/ Scholarship / Classics /
Aristotle has been famous for well more than two millennia as a smart guy. His contemporaries knew he was smart: and, as so often happens, they hated him for it: nobody likes a know-it-all. When Plato died, another famous smart guy, Aristotle was passed over to run Plato’s school.
Too bad we don’t have a good picture of him, he was supposed to be a dandy, very vain.
(Pythagoras’s math school was also full of sidewinding, backstabbing: including murder and arson.) (You mean these philosophers, these geniuses were just like everybody else? Yep.)
But Aristotle went here and there, and, either by luck or just deserts or some mix, got hired by Philip of Macedon to tutor the prince of destiny, Alexander. That made him a lasting rep right there.
A lot of learning got lost, impossible to tell how much. The “Dark” ages didn’t read much Plato, or Aristotle; they were busy copying and miscopying the Bible. But boy when classical learning once again became popular Aristotle was the star, the all time star among European Humanists. (Humanist in those days meant that you read Greek as well as Latin: dangerous business, the Church made reading Greek a capital offense, those guys took their lives in their hands. And Aristotle was the Authority. Aristotle was cited on everything: physics, math, astronomy … mechanics … ethics … literature, tragedy … comedy (his comedy treatise famous and lost, we don’t know what he said).
That was called the Renaissance: a rebirth, of learning. But: the Renaissance was a birth as well as a rebirth: new and better science, better methods of thinking, experiment was born. That too was dangerous: basic techniques, attitudes of the new science were heresy: discover something new and get burned at the stake.
This was bad news for Aristotle’s rep. One by one Aristotle’s “science” teachings got disproved. Aristotle said that fish didn’t displace water. Wonderful biopic on the Curies shows Papa Pierre showing his and Marie’s daughter Irene experimental methods. There’s a scream. Ms. Curie has filled the fish tank brim full, then poured the fish in: result: water all over the floor. See? Pierre didn’t tell Irene than Aristotle was wrong; he let her prove it! by experiment. So: one by one, all of Aristotle’s expert pronouncements — he wrote a lot — get refuted, in all fields of science.
The Curies: Pierre, Marie, Irene
But something funny happened, and this is why I write this: (I wish I’d written it fifty-some years ago when I knew what I was talking about (I wish I’d had a Mac fifty some years ago).) Wherever we could test what Aristotle declared to be true, physically test it, Aristotle proved to be wrong; But: where it’s just blab, just bull, not falsifiable, as with say his theory of Tragedy, Aristotle remains what he was in the Dark Ages: the unimpeachable authority: THE great teacher. His batting average among the professors of lit didn’t budge an eyelash.
I figure, gee, why not assume he was wrong about everything? Find the comedy, trash the tragedy.
Gee, I’ve always written fast, type very fast, but these days I’m making so many typos! Then I make typos correcting the typos!