Aristotle (Copy of Lysippos' Bust of Aristotle)


Aristotle (Copy of Lysippos' Bust of Aristotle)


The bust (above) depicts Aristotle.
The student of Plato, Aristotle was another prominent philosopher of Ancient Greece. His works were also studied in the Renaissance, and many of his theories thus made their way into European intellectual history.
As with Plato, not much is known about Aristotle's early life except that he attended Plato's Academy. After leaving the Academy following Plato's death, he served as tutor to Alexander the Great. Throughout his life, he produced many writings and taught at his own school, covering a wide range of subjects such as ethics, physics, biology, and more (Kennedy, p. 1-7).
At the root of Renaissance notions of humanism and self-actualization was Aristotle (discussed week one of HIST 139). Aristotle believed that each person had a unique potential. To live the best life possible, one must fulfill their potential, and the best political constitution should allow for this. Just as the sapling yearns to grow into a robust tree, so too should we pursue our own growth. One manifestation of Aristotle’s self-actualization was Alberti’s concept of the “Renaissance Man,” or one who trained themselves intellectually, spiritually, artistically, and physically. Men would study classical texts and discuss them to develop their mental abilities, devote themselves to pious living to develop spiritually, pursue the arts to develop artistically, and practice swordplay and acrobatics to develop their physical abilities. Seen as the ideal depiction of a male, the universal improvement characteristic of the Renaissance Man embodied a valuing of self-actualization (Encyclopedia Britannica).
Another legacy of Aristotle was that of his scientific theories. Aristotelian science was generally accepted as true until gradually refuted up to its near total rejection throughout the Scientific Revolution. One popular espousal of Aristotle’s thought appeared in astronomy. Believing the cosmos to be perfect, Aristotle proposed that all celestial bodies were flawless—even their movement was conducted in perfect circles. He also propagated a geocentric model. To understand the profound influence Aristotle exerted on Early Modern Europe, one can turn to Galileo’s trial by the Catholic Church. Using a telescope to discover that the planets were not perfect but instead marred on their surfaces, and supporting ideas of heliocentrism and elliptical orbit, Galileo opposed the Aristotelian world-view. In their prosecution of him, the Catholic Church explicitly voiced their discontent with the inconsistencies between his theories and that of Aristotle, whom they claimed was a great thinker and was thus right. Unwilling to acknowledge fault in Aristotle, the Church imprisoned Galileo (Wiesner-Hanks, p. 376-81).
Aristotle also contributed to the theory of the four elements, positing that everything was composed of water, earth, air, or fire. This was also generally accepted as truth until the discovery of the atom by Robert Boyle (Wiesner-Hanks, p. 374-5). Prior to that, however, the theory of the elements served as the foundation of other beliefs such as humoralism, which became based on the four elements.


(Original) Lysippos


Encyclopedia Britannica. "Renaissance Man." Encyclopedia Britannica. July 20, 1998. Accessed November 17, 2018.
Kennedy, George A. "Introduction." In On Rhetoric, by Aristotle, 1-7. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2007.
Nguyen, Marie-Lan. Bust of Aristotle (Copy of Lysippos). 330 bce. Palazzo Altemps, Rome. In Wikimedia. November 11, 2006. Accessed November 17, 2018.
Wiesner-Hanks, Merry. Early Modern Europe 1450-1789. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013.


(Bust) After 330 BCE


Moses Jehng


Photo is Public Domain


(Original) Lysippos, “Aristotle (Copy of Lysippos' Bust of Aristotle),” HIST 139 - Early Modern Europe, accessed March 25, 2023,

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