practice of speaking at regular hours in the evenings for all who would come and listen. A visual teacher, Aristotle's lectures often required diagrams which he could pin on the wall . One project he gave to his students was collecting 150 different constitutions of Greek city states then ascertain which is the best system of governing.

CAREER RECORD An eternal student, Aristotle's working career didn't really start until he was in his 40s.
342-340 Aristotle was called to Macedonia by Philip to undertake the tuition of his then 14-year-old son Alexander. Plutarch wrote that Aristotle not only imparted to the future conqueror a knowledge of ethics and politics, but also of the most profound secrets of philosophy.
340-335 Aristotle was sent home to Stagira
335-323 Aristotle was given money by Alexander the Great to open a school at Lyceum, Athens in a gymnasium with an attached grove. There he devoted himself to lecturing and scientific research.
323 Aristotle is forced to flee to the island of Euboea on Alexander the Great's death, because of his Macedonian sympathies.
322BC On his deathbed, Aristotle is asked to choose the successor of his academy. He sends for Rhodian wine, which he approves of. He then asks for a cup of Lesbian wine, which he prefers as it is sweeter. His followers take the hint and appoint Theophrastus of Lesbos rather than Euemus of Rhodes as their head.

APPEARANCE Very little is known about Aristotle's personal appearance except from hostile sources. According to the sculptures and busts of him, Aristotle was somewhat below the average height. He had facial features a bit like the actor Derek Jacobi with a full flock of hair, a neat beard, which got straggly and long in his older age (not that Derek Jacobi's hair is now long and straggly) and a long straight nose. In later years was losing his hair and he studied the causes of baldness to no great effect.

FASHION Whilst studying under Plato, Aristotle acquired a reputation as a dandy wearing rings on his fingers and cutting his hair reasonably.

CHARACTER Aristotle had a kindly, affectionate character. He was devoted to his family and his friends, kind to his slaves, fair to his enemies. A good speaker (despite a stutter), Aristotle was lucid in his lectures and persuasive in his arguments. He could be a touch arrogant, maybe because of his privileged upbringing

SENSE OF HUMOUR Aristotle had a mordant wit. He defined comedy as the lowest of all dramatic, "writing about persons of minor importance whom their faults rendered ridiculous."

RELATIONSHIPS Like all ancient Greeks Aristotle was chauvinistic towards women. He taught that sex is bad and should be for making children only.
Aristotle married late, he was about 40 when he wed the 18-year-old-ish Pythias. They got hitched after her uncle (she was his adopted daughter) and Aristotle's ex pupil/friend, the successful landowner Hermias, had been murdered by the Persians. It was a good marriage but she predeceased Aristotle in around 334. They had one child, who was also called Pythias.
Aristotle later lived with Herpyllis of Stagira (Aristotle's home town). At first Herpyllis was more of a housekeeper, but later they became lovers and she bore him a son, Nicomachus, who died in battle when still young.

MONEY AND FAME Aristotle was by birth an aristocratic Athenian. He turned away from the world of practical affairs disillusioned with the politics of Athenian democracy, in particular its condemnation of death of Socrates. Aristotle taught that money didn't increase by itself and it was unfair to charge interest with lending.
If Aristotle were alive today...well, he would be pretty famous for being over 2,000 years old. However despite being dead for nearly 1,500 years, his fame reached its peak in the Middle Ages. This was down to the writings of Thomas Aquinas, which by reconciling Aristotle's reasoning (he was a reasonable guy) with Christian theology ensured that for a couple of hundred years, Aristotle straddled Western thought like a colossus. From around 1300 he was virtually regarded as a prophet, reaching Aristotelian point in the 1400s. Later Copernicus, Galileo and Darwin's theories outmoded Aristotle’s.

INTERESTS FOOD AND DRINK The egghead Greek was fond of pickles and he thought camel meat was the most delicate of all.
At Aristotle's school, his pupils sometimes ate together and they had their own communal cups and cushions.

MUSIC AND ARTS Aristotle's Poetics is one of the most influential documents ever produced on the art of drama. He held that as happiness is the aim of life, the major function of art is to provide satisfaction. Aristotle claimed that as art is concerned with reproducing an appearance and gives pleasure through the accuracy of the duplication. The great Greek wrote: "The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward things."
Aristotle taught that music had such an emotional effect on people that it should be censured. In Poetics he penned, "The flute is not an instrument with a good moral effect. It is too exciting."

