Did Aristotle kill Alexander the Great? Associate Professor of History Kenneth Calvert asked during his lecture on campus.
On Thursday, Oct. 25, Calvert spoke about Alexander and his waning faithfulness to his teacher Aristotle, and the Greek ideals during his invasion of Persia. Calvert traced Alexander’s evolution from a young pupil of Aristotle to the leader of an empire.
Calvert began by explaining that though Aristotle was a teacher and philosopher, he did not limit himself to this sphere of influence.
“We often think of him as simply a philosopher, but remember that he’s also interested in application,” Calvert said. “He is active politically. You have to remember that when answering this question.”
From Aristotle, Alexander absorbed many classical Greek ideas about statesmanship, political systems, and how to live a good life, according to Calvert. To think of Alexander as a “kind of a muscle-bound dimwit” is misguided, he said.
“This was an intelligent man,” Calvert said. “He had drunk deeply and well from Aristotle. He had learned his lessons.”
These ideas would, however, soon fade from Alexander’s paradigm as he began his invasion of Persia with the alliance of Greek city states called the “Corinthian League.”
After defeating Darius III at the Battle of Gaugamela, Calvert said, Alexander began to change.
“As they are moving further east, we see the transformation going on here,” he said. “Alexander seems to be getting soaked in Persian great king culture, breathing the air.”
Alexander would continue to assimilate to ideas of Persian monarchy, which views leaders as being akin to gods, Calvert said. This would be a stark contrast to Greek ideas of leadership, which emphasize moderation and wisdom, while rejecting the idea of a monarch being a god.
Alexander’s embrace of power would drive a wedge between the men.
“His friendship for the philosopher lost its original warmth and affection and this was clear proof of the estrangement which developed between them,” Calvert said. “Alexander begins to turn against Aristotle and those very principles and virtues they had taught him.”
In order to answer his question, Calvert vaguely implied that Aristotle may have been involved in Alexander’s death, by suggesting that the son of Aristotle’s friend Antipater may have delivered the poison which was rumored in those days to have killed Alexander.
“With the help of a man who knows medicine and poisons and botany very well, Aristotle, they may have killed this man who was simply getting out of hand,” Calvert said.
Senior Kelly Sullivan found the lecture to be particularly useful in understanding how philosophy can affect monarchs and “the connection between Aristotle’s teachings and Alexander’s devolution.”
“I thought it was fascinating to see that philosophy in action and how it influences kings,” Sullivan said.
In answering the question of the lecture, junior Brian Freimuth found Calvert’s answer to be “enticingly plausible.”
Freimuth commented further on Calvert’s use of narrative in the lecture.
“He interwove it with a more general philosophy of despotism that demonstrated how want of humility inevitably perverts the minds of even the most strong-willed rulers,” Freimuth said.
Regardless of the extent of Aristotle’s involvement in Alexander’s death, Calvert attributed much to their role in history.
“Aristotle and Alexander, they die, and they have no idea what they have done for the world but they have transformed it,” Calvert said. “What Alexander and Aristotle created, even though it didn’t end well, transformed the world and we wouldn’t be us without them.”