ARISTOTLE: Later Life and Death

Reference: The Story of Philosophy 

This paper presents Chapter II, Section 10 from the book THE STORY OF PHILOSOPHY by WILL DURANT. The contents are from the 1933 reprint of this book by TIME INCORPORATED by arrangement with Simon and Schuster, Inc.

The paragraphs of the original material (in black) are accompanied by brief comments (in color) based on the present understanding.  Feedback on these comments is appreciated.

The heading below is linked to the original materials.


X. Later Life and Death

Meanwhile life had become unmanageably complicated for our philosopher. He found himself on the one hand embroiled with Alexander for protesting against the execution of Callisthenes (a nephew of Aristotle), who had refused to worship Alexander as a god; and Alexander had answered the protest by hinting that it was quite within his omnipotence to put even philosophers to death. At the same time Aristotle was busy defending Alexander among the Athenians. He preferred Greek solidarity to city patriotism, and thought culture and science would flourish better when petty sovereignties and disputes were ended; and he saw in Alexander what Goethe was to see in Napoleon—the philosophic unity of a chaotic and intolerably manifold world. The Athenians, hungering for liberty, growled at Aristotle, and became bitter when Alexander had a statue of the philosopher put up in the heart of the hostile city. In this turmoil we get an impression of Aristotle quite contrary to that left upon us by his Ethics: here is a man not cold and inhumanly calm, but a fighter, pursuing his Titanic work in a circle of enemies on every side. The successors of Plato at the Academy, the oratorical school of Isocrates, and the angry crowds that hung on Demosthenes’ acid eloquence, intrigued and clamored for his exile or his death. 

Aristotle was besieged with conflicts and a lot of controversy.

And then, suddenly (323 B. C.), Alexander died. Athens went wild with patriotic joy; the Macedonian party was over-thrown, and Athenian independence was proclaimed. Antipater, successor of Alexander and intimate friend of Aristotle, marched upon the rebellious city. Most of the Macedonian party fled. Eurymedon, a chief priest, brought in an indictment against Aristotle, charging him with having taught that prayer and sacrifice were of no avail. Aristotle saw himself fated to be tried by juries and crowds incomparably more hostile than those that had murdered Socrates. Very wisely, he left the city, saying that he would not give Athens a chance to sin a second time against philosophy. There was no cowardIce in this; an accused person at Athens had always the option of preferring exile. Arrived at Chalcis, Aristotle fell ill; Diogenes Laertius tells us that the old philosopher, in utter disappointment with the turn of all things against him, committed suicide by drinking hemlock. However induced, his illness proved fatal; and a few months after leaving Athens (322 B. C.) the lonely Aristotle died.

Aristotle committed suicide by drinking hemlock in utter disappointment with the turn of all things against him.

In the same year, and at the same age, sixty-two, Demosthenes, greatest of Alexander’s enemies, drank poison. Within twelve months Greece had lost her greatest ruler, her greatest orator, and her greatest philosopher. The glory that had been Greece faded now in the dawn of the Roman sun; and the grandeur that was Rome was the pomp of power rather than the light of thought. Then that grandeur too decayed, that little light went almost out. For a thousand years darkness brooded over the face of Europe. All the world awaited the resurrection of philosophy. 

After Aristotle, the light of philosophy almost went out for a thousand years.


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