LITERATURE Aristotle was the first man to own a huge personal library, which included the manuscripts of his works. He argued that literature was superior to history, because it imitates not what it is but what it ought to be. According to legend , Aristotle's private library was left to his successor Theophrastus and was later hidden to avoid confiscation or destruction.
The aristocratic Aristotle aspired to speaking as the common people do and writing as wise men do. His lecture notes became the basis of western and Islamic philosophy until the renaissance.
Aristotle wrote over 170 texts of which 22 survive today. They included:
1. Three works on morals, Eudemian Ethics, Magna Moralia and Nichomachean Ethics (named after his late son).
2. History of Animals: A detailed account of the lifestyle of animals.
3. Poetics, which was the earliest known ever systematic literary criticism. In it Aristotle states his view that tragedy is superior to the epic. It was also a very influential study of drama. "Poetry is something more philosophical and more worthy of serious attention than history." Poetics Ch 9
4. Politics, which condensed and brought together Greek theory about a Utopian State. Based on the morality of its time, the origins of today’s political thinking came from this work.
5. Physics, a fundamental work in the development of the scientific mind.
6. Rhetoric These three works formed the earliest analytical discussion of the techniques of persuasion.
7. The Organon This is the name given by Aristotle's followers to his six works on logic. His conception of logic was the dominant form of logic until the 19th century.

NATURE Aristotle pioneered the study of zoology and was really in his element when he was classifying and listing all creatures great and small. His book Historia Animalium was a record of the behaviour and habits of animals. Aristotle proposed a fixed set of natural species each reproducing true to type without evolving. Exceptions were the lowest forms of life such as worms and flies that came by "spontaneous generation" from rotting fruit or manure. Until Charles Darwin came along this was the accepted zoology thesis. Darwin remarked that "the intellectual heroes of his own time were mere schoolboys compared to old Aristotle."
Aristotle wasn't always right. He thought that flies had four legs and his fellow Greeks had such a high regard for him that no one corrected the great man.

HOBBIES AND SPORTS No Greek geek, Aristotle sponsored a boxer at the Olympics at Olympia.
Aristotle has been called the father of chess, despite the game originating over 800 years later in India in 600AD.

SCIENCE Aristotle was primary a biologist. Despite this, his successors were influenced more by his physical and astronomical theories. For instance he was one of the first men to believe that the world is round. However Aristotle was a man of his times with many Achilles heels. Because he didn't have the knowledge we have accumulated 2,400 years later, the great Greek came up with some balderdash, piffle and poppycock. Here's some examples of where Aristotle blew it:
(1) For a start his knowledge of the body was only skin deep. He considered the brain to be a device for cooling the blood and intelligence and sensation emits from the heart. . Why? Its all Greek to me.
(2) Aristotle thought heavy objects fall faster than lighter ones. He also believed that the moon didn't fall to the ground as it was made of a very light substance called ether.
(3) Because Aristotle didn't believe that all matter consisted of tiny particles, atomic theory remained dormant through ancient and medieval times. He criticised Democritus who'd introduced atomic theory.
(4) Aristotle's theory that stars move around a stationary Earth was held for centuries.
(5) Aristotle said some pretty obvious things such as: "Now a whole is that which has a beginning, a middle and an end."
(6) All his life, Aristotle, believed men have more teeth than women. I guess he never counted Mrs Aristotle's teeth.
(7) Aristotle believed in spontaneous generating. For instance bees are born from carcasses of oxen.
And there is more... he was brimming with wrongability.
(8) Aristotle believed there was a fifth element in addition to the Ancient Greeks understanding of the four, earth, air, fire and water. His element was quintessence, of which he and fellow Greeks concluded the cosmos and all celestial bodies were made.

MATHS Aristotle was a believer in the Hebdomadal rule that everything goes in seven. Man has seven ages each seven years long etc. Interestingly in the Bible, seven represents the 'perfect' number and the Greek word that is used in the New Testament, 'Hepta,' generally expresses completeness.

PHILOSOPHY Despite being taught by Plato at his school for over 20 years, Aristotle later renounced many of his theories. Over the last two millenia there has been a battle between Aristotle's and Plato's streams of thinking. I won't go too deep, but basically the more rational Aristotle advocated observation, reason and moderation whilst the more mystical Plato rejected experimentation in favour of discussion. Or as the old joke goes:
To be is to do - Plato
To do is to be - Aristotle
Do be do be do - Frank Sinatra
A stand up philosopher, Aristotle taught that ethics is the study of which types of conduct produce happiness: Vices are the excess or defect of virtues. He taught that the greatest of all virtues is speculative wisdom.
"One swallow does not make a sermon, neither does one fine day; similarly one day or brief time of happiness does not make a person entirely happy." Nicomachean Ethics
Later Alexander the Great established Aristotle's theories in the lands he conquered.

