Did you know that Aristotle is to blame for the sad state of science during the Dark Ages in Western Europe? We could have colonized Mars by now if it weren't for Aristotle's disastrously wrong scientific ideas holding back the progress of science for thousands of years. At least, that's the impression you might get from a host of popular books, blog-posts, and click-bait articles online. For example, here is how one such book, called 50 Things You're Not Supposed to Know, argues that Aristotle held science back for millennia:
“The Problem is that from the time he was alive (the 4th century BC) until the Enlightenment, when Aristotle said something, that was the end of the argument.... Like most Greeks, Aristotle championed the view that the Sun and planets revolved around the Earth. Copernicus (in the early 1500's) and Galileo (100 years later) had to risk their reputations and their LIVES to put the kibosh on that nonsense.”
Once can find plenty of similar arguments online. While it's safe to say that none of the people who make these kinds of claims have a degree in the history of philosophy, some of them are really smart in other fields. Take Steven Weinberg, the nobel-prize winning physicist and celebrated author. The guy is undeniably a genius. And he has a similarly unenthusiastic view of the role Aristotle played in the development of science. Of course, he acknowledges the tremendous influence that Aristotle had throughout history. And he goes over a lot things that Aristotle got right. He just thinks that neither Aristotle nor Plato knew what science is, and that in later periods an over-reliance on Aristotle plagued both Islamic Science and later Medieval European Science.
Meanwhile, over at the ivory tower the people who study philosophy and its history professionally have a very different view on Aristotle. Earlier this year, a blog that is popular among professional philosophers, called Leiter Reports, conducted a poll to determine who the most important western philosopher of all time was. Guess who won? Aristotle.
So what's going on here? Can it be that Aristotle held science back for two thousand years and yet he's also the greatest western philosopher of all time? Or is one of these positions incorrect?
With us today to try to answer that question is Peter Adamson. You may know him as the host of the History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps podcast, which aims to tell the entire history of philosophy not just of the west, but also of the Arabic world, India and China. It may be the most ambitious podcast ever created. Adamson is professor of philosophy at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, Germany. He joins us to discuss Aristotle's contributions to philosophy, and the role that his works have played in shaping the course of human knowledge.
No other story from ancient Greece has fueled so many controversies, theories, investigations, novels, movies, and documentaries as the story of Atlantis – that grand civilization that supposedly flourished thousands of years before the pyramids were built, and was completely wiped off the face of the earth by a major cataclysm. Interestingly, all of the written “evidence” for Atlantis from ancient times is contained in the work of a single author – the philosopher Plato (who we talked about in episode 8). Plato wrote about Atlantis towards the end of his life in two philosophical works called the Timaeus and the Critias, which are meant to be sequels of his earlier philosophical blockbuster the Republic.
With us today to talk about the various theories that have been proposed on the meaning of the Atlantis tale and whether there’s any grain of truth to it, is someone who has traveled to all the major sites that people have suggested for Atlantis and has met with the most hardcore atlantologists in the world. Mark Adams is author of the book Meet Me In Atlantis. He is probably best known for his New York Times best seller Turn Right at Machu Pichu.
For more information on Atlantis, visit the webpage for this episode at greecepodcast.com/13
BOOK GIVEAWAY info: If you'd like to enter to win a copy of Mark Adams' book Meet Me In Atlantis here's what to do. Go to our Facebook page at facebook.com/greecepodcast The first post you'll see will be a post about this episode. Share the post with your friends by clicking the share button. Then, once you've shared it, go back to our Facebook page, click the “message” button, and send us the word “shared” so we know you shared it. On November 10, we will randomly pick two winners and send you guys each a copy of Adams' book.
World-renowned classicist Edith Hall joins us to discuss the relation between entertainment and politics in ancient Athens, particularly on the comic stage. Theatrical comedy, which was invented in Athens after the city's democratic revolution, was at first highly political. Comedy plays, put on publicly in the huge outdoor theater of Dionysus, often directly attacked prominent individuals in the city (who were usually in the audience). As mentioned in episode 8, Socrates was often parodied in the theater. Politicians like Pericles and Cleon were also periodically humiliated on the comic stage. No one was safe from ridicule. Moreover, playwrights did not hesitate to use scatological humor, sexual profanity, and lots of fart jokes in their satires of anyone and everything.
Joining us to help give us a clearer view of the Athenian comic stage is Edith Hall, prolific author and professor of classics at King's College, London. We explore what it was like to see comedies in the Athenian theater and what the surviving plays can tell us about the role of political satire in a democratic society. For additional information on Greek comedy as well as our guest, visit the webpage for this episode at greecepodcast.com/12
Today marks the one year anniversary of this podcast. Thank you all so much for listening! In the spirit of Athenian comedy, we conclude today's episode on a festive note, ending with a very funny song from our friend Doug Metzger over at the Literature and History podcast. If you aren't already listening to that show, you should check it out! There's nothing else like it in the podcast world for ancient Greek literature.
Papyrologist Raffaella Cribiore on education in the ancient Greco-Roman world----
Much of our modern educational system – from the names of our institutions to the books we consider the “classics” – derive from Greco-Roman antiquity. But what was it like to go to school in ancient times?
