This post is a part of the Ancient Greeks Classics Circuit. See the other stops on the tour here.
I really enjoyed the Oxford University Press Very Short Introduction I read a few months ago. So, as I thought about my Classics Circuit visit to some Aristotle, I decided to find the VSI on the man and his writings. Aristotle by Jonathan Barnes was a perfect introduction to the life, mind, and writings of the incredibly intelligent scholar of ancient history. (I also read Aristotle’s own Poetics, which was a nice introduction to my self-imposed classics unit on Ancient Greek theater. See that post here.)
I read the Very Short Introduction, which is about 140 pages, over the course of three weeks. This meant that I was reading about one chapter, or five pages, a day. Given my busy life these days, it was perfect. Aristotle was written for amateurs, with basic explanations for the most part. I benefited from taking a break between chapters, simply because Aristotle studied a little of everything. Because he was so eclectic, it seemed appropriate that I was dedicating time to his studies a little at a time.
Some of the chapters on logic and basic philosophy were confusing to me, since the subjects are new to me, so I was grateful for the short chapters. Careful reading made them very accessible, and I don’t think any readers should be concerned about the ability to follow Mr Barnes’ discussions.
In his short chapters, author Jonathan Barnes describes Aristotle’s life and times in the 300s BCE. He does a wonderful job capturing how Aristotle’s development of thought was innovative for his time. Reading his works might reveal glaring errors (one that Mr Barnes pointed out made me laugh: Aristotle thought fire was an element from the moon) but Aristotle was doing the best thinking he could for his era, and in fact must have been a genius to be able to become so expert on everything from zoology to logic, philosophy, social culture, and literature (the Greek plays). If he wasn’t an expert, he certainly applied himself to every subject in depth.
I have not read many Greek plays, and I think, given Aristotle’s obvious love for the literature, I will find it an enjoyable experience when I do. I should also note that I loved the Very Short Introduction even more than reading Aristotle’s Poetics. Mr. Barnes explained things so well for me, and now I’m looking forward to reading more VSI. Is it fault to say that I now don’t feel like I have to read more Aristotle? I’ll probably still visit Politics and maybe Rhetoric someday, when I’m feeling ambitious.