Friday, 30 September 2016

Irish and Greek events mark the 2,400th
anniversary of the birth of Aristotle

The statue of the Greek philosopher Aristotle in Aristotelous Square in Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

This year marks the 2,400th anniversary of the birth of Aristotle. To mark this unique anniversary, the Irish Hellenic Society is marking this unique anniversary at the inaugural meeting of its 2016 programme in Trinity College Dublin later next month (21 October 2016).

This inaugural lecture will focus on the subject of Aristotle’s life and works and on the celebration of his 2,400th birthday. The evening programme has been organised by the Irish Hellenic Society and the Department of Classics in Trinity College Dublin.

Four speakers will give short presentations on various aspects of Aristotle’s immense contribution to humanity: Paul Gregg, Aristotle’s Walk; Thomaë Kakouli-Duarte, Aristotle, Father of Biology; Eoghan Mac Aogáin, Aristotle’s Psychology; and Fran O’Rourke, An Aristotelian Approach to the World.

The American artist Paul Gregg’s exhibition ‘Inductive Probability’ is on view until 23 October 2016 at the Royal Hibernian Academy, 15 Ely Place, Dublin 2. He received a Fulbright Scholarship to Ireland, where he has lived since 1995, and is a lecturer at the Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design, and Technology. His Aristotle’s Walk (2012) is a columnar structure, the focal point of a memorial garden in the central courtyard of Saint Mary’s CBS, Portlaoise.

Dr Thomaé Kakouli-Duarte is, like Aristotle, from Macedonia in northern Greece. Following in Aristotle’s researches into parasitic nematodes, she is an international expert in the field of environmental nematology and one of the founding members and the current Director of enviroCORE, in the Institute of Technology, Carlow. There she researches innovative bio-environmental technologies with a view towards enhancing economic and social development in an environmentally friendly manner.

Eoghan Mac Aogáin studied philosophy at University College Dublin and psychology at the University of Alberta in Canada. He was a Research Fellow at the Educational Research Centre and subsequently Director of the Linguistics Institute of Ireland before his retirement. He has spoken to the Irish Hellenic Society on the Irish philosopher Iohannes Scottus Eriugena (ca 800–870) and, with his colleague Máire Nic Mhaoláin, recently edited a new Irish-English dictionary.

Fran O’Rourke, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy, University College Dublin, has recently published a volume of essays Aristotelian Interpretations. He will describe early personal experiences that inspired a distinctively Aristotelian approach to the world. He will explain why for James Joyce Aristotle was ‘the greatest philosopher of all time.’

More information on the evening, the speakers and the topics, are available on the website of the Irish Hellenic Society.

Mount Olympus seen from Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

UNESCO has proclaimed 2016 as the Aristotle Anniversary Year. Aristotle can be seen as the founder of the concept of the democratic republic as the free, open political society of equal partners joined in friendship for achieving a just and qualitatively flourishing society. In his philosophy, he sought to bring into a unity all knowledge and all the arts for the practical possibility of human flourishing in democratic forms of government.

Greek archaeologists said earlier this year they believe they have discovered the lost tomb of Aristotle. Dr Kostas Sismanidis is almost sure that a 2,400-year-old domed vault he unearthed in ancient Stagira was the burial place of Aristotle.

Archaeologists have been working painstakingly for 20 years at the site where the philosopher was born in 384 BC in Macedonia. Dr Sismanidis said the architecture and location of the tomb, close to Stagira’s ancient square and with panoramic views, supported the assessment that it was the philosopher’s tomb.

Although little is known about Aristotle’s life despite many of his works surviving, two literary sources suggest that the people of Stagira may have transferred his ashes from Chalcis on the island of Euboea (Chalkida on Evia today) where he died in 322 BC.

The mounded domed tomb has a marble floor dated to the Hellenistic period. It is located in the centre of Stagira, near the Agora, with 360-degree views. The public character of the tomb is evident by its location alone. However, archaeologists also point to a hurried construction that was later topped with quality materials. There is an altar outside the tomb and a square-shaped floor.

The top of the dome is at 10 metres and there is a square floor surrounding a Byzantine tower. A semi-circular wall stands at two-metres in height. A pathway leads to the tomb’s entrance. Other findings included ceramics from the royal pottery workshops and fifty coins dated to the time of Alexander the Great. The tomb structure was destroyed by the Byzantines, who built a square tower above it.