This question is surprisingly difficult to answer because little direct evidence remains. Raffaella Cribiore, professor of Classics at New York University and award-winning author of “Gymnastics of the Mind: Greek Education in Hellenistic and Roman Egypt,” is perhaps the world's foremost authority on education in the ancient Mediterranean. She joins us to talk about what the archaeological evidence from Egypt can tell us about schools, students, and teachers throughout the Greco-Roman world.
Archaeologist Patrick Hunt joins us to discuss Hannibal - the infamous Carthaginian general and one of the greatest military strategists of all time. Having witnessed Carthage's defeat by the Romans as a child, Hannibal dedicated his life to thwarting Rome's imperialist ambitions and restoring power to his native Carthage. In 218 BC he famously led an army with war-elephants across the Alps into Italy, where he campaigned undefeated for over 15 years against the Romans. He came tantalizingly close to toppling the power of Rome several times, but ultimately Rome was able to endure. Hannibal finally met his match in the Roman general Publius Scipio, who defeated him at the Battle of Zama, near Carthage, in 202 BC.
Patrick Hunt has lead expeditions across over 25 Alpine passes in search of the route that Hannibal took. He directed the Stanford Alpine Archaeology project for 18 years and also works for National Geographic. His new book is: Hannibal.
Xenophon Moussas, physicist and member of the Antikythera Mechanism Research Project, sheds light on the mysterious device that has been described as an “ancient computer,” an “astronomical calculator,” and a “mechanical cosmos.”
For more information on the mechanism – including images, reconstructions, and other resources – visit our website at greecepodcast.com/9
Also check out the YouTube channel “Clickspring” to see a clockmaker build a replica of the mechanism piece by piece.
Rebecca Newberger Goldstein joins us for a discussion about Plato, Socrates, and the legacy of Greek philosophy. Goldstein is one of the most acclaimed and widely-read philosophers today. Her most recent book, Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won't Go Away, imagines Plato transported through time to the modern world having philosophical debates with scientists, celebrities, and technology pioneers about important life questions. More than just a series of fascinating dialogues, the book also offers a gripping account of the development of ancient Greek philosophy, tackling some of the big questions and mysteries along the way: Why was Socrates killed? What was Plato's relationship to Socrates? Why did philosophy emerge in Greece to begin with? Profound, witty, and entertaining, the book is also a defense of the enduring value of philosophy in the modern world.
Ian Morris, archaeologist and professor of Classics at Stanford University, joins us for a discussion on the Persian expeditions against Greece in 490-479 BC. How did the Greeks pull off a totally unexpected victory against the biggest invasion force that had ever been launched? Morris explains what the latest research and archaeology tell us about the economies, technologies, and demographics of these civilizations, as well as how these factors may have affected the result of the conflict.
Morris' most recent book is "War: What is it good for?" - a fast-paced history of the world from the Stone Age to the present that focuses on warfare, geography, and technology. In it, he makes a counter-intuitive claim: that warfare, if we look at it over many thousands of years, has actually made human societies progressively less violent.This episode focuses on the Persian wars but touches on some of the main ideas from Morris' book.
Rush Rehm, professor of classics and of theater and performing studies at Stanford University, joins us for a discussion about Greek tragedy. The origins of tragedy (and theater in general) can be traced back in time to one city in the late 6th century BC: Athens. Theater in Athens seems to emerge at the same time that democracy is born. Is that a coincidence? Or is there some deeper connection between the invention of theater and democracy? Scholars have been debating this for a long time.
Furthermore, Greek tragedies are famous for their depiction of human suffering. What are we to make of these wrenching stories? Is this just horror for the sake of horror? Is it just shock-value? Is it extreme pessimism? Or, as some philosophers have argued, is there something cathartic, or even elevating, about these plays?
Our discussion today will take us back to the dawn of theater in 5th century BC Athens. We're going to talk about what going to the theater was like for the ancient Athenians, and then we're going to get into some of the deeper issues these plays bring up.
If you would like to learn more about the individual Greek tragedies mentioned in this episode (like Antigone, Oedipus Rex, Medea etc), check out the awesome podcast called “Literature and History.” Not only will you hear these classic stories told in a witty, dramatic way, but you'll also find an exploration of the deeper meanings and historical background of these plays.
Historian Josiah Ober of Stanford University joins us for a discussion on classical Athens and how the Athenian system compared to our own democracy. As Ober writes in his recent book The Rise and Fall of Classical Greece,
“Democracy and growth define the normal...conditions of modernity: Autocracy, while still prevalent, is regarded as aberrant, so that most autocrats pretend to be democrats.... These conditions were not normal, or even imaginable, for most people through most of human history. But, for several centuries in the first millennium BCE, democracy and growth were normal for citizens in ancient Greece."
Ober's book brings together archaeological data, economic theory, and historical and demographic models in order to explain the political developments of the classical Greek world. In it, he suggests that the Ancient Greek world was historically exceptional in many of the same ways that our modern world is. If that's true, what lessons, if any, can we take away from the Athenian experience?
Don't forget to check out the web page for this episode at greecepodcast.com/5 where you can join the conversation and vote in a poll we've set up about the future of democracy.