Before I start presenting some important for me excerpts from this book by Aristotle, I would like to answer to some general questions, someone non-expert like me, might want to pose right away.
- “..this book by Aristotle..”, how did this “book” by Aristotle reach us from the fourth century B.C, an era when people were not even aware of paper? (Not even the Chinese themselves- who are said to have invented it - were aware of it before 105 AD).
In the 4th century BC “books” were written on papyrus sheets stuck one after the other forming this way a roll (cylinder), sometimes some metres long.
One could find and buy these rolls at the market place.
A brief story of the adventure of Aristotle’s books follows:
After the death of the philosopher, his books had been inherited by Theophrastus, his most loyal student.
Theophrastus passed them on to Nileas from Asia Minor.
Nileas’ heirs were not interested in the precious corpus of the great teacher but at least managed to save it, burying it in an underground hatch.
This is the way it was saved by the voracity of the rulers of Pergamos, whose ambition was to create a big library like the Ptolemaios kings of Egypt.
At the beginning of the 1st century BC, Apellicon, an Athenean book lover, found them out –who knows how- and brought them back to Athens.
When Syllas, conquered Athens, in 86 BC, he sent Aristotle’s books to Rome, among other rich loot.
More adventures awaited them in Rome, until Andronicus from Rhodes published them during the second half of the 1st century BC.
It’s strange that the books that were saved were the philosopher’s personal notes, in one single copy, and not the other books which belonged to people outside the school and could be found in lots of copies in the city.
Not even one of them was saved!
- Another question: Why is the book called Nicomachea?
Aristotle was the son of Nicomachos, the doctor of the king of Macedonia. He had a son, also called Nicomachos.
There is no answer however, about the choice of the title.
We don’t even know if the philosopher himself or someone else (an editor maybe?) gave these titles to the Ethics corpus of Aristotle.
- Why should I read a philosophical text with the word Ethics in its title?
A word that brings to mind Christian ways of behavior, not at all attractive. This has nothing to do with the real content of the book.
As professor P. Kontos says, all of us today are imbued firstly with the Aristotelean Ethics and secondly with the Kantean Ethics. So, here is one good reason to read it.
Ethics started being organized on a scientific basis since the 2nd half of the 5th century BC.
What this new science tried to discover, to teach was:
Behaviour for a better life.
Protagoras, in the famous dialogue by Plato, first gives an answer to the following ethical question:
what is the most important thing that a young person should be taught in order to have a better life?
And the answer he gives is ευβουλία.
A word by which he wants to say: a young person should be taught to think wisely and with virtue about his home matters but the city matters as well.
Democritos, in the north, at the same era says that the actions are not the most important thing in a man’s life but to feel calm and serene with no big fears nor with big ambitions either.
Aristotle used the word ευδαιμονία which we are going to analyse in the second post which will be based on the book, Ethica Nichomachea, by Aristotle, the great philosopher.