According to a legend, Plato’s disciple Aristotle taught Alexander to think like a Greek but to fight like a “barbarian”, in view of the fact that the Athenians had denied him the direction of the Academy because of his Macedonian status.
The kingdom of Macedonia, where Alexander the Great was born , was considered in ancient times a territory of barbarians and foreigners. Athens, Sparta, Thebes, and other Hellenic city-states refused to accept that what is now part of historic Greece was inhabited by compatriots. Born in Stagira (Chalkidiki Peninsula), east of Macedonia, Aristotle suffered some of those same misgivings and, in the face of history, educated the man called to subdue all of Greece and launch himself into the heart of Asia: Alexander the Great.
Last week* the possible discovery of the tomb of Aristotle in Stagira was announced, exactly in the city where the philosopher was born (*note: the original article was published March/2019). The Chalkidike peninsula, less than two hours from Thessaloniki, belonged to the Kingdom of Macedonia 24 centuries ago.
The place, very close to the Acropolis and overlooking the bay, had an altar for sacrifices and an architecture that reveals their importance. Unsurprisingly, its historical value is due to the fact that it was the cradle of one of the three great ancient Greek philosophers and a genius devoted to several fields. Aristotle is considered to be the first scientific researcher in the modern sense of the word.
Beyond his work, Aristotle is remembered for his connection with the Macedonian kings. His father, Nicomachus, was the court doctor of King Amyntas III of Macedon, father of Philip II of Macedon and therefore, the grandfather of Alexander the Great.
In fact, Aristotle was initiated as a child in the secrets of medicine, but his career soon turned towards philosophy. At the age of 17, the young man was sent to Athens to study at Plato’s Academy .
It is not clear how close the relationship was between Plato (a pupil of Socrates) and Aristotle, and why the most outstanding pupil did not inherit the management of the academy when the teacher died. The legend has wanted to see in Plato’s decision to put his nephew, Speusippus, at the head of the Academy a humiliation towards Aristotle and a show of a certain aversion between them.
Aristotle – Tutor of the son Philip II of Macedonia
In truth, the connection between Macedonia and Aristotle made him legally unfit to take office, as did the contempt of many Greeks for Philip II, despite his military might. Philip’s story is that of a king who transformed an impoverished kingdom despised by Athens and Sparta into a great hegemonic power over all of Greece.
After spending a few years of his childhood as a hostage in Thebes, Philip returned to Macedonia with the idea of starting a military reform in the Macedonian army that, starting with the traditional Greek phalanx, added new tactical elements to make the army more flexible to be able to subdue the large Greek cities.
With the main Greek city-states subdued and Athens offering a favorable alliance to Macedonia, Philip went against Sparta, who preferred to grant Philip II peace without fighting.
In the midst of his conquering maelstrom, the Macedonian King decided to marry (again) in 357 BC – with Princess Olympia of Epirus (a name she would only take years later), daughter of the King of the Molossians, a region northwest of present day Greece. She would be the mother of Alexander and Cleopatra of Macedon.
In 343 BC Philip invited Aristotle to be the tutor of his 13-year-old son. Almost as if it were a revenge on the “pure” Greeks who prevented his appointment as director of the Athens Academy, Aristotle shaped the character of the man called to finish his father’s work and to tie the Greek will under a barbarian yoke – The Macedonian yoke.
Aristotle, “with thin legs and small eyes”, accepted the invitation of Philip II of Macedonia and was responsible for the education of Alexander III of Macedonia for several years.
In the opinion of a medieval French poet:
“He taught him to write Greek, Hebrew, Babylonian and Latin. He taught him the nature of the sea and the winds; He explained the path of the stars, the revolutions of the firmament and the duration of the world. He taught him justice and rhetoric , and warned him against libertine women.”
Not surprisingly, little is actually known about his stay in Macedonia and the works of the philosopher hardly make reference to Alexander. Nor is its influence on the political terrain noticeable. Years later, while Aristotle continued to preach the superiority of the city-state, his alleged disciple was laying the foundations for a universal empire. The largest known until then.
Alexander, the Hegemon over all of Greece
Regarding the legend, Aristotle taught Alexander to think like a Greek but to fight like a “barbarian”, which, at least at first, served to subdue Greece. Before setting out to conquer the Persian Empire, Alexander retraced his father’s footsteps to cross Thessaly, destroy Thebes, and force Athens to recognize its supremacy by making himself Hegemon, a title that placed him as the ruler of all Greece.
For his part, Aristotle took advantage of the small fortune that Philip paid him to instruct his son and continued with his research and work for the rest of his life. In addition to money – according to Diogenes Laërtius – the philosopher demanded the monarch “to restore his homeland” destroyed years before by the Macedonian armies. In 340 BC Stagira regained its shape and its former inhabitants began to return.
In 336 BC, however, Alexander had Aristotle’s nephew, Callisthenes of Olynthus, executed ,whom he accused of being a traitor. Since the Macedonian executions used to be extended to relatives, Aristotle took refuge for a year in his estates in Stagira, moving in 334 to Athens, always in company of his faithful Theophrastus, to found the Lyceum, a pedagogical institution that for years competed with the Academy of Plato.
After the death of Alexander, in 323, an outbreak of hatred against the Macedonians spread in Athens, instigated by the orator Demosthenes. Despite his reputation as a philosopher, the Macedonian was brought before the Athenian courts accused of impiety against the gods. Fearing to end up like Socrates, Aristotle fled to the neighboring island of Euboea and died a natural death there a year later.
As a gesture for saving the city, his compatriots buried Aristotle in his homeland and honored him as hero, savior, legislator, and refounder of their city.
SOURCE: ABC Historia “Aristóteles, el filósofo que creó a Alejandro Magno para vengarse de los griegos” (March 2019, Spanish)