Stories of the Ancient Greeks - Charles D. Shaw

The Wise Man Who Lisped

A little seaport of Greece, called Stageira, was the birthplace of Aristotle. His father was a doctor and attended the king of Macedonia. He took his young son to that court, where the boy became a friend of the prince of Macedonia, who was afterwards known as King Philip.

When Aristotle was seventeen years old his father and mother died, and he went to Athens, that he might attend the school of Plato. That teacher was absent at the time and Aristotle studied without his help. He not only read books but talked with the wisest men of the city.

When Plato came back, he was glad to have this lad as a scholar. He was very proud of him and said, "Aristotle is the mind of my school."

Pointing to the home of the young man, he said, "That is the house of the reader. I am only afraid he will study too much. He needs a curb; others must feel the spur."

They spent twenty years together as teacher and scholar. For ten years of that time, however, Aristotle was a teacher also and gathered around him a fine company of young men.

When Plato died Aristotle left Athens and went to travel in other lands. Philip, who had become king of Macedonia, sent him a letter in which he said,—

"Friend of my youth, I wrote you long ago that I had a son of whom I hoped great things. He is now thirteen years old and nobody can do anything with him. He is determined always to have his own way. I know that you are wise and gentle and good. Come and teach him to be like yourself."

Aristotle went to Macedonia and took charge of the boy, who later became the famous Alexander the Great. Philip was very glad to see the philosopher, and said, "My friend, what shall I do to please and help you?"

Aristotle answered, "O king, by your orders my native city of Stageira has been destroyed and now lies in ruins. Rebuild that town and let me take the young prince there to study with me."

The king gladly did that and built there, in a pleasant grove, a gymnasium for the teacher and his pupils, Alexander and his young friends.

The prince loved Aristotle and willingly learned his lessons in poetry, eloquence, philosophy, literature, and medicine. He gained many noble thoughts also and was trained to be kind, generous, just, and honorable. They spent four happy years together; and after that Alexander often took Aristotle's advice and did what his old teacher thought best.

When Alexander became king of Macedonia, Aristotle went back to Athens, where he was welcomed with joy. The government of the city gave him a gymnasium called the Lyceum because it was near the temple of Apollo Lyceios. Like the school at Stageira, it had pleasant, shady walks, called in Greek "peripatoi." Many scholars went there; and Aristotle, instead of sitting down inside the house, liked to walk up and down the paths, lecturing to his pupils. For that reason he and those who thought like him were called "peripatetic philosophers,"—that is, "the wise men who walked about."

In the morning he lectured on deep subjects but in the afternoon he spoke of things easier to understand. Every ten days the scholars elected a new ruler, or archon, who governed them until they chose another. Besides philosophy, they were taught good manners and politeness, for some of them were disposed to be rough and rude at their meals and in social meetings.

Aristotle lived at Athens for thirteen years, busy in writing books when he was not teaching. He was very fond of natural history, and one of his books was upon the History of Animals. Alexander gave him a great deal of money and sent him many curiosities for a museum he was gathering.

After Alexander died Greece made war against Macedonia. Because Aristotle had been a friend of Philip and Alexander it was said that he was an enemy of Athens. His enemies wanted to get rid of him, but he was so good and kind, as everybody knew, that it was difficult to find any fault in him. At last this was said:—

"O Athenians, this man Aristotle has insulted the holy gods! His friend Hermias was only a man, as we all knew; yet this fellow has written a hymn praising Hermias as if he were a god. More than that, in honor Of him this man has laid upon altars such gifts and sacrifices as ought only to be offered to the immortal gods. Away with this wicked wretch from our city!"

When Aristotle heard that he went away. Some friends urged him to stay and take his trial, but he said, "I remember how the men of Athens put Socrates to death. I do not wish to be treated as he was, so I will go away in good time."

After he had gone his trial came on. All his rights and honors were taken away and he was condemned to death.

He did not go back to Athens but died peacefully when he was sixty years old.

His body was carried to Stageira and buried there with honor. A yearly festival was kept sacred to his memory.

He was a short, slight man, never very strong, but lively and agreeable in his manners. He liked to be well dressed and was careful of his clothes. His eyes were small and he spoke with a kind of lisp. Strangers might laugh at that, but his friends never thought of it, for they knew his real greatness and wisdom.