Saturday, 29 April 2017

Alexander and the Professor

 The man who changed the world
Looks like someone we know?
As you probably know, the Ancient Greek philosopher of great renown, Aristotle, taught the greatest General of the ancient world, bar one, Alexander the Great. The interaction of these two 'Great Men' has posed a fertile source of speculation for academics for well over two thousand years. How did Aristotle's teaching: exact, ponderous, surefooted and fantastic affect the developing mind of the eventual conqueror of the Persian Empire? Did the astonishing conquests of his erstwhile pupil influence the development of Aristotle's political theories? I would contend that the mutual interaction, intellectual and political, of these two Great Men was virtually nil.

Alexander had a certain respect and snobbish sentiment for high Greek culture, perhaps from the realisation that the Macedonians were just a generation away from barbarians and many Greeks still referred to the Highland upstarts as barbars.

Irrespective of fine Greek manners and a first class education delivered by one of the most formidable intellects ever to grace the human race, Alexander remained, for the most part, a barbarous man albeit moderately varnished with a coating of Greek culture. Scratch a little too hard and the passionate uncouth soul could be unleashed. A man who could recite Homer from memory and still thrust a spear through a friend in a single drunken evening.

It is interesting to reflect that while Alexander and his father had destroyed the 'City State of Greek Ideal', Aristotle ponderously extolled the virtues of a system ground into the dust by Macedonian military might. It as if Aristotle was living in a kind of intellectual bubble floating far and free from the stark reality pervading the lands of Greece. As an aside, it must have been irksome to educated Greeks to have been subdued by semi-Greeks to the north. Of course, it was going to get worse; the Romans were just getting started. I'm starting to digress.

Penetrating insight into the relationship is provided by the author, A. W. Benn: "It would be unfortunate if philosophy had no better testimonial to show for herself than the character of Alexander. Arrogant, drunken, cruel, vindictive, and grossly superstitious, he united the vices of a Highland chieftain to the frenzy of an Oriental despot." To be honest, I can't fault the analysis and it truly encapsulates Alexander's character in one incandescent sentence.

Clearly, the real world did not matter to an introspective genius such as Aristotle. The man was pure intellect and had enough money garnered through land ownership to divorce himself from the humdrum banality of our futile existence. Good for him. For most of us of a reflective demeanour, we have to earn enough money so we can ponder and reflect. Ain't dat the sad truth?

The ancient sources reflect an amiable relationship between Alexander and his mentor, at least during the earlier part of Alexander's campaign. Later a petulant note enters Alexander's missives to his old tutor, perhaps due to political developments in Greece. As far as I can discern though, Aristotle refrained from partisan politics- it could be a very dangerous game. Anyway, Aristotle was far too busy with his round of teaching duties and the writing of learned treatises. Here is a supposed letter addressed to Aristotle penned by Alexander whilst he campaigned in the nether regions of the known world as cited by, Plutarch: "Alexander to Aristotle, greetings. You have not done well to write down and publish those doctrines you taught me by word of mouth. What advantage shall I have over other men if these theories in which I have been trained are to be made common property? I would rather excel the rest of mankind in my knowledge of what is best than in the extent of my power. Farewell.”
Apart from the warning, which is hardly veiled, there is a certain petulant snobbishness in the uttering. 'If the Greeks were to remain Great they should deny to other men the things that induced greatness, lest they become as the Greeks and therefore great'. I think Aristotle would have appreciated the logic but not the snub. But of course, we will never be certain.

It is a reflection of mine that men endowed with first-rate minds rarely become successful men of action. And indeed, very smart men should not enter the world of the military and politics, Caesar and Hannibal excepted, of course.


 The man who changed the world


  1. As I sit here in the BA Club lounge in Joburg, free drink in hand as is my want, my thoughts turn to you and your downsizing challenge.

    "How's it all going?" I think. "How IS it all going???"

    And then I think "Well, it's got fuck all to do with me!" and I fetch another drink...

  2. Thanks for the concern Mr D. Tis going slowly- Kaz is digging in her heels. My biggest prob is telling the 'fruit of my loins' that she will have to vacate the 'Summer property' cos I'm selling. What's the betting she will move back to us with boyfriend and child in tow? And shouldn't I be putting all this in an email? Will be in touch.