You may know Aristotle (Aristotélēs, 384–322 BC) as the ancient Greek philosopher who was taught by another well-known philosopher, Plato, during the Classical era. Here are five facts about philosopher and polymath Aristotle that you may or may not know.
Facts About the Philosopher Aristotle:
- Aristotle did not originate from Athens
- Aristotle was the student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great
- Aristotle was the founder of the Peripatetic School of Philosophy
- Aristotle did not hate Democracy
- Aristotle was married to a respected female scientist
Although associated with Classical Athens, Aristotle was born in 384 BC in Stagira, an ancient Greek city in the peninsula of Chalkidice. His father was a physician and was closely associated with the ancient Greek kingdom of Macedonia. At the age of eighteen, young Aristotle moved to Athens to study at Plato’s Academy, the first higher education institution in the West. The philosopher is said to have participated in the Eleusinian Mysteries, the secret cult of Demeter and Persephone that we have discussed in the past.
Aristotle as a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great
Aristotle was the student of Plato and, like his teacher, he tried to tackle ontological topics and understand the concepts of existence, being, and reality. However, Aristotle did expand on these topics and his philosophical ideas are perceived as empirical and practical when compared to Plato’s abstract thinking. For example, both Plato and Aristotle expressed the importance of “virtue” in achieving happiness. “Virtue”, according to Plato, was the harmony of the three parts of the soul: reason, spirit, and appetite. Aristotle, on the other hand, viewed happiness as the exercise of intellectual and moral “virtues”. Happiness, in this sense, is not a state of being, but an activity.
After Plato’s death, Aristotle left Athens and started tutoring Alexander the Great in the ancient Greek kingdom of Macedonia. Aristotle’s broad knowledge on zoology and botany and his deep understanding of Persian customs and traditions sparked the curiosity of young Alexander who ended up creating one of the largest empires of the ancient world.
The Peripatetic School of Philosophy
Before moving to northern Greece, Aristotle founded the Peripatetic School of Athens in 335 BC. Along with a number of students, including Aristoxenus and Theophrastus, he would conduct philosophical and scientific inquiries. The name of the School derives from the Greek word «περίπατος» (peripatos), which means “walk”. One theory is that the philosopher would walk a lot while talking or thinking, hence the name. Another, more credible theory is that Aristotle and his students would walk around the Lyceum, a temple in ancient Athens, since the philosopher did not own any private property in Athens at that time. The temple of Lyceum is often associated with Aristotle for that reason and many educational institutions around the globe, including Greece, bear that name.
Aristotle’s Political Views
In previous videos we have seen that Athenian philosophers such as Plato and Socrates were skeptical about Democracy. They did not necessarily hate it, but they saw a lot of its flaws. Aristotle was the least skeptical towards Democracy than the three. The philosopher suggested that the best form of governance includes a mixed constitution that would have characteristics from Democracy, Aristocracy, and Monarchy. Today, most western countries possess mixed constitutions.
Aristotle’s personal life
Although we often view ancient philosophers as celibate, this is far from the truth. Aristotle in particular was married to Pythias, an ancient Greek biologist who had a well-know collection of specimens of living things and had contributed immensely in the study of embryology. She also co-authored an encyclopedia with her husband. Pythias and Aristotle had a daughter, Pythias the Younger, and both women ended up dying at a young age.
After his wife’s death, Aristotle had a love affair with a young woman from his hometown. Herpyllis, as she was called, ended up living with the philosopher till his death. They also had a son together named Nicomachus and, although they were never married, Herpyllis was included in his will.
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