POLITICS Aristotle stressed the importance of studying the right conduct of man in society and contributed according to the Hutchinson Encyclopedia, "the first systematic attempts to distinguish between different forms of government, ideas about the role of law in the state, and the conception of a science of politics."
"Man is by nature a political animal." Politics

RELIGION Aristotle was the first western man to argue that the universe owes its existence to an intelligent being eg God.

SCANDAL In his book Politics, Aristotle taught that slave labour is indispensable whilst commerce is morally degrading.
Soon after Alexander the Great died in 323BC, anti-Macedonian sentiment flared up in Athens and Aristotle was charged with "a lack of reverence for the gods." So Aristotle fled to his mother's family estate in Chalcis on the island of Euboea.

MILITARY RECORD My only contribution under this heading is this one Aristotle quote: "How much a dispute could have been deflated into a single paragraph if the disputants had dared define their terms."

HOMES As a child Aristotle probably lived with his father in Pella, the capital of Macedonia whilst his doctor dad attended to King Amyntes at his court.
367 Aristotle was brought to Athens from Stagira by his guardian Proxenus to study at Plato’s academy.
347-43 On Plato’s death, Aristotle stayed with Hermias at Assos near Troy on the Greek coast. (Hermias was ruler there.)
343 Aristotle went to the island of Lesbos (Mytilere on Lesbos)
342 After Hermias was captured and executed by the Persians he moved to Pella, the Macedonian capital where he taught the teenage Alexander contributing to his later greatness.
340-335 Back home in Stagira, Thrace
335 Aristotle returned to Athens, where he opened up his school.
323 Aristotle had inherited property at Chalcis the chief city of the Island of Euboea but only lived there during the last year of his life in 323

TRAVEL Alexander the Great sent Aristotle back flowers from his travels in Asia....NO! It wasn't that the Macedonian conqueror had gone all soppy. Alexander sent Aristotle many other souvenirs from his travels apart from flowers, information on the animals he encountered, he knew how much his former tutor liked classifying and listing things.

HEALTH AND PHYSICAL FITNESS As was the custom of the times, Aristotle believed the heart was the centre of the medical process. It is said that he suffered from poor digestion.

DEATH Aristotle died at Chalcis one year after fleeing there. His cause of death was a gastric system disorder, from which he had long suffered. The story that his death was due to hemlock poisoning, as well as the legend that he threw himself into the sea "because he could not explain the tides," is without historical foundation. Anyone who tells you that is telling you porkies, so DON'T believe them. Aristotle's right hand man and best friend, Theophrastus continued his work.

APPEARANCES IN MEDIA In the 1955 Alexander the Great movie, Barry Jones played Aristotle, whilst in Oliver Stone's 2004 film Alexander, Christopher Plummer portrayed the Great Greek. The YouTube clip shows a young Alexander is inspired by the words of Aristotle.

2. As the great hero of Greek antiquity during the Middle Ages, Aristotle was portrayed by many artists, including Raffaello Sanzio, in his 1509-10 The School of Athens, where he can be seen in the centre walking through the archway with his tutor Plato. (Plato on the left, Aristotle on the right).

ACHIEVEMENTS 1. A great classifier and collector of data, Aristotle classified all living things.
2. Aristotle worked out a way of thinking at problems step by step, thereby introducing logic.
3. Aristotle's writing provided a framework for the discussion of biology, maths, logic, literary criticism, aesthetics, ethics and politics.
4. Aristotle was one of the first men to believe the Earth is round.
5. Aristotle was called "Father of Science" from his teachings that a theory was only valid if derived logically from observations of the real world.
6. Aristotle recognised that there are five senses, hearing, sight, smell, taste and touch.
7. Aristotle knew more facts than Cliff Claven from Cheers. It has been suggested that he was probably the last person to know everything there was to be known in his own time

Readers Digest Did You Know?
Novels and Novelists
edited by Martin Seymour Smith
A History of Food by Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat
The King's Favour: Three Eighteenth-Century Monarachs and the Favourites Who Ruled Them by JJ Mangan
A Lifetime's of Reading by Philip Ward
The Oxford Companion To English Literature edited by Margaret Drabble
Hutchinson Encyclopedia © RM 2009. Helicon Publishing is division of RM.

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