Northern Greece has been the scene of several discoveries, though not all of them have been well received. In 2014, amid great fanfare, a tomb initially believed to be the long-sought burial place of Alexander the Great was found in Amphipolis, also in central Macedonia. But scholars later agreed this was not related to the Macedonian king.

Aristotelous Square (Πλατεία Αριστοτέλους, Aristotle Square) is the main square in the city centre in Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Earlier this year [May 23-28 May 2016], this anniversary was celebrated appropriately when the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (AUTH) hosted an 250 Aristotle scholars from 40 countries at the World Congress ‘Aristotle 2400 Years.’

The congress was organised by the Interdisciplinary Centre for Aristotle Studies at the niversity uto mark the 2400th anniversary of Aristotle’s birth. It took place at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, in Stageira, the birthplace of Aristotle, and in Mieza, where Aristotle taught Alexander the Great.

The congress brought together scholarship on all aspects of Aristotle’s work, which spreads over the broadest range of topics, covering all major branches of philosophy and extending in an impressive way into areas related to all fundamental fields of science; a work whose impact is unique in size and influence in the history of the human intellect and which continues to be present in the intellectual evolution of Western civilisation.

Athens seen from the Acropolis (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Tertullian famously asked ‘What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?’, by which he meant ‘What has Greek philosophy to do with Christianity and theology?’ Aristotle’s principles of being influenced Anselm’s view of God, whom he called ‘that than which nothing greater can be conceived.’ Anselm thought that God did not feel emotions such as anger or love, but appeared to do so through our imperfect understanding. The incongruity of judging ‘being’ against something that might not exist, may have led Anselm to his famous ontological argument for God’s existence.

Aristotelian theological concepts were accepted by many later Jewish, Islamic, and Christian philosophers. Key Jewish philosophers included Samuel Ibn Tibbon, Maimonides and Gersonides. Their views of God are considered mainstream by many Jews to this day.

Islamic philosophers who were influenced by Aristotelian theology include Avicenna and Averroes.

In Christian theology, Thomas Aquinas is undoubtedly the key thinker influenced by Aristotle. Aquinas found his Aristotelian influence through the works of Avicenna, Averroes and Maimonides.

Through Aquinas and the Scholastic theology, Aristotle became academic theology’s great authority in the course of the 13th century, and his influence on Christian theology became widespread and deeply embedded. However, notable Christian theologians rejected Aristotelian theological influence, especially the first generation of Christian Reformers and most notably Martin Luther.

The year was also marked by a congress in Athens organised by the International Association of Greek Philosophy, the Greek Philosophical Society, the Philosophical Society of Cyprus and other societies, associations and educational institutions.

The World Philosophy Congress on the Philosophy of Aristotle, under the Auspices of the President of the Hellenic Republic and with the support of the International Federation of Philosophical Societies (FISP).

This congress took place in Athens where Aristotle lived most of his life. He studied and taught at Plato’s Academy for almost 20 years and later he founded the Lyceum where he taught and wrote his great works, and where the foundations were laid for philosophical and scientific research.

Plato’s pupil, Aristotle was enrolled at the court of ancient Macedonia as the tutor of Alexander the Great. He later travelled around the Aegean and Asia Minor before returning to Athens where he founded his own school, the Lyceum, in 335 BC. Remains of that complex were accidentally unearthed in Athens in 1996 during building work on a site then earmarked for a new museum of modern art. From beneath the unpaved parking lot the fabled Lyceum emerged, replete with a central courtyard and wrestling area, or palaestra.

In Thessaloniki, Aristotelous is the central and most famous square, linked to the seafront through Nikis Avenue. The square was designed by the French architect Ernest Hébrard in 1918, and the 12 buildings that encircle Aristotelous Square have been listed buildings since 1950. I have stayed here in the Electra Palace Hotel, and the square is also home to the Olympion Theatre cinema, the venue for the Thessaloniki Film Festival takes place, and many modern restaurants, cafés and bars, as well as street vendors and buskers. The square continues north as Aristotelous Street, a popular, pedestrianised, tree-lined street.

Sunset on the Gulf of Thermaikos in Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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