And welcome to yet another instalment in bloodbonesandbodies’ recurring series which we have lovingly called Famous Faces, in which we explore some of the most influential figures in medicine both today and throughout history. This week, we’re going to be looking at one of the grandfathers of modern medicine, a man whose influence spanned across the four corners of the globe, touching upon a number of academic practises including zoology, astronomy, medicine, physics, mathematics, and many, many more. This man, of course, was the ancient greek philosopher, mathematician, and medicinal extraordinaire, Aristotle.
Aristotle (384-322BC) was born in the city of Stagira in Chalkidice, a northern region of Ancient Greece. At the age of seventeen, Aristotle was sent to Plato’s Academy in Athens, a place of learning that held high acclaim in Ancient Greek scholarly learning. Following Plato’s death in 347BC, Aristotle continued to engage with all manner of philosophical and scholarly activity, expanding his areas of research constantly. Aristotle travelled around Greece for some time, stopping in Assos, Lesbos, and (possibly) Macedon. Aristotle returned to Athens in 335BC, where he established his own school which he named the Lyceum. The school covered a wide variety of subjects including botany, biology, logic, music, mathematics, medicine, cosmology, physics, ethics, psychology, theology, rhetoric, political theory, and a host of other fields. The school is widely believed by historians, due to its collection of scholarly manuscripts, to be the very first library of antiquity.
Aristotle’s writings cover a broad spectrum of areas, and his works informed the study of natural philosophy through antiquity and across the early modern period. It was Aristotle’s Heliocentric model of the universe, which argued that the sun was at the centre of the universe, that sparked the considerable debates around the place of the Earth in the cosmos that erupted across the European world hundred of years later. Aristotle’s model of the universe believed in the four terrestrial elements that made up everything that existed in the natural world (Earth, Air, Fire, and Water), and the Man existed as a microcosm of the wider universe. In this respect, humanity exists, according to Aristotle and his teachings, as a smaller example of the chaos of the universe, keeping all manner of elements balanced within his or her body. Aristotelian philosophy argues that there are two spheres to existence – that of the celestial and terrestrial spheres. It was believed that the terrestrial sphere contained all that was chaotic and earthly, that the sphere itself was constantly in motion and constantly changing, whilst the celestial sphere (or the heavens) contained all that was immutable, divine, and constant. In this respect, Aristotle’s teachings on the nature of the universe, of man, and of medicine, influenced the teachings of the Early Modern European World, shaping the contextualisation of health, disease, and treatment for all manner of ailments, and informing the study and teachings of a huge number of scholarly figures. Aristotle is, according to many, one of the most important figures in the history of medicine and is still hotly debated in many areas of scholarly research today.
Well, that’s about all we’ve got time for in this edition of Famous Famous, tune in next time for more exploration into the men and women that made medicine what it is today!
That’s all for now,
Fig. 1 – Bust of Aristotle in Marble Roman copy after a Greek bronze original by Lysippos from 330 BC (Public Domain Image)
Fig. 2 – L0019300 Aristotle refusing the hemlock, Oil painting by a painter in the circle of Johann Carl Loth.Wellcome Library, London, Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/