Lives of Eminent Zoologists, from Aristotle to Linnus

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During his residence at the court of Macedonia, Aristotle did not exclusively devote himself to his duties as instructor of the young prince, but also took some share in public business, and continued his philosophical researches. For the latter purpose Philip is said to have granted him liberal supplies of money. In consideration of his various merits the king also rebuilt his native city, Stagira, which had been destroyed in the wars, and restored it to its former inhabitants, who had either been dispersed or carried into slavery.

Alexander had scarcely completed his twentieth year when the assassination of his father, by Pausanias, one of the officers of the guard, called him to the throne. Aristotle, however, continued to reside[Pg 43] at the court two years longer; when some misunderstanding having arisen, he left the young monarch at the commencement of his celebrated expedition into Asia, and returned to Athens. It has been alleged that he accompanied his former pupil as far as Egypt; but the fact is not certain, although circumstances would seem to render it probable.

He was well received at Athens, on account of the benefits which Philip had conferred, for his sake, on the inhabitants of that city; and, obtaining permission from the magistrates to occupy the Lyceum, a large enclosure in the suburbs, he proceeded to form a school. It was his custom to instruct his disciples while walking with them; and for this reason the new sect received the name of Peripatetics, or walking philosophers. In the morning he delivered his acroatic lectures to his select pupils, imparting to them the more abstruse parts of metaphysical science; and in the evening gave to his visiters or the public at large exoteric discourses, in which the subjects discussed were treated in a popular style. As the Lyceum soon acquired great celebrity, scholars flocked to it from all parts of Greece. Xenocrates, who shared with him the lessons of Plato, had by this time succeeded Speusippus in the Academy, and it has been alleged that Aristotle established his seminary in contemptuous opposition; observing, that it would be shameful for him to be silent while the other taught publicly. But although the rival sages of those days cannot be supposed to have been influenced by a gentler spirit than animates those of our own times, there is no reason for attributing to the Stagirite in this matter any other motive than a[Pg 44] laudable desire of seeking his own interest by communicating knowledge to those who were desirous of receiving it.

In this manner he gave public lectures at Athens thirteen years, during the greater part of which time he did not cease to correspond with Alexander. That celebrated prince had placed at his disposal several thousand persons, who were occupied in hunting, fishing, and making the observations which were necessary for completing his History of Animals. He is moreover said to have given the enormous sum of 800 talents for the same purpose; while he also took care to send to him a great variety of zoological specimens, collected in the countries which he had subdued.

The misunderstanding which had begun before Aristotle parted from his royal pupil, but which had not prevented the good offices of the latter, increased towards the end of his career. One of the first occasions seems to have been offered by the philosopher, who, having published his works on physics and metaphysics, received from Alexander, who was piqued at his having divulged to the world the valuable knowledge which he had obtained from him in his youth, the following letter:—

"Alexander to Aristotle, wishing all happiness. You have done amiss in publishing your books on the speculative sciences. In what shall I excel others if what you taught me privately be communicated to all? You know well that I would rather surpass mankind in the more sublime branches of learning than in power. Farewell."

[Pg 45]

This epistle exhibits the king as a very exclusive personage; and, joined to what history has recorded of his actions, tends to show that selfishness, however refined or disguised, was the main source of his insatiable ambition. One of the sincerest pleasures of a great mind is to communicate to others all the blessings that it possesses. On other occasions he appeared to entertain a wish to mortify the philosopher by exalting his rival Xenocrates, who had nothing to recommend him besides a respectable moral character. It has even been asserted by some, that the conqueror, after he had put Callisthenes to death, intended the same fate for Aristotle.

This Callisthenes was a kinsman and disciple of the other, through whose influence, it is said, he was appointed to attend the king on his Asiatic expedition. His republican sentiments and independent spirit, however, rendered him an indifferent courtier; while his rude and ill-timed reflections finally converted him into an object of suspicion or dislike. The conspiracy of Hermolaus affording Alexander a plausible pretext for getting rid of his uncourtly monitor, he caused him to be apprehended and put to death. Some say that he was exposed to lions, others that he was tortured and crucified; but, in whatever way he met his end, it is generally agreed that his life was sacrificed to gratify the enmity of his sovereign. Aristotle naturally espoused the cause of his relative, and from that period harboured a deep resentment against his destroyer. It has even been alleged that he was privy to the supposed design of murdering the victorious prince; but of this there is no satisfactory evidence.

Notwithstanding the coolness which thus existed[Pg 46] between "Macedonia's madman" and "the Stagirite," the latter continued to enjoy at least an appearance of protection, which prevented his enemies from seriously molesting him. But as the splendour of his talents, his success in teaching, and the celebrity which he had acquired in all parts of Greece, had excited the animosity of those who found themselves eclipsed by the brightness of his genius, no sooner was Alexander dead, than they stirred up a priest, named Eurymedon, with whom was associated Demophilus, a powerful citizen, to prefer a charge of impiety against him before the court of Areopagus, on the ground that he had commemorated the virtues of his wife and of his friend Hermeias with such honours as were exclusively bestowed on the gods. Warned by the fate of Socrates under similar circumstances, he judged it prudent to retire; remarking, that he wished to spare the Athenians the disgrace of committing another act of injustice against philosophy.

He effected his escape, with a few friends, to Chalcis in Eubœa, where he died soon after, in the year 322 b.c., and the 63d of his age; having, on his deathbed, appointed Theophrastus of Lesbos, one of his favourite pupils, his successor at the Lyceum. Various accounts are given of his demise; but it is probable that an overexcited mind, and a body worn out by disease, were the real causes of his dissolution.

According to Procopius and others, Aristotle drowned himself in the Eubœan Euripus, because he could not discover the cause of its ebbing and flowing, which are said to take place seven times a-day. Sir Thomas Browne, in his Enquiries into Vulgar and[Pg 47] Common Errors, refutes this assertion on the following grounds:—In the first place, his death is related to have taken place in two ways by Diogenes Laertius; the one, from Eumolus and Phavorinus, that being accused of impiety for composing a hymn to his friend Hermeias, he withdrew to Chalcis, where he drank poison; the other, by Apollodorus, that he died of a disease in his stomach, in his sixty-third year. Again, the thing is in itself unreasonable, and therefore improbable; for Aristotle was not so apt to be vexed by the difficulty of accounting for natural phenomena, nor is there any evidence that he endeavoured to discover the ebb and flow of the Euripus, for he has made no mention of it in his works. Lastly, the phenomenon itself is disputable; and it appears from a comparison of testimonies on the subject, that the stream in question flows and ebbs only four times a-day, as is the case with other parts of the sea, though it is subject to irregularities dependent upon the winds and other causes. "However, therefore, Aristotle died," concludes our author, "what was his end, or upon what occasion, although it be not altogether assured, yet that his memory and worthy name shall live, no man will deny, nor gratefull schollar doubt: and if, according to the Elogie of Solon, a man may be onely said to be happy after he is dead, and ceaseth to be in the visible capacity of beatitude: or if, according unto his own Ethicks, sence is not essentiall unto felicity, but a man may be happy without the apprehension thereof; surely in that sence he is pyramidally happy, nor can he ever perish but in the Euripe of ignorance, or till the torrent of barbarisme overwhelme all."[Pg 48]

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