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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1321

Aristotle’s career divides itself naturally into three periods: the twenty (some say nineteen) years at Plato’s Academy, from 368 to 348; the thirteen years of travel, from 348 to 335; and the return to Athens, or the years in the Lyceum, from 335 to 323.

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When young Aristotle arrived at the Academy, Plato was away on a second journey to Syracuse. When the master returned the following year, however, Aristotle became his prize student and ardent friend. Although most of Aristotle’s earlier works have been preserved only in fragments, usually in quotations within works by later scholars of the Peripatetic School,several are attributed to this period and the one that followed.

As Plato’s method was dialogue, Aristotle, like other students at the Academy, began writing in dialogue.Aristotle was influenced by Plato about the time the master altered his own form, moving toward dialogues other than those with Socrates as questioner and main speaker. Aristotle, in turn, made himself the main speaker in his own dialogues.

Some scholars consider De anima the best of Aristotle’s works from this period. Translated as On the Soul, this work treats the soul and immortality, and it is imitative of Plato’s Phaedn,which was written c. 388-366 b.c.e. (Critic Werner Jaeger believes that each of Aristotle’s early dialogues was influenced by a particular Platonic dialogue, that the student was still dependent on the master as far as metaphysics was concerned but independent in the areas of methodology and logic.) Aristotle’s Protrepticus (Protreptics) is named for a term designating a letter written in defense of philosophy; the method employed in this work (questions and answers by teacher and student) is from Plato, but the protreptic form is borrowed from the philosopher Isocrates, who was also at Athens during this time. In the year 348 (or 347), two events influenced Aristotle’s future: the death of Plato (and possibly the choice of a new leader of the Academy), which caused Aristotle to leave Athens, and Philip II’s destruction of Stagirus, which caused the philosopher to look elsewhere for a new home.

With a fellow Academic, Xenocrates,Aristotle left Athens for Mysia (modern Turkey), accepting the invitation of Hermeias, a former fellow student at the Academy who had risen from slavery to become ruler of Atarneus and Assos. Aristotle presided over his host’s small Platonic circle, making of it a school modeled after the Academy. He married Pythias, niece and adopted daughter of Hermeias, after the ruler’s death; they had a daughter, also named Pythias. His wife lived until late in Aristotle’s so-called second Athenian period. After three years came another move, this time to Mytilene, on the nearby island of Lesbos; it is possible that Theophrastus found him a suitable place of residence there. Having begun research in marine biology at Assos, Aristotle continued this work at Mytilene. During these years, he probably wroteDe philosophia (On Philosophy), Ethica Eudemia (Eudemian Ethics), and early portions of Physica (Physics), Metaphysica (Metaphysics), andPolitica(Politics).

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In 343, Aristotle accepted Philip’s invitation to move to Pella and become tutor to his thirteen-year-old, Alexander (the Great).The tutoring lasted until Alexander became regent in 340. It is uncertain whether Aristotle remained in Pella or moved to Stagirus, which had been rebuilt by Philip in honor of Aristotle. With the assassination of Philip in 335 and the resultant accession of Alexander, Aristotle returned to Athens.

This time Aristotle’s purpose was not to attend the Academy but to found its greatest competitor. The Lyceumwas situated on rented property just outside the city, as an outsider could not own Athenian land. In addition to the marine specimens Aristotle had collected, the school housed many more. It is said that Alexander became his old teacher’s benefactor, donating eight hundred talents and instructing all under his command throughout the world to preserve for Aristotle any unusual biological specimens. The site was probably to the northeast of the city, where lay a grave sacred to Apollo Lyceius and the Muses, a place where Socrates had enjoyed walking.

In addition to specimens, the Lyceum housed hundreds of manuscripts and numerous maps. The objects in the museum were used to illustrate Aristotle’s lectures and discussions. In the mornings, he utilized the peripatetic (walking) method by strolling through the trees, discussing with more advanced students difficult (esoteric) subjects; in the evenings, he would lecture to larger groups on popular (exoteric) subjects. Logic, physics, and metaphysics were discussed; lectures included rhetoric, Sophism, and politics. In turn, Aristotle seems to have prepared and made available two types of notes: preliminary ones, from which he lectured, and more polished treatises, based on the discussions. Many of these have survived as his later, published works. They are in the form of treatises rather than dialogues.

In his later years at Athens, Aristotle is described as well-dressed, enjoying the easy life of self-indulgence; he was bald and thin-legged, with small eyes; he spoke with a lisp and had a mocking disposition and a ready wit. After the death of his wife, he lived with a mistress, Herpyllis, in a permanent but nonlegal relationship. Together, they had a son, whom Aristotle named Nicomachus, after his father. With the death of Alexander and the rise of feelings in Athens against Macedonians, especially those who had been close to Alexander, Aristotle left Athens for his mother’s birthplace of Chalcis, where he died a year later of a disease that had afflicted him for some time.

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Significance

Aristotle developed through the earliest stage for about seventeen or eighteen years, moving in circles with doctors and princes. He then spent the next twenty years at the Academy with Plato, both imitating and growing away from his great master. Aristotle learned the method of dialogue while he moved toward his own method; he respected and loved Plato but questioned some Platonic thought, such as the theory of forms(dualistic being). During the next thirteen or fourteen years in Asia Minor, he established a smaller academy and did biological research, continuing the writing of dialogues as he had done at Athens but developing his own method of writing treatises. For three years he was tutor to Alexander, becoming lifelong friends with the future conqueror and ruler of the Mediterranean world but failing to impart his own political views to his student.

When Aristotle returned to Athens to found and preside over the Lyceum, he perfected his scientific method of examining specimens and establishing logical systems of substantiation before arriving at tentative conclusions, a method that has continued to modern times. Through his teaching, he influenced a few advanced students and the large public groups who heard his lectures. Through the Peripatetic school, his work continued for centuries, and many of his writings were preserved to influence even later centuries. He learned from and used the thought of Greek philosophers from Thales to Plato, extending their ideas and synthesizing them. He perfected the method of Socrates (who had intended such an extension himself) by reaching conclusions rather than probing endlessly. Plato and Aristotle have been more influential than all other Western philosophers, advancing Greek philosophy to its greatest height.

Discussion Topics

Aristotle was Plato’s student. Is it surprising that he disagreed with Plato in so many ways?

Aristotle believed that all things are teleologically ordered. Does it seem that we believe in teleological explanations today?

Aristotle taught in a “gymnasium” called a “lyceum.” What do these two nouns mean today? Do these institutions have anything important in common?

Educated people today find fault with many of Aristotle’s ideas. Why do they find a need to study this man nearly two and a half millennia after his time?

Explain in your own words Aristotle’s argument about what causes happiness.

In Aristotle’s Poetics, he considers that tragedy brings about the catharsis of the emotions of fear and pity. What makes “catharsis” an effective metaphor?

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