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Aristotles Letter to his Son

Aristotle’s Letter to his Son on Leaving Athens (384-322 B.C.E.) Athens, 322 B.C. To my son Nicomachus: The winds have changed and so have the Athenians. I must flee at once to Chalcis. Patriotic fervor is at a pitch of madness now that Alexander is dead. Anyone with Macedonian ties or alleged sympathies is suspect or will be. Already innocent men have been put in chains on contrived false charges; the cry of treason is loud and fierce in the streets, and reprisals are carried out swiftly, not to mention public executions – all without the proper process of justice and on evidence as unsubstantial as shadows. My son, there is no beast more dangerous or more to be feared than that one which, for whatever reason, has abandoned its proper nature, and whose behavior is a matter of frightful anticipation. Such are these Athenians. Such is how I felt when I stood befiore our appointed rulers a few days ago. At issue was my presence at the Macedonian court when Athenian animosity against the king was being whipped up so relentlessly by Demosthenes. I was charged with an avalanche of absurd accusations, and denounced as a spy, an informer, a traitor. But I stood my ground calmly before these men, most of whom are wealthy merchants, men unscrupulous and amoral – with its misery of attendant and destructive vices; men better suited to the smells of the agora than the lofty aims of justice. Increasingly, through the deceptive power of money, these men are staining the good name of our politics. Their interest is self-interest, not the well-being and good of the state. When food gives off a rotten odor, it is no longer fit to eat, not even for a stray dog. Excessive riches for its own sake, like gluttony, is a form of greed. Those who live solely for its indulgence should be denied the privilege of citizenship, for they demonstrate a blatant and contemptible disregard both for the privilege of serving others interests. These are the kind of men for whom life with principles is pointless. Recall the old saying: the teeth of a mad dog are sharpest when provoked. Thus my defense was brief. I was employed by the Macedonian court for one purpose only: to be private tutor to the king’s son Alexander. Nothing more. Never had I, for personal advancement or financial betterment, taken the role of an official advisor to the king or his ministers, nor did I involve myself in political intrigue for or against the Athenian cause. My presence, indeed, my only purpose, was in accord with the king’s original wishes, and my duties were strictly academic. When it was evident that they could not reach a unanimous verdict, I was let go. But then, after deliberating privately for several minutes, they returned and charged me outright with the crime of impiety, setting a trial date a few days hence. Whereupon I was let go. Impiety, indeed! I asked: what impiety? Does a man have to offer goats and wine to prove he believes in the gods? When have I ever spoken abusively or ridiculed the gods of Athens or any nation? How, then, am I charged with impiety? I tell you now, my son, they will not make of me what they made of Socrates – no hemlock will touch my lips. Never! No, my son, these Athenians will not sin twice against philosophy. Martyrdom may serve the cause of other men, but reason better serves mine. Hence my decision to flee the city. My students well know my views on these issues and others. Are they not public knowledge! Or have I been speaking to the deaf? My writings cannot condemn me as a liar, can they? Or has my integrity for which I have worked harder to uphold than other men come to nothing? The unreasonableness of some men! No, my son, I will not be brought to trial, not in Athens nor in any other city or land! It pains me that I must leave so much behind – colleagues, students, and friends; above all, the Lyceum. Who knows what will come of it after I leave? There is much at stake here. Whether my name will be carried full-sail down the rough seas of time concerns me little. What concerns me most at the present are my writings, my school, my research, my quest for knowledge, in short, what I have devoted my whole life to. Yet what is a man without knowledge, without purpose? I cannot be happy only eating, drinking, and procreating. These activities are the daily pursuits of the man still trapped in his animal nature.

Copyright © | Year Posted 2022

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