Alexander the Great and Aristotle

Alexander the Great was thirteen years old when his father, Philip II, the king of Macedonia, decided he would need a teacher of high repute to instruct him in various matters. The king chose the philosopher Aristotle, whose father had already acted as a physician in the service of a previous Macedonian king.

Aristotle was born in Stagira, in northern Greece. He studied in Athens under the great philosopher Plato and stayed there until he was in his late thirties. Aristotle would later attain greatness in philosophy, much like his teacher, and be known for his writings on logic, ethics, rhetoric, zoology, theater, and music, among other subjects. Aristotle left Athens when Plato died in 347 B.C, and in 343 B.C., he was called upon by Philip II to be a teacher to his son, Alexander. 

Being a tutor to the young Alexander favored Aristotle greatly. The post was a high honor, and he would be able to continue his research with the powerful kings’ support and resources. Most importantly, he would be in a perfect position to shape the mind of a future ruler. As payment for his services, Philip ordered Aristotle’s home city of Stagira, which he had captured years earlier, to be rebuilt. Philip had arranged for Aristotle to teach Alexander in a remote village called Mieza, inside the Temple of the Nymphs. Before Alexander left for Mieza, Philip advised him not to imitate his faults and, above all, to work hard. Alexander responded to this by criticizing his father about his children by various women. Alexander was probably not concerned about morality but the inevitable rivalries for his father’s throne. Alexander’s desire for power must have started burning at an early age.

Alexander’s education interestingly awakened in him an interest in medicine, as Aristotle taught this subject to him, along with many others. The Macedonian was said to have prescribed treatments for many of his friends. His tutor also helped him become versed in poetry, astronomy, geometry, rhetoric, and eristics, which is the art of arguing for both sides of an idea.

Aristotle also instilled in his student a love of zoology and botany. When he started his invasions of Asia, he took along with him not only his soldiers but also an army of botanists and zoologists. These men collected large amounts of specimens that would prove useful for later scientific advancements in the field. Aristotle also taught his student well in Greek poetry, as Alexander developed a deep respect for Homer and took the mighty Achilles as a standard to which he would aspire. However, Aristotle may have had his strongest influence on his student in the fields of politics and morality. Aristotle had written two books on both subjects, and his ideas must have fueled Alexander’s decisions later in life. The teacher not only urged the student to conquer eastern lands, but he also conveyed to Alexander that slavery was part of the natural order of things and that all non-Greeks were barbarians. He further advised the young Macedonian to be a good ruler of the Greeks and treat all barbarians as mere plants and animals. Aristotle looked at barbarians as creatures who did not have human intelligence and, therefore, lived only to chase pleasures. Meanwhile, Alexander chose the path of the hero, and he placed honor and self-restraint above all else, totally in contrast with the behavior of beasts. He did not indulge in sexual excesses, and he practiced the same self-control with eating.

The future conqueror must have taken into heart the most important lessons that his philosopher-teacher had given him: that for a man to be good and remarkable, three characteristics must be present in him, namely, physics, or nature; ethos, or education; and ethos, or a sharp intellect, which develops as a result of the two.

In 340 B.C, Philip II left Macedonia and marched his army to Perinthus and Byzantium. To fill the void left by his absence, Philip called for his sixteen-year-old son to return home and act as Master of the Royal Seal and Regent of Macedonia. After three years of studying various arts and cultivating his character under Aristotle, Alexander had to end his relationship with his teacher.