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Aristotle and Alexander: The Power of a Teacher
Thursday, September 5, 2019 - 6:45 p.m.
Engraving of Aristotle teaching Alexander the Great, 1866, by Charles LaPlante
The nearly 20-year relationship between the ancient world’s most profound philosopher and his student—the world’s most powerful conqueror—reveals a stark contrast: One dominated by the power of his mind, the other by the might of his sword. Author and classics professor John Prevas examines a fascinating saga of ideals, ego, brutality, and betrayal that played out against the backdrop of an empire.
Aristotle was entrusted with the education of young Alexander, heir to the throne of Macedon, and sought to create an enlightened monarch who would rule over a world guided by justice. Over three years, he shaped Alexander’s thinking on everything from leadership and race to natural science, philosophy, and mathematics.
Within a dozen years of becoming king at age 19, Alexander was the most powerful man in the world, brutally subduing kingdoms from Asia Minor to India. Fueled by success on the battlefield, power, and wealth, he transformed from a monarch guided by reason and moderation into one viewed as a dictator, corrupted by his ego and a threat to democracy. Finally, his generals turned to Aristotle to destroy the monster he had created.
Prevas draws on ancient accounts to examine whether the philosopher was not only complicit in the murder but had an active role in it, preparing the particularly caustic poison mixed into the wine that killed Alexander, not yet 33. He also explores how an emperor who received tutelage in the highest of moral codes abandoned them to amass an empire that dissolved into civil wars after his death and left nothing lasting behind.
S. Dillon Ripley Center
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Metro: Smithsonian (Mall